Monday, August 10, 2020

Book Write-Up: Patents and Invention (Phyllis Schlafly)

Phyllis Schlafly. Phyllis Schlafly Speaks, Volume 4: Patents and Invention. Ed. Ed Martin. Skellig America, 2018.

Phyllis Schlafly had an interest in the patent system. Her father invented and patented the rotary engine. That invention lacked an immediate impact, for World War II was going on, and the military-industrial complex was interested in mass-manufacturing what it knew rather than trying anything innovative. But it came to have a slight impact on automobiles after World War II.

Schlafly argues that the United States has the best system in the world when it comes to patents and inventions. She chronicles the inventions throughout American history and the positive effect that they had. In a 1970 speech to immigrants, she observes that immigrants, too, historically contributed to American inventiveness. For Schlafly, the American system is superior because it is capitalistic: it allows people to keep the fruit of their labors.

Schlafly is concerned about government proposals to “reform” the American patent system. For one, she resists the idea that the American system, through treaty, should reconcile itself with other countries’ system. As noted above, she believes that the American patent system is the best and that other countries would do well to reconcile their patent systems to that of the U.S. Schlafly finds fault with other countries’ system, such as that of Japan, which is highly corporatist, and she argues that other countries have not manifested the creativity and innovative spirit as has the United States.

Second, Schlafly opposes a “first-to-file” rather than a “first-to-invent” system. A “first-to-file” system grants the patent to the first person who files, not to the person who can demonstrate he or she was the first to invent. For Schlafly, a “first-to-file” system privileges well-connected, lawyered-up corporations rather than the small-time inventor working from his garage.

Third, Schlafly opposes proposals to publish rough drafts of proposals on the internet and in other formats, long before the proposal is patented, for that enables other countries (i.e., China) as well as corporations to steal inventors’ ideas.

Schlafly’s fourth concern relates to the time-span before which an invention becomes part of the public domain. She criticizes lawmakers who try to shorten that time-span for inventors, while lengthening it for authors, publishers, and artists. In both cases, they privilege the corporations over the little guy. Shortening the time-span for inventors allows corporations to sell and make money off the invention quickly, leaving the inventors with a mere pittance. Lengthening the time-span for authors, publishers, and artists privileges big publishing, big music, big entertainment, and, in some cases, even the lawmakers themselves (i.e., Senator Orrin Hatch and his Gospel music). Schlafly is critical of lawmakers who try to crack down on people who tape movies for non-commercial use. That leads me to suspect that she opposed the 2011 Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA).

Fifth, Schlafly wants to keep the patent board in the hands of the government rather than making it a board of multinational corporations. That accords with the U.S. Constitution, and it is also fairer than allowing corporations with vested interests to decide who gets patents and who does not.

Another theme that recurs in this book is privacy. Schlafly is critical of measures to expose people’s medical records to government and corporations. She alleges that the Clinton health care plan would have done this, and she notes legislation, such as Kennedy-Kassenbaum (HIPAA), which she believes does so.

The book has its ironies. Schlafly is very pro-immigrant in this book, and she opposes privatizing the patent system, when conservatives tend to support privatizing government functions. Conservative opposition to corporatism, however, is not surprising, for, in a truly free market, the government does not privilege well-connected corporations.

Sunday, August 9, 2020

Church Write-Up: Romans 5:1-5

 Some items from church this morning:

A. We are continuing our Bible study through Romans. Today, we covered Romans 5:1-5. The teacher said that Christians do not earn their justification by believing, as if faith were a work. Rather, Christians are saved by the work of Christ, as God credits righteousness to them. Faith is the way that they receive this. They are saved through faith, not because of faith.

B. Romans 5:1 affirms that Christians have peace with God. The pastor observed that Ephesians 2:14 states that Christ is our peace. Christ is how Christians become at peace with God, and Christ brought Jewish and Gentile Christians together into one body, so Christ is how Christians become at peace with each other. The teacher told a personal story about estrangement and reconciliation. He had a neighbor. They were not friends, but they were friendly. They talked about each other’s children growing up and projects they were working on. The relationship was broken, however, and neither was willing to change his mind about the subject that was dividing them. The teacher waved at him, but he never waved back, so the teacher stopped waving. One day, the neighbor was trying to move something and was having difficulty. The teacher stepped in and helped him, and that improved the relationship.

