Monday, January 31, 2011

Monkey Business...again

Consider this headline and the following piece:  "A mother's grief: The startling images which show how chimpanzees mourn their dead just like humans"

I'm still waiting for the requiem mass.

Gator Aid

The news broke just a short while ago that a US District judge in Florida had ruled Obamacare  unconstitutional.  He did so chiefly because of the "individual mandate" provision that required citizens to purchase health insurance.  The news made me think again about the oft-used comparison of health insurance with auto insurance.

The Left has no trouble mandating auto insurance because, they will argue, driving is a privilege, and not a right.  But health care, they insist, is not simply a privilege, and most especially not simply a privilege of the privileged.  It is, rather, a natural right, up there with life and liberty.  Am I to understand, then, that they want to force us to pay for a right?

Maybe they would have had more luck with the judge had they argued that no one has any obligation to pay for their own health insurance.  Why, that would violate not only the Constitution, but the spirit of the Declaration as well.  However, one absolutely must pay for everyone else's health insurance.  Now shut up and fork it over.   

I shoulda been a lawyer.



"Knock-knock"

"Who's there?"

"Asbestos"

"Asbestos who?"

"Asbestos I can tell, we're gonna make a million bucks on this lawsuit."

Prudence, Indeed!

If, as they say, politics makes for strange bedfellows, international politics makes for even stranger ones. 

Such was the nature of our long relationship with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, as well as our relationships with a host of other dictators, strongmen, and thugs both before him and, without doubt, long after him as well.

The British political philosopher Michael Oakeshott was famously skeptical of any kind of politics that "pursue perfection as the crow flies."  The wisdom of that skepticism is in order here as well.  Somewhere between pristine principle and bald interest lies the less-than-straight line drawn by prudence, the art that is definitely needed as we both witness and react to what is transpiring in Egypt.  As a consequence of it, we will soon be re-evaluating our foreign policy (heck, we're already doing it) and the temptation will be to forgo prudence for what is imagined to be undefiled principle.  That would be unwise and potentially dangerous.

Ironically, we can be thankful, in a fashion, that a Democrat is currently in the White House.  As such, the Democrats cannot afford to act or speak too irresponsibly, as they did for almost the whole of the Iraq War.  (Notice how closed-mouthed, as a party, they've become about the War since they took hold of the full reins of government?)  Were it a Republican Administration instead, we can be sure there would be no relief from ignorant and opportunistic caterwauling about why we ever struck a deal with a dictator in the first place.  Blessedly, the GOP is not so inclined, populated as it is with conservative politicians who, for the most part, understand instinctively the folly of such rhetoric.      

Making common cause with a thug is an always dangerous thing to do.  But the chief reason for our relationship with Mubarak, and virtually every other similar alliance besides, is that despite our wishes to the contrary, no superior alternative exists.  In politics, domestic and international, the nature of the real, not the hoped-for alternative is always what matters in the end.

What was then and is now the real alternative in Egypt?  By framing this as a mass uprising, the media has become complicit in making it seem as though the effective choice is between Mubarak, or someone like him, and an otherwise peaceful democracy.  I'm not so sure.  I'm not so sure that what replaces Mubarak's rule will be peaceful at all, an Egyptian Rainbow Coalition of Muslims, Christians, and secularists calmly dividing the spoils of victory.  In fact, I'm not so sure it will be a democracy at all.  I'm even less sure that it will be a liberal democracy.  No, that's not correct.  I'm virtually certain that whatever replaces Mubarak, it will not be a liberal democracy.

As things stand in Egypt, no mere democracy, no democracy in which the majority rules, rules simply, and rules without prior respect for individual rights, that is, rules without respect for liberty, constitutes in any meaningful sense a palatable alternative to the rule of a strongman like Mubarak, a strongman who is otherwise on our side and who can, and will, hold the forces of radical Islamism at bay.  Those forces remain, to both our principles and our interests, the most immediate and real threat with which we must contend.  Whatever else we do, we need to remember that.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Berman on Kristol

As I've used this phrase as an intro more than once or twice, I think perhaps I need to create a category of blogs titled, "If you're interested in such things..."  This one would go there.

Paul Berman, a member of the so-called liberal hawks, liberals who, at least at first, supported the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, has written a review of a new collection of essays by the late Irving Kristol, famously "the godfather of neoconservatism."  I think it's worth a read.

As it happens, Berman takes more than a few shots at Kristol, perhaps trying to reestablish his liberal bona fides after supporting "Bush's Wars."   Nevertheless, the review, if nothing else, is a good way to learn something about American intellectuals who came of age in the 1940s, more or less, and then changed their mind, or didn't, Kristol being perhaps the preeminent example of the former.

But the review is more than that.  For one, it's a fine example of good writing.  Consider a couple of examples from the piece where Berman is trying to communicate the disillusionment of many left-wing American intellectuals after Stalin's serial crimes became undeniable.
To be filled with gloomy doubt, and to go limping forward, even so, in search of practical solutions, perhaps even harboring some last shrunken hope for a better world, like a man cupping a match — this was the animating inspiration of Kristol’s generation of intellectuals in their postcollege years.
"Like a man cupping a match..."  I like that very much.  And this also, describing the same men and the same spirit, but with different words: They "spent the 1950s writing books in the shadow of that same idea, discouraged but averse to despair."

Wish I'd written that.  Anyway, as I say, if you're interested in such things, do give it a look.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Moran or Moron?

The spelling is just too close to be a coincidence.

Rep. Jim Moran, D-VA, is blaming the results of last fall's election on racism.  You'll recall that the results included his party losing control of the House.  Anyway, according to Moran, the meaning of it all is that in the United States too many, a majority in fact, just "don't want to be governed by an African-American."

Let me get this straight:  In a mere two years, a whole new generation of bigoted American voters have come of age and cast their now deciding votes against the Age of Obama? 

Write Much?

Here, if you write, and even if you don't, is an article which, as articles go, and, as we know, some articles are worth reading while others are not, is most definitely worth your time as it tackles the subject of long, complex, or, better, complicated sentences that obscure rather than clarify the point, if there is a point, to be made.

Enjoy.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Monkey Business

Headlines like this always tickle me:  "How humans are 97% the same as orangutans: New research shows how DNA matches"  The unstated conclusion, which is actually an assumption, as well as an aspiration, is that between men and monkeys, there really is no difference.

I've made this point before, but it's been awhile:  The fact that orangutans and humans share 97% of their DNA surprises me not at all.  We are both mammals inhabiting the planet earth.  I suspect that between humans and horses and hyenas we would also find the DNA match to be some pretty big number.

The more interesting question is that because we are so obviously different, I've never once witnessed a orangutan build a house or compose a sonnet, what are we to make of the remaining 3%?  Of what does it consist and is it important?

This gambit is used quite often when the desired conclusion is one of essential equality, like, for example, between the sexes.  The fact that men and women share, oh, I don't know, say 95% of the same hopes, fears, goals, etc., says nothing about the 5% over which we differ and it is precisely that 5% that matters.

By the way, after you make that last point, DUCK!.

The Elite Strike Back

While it was a bit strange to read a piece in which a congregation of true-believing, left-wing democratic socialists defend "elitism" of any sort ("vanguard of the proletariat" maybe?), this one managed nevertheless to make me think, again, about exactly what it is I mean when I level the charge "elitist".  The article is a little long, but it might do the same for you too, if, that is, you can get past the several, snarky, anti-Bush, anti-Palin, anti-anything-right-of-center asides.

But, then, that is part of their argument.  As they see it, the anti-elitism of today comes from the Right and is directed chiefly, foolishly and unjustly so, at the cultural elite, the "chatterers and scribblers" who attended the nation's finest private colleges and universities.
The resentful right, under the banner — hoisted alike by Beck, Huckabee, and Palin — of common sense, flatters deprivation as wisdom by implying to the uneducated that an education isn’t worth having. The violence this bigoted proposition has done to the talents and capacities of millions of people is incalculable, unforgivable.
Among other aspects, the thing about the article that captured my attention is that a similar case is sometimes made against the anti-elitism, the so-called "populism", of these same people by others on the Right, the non-resentful Right, I guess.  This bugs me.

First, the argument is a straw man.  Not Bush, not Palin, not me, nor anyone else who comes to be associated with this position (however that happens) ever suggested that an education is not worth having.  Frankly, this is a very old, and very tired, caricature that is now most often employed in order to free one from actually having to make a real argument.  What matters is the content of the education, but back to that in a moment.

I will admit that I'm sometimes sloppy with the word "elite", using it when I should use "elitist".  But when I'm being careful, "elite", for me, carries with it no pejorative connotation whatever.  I mean, simply, a person or group of people with influence disproportionate to their number in a society.  That influence can be the product of talent, treasure, or position, it can be deserved or not, and it can be wielded justly or unjustly, no matter.

However, when I charge someone with being an "elitist" it gets a bit more complicated.  The authors of the piece get close to what I mean it with this:
The noxious thing about the cultural elite is supposed to be its bad faith. Everyone else in America more or less forthrightly confesses that they’re trying to grab as much money as they can, and if somebody has meanwhile forced a liberal education on them, that doesn’t mean they’ve had to like it. Upon making their money, real Americans are furthermore honest enough to spend it on those things that evolution or God have programmed humans to sincerely enjoy....Half the idea is that genuine, honest people differ not so much in their tastes as in their economic ability to indulge those tastes; there exists an oligarchy of money but no aristocracy of spirit. The other half is that less sincere people — elitists — lie to themselves and everybody else about what’s really in their red-meat hearts. Instead of saying I’m pleased with my superior class background, they pretend to like boring books, films, and sports.
But even more so with this:
An apparent political lie often corresponds to the one about taste. Take Walter Berglund at the end of Franzen’s Freedom (where the culture wars usually mediated by the media are waged in a face-off of neighborly harassment). Tragicomically, Walter tries to get his neighbors to outfit their cats with bibs, to protect the local songbirds. Ostensibly he is agitating for a better world. But his SUV-driving neighbors feel that he is mostly showing off, exhibiting himself as a better person with superior values. Instead of saying I have a deep neurotic craving to regard myself as a good man — a confession that, as Franzen makes clear, would be true enough — Walter, so his neighbors feel, fancies himself a lover of birds, an environmentalist. (It was in college, of course, that he became obsessed with overpopulation.)..."[P]rogressives” mainly want to suggest they’ve achieved a kind of moral progress — thanks largely to a costly education — that nobody else has.
While the nearly always attendant hypocrisy of an "elitist" gets under my skin like almost nothing else, the one thing that does manage to surpass it, and thereby actually defines "elitist" for me, is its smugness.

While self-confidence rubs some people the wrong way, chiefly the insecure, I, like most, find it extremely attractive.  But to be self-confident is not the same as being smug. To be smug is to be self-assured without grace, without gratitude.  A posture of thanksgiving is altogether missing, whether it be thankfulness to God, to country, to community, to family, to anyone or anything.

So, what's wrong with the content of the education our most fortunate sons and daughters receive from our "elite" universities?  Many things, but with respect to far too many of them being susceptible to the charge of "elitist", it's not so much what they're taught as what they're not taught:  Manners.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

A Smirk and a Scowl

First Al Franken, now, perhaps, Keith Olbermann. 