C. Romans 5:2 states that Christians “rejoice in hope of the glory of God.” Two suggestions were made about what the glory of God means. The teacher said that God’s glory is when everyone calls on God’s name. He referred to Philippians 2:11, which refers to people confessing that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father. The pastor interpreted the glory in reference to the Hebrew word kavod, which refers to God’s glory but also to God’s presence. Christians hope to live in God’s presence, without reservations and hindrance, as Adam and Eve fellowshipped with God in the cool of the Garden (Genesis 3:8). They accords with God’s purpose in creation.

D. Romans 5:3-4 talks about Christians’ suffering. The pastor talked about the cruciform life. Christians become more like Christ, and identify more with Christ, when they suffer, for Christ suffered in the world and had hope that God would resurrect him. We live in a fallen world and God meets us in it.

Monday, August 3, 2020

Book Write-Up: How the Republican Party Became Pro-Life (Phyllis Schlafly)

Phyllis Schlafly. How the Republican Party Became Pro-Life. Skeillig America, 2018.

This is the third volume of a series of books entitled “Phyllis Schlafly Speaks,” edited by Schlafly’s successor at Eagle Forum, Ed Martin. It is about Schlafly’s attempts from 1976-2016 to make the Republican Party into a pro-life party. Specifically, she pushed for and defended a plank in the GOP platform supporting the right of the unborn to live. This book also includes excerpts from national Republican platforms about abortion.

It may have been in William Martin’s With God on Our Side that I first learned about the Republican Party’s historic positions about abortion. Prior to the 1970’s, the narrative runs, the Republican Party was the pro-choice party, in accord with its belief in less government intervention in people’s lives. Pro-lifers were largely Catholic, and they tended to be Democrats. The genesis of conservatives becoming pro-life is debated. Some cynically regard it as a wedge issue, proclaimed by religious conservatives whose true agenda was to protect their private segregation academies from government intervention. Frank Schaeffer has declared himself the father of the pro-life movement, since he, in the 1980’s, encouraged his influential father, Christian apologist Francis Schaeffer, to promote the pro-life cause with Dr. C. Everett Koop, resulting in numerous evangelical converts to the pro-life cause. While Schaeffer and Koop obviously deserve a place in the history of the conservative pro-life movement, the fact is that there were prominent pro-life conservatives prior to the Schaeffers’ efforts in the 1980’s. Phyllis Schlafly’s STOP ERA movement was an example, for one reason Schlafly opposed ERA in the 1970’s was that she feared it would constitutionally enshrine a woman’s right to an abortion.

This book is not particularly helpful in explaining the history of how conservatives became opposed to abortion. Conservatives at the beginning of Schlafly’s story are opposed to legalized abortion, whereas moderate and liberal Republicans, such as Nelson Rockefeller, support it. Conservative pro-lifers initially were marginal within the GOP, but they gained power. While they fought back pro-choice Republicans in the 1980’s and 1990’s, the pro-life Republicans eventually became dominant, such that disputes over the Human Life plank of the platform became a thing of the past.

Schlafly, a loyal Republican, compares the GOP’s opposition to abortion to its opposition to slavery, on which the Republican Party was founded. On both issues, the Republican Party affirms the value of human life, whereas the Democratic Party believes people’s choice takes precedent.

The Human Life plank of the GOP platform has been controversial because it is regarded as absolutist, advocating a complete ban on abortion with no exceptions (i.e., rape, incest, life of the mother). Schlafly does not engage the question of whether there should be exceptions in an abortion ban. She does differentiate, however, between legislation and a plank in the platform. Crafting legislation allows for compromise, whereas a plank in the platform must be a bold proclamation of what the Republican Party believes, the principles to which it is committed. For Schlafly, the GOP platform should affirm the right of the unborn to live rather than get into nuances and exceptions. Would she be open to exceptions in legislation?

The book revolves around Schlafly’s activism regarding the GOP platform, but one may ask if that is important. As Schlafly points out, Bob Dole in 1996 said that he had not even read the platform and did not intend to abide by it. For Schlafly, however, the platform is significant because it is the party’s manifesto, its flag in the election.