Republicans should earnestly hope and fervently pray that this will become the face(s) of the Democrat Party.

Has anyone spoken to Rosie O'Donnell?

Monday, January 24, 2011

Talking to Themselves

Over at The Daily Beast, media analyst Howard Kurtz has written what is actually an interesting piece about the demise of MSNBC's Keith Olbermann and how his story is actually a fairly familiar one about what happens when an anchor gets a bit too big for his breeches.

But this line from near the beginning of the article tickled me:  "As his (Olbermann's) indignation swelled—fueled by George W. Bush, the Republicans, the Iraq war and Fox News—his ratings ballooned as well."

"His ratings ballooned"? 

It's true, I guess, that an increase from one to two makes for a legitimate 100% increase, but really Howard.

The self-absorption of these people, the entire inside-the-beltway crowd, the pols and the people who cover them, has become almost beyond parody.  You just snicker and shake your head.  Or, you do if you even know who Keith Olbermann is.

"I'd Like to Teach the World to Sing"

While the Golden State as a whole may be in a nose dive, isolated instances of entrepreneurship are flying high nevertheless.

A nickel bottle to go with a nickel bag.

Crisis Pregnancy Centers

This past Saturday marked the 38th anniversary of the US Supreme Court's notorious Roe vs. Wade decision, the result of which is that untold millions are not with us.  God have mercy!

One good result of the decision, however, was the birth of non-profit Crisis Pregnancy Centers across the land.  These Centers offer a host of services to women facing a crisis pregnancy, services that resolutely do not include access to an abortionist.

They can use your help.  Look up the one in your area and, if you can, write'em a check.  Better yet, if you're so moved, volunteer.  You'll never be the same.

Fingernails on a Chalkboard

A couple of the usual suspects, retiring Senator Joe Lieberman and former Secretary of State Colin Powell, (apparently Senators John McCain and John Kerry were unavailable for comment) bemoaned the self-esteem damaging effects of Washington's partisan politics.  Lieberman:
I think part of the reason why the American people have lost some of our characteristic confidence in recent years is not just the terrible recession, but the fact that, when they turned to their government in Washington, what they saw is people having partisan mud fights, not thinking about what they could do for them, the American people.
Is it just me, or does this kind of fatuous and condescending psycho-babble make you grind your teeth?

Saturday, January 22, 2011

On the Mark

A good friend pointed me toward this cautionary tale by Mark Steyn, our still-smiling Jeremiah.  While it may make you want to curl up in the fetal position, I suspect Steyn's larger purpose is not simply to explain, let alone justify our despair.

Read it and leap...to action, that is.

It remains within our power to change the disastrous direction we have taken.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Lonesome Dope

For some reason, none other than award-winning novelist Larry McMurtry has felt the need to weighed in on the Tucson shooting.

The Problem, as he sees it: Lack of gun control mostly, but over-heated political rhetoric as well. The Villains: Arizona Governor Jan Brewer because she does not support stricter gun control and, of course, Sarah Palin because, well, because she's Sarah Palin. The Hero: Believe it or not, Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik.

Any guesses as to Mr. McMurtry's ideology or party affiliation?

Good grief, stick to telling stories, would you?

Too Big To Succeed

George Will's latest column reinforces a point made here many times:  The Left's Holy Grail of the omnicompetent state is not only foolish and dangerous, it's impossible.  The more the state tries to do, the more it does poorly, or not at all.

If insanity is, as they say, doing the same thing over and over again only expecting a different result, then on this issue at least, the American Left is a textbook case of insanity; they are never dissuaded by their failures.  Instead, for them, the incompetence of Big Government only reveals the need for even Bigger Government.

Alas, there was a time in America when it was not so.  Will:
James Q. Wilson, America's preeminent social scientist, has noted that until relatively recently, "politics was about only a few things; today, it is about nearly everything." Until the 1930s, or perhaps the 1960s, there was a "legitimacy barrier" to federal government activism: When new policies were proposed, the first debate was about whether the federal government could properly act at all on the subject. Today, there is no barrier to the promiscuous multiplication of programs, because no program is really new. Rather, it is an extension, modification or enlargement of something government is already doing.
Notice that Will doesn't separate the Left from the Right in his conclusion.  Sadly, the Left's insanity is so widespread that it has infected the Right as well, a fact that makes distinguishing a genuine conservative from a dilettante or poseur sometimes quite difficult.  But there is a test.

If you want to be sure, present a self-described conservative with a social problem of some sort.  If his reflex is immediately to search for the "conservative" government approach to "fixing" the problem, he's at best a half-breed and almost as much trouble as a genuine Lefty.

Anyway, our best hope is that the utter impossibility of the Left's grand ambition is increasingly apparent to everyone.  If so, perhaps we are on our way to becoming once again the country that asks first, "Yea, but is this any of the government's business?"

God Have Mercy on Us

I'll let this report speak for itself.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The Reluctant Unipole

NRO's Johan Goldberg provides a few very sobering reminders for those of us who may be hyperventilating over the symbolism of China President Hu Jintao's visit to the US this week.  If  you're inclined to worry, the symbolism of the visit suggests that, like it did on the British before us, the sun is indeed setting on the American Empire.

Relax.  Jonah's right, even more than he knows   

First, there is much truth in an old saw that goes something like this:  If you borrow a hundred bucks from the bank, the bank owns you.  But if you borrow a million bucks, you own the bank.  While I certainly wish our trade and budget deficits were in better order than they are currently, I'm still inclined to think the Chinese need us more, much more, than we need them.

Second, whatever the landscape of the international milieu in the immediate aftermath of the fall of the Soviet Union, or even now, I'm no longer sure "unipolar" is an apt description.