The passages about abortion in the GOP’s platforms also talk about adoption reform and supporting mothers who are contemplating abortion due to financial difficulties in raising a child. If the GOP has supported adoption reform, that is commendable. But cutting social programs, in my opinion, hurts women contemplating abortion. A strong social safety net can contribute to a decline in abortion, as has been the case in Western Europe.

The platforms also speak in favor of religious liberty in the workplace. Christians should be free to proclaim their faith where they work, without fear of recrimination. This gets into murky territory. Would conservative Christians be open to allowing homosexuals to talk about their same-sex relationship in the workplace, without fear of recrimination, or would they expect homosexuals to keep that in the closet? Understandably, some have argued that religion and politics should be kept out of the workplace altogether: do and believe what you want, on your own time, but, at work, your job is to serve everyone.

The Republican Party’s historical relationship to abortion is nuanced. It is not simply a matter of the GOP becoming pro-life. Reagan and George H.W. Bush endorsed a constitutional amendment banning abortion, with some exceptions, but few Republican Presidential candidates since then have done so. George W. Bush in 2000 declined to commit explicitly to overturning Roe vs. Wade, saying instead that there are too many abortions, and proclaiming his opposition to judicial activism. Donald Trump opposed Roe but focused his opposition to abortion on late-term ones. At the same time, states throughout America are passing laws against abortion, even before the late term.

This book is a disappointment, in areas, but it is still valuable, as when Schlafly talks about Roe vs. Wade and quotes from the Supreme Court justices who dissented.

Sunday, August 2, 2020

Church Write-Up: Romans 4

Here are some items from church this morning:

A. The Sunday school class covered Romans 4. The teacher explained three solas: Sola Gratia, Sola Fide, and Sola Fide. We are saved by God’s grace alone, and the means that we receive it is faith alone. Faith is given by the Holy Spirit through Scripture alone. Scripture, in short, contains the content of the Christian’s faith: what the Christian believes. The last one can inspire questions. Did not people have faith prior to Scripture? In those cases, they accepted as true the divine revelation that they had. Abraham trusted God’s promise to him that he would have a son and God’s stated plan for the world. The teacher and the youth pastor commented that Abraham’s faith must have been a gift from God. Abraham not only lacked what Christians have—-Scripture, the church, etc.—-but he lacked a monotheistic religious background, as his parents worshiped idols.

B. God’s law points out our sin and our need for a savior, and God’s righteousness has been revealed apart from the law: by God’s grace, received by the Christian through faith. Quoting Genesis 15:6, Paul observes that Abraham believed God, and God credited that to him as righteousness. What does that mean? The teacher referred to analogies. When our credits are greater than our debits, are we then righteous? The youth pastor talked about credit cards: he takes them for granted until they are declined. Similarly, many Christians take God’s grace for granted, when they should keep somewhere in their mind that what they deserve is God’s rejection. A student said that, when we give credit to someone, we acknowledge what the person did; God, in this scenario, acknowledges that Abraham’s faith is righteous. The teacher had problems with these proposals. A credit card can be declined for insufficient funds, whereas the Christian’s salvation cannot be declined because the funds are unlimited, for they are based on what Christ, not the Christian, has done. The view that God acknowledges Abraham’s faith as righteous runs counter to the Christian idea that justification occurs based on what God has done, not what the believer has done. Plus, Paul’s view is that Abraham’s faith was how Abraham himself received righteousness; God not only acknowledges Abraham’s faith as righteous but imputes righteousness to Abraham himself, regarding Abraham as righteous rather than wicked.

C. The teacher contrasted justification by works with justification by grace through faith alone. Under justification by works, people have reason to boast: they do good deeds, and God responds by accepting them. God’s acceptance is a salary for the work that the person performs; God obligates himself under the law to reward the person who does good. And, under a model of justification by works, God holds sin against people. A model of justification by grace through faith is different. Righteousness is a gift from God, not something that a person earns; a person is righteous and accepted by God, even though she has done nothing to deserve it. God specifically justifies the wicked. And, based on what Christ has done, sin is forgiven, covered, and never held against the believer.

D. Does being credited with righteousness change the believer? James affirms that faith without works is dead, so there is some change after the crediting. Righteousness is broader than justification and includes the Christian life. Yet, we need not do good works in order to be credited. It is not the case that we are changed such that we are no longer sinners, for God treats Christians as righteous, even though in reality they are sinners.

E. The pastor’s sermon talked about how salvation is a free gift. The pastor likened it to immigrants: those who come to the U.S. and declare their allegiance to it receive the benefits that America offers, whereas those merely passing through do not. This was ironic, since I was reading old Phyllis Schlafly Reports about how many illegal immigrants receive government benefits, even though their allegiance is not towards the United States. In terms of the analogy, I do not think that the pastor was sneaking works and obedience into his Gospel message of free grace, for he treated allegiance to the old identity as relying on one’s works, a desire to be rewarded. Still, salvation is belonging to Christ, in a state of allegiance to Christ, and that should influence what one values and how one lives.

Monday, July 27, 2020

Book Write-Up: The Gravediggers, by Phyllis Schlafly

Phyllis Schlafly and Chester Ward. The Gravediggers. Pere Marquette, 1964.

This book was published in 1964, the year of conservative Republican Barry Goldwater’s campaign for the Presidency. Phyllis Schlafly considered it to be a companion to her landmark A Choice Not an Echo, also released in 1964, which has been credited with helping Goldwater to secure the GOP nomination. The Gravediggers was also Schlafly’s first collaborative project with Rear Admiral Chester Ward. It is the first of other books they wrote that criticize nuclear disarmament on the part of the U.S. The villains of this book include LBJ’s Defense Secretary Robert Strange MacNamara, Paul Nitze, and the liberal Pugwash Conference. For Schlafly and Ward, nuclear disarmament on the part of the U.S. is what makes the U.S. vulnerable to nuclear war, for the Soviets are eager to attack the U.S.

There are aspects of this book that are understandable and sensible. Removing U.S. missiles from Turkey in exchange for a non-binding commitment from the U.S.S.R. to remove missiles from Cuba sounds like a bad strategy for the U.S. Would the U.S.S.R. act against the U.S. with U.S. missiles at Turkey pointed right at it? That is doubtful, so why remove them? Schlafly and Ward also do well to question the U.S. being part of a nuclear test-ban treaty in which the Soviets cheat. Their defense of Douglas MacArthur’s plan to bomb the Yalu river, across which the Chinese were sending military supplies to North Korea, is likewise sensible.

But there were parts of the book that were rather hairy. Schlafly and Ward defend MacArthur’s desire to use the atomic bomb in the Korean War and praise JFK’s openness to employing nuclear weapons to defend West Berlin against the Soviets.

Schlafly and Ward also argue against the view that nuclear testing creates health defects: “a lifetime dose of fallout from the testing of the nuclear weapons is not as dangerous as smoking one cigarette a month, having a chest X-ray once a year, or wearing a luminous dial wrist watch” (page 39).

The book’s ambivalence about JFK is surprising, since one would expect them to be critical. On the one hand, JFK expressed a desire for nuclear disarmament, of the sort promulgated in State Department document 7277, which advocates the world powers turning over their nuclear weapons to the UN. JFK betrayed the anti-Communist rebels in Cuba, made a disastrous agreement with Krushschev during the Cuban Missile Crisis, and encouraged Laos to fall to the Communists. On the other hand, JFK admitted some regret when he learned that the Soviets cheated at the test ban treaty, saying it is his fault if they fool him twice. And, as noted above, JFK was open to using nuclear weapons to safeguard West Berlin from Soviet attack. Schlafly and Ward blame some of JFK’s soft stance towards Communism on Lyndon Johnson, who opposed blockading Cuba during the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Schlafly was sort of a bridge between the Old Right and the Goldwater right. The Old Right was rather critical of U.S. interventionism in foreign conflicts, whereas the Goldwater right advocated a tough U.S. stance against Communism on the international front. In A Choice Not an Echo, the kingmakers whom Schlafly criticizes, at least in 1940 and 1944, were internationalists, whereas the heroes were Republican isolationists, who opposed U.S. intervention in World War II. The kingmakers wanted interventionism because that increased their profits, Schlafly argued. In The Gravediggers, however, Schlafly appeals to World War II as an example of why the U.S. should be tough on the global front. We do not want to be like Neville Chamberlain, who naively trusted Hitler, in our approach to the Soviets! And we want to surround the Soviets with our strength rather than retreating, as the Allies surrounded Hitler in World War II. Do these sentiments express Schlafly’s real views on World War II, or are they merely rhetoric?