Clearly we were then, and remain now, the most powerful country on the planet, the only one with serious global reach.  But what does that matter if the power is not attended by some serious design regarding its use, for good or ill?

In the first place, because of our Constitution and the nature of our politics, our use of power has almost always been either ad hoc, haphazard, or both.  Secondly, while I can certainly imagine our use of power being foolish, poorly planned and executed, and with disastrous results, I simply cannot imagine it being used for ill by design.  It's just not who we are.  Moreover, other than radical Muslims and perhaps a few liberal crazies who write for The Nation, nobody else thinks it's who we are either.

So, as I say, relax.  The sun's not setting on the American Empire. We never were an empire.

Challenged by Bonhoeffer

Alan Wolfe has written for The New Republic a very fine review of Eric Metaxas' new biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy.  While he is certainly not alone in his praise both for the book and for the man whose life it chronicles, his review goes further than most.  Toward the end of it, Wolfe wrestles very seriously with the challenge of ethical excellence presented by Bonhoeffer's life and death witness, and thereby forces his readers to do the same.  You really must read this review.

Great Minds...

While there is no indication that the Cato Institute's Michael Tanner read the Sage's blog yesterday about GOP "leverage" with the Democrats over raising the debt ceiling, he nevertheless came to the same conclusion.  He goes on, however, and enhances the argument with some pretty convincing facts as well.  Take a look.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

One "Itty-bitty" Term

In a 2010 special election, againt all odds, Massachusetts GOP Senator Scott Brown won the seat long held by the late Ted Kennedy.  He did so largely by highlighting for Bay State voters the differences between Republicans and Democrats, conservatives and liberals.  Now it seems he has decided his political fortunes are better served by blurring those distinctions.

Agreeing to Colorado Democrat Senator Mark Udall's suggestion that at the President's upcoming State of the Union Address, the Senators from both parties should sit together, instead of apart as they traditionally have, Brown asks that people not notice the "itty-bitty letter" at the end of his title. 

“I’ll sit where ever they put me. I don’t care,” said Brown.

Voters do care, however.  And they care even more about where, and whether, he'll stand.  I'm afraid that if Brown, who faces re-election in 2012, now actually thinks the way he's acting, his tenure in Washington will be short indeed.

The power of that place to suck, surely and quickly, the manhood out of Republican lawmakers never ceases to amaze me.

 But then, Scott Brown was a male model, wasn't he?

The Sky is Falling...Again

First it was global warming, then it was TARP, now it's the debt ceiling.

Unlike the first two scares, however, the latter seems to make some Republicans think that this time it is to their advantage, that it is a "leverage moment" for the GOP.  Poor English aside, what they mean is that they think they can use the looming need to raise the national debt ceiling, yet again, as leverage against the Democrats and the Administration in order to extract from them real spending cuts for the first time in forever.

Well they won't succeed if they keep saying out of the other side of their collective mouths that, "Yea, we know, the debt ceiling has to be raised."  Why in heaven's name would any Democrat agree to any spending cut whatever, or to any spending cut with which he disagrees, so long as he knows that, in the end, the Republicans will vote to raise the debt ceiling nevertheless?

First, a bluff won't work if you tell the other guy you're bluffing.  Second, this should not be a bluff.  If they are to be believed, and thereby win, the Republicans have to mean that they absolutely will not vote to raise the debt ceiling unless and until the Democrats agree to cut spending.  Period!

Monday, January 17, 2011

Marriage Counseling

Consider this advice that begins a New York Times column by Dr. Phil, uh, I mean, Ross Douthat:
In every twisted, wretched, ruinous relationship, there are moments so grim, flare-ups so appalling, that they offer both parties a chance to step back, take inventory, and realize that it’s time — far past time, in fact — to go their separate ways.  For the American media and Sarah Palin, that kind of a moment arrived last week.
Here's some advice for Douthat:  "Physician, heal thyself!"

MLK, Jr. and Me

My relationship with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is complicated.  Not that I ever met the man.  His too-short life ended, taken from him by an assassin's bullet in Memphis in 1968, while I was still a boy.  I grew up thereafter with the notion, solidly inculcated by the public schools and the elite media, that he was indeed a great American, a great man.  Although I am white and from the South, my parents were not political in any sense and it never occurred to me to challenge the prevailing view.

But, when in the early 1980s the controversy arose over establishing a national holiday recognizing King's birthday and celebrating his life, I was a young man and by then a confirmed conservative.  As most of the opposition to establishing the new holiday came from my side of the aisle, I was forced to reevaluate.

My initial conclusion was that he was not deserving.  First, we couldn't afford yet another paid day off.  I never did the math, but accepted the conclusions of those who did.  Second, as significant as King may have been, his importance to the country could never equal that of any of the Founders, most conspicuously Thomas Jefferson, and we had no day to honor him.  Finally, by then King's public biography was less sanitized than it had been previously and we now knew all too well about his, ahem, "woman" problem.

Nevertheless, Congress passed and President Reagan signed the bill establishing the third Monday of each January, close to his actual birthday of 15 January, as "Martin Luther King, Jr. Day".  We've enjoyed the day off ever since, even if we didn't celebrate it.

Later, I changed my mind about all this.  It seemed we could afford the day off after all.  Moreover, the ending of Jim Crow was an undeniably proud and watershed moment in our country's history and King was absolutely indispensable to that end.  Finally, at a personal level, I found the grace to forgive him his sexual indiscretions.  I recognized that he was a flawed man just like all the other national heroes we celebrate and, more importantly, I recognized that he was as a flawed man just like me.  Moreover, his moral lapses were chiefly private in nature and never resulted in instances of public corruption.