The book is a lot of policy critique, albeit on a down-to-earth level. Schlafly said that Ward was the source for the technical information, whereas her task was to explain it in easy-to-understand language. The last chapter is an appeal. Schlafly makes the historical observation that George Washington was not the most intelligent man of his age, but he was a leader. She expresses similar hopes about Barry Goldwater. Whether that is a compliment or an insult is a good question, but it is an astute observation about history: the one who has an effect may not be the smartest but the one who steps forward and leads.

Sunday, July 26, 2020

Church Write-Up: Romans 2-3

My church’s Bible study went through Romans 2-3 this morning.

A. Claudius Caesar expelled the Jews, including Jewish Christians, from Rome in 49 CE. The house churches in Rome were now composed wholly of Gentiles and were Gentile in flavor. After Claudius died in 54 CE, the Jews slowly started to return to Rome. The Jewish Christians were surprised to see that the Gentile Christians were not practicing Jewish customs. Why were the Gentile Christians not circumcised? Why were they not observing the Sabbath? According to the pastor, Paul wrote Romans to address these divisions. Paul’s ultimate point is that there are no Gentile Christians and Jewish Christians but only Christians. The Jewish Christians are not superior because they are circumcised and have the Torah, for they, too, are sinners who need forgiveness through Jesus. Paul demonstrates that this is true of all humanity from the Law and also from quotations from the Prophets and the Writings. Circumcision was a physical marker that the Jews were God’s chosen people and a sign of the coming seed, Christ, who would bless all people, and its literal observance is now unnecessary because Christ has come and fulfilled it. The new physical indicator that people are in God’s community, baptism, recalls the death and resurrection of Christ. The fulfillment of the law, God’s intent for human beings, occurs through the Holy Spirit and the spiritual fruit that he produces in believers’ lives.

B. Romans 1:17 affirms that the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith. Lutherans have traditionally interpreted this to mean from the faith of the church—-its doctrine—-to the faith of the individual believer accepting that doctrine. The pastor had a different interpretation. The righteousness of God is revealed from God’s faithfulness to the faith of the believer. This was the case even in the Old Testament. Abraham, as Paul will show in Romans 4, was right before God, not because he earned it, but because he had faith in God’s faithfulness: that God will give him offspring. The Torah was an indication of God’s faithfulness to Israel, for it was a sign in the Old Testament that Israel was God’s people and God was Israel’s God. Israel, by sinning, rejected God’s faithfulness and placed herself under condemnation. God is the one who needs to act for people to have salvation, and God’s faithfulness is demonstrated through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

C. Some Gentiles may object that they are not guilty before God because they did not possess the Ten Commandments and the Torah. But everyone has some notion of right and wrong—-that there are acts that promote and that undermine safety and social cohesion; this standard may fall short of God’s standard but it is still known by people, rendering them accountable and, ultimately, guilty. The class then got into ethical theory: Kant’s insight that we can know what is good and bad by reflecting on what would happen if everyone did the act in question (i.e., harmony or chaos?), and Rousseau’s belief that, if the popular will agrees something is right, that makes it right, a sentiment that contributed to the Reign of Terror in France. The youth pastor commented that, growing up in the 1990’s, what was popular then was moral relativism: what is right and wrong for you may not be right or wrong for me. Now, with the culture wars and BLM, there is a notion that someone is right and someone is wrong.

Monday, July 20, 2020

Book Write-Up: Pornography’s Victims (Phyllis Schlafly)

Phyllis Schlafly, ed. Pornography’s Victims. Crossway, 1987.

In 1985-1986, Ronald Reagan’s Attorney General, Edwin Meese, conducted proceedings on the issue of pornography. This book is an edited volume of the testimony that was given at those proceedings. In sharing those testimonies, Schlafly disputes the idea that pornography is “victimless.”