Still later I was to change my mind again, but not about the holiday or King's deserving of it.  As I learned more and thought about it more, it occurred to me that what complicated King's legacy the most, as well as the entire Civil Rights Movement for which he was its most public face, was that after the passage of the famous Civil Rights Acts of the mid-1960s, he and the Movement somehow allowed itself to be morphed into the anti-Vietnam War effort, replete with all of its far too often blatantly anti-American rhetoric.

In his famous "Letter from  Birmingham Jail" , King wrote movingly of "bringing our nation back to those great wells of democracy which were dug deep by the founding fathers in their formulation of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence."  Later, after taking up the anti-war mantle, he once said in a speech that the US was "the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today."  Sadly, language such as this sullied for many Americans, including myself, the otherwise wholly noble cause we had come to associate chiefly with King himself and the struggle he lead to secure equal rights for all Americans.

Nevertheless, as I said, I still think he deserves his due and his day.  On balance, America would be a much poorer place without him and his sacrifice.  Because of that I can say, without hesitation, Happy Birthday Dr. King!

Freedom is Not Enough

I'll get to the substance of my title in a moment.

It seems the phrase, "culture of poverty", and more importantly the idea behind it, is back in academic fashion and Stephen Steinberg, for one, will have none of it.  The idea behind it is that culture itself, specifically black culture, is a significant underlying cause of generational poverty.  Steinberg is upset in the first instance because as he sees it this blame-the-victim approach is essentially racist in nature.  But even more importantly, a focus on culture obscures what in his view are the actual causes of poverty, that is, the condition of poverty itself.

My immediate reaction to his piece is that Steinberg is chiefly an unapologetic liberal ideologue who happens also to be hyper-sensitive to even the possibility of evidence of racism.  Yawn.  Still, his piece held my attention and got me to thinking, not so much about his argument, but about the premises upon which he builds it.

I should begin, however, by pointing out a couple of problems with the argument itself.  First, by maintaining that the actual conditions of poverty are its principal cause, he's very close to framing what is an uninteresting tautology.  In essence he's saying that poverty causes poverty, that poor people are poor because they are poor.  But even if it's not a pure tautology and can afford at least some purchase on the problem, that is, that the conditions of poverty themselves result in such a measure of despair and dysfunctional behavior that escaping it becomes nearly impossible, there are simply too many counter-examples, untold thousands in fact, millions even, of people who in spite of their poverty have in fact escaped it.

Second, his argument is wholly materialistic.  The best way out of poverty, he insists, is simply by removing altogether or alleviating at least the conditions of poverty.  Supply the poor with more "stuff", food, money, health care, housing, etc., and, voil√†, they'll no longer be poor.  The problem is that we're already familiar with that strategy and know it doesn't work.  Billions upon billions have been spent in the War on Poverty to little or no avail.  This is the chief reason why the "culture of poverty" has become, again, of interest to sociologist who study the subject.  (To be fair, Steinberg would argue that we, as a society, and our government as a reflection of it, have become increasingly stingy with our "stuff" and that is why poverty abides.  You decide.)

To finally get around to what I really wanted to say, that his approach is entirely materialistic is what captured my attention as it highlights an important difference between conservatism and contemporary liberalism.

Ironically, a routine charge of liberals against conservatives is that they are fundamentally materialistic.  (Individual liberals rank hypocrisy about this I'll ignore for the moment.  Here, at least, I'm more interested in what they say and less in what they actually do.)  But whether they realize it or not, materialism is not what actually bugs them.  What really makes them uncomfortable with conservatism is its emphasis on liberty.  Liberty, which we know if we've read our Tocqueville (and we should), is always pursued at the expense of equality, and if there is one thing contemporary liberalism is most about, it's the pursuit of equality.  For a liberal, a  society that is unequal, or increasingly unequal, is by definition unjust and therefore unacceptable.  His inconsistency, however, is that the chief way in which he measures inequality, in spite of his charge against conservatives, is materially. (Perhaps because it is the easiest way to measure it.)  Hence his emphasis on spreading "stuff" around, i.e., redistributing wealth.

This may shock you, but, to a point, they have a point.  To emphasize liberty, or freedom, at the expense of all other values is to always beg the question, free to do what?  Is it simply to compile as much "stuff" as possible?  Does, indeed, he who dies with the most "stuff" win?  Is there nothing more to life than simply "getting and spending"?

A libertarian, with whom a conservative makes common cause in privileging liberty, might say that it's nobody's business.  If a free man wants to make "getting and spending" his raison d'etre, as long as he does not interfere with another's right to do the same or otherwise, it is for him and him alone to decide.  It is at this point that libertarians and conservatives divide.

A conservative understands man to be both body and soul.  He is at pains to avoid the gnostic temptation to divide the material and the spiritual.  Modern man, under the spell of the Enlightenment, accepts this division, but unlike the gnostics, emphasizes the material over the spiritual, the body over the soul.  The spirit, the soul, is effectively relegated to an altogether private realm of no public significance.

If there is one thing one can say without fear of contradiction it is that contemporary liberals remain largely under the spell of the Enlightenment.  As a result they, unwittingly, divide body from soul and continue to emphasize the former over the latter.  I say "unwittingly" because they know nevertheless that something is wrong.  What they know is that freedom is not enough.

Our Founders knew this as well.  They knew, and frankly said as much quite often, that a foundation of morality was absolutely necessary for the proper functioning of a free society.  (They also knew that a moral foundation was most effectively established and transmitted by religion and, as a result, not only allowed for its free exercise, but encouraged it.)  Only a moral people can handle freedom wisely, safely.  Only a moral people will feel an obligation to those less fortunate and act upon it.  Moreover, only a moral people can extract themselves from poverty when afforded the opportunity to do so.

I'm sorry Mr. Steinberg, but whether "red, yellow, black, or white", there is such a thing as a "culture of poverty" and it is itself a cause of poverty.  Poverty is not described solely by the relative absence of  "stuff", nor will the provision of  that "stuff" solve it.  In a land of opportunity, persistent poverty is fundamentally a moral problem defined by the inability to recognize an opportunity as such when it presents itself or to summon the wherewithal to act upon it even if it is recognized.  And this country, as flawed as it may otherwise be, is still a land of opportunity.

OK, now I'll gird myself for charges of calling the poor immoral.      
      

Friday, January 14, 2011

Team Player

POLITICO reports that Eric Fuller, a 63-year old veteran, a campaign worker for Congresswoman Giffords, and one of the surviving victims of last Saturday's shooting in Tucson, is blaming someone other than Jared Loughner for his bullet wounds:
It looks like Palin, Beck, Sharron Angle and the rest got their first target,...Their wish for Second Amendment activism has been fulfilled — senseless hatred leading to murder, lunatic fringe anarchism, subscribed to by John Boehner, mainstream rebels with vengeance for all, even 9-year-old girls.
Wow!  I'd say this is carrying "taking one for the team" to a whole new level.

Should I?

I must.

These people are sick.

What if...?

Over at The American Spectator, Justin Paulette tackles what for conservatives is an extremely important question:  "What if [Jared] Loughner wasn't a tin-foil-hat lunatic, but a card-carrying member of the Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy, a disciple of Sarah Palin and full-throated, tea-dumping critic of Obama's taxation-nation?"

I've been wondering about this myself almost from the moment I first learned of the shooting.  How would the fallout have been different?  How would conservatives have reacted?  (We know how liberals would have reacted:  Exactly the same, only more so.)  Should it have made any difference?

While I steadfastly believe it should not have made any difference at all, I'm just as sure that it would have.  In fact, I'm certain that it would have made a huge difference.  That fact is one of conservatives biggest problems and liberals greatest advantages.

We conservatives need seriously to chew on this question because some event parallel to the one in Tucson--not, we pray, involving violence--will find its way to us whether we like it or not.  We need to be ready.

Tommy Guns

Esteemed NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw on MSNBC's "Morning Joe":
Gun control is too simple a phrase to define all the complications and nuances of it, frankly. In Arizona they have a wide open system. I would be nervous about going into a bar or restaurant in Arizona on a Saturday night where people can carry concealed without permits.
Well, Tom, in New York they have strict gun control and I would be even more nervous about going into a bar or restaurant in the Bronx on a Saturday night where people can't.

And what's more, in Arizona, not only can I carry a gun  if I like, I can also order a basket of greasy fries and load'em down with all the salt I want.  So there!

What a nitwit.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

"I'm not a smart man..."

Need a chuckle?  Try this from The American Spectator's Christopher Orlet.

Two Steps Forward, Only One Step Back

Even National Review's Rich Lowry thought President Obama's speech at the Tucson Memorial Service "magnificent."   I'm not so sure.  Oh, I suppose that all things considered  it was good enough, but....  (You knew a "but" was coming, didn't you?)

As president, Obama represents the entire country and is therefore entitled, indeed expected to use the first person plural pronoun "we" when he delivers a speech.  This is particularly so when the speech is of the nature of the one he gave yesterday.  However, when he came to that part of his address where he said that "we" all need to dial the rhetoric back a notch, I must confess, it bugged me...and more than a little.  The President:
But at a time when our discourse has become so sharply polarized -- at a time when we are far too eager to lay the blame for all that ails the world at the feet of those who happen to think differently than we do -- it's important for us to pause for a moment and make sure that we're talking with each other in a way that heals, not in a way that wounds....Bad things happen, and we have to guard against simple explanations in the aftermath.  For the truth is none of us can know exactly what triggered this vicious attack. None of us can know with any certainty what might have stopped these shots from being fired, or what thoughts lurked in the inner recesses of a violent man's mind. Yes, we have to examine all the facts behind this tragedy. We cannot and will not be passive in the face of such violence. We should be willing to challenge old assumptions in order to lessen the prospects of such violence in the future. But what we cannot do is use this tragedy as one more occasion to turn on each other....As we discuss these issues, let each of us do so with a good dose of humility. Rather than pointing fingers or assigning blame, let's use this occasion to expand our moral imaginations, to listen to each other more carefully, to sharpen our instincts for empathy and remind ourselves of all the ways that our hopes and dreams are bound together.
It is no doubt true that both sides in our national debate, in order to buttress their respective cases, sometimes employ rhetoric that is undeniably over-the-top.  But it most certainly is not true that both sides do so equally. 

Note first that we are only recently removed from a long period during which most of the Left was inflicted with some strain or other of  "Bush Derangement Syndrome."  I'm referring here not to the many occasions in which they reflexively disagreed with the previous Administration over policy, but instead to the manner in which they disagreed.  "Bush lied and people died" was perhaps the least of their vitriol.  Note also that this syndrome was replaced not by a return on their part to some semblance of civility, but by what appears to be an even more toxic, "Palin Derangement Syndrome."  Finally, and most importantly, in the present case, it is the Left, not the Right, that jumped to unwarranted conclusions about the cause of Saturday's massacre,  immediately making scurrilous accusations about who was to blame and why.

"We" are not the cause of the ugliness that has marked the last few days since the shooting.  What ought to have been a somber national occasion, uniting us all in grief and sympathy for the victims and those closest to them, was sullied by the Left, and by they alone.  The same Left that comprises Obama's principal political base and that he, as a politician, most directly represents.  