Some items:

A. The overall tone of the book is that pornography should be banned. The back cover of the book quotes Supreme Court decisions from 1957 and 1973 that declare that obscenity lacks constitutional protection. Feminist legal scholar Catherine MacKinnon offers an articulate defense of the idea that the State has the authority to limit pornography, for the State in the past has been allowed to regulate speech (i.e., sexual harassment). Andrea Dworkin, however, provides a slightly different perspective. She rejects the idea that anti-obscenity laws work. Anti-obscenity laws can be circumvented if the pornographer can attach some social value to the pornography, and the “prurient interest” standard for identifying pornography is subjective. Anti-obscenity laws imply that the woman’s body itself is dirty, and they only remove pornography from public view; meanwhile, pornography continues to damage men’s minds in private. Dworkin proposes another approach. Law enforcement offices need to record officially the usage of pornography in rapes, sexual assaults, incest and child abuse, murder, and suicide. Pornography must be removed from federal prisons to protect prisoners from rape. Makers of pornography should be prosecuted under pimping and pandering laws, since they pay people for the sex that is used in their pornography. And RICO’s ban on kidnapping, extortion, and trafficking should be enforced against the pornographers who kidnap the women they use in their pornography.

B. “Diann” on page 85 quotes from a book called Strange Loves. It states: “Perhaps love of sex, whatever form it assumes, is the true and only perversion. It is one thing that offends our nature as human beings, although it may not be against our biological nature. From this standpoint, what is considered normal sexual intercourse can be a perversion of our nature, if our partner is only a means of our own immediate physical gratification, or if sexual intercourse is forced on the basis of conjugal rights. This is legalized rape.” Diann agrees with this quotation. The passage is rather anti-sex. The reason that it stood out to me is that I feel uncomfortable when I see sex scenes in movies and TV. A therapist suggested that this could be because of my Asperger’s, which creates a revulsion against what is gooey. But ancient Christians, too, had an aversion to sexuality; Augustine treated concupiscence as the product of original sin. The quote, of course, stigmatizes sex that is purely physical and that lacks love, but even loving sex in TV and movies is difficult for me to watch. Is that jealousy on my part, or is it a sense that sex is an intimate act between two people and should not include me as a viewer? There is a reason that society treats sex as private.

C. Related to (B.), the book also contains testimonies by women whose husbands raped them. The women believed that pornography played a role in the rapes, for the pornography reduced women to sex objects and increased and distorted the men’s sexual appetites. The opposition to marital rape in this book is ironic because Schlafly herself said in a speech: “By getting married, the woman has consented to sex, and I don’t think you can call it rape.” There, she appears to deny that marital rape is a possibility, treating all marital sex as consensual.

D. Jonathan Kozol in his book Savage Inequalities laments that low-income neighborhoods only have one movie theater: one that shows porn. That would be sad: the only theater in town showing, not family-friendly movies, but overt and explicit pornography. Kozol is usually placed on the ideological far-left, but some of the contributors to Pornography’s Victims express similar concerns to his.

E. Conventional sentiment is that there are different levels of pornography. You have magazines like Playboy and Penthouse, which simply show women without their clothes on. There is also harder-core pornography, which displays the rape and torture of women. Then there is child pornography, which is illegal (though the penalties may have become tougher since the 1980’s). Pornography’s Victims argues that the lines separating these different types of pornography are not always clear. Playboy and Penthouse sometimes border on child porn. Hustler glorifies the brutalization of women. Soft-core pornography advertises harder-core pornography and is often a gateway to it. “Soft-core” pornography objectifies women, increases men’s sexual obsession, and thereby makes men more likely to rape. “Soft-core” pornography is also used in child sexual abuse and incest; remember that Diff’rent Strokes episode about the bicycle store owner? That happens in real life, as molesters try to groom children by showing them pornography. Pornography and its producers also intersect with the worlds of prostitution and trafficking. One person in the book criticizes popular songs because they reduce sex to the physical. Bruce Springstein’s song “I’m on Fire” says: “Tell me now, baby, is [your father] good to you? And can he do to you the things that I do? Oh, no. I can take you higher. Oh-oh-oh, I’m on fire.” The conclusion, of course, is that her father does not have sex with her, but why bring that issue up?

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