While I do not think Obama's words yesterday were delivered cynically, with the explicit purpose of protecting the Left by making us all somehow equally culpable for what occurred in Tucson or its aftermath, I do believe it may well have that effect nevertheless.  By asserting that we all are responsible for the current, less-than-civil rhetorical climate and that we all must share in the burden of improving it, he made it very difficult for the next person to argue vigorously about almost any issue.  This is not good for conservatives.

Even before the speech, David Harsanyi, for one, sensed that something like this was happening anyway and warned conservatives against falling for it.
But this impending conversation about civility and our climate of hate is not only a useless one, it also is meant to discourage dissent. It is a rigged talk, because not only do we — by any standard and context available — reside in a highly civil and peaceful political system, violence is almost non-existent. The Tea Party didn't pick up pitchforks and storm the White House; they knocked off Republicans in primaries.  Now, we may want to have a conversation about our policies regarding the mentally ill or the need for more gun control (though I may disagree with the outcome) because, after all, they are relevant to the horrible events of the past week. But conservatives should be wary of any national dialogue about civility or any beer summit about the specter of political violence.  It is nothing more than a setup.
How, exactly, are conservatives being setup?  Imagine, for example, the debate to come in the Congress as the Republicans move to repeal or restrain much of the Democrat Party's agenda.  The disagreements are likely to become quite heated again.  Or will they?  Will Republicans feel as free now as they did before to argue passionately against that agenda?  Might it be the case now that they will feel the need to muzzle themselves somewhat lest they be shamed by the Democrats, along with a compliant media, who, on cue, can be counted on to resurrect the recent memory of Tucson?

Of course, you may protest that this will work against the Democrats as well.  Perhaps, but as I mentioned in an earlier post, much of the Democrats' craziness is already discounted by the American public.  The Democrats are the party of the Left and as such they are identified with a good measure of radicalism.  Radicals, as everybody knows, say and do outrageous things, that is what we expect of them.  It's kind of like Bill Clinton with his numerous sexual indiscretions and serial lies and perjuries.  Why, that's just Bill being Bill after all.  Tell us something we don't already know.

Conservatives, by contrast, do not enjoy this same political advantage.  When we speak too loudly or intemperately, we pay a price for it simply because it is not what the public expects of us.  Obama's speech served to highlight this already existing distinction.   

Unfortunately, besides calling attention to it, I'm not sure much of anything can be done to arrest this  dynamic now.  And especially so since the President's speech has been so well-received, by conservatives even.  But then we've been called hate-mongers before and it didn't stop us.  We shouldn't let an otherwise well-delivered speech stop us either.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Barbarians at the Gate

Ken Masugi has penned a nice piece titled "Speaking Up for Barbarism."   He takes on those who, in the aftermath last Saturday's massacre in Arizona, would have us effectively muzzle ourselves for fear that our words might encite some to violence.

A society of self-imposed silence should not be confused with a peaceful or civil society.  In fact, to the contrary, such a society has already begun its descent into the very barbarism it seeks to avoid. 

A Couple of Thoughts About the Shooting

1.  There was absolutely nothing political about the shooting in Arizona.  Almost everything about its aftermath has been political.

2.  Sheriff Dupnik's comments immediately after the shooting were, and now continue to be, disgusting.  Insofar as he, and not the national Left, becomes the focus of anger over such opportunistic and irresponsible tirades, they, the national Left, will be only too happy to go along.  Their despicable reaction has backfired, they know it, and they need both a fall guy and additional cover.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The Difference Between the Left and the Right

For those who've known me for some time know, I often say, and with some genuine sadness, that within the context of American political conflict, it is increasingly clear that the Left and the Right inhabit entirely different moral universes.  What has happened in the wake of the Tucson shooting serves only to reinforce that somber conclusion.

When word of the Saturday's massacre first spread, we knew very little of the details of the crime itself and absoltuely nothing of the character, ideology, political affiliation, or motivation of the shooter.  As it happened, his victims included a George H. W. Bush appointed federal judge and a Democrat congresswoman.  The latter, while an Obamacare supporter, was also a gun rights advocate and something of a libertarian.  As such, it would have been just as easy for those of us on the Right to have seized the moment in order to try and score some cheap political points as it was for those on the Left.

But we didn't and they did.

Moreover, had any one of us even tried as much, he or she would have immediately faced an avalanche of criticism from their soon to be former political allies.

Sadly, as I say, we're not the same.  The differences between the Left and the Right are no longer simply matters of degree, they have in fact become differences in kind.  As a result, the resolution of our conflicts cannot be managed through simple compromise.  It can only be achieved by victory for one side and defeat for the other.

 

Which Is It?

In a piece for the Wall Street Journal, University of Tennessee law professor Glenn Harlan Reynolds carefully demolishes the case made by representatives of the Left in order to justify their reprehensible action following the Tucson shooting on Saturday.  He then asks of them the most cutting question I've yet heard or read:
To be clear, if you're using this event to criticize the "rhetoric" of Mrs. Palin or others with whom you disagree, then you're either: (a) asserting a connection between the "rhetoric" and the shooting, which based on evidence to date would be what we call a vicious lie; or (b) you're not, in which case you're just seizing on a tragedy to try to score unrelated political points, which is contemptible. Which is it?

Monday, January 10, 2011

Dick Winters, RIP

Major Richard D. Winters, US Army, the hero of Easy Company, made known to us all through the book and the 2001 HBO miniseries, Band of Brothers, has died at 92

If you watched the series (and you must), it was impossible to find anything but intense admiration for the man as he was portrayed by the fine British actor Damien Lewis.  According to the late Stephen Ambrose, the historian who wrote the book on which the series was based, the portrayal was as close to the truth about Dick Winters as a film could be expected to be.  In a 2001 BBC interview, Ambrose said that he hoped young people, after reading the book or watching the series, would say, “'I want to be like Dick Winters.'  Not necessarily as soldiers, but as that kind of leader, that kind of man, with basic honesty and virtue and an understanding of the difference between right and wrong.”  RIP

Left-wing Lynch Mobs

By now you know the terrible news from Tucson.  Unfortunately, but altogether predictably, every leftist outlet from those that make their virtual home on the Internet to those that, sadly, reside within the Democrat Party itself has decided to politicize the horrible shooting.  As every liberal talking head will confirm, they have launched a campaign of irresponsible vigilantism against anything and everything to which they even think they can attach the label "conservative."  And what's even more disgusting is that they began this new enterprise almost before the sound of the gunfire ceased its unsettling echo.

If you ever doubted it before, and you never should have, know now that these people are without shame.

But I think it's going to backfire.  One important political advantage the Left enjoys over the Right is that their craziness is largely discounted by the American people.  As a result, they can get away with alot.  But what they're up to now has the same stench about it as the loathsome display they put on at the funeral for Minnesota Senator Paul Wellstone in 2002.  They paid a political price for it then and my gut tells me they will for this as well.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

La Cage Aux Folles

A new biography of the American composer John Cage (1912-1992) is out and as I read a review I remembered when I first learned of him.  I took a course in music appreciation as an undergrad in the 1970s and when the teacher played a recording of one of Cage's pieces I winced.  Then, as now, I was just enough of an ignorant country boy to not feel the need to pretend that I either understood or appreciated anything about what I had just heard.  To me it was nothing but noise.  But then nothing (try his 4'33") and noise is what made Cage famous in the first place.

To be sure, he wouldn't have called it noise, nor would have most of the sophisticates who celebrated his work.  But to any common understanding of the distinction between music and noise, it was noise.

Of course, it was also something more than just noise.  That something was that it was an important part of the whole post-modern (POMO) rebellion against "form" in the arts.  For your average POMO enthusiast, "form" is at best a construct (something just made up) and at worse a freedom-denying construct. While sophisticates get this, les bourgeois don't.  In fact, they can't, trapped as they are by a false consciousness which is itself a product of a construct.  One of the best ways for the sophisticates to demonstrate their superiority over the otherwise hapless middle clas is by participating in √©pater le bourgeois, that is, by shocking them.  In this case, what better way to shock them than by calling noise, or silence, music.

A major problem with this practice for the sophisticates is that the bourgeois are not always shocked.  Sometimes they're just puzzled, puzzled to the point of nervous laughter and wondering whether or not someone is simply pulling their leg.

If you have a few moments, please watch this episode of the old TV game show I've Got a Secret from 1960.  (How many of you are old enough to remember that show?)  The contestant is none other than composer John Cage.  His "secret" is the nature of his composition "Water Walk", which he performs for the panel and the bourgeois audience.  What is interesting to me is how host Garry Moore is at pains to convince everyone that this is serious, that Cage is serious, and how the audience reacts to the performance.  They want to know, "Is he putting us on?"

My guess is that a hundred years from now, there will be no new biographies of John Cage as no one will have ever heard of him. Nor will they have heard of most anyone else who has championed this period we might call "the post-modern moment."  ("Era" is too grandiose.)  For a moment, and little more, what it offers may seem interesting, even a bit clever.  But it soon wears out its welcome, much like the adolescent humor it resembles.

The good, the true, and the beautiful, however, will endure.  When the "real" music of Bach and Beethoven was first performed, sophisticates recognized it immediately for its genius.  But then so did the bourgeois, and I suspect even the yeomen of the day.

"The Kennedys" and "The Reagans"

I don't know about you, but like the Congress itself, I'm just about Kennedy-ed out.  As a result, yet another made-for-TV biopic mini-series chronicling the life and times of the famous Massachusetts family interested me not at all.  Well, it looks like legions of Kennedy groupies have come to my rescue.

The History Channel produced and had planned to air just such a series this month, corresponding to the 50th anniversary of the beginning of the JFK Administration.  But when liberal defenders of the memory of Camelot protested, the series was dropped.

Sure enough, some are already comparing this incident to CBS's decision in 2003 to cancel its mini-series, The Reagans.  At the time, many conservatives protested that the series' characterization of the former president was inaccurate and unfair and amid the furor, CBS dropped the show.  But, to this point anyway, the episodes are not parallel..

In 2003, CBS's decision to cancel created a liberal backlash about the evil of censorship, a backlash that went all the way to the halls of government.  Even Tom Daschle, then Senate Minority Leader, was moved to comment, saying that the network's action "smells of intimidation to me."

I've not yet heard anything from Senator Mitch McConnell over The History Channel's decision and I won't hold my breath either.

Such are the differences between the Left and the Right.

 

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Where Four of Ten Die

Gotham City, that is, where the large "A" stands not for the "Big Apple", but for ""The Abortion Capital of the World" instead.

The city released new statistics this week revealing that 40% of all its pregnancies end in an abortion, nearly double the national rate.  When the Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York held a press conference to express outrage over the outrageous numbers, NARAL Pro Choice New York vice president Mary Alice Carr had this to say:
If the Archbishop and his allies are truly committed to lowering the New York City abortion rate, they might consider supporting the tools proven to reduce unintended pregnancies: comprehensive sex education and birth control for sexually active individuals.
Hmm, and all along I thought these people thought abortion was a tool proven to reduce unintended pregnancies, a very successful form of birth control.

Maybe we're starting to get to them.

Mediocrity Advances!

I just watched regular season 7-9 Seattle defeat reigning Super Bowl champion New Orleans in the first round of the playoffs and I found myself routing for them throughout the game.  Why?

It wasn't so much the reflex to cheer for the underdog as it was a hope for the comeuppance of the far-too-cocky NFL hierarchy.  As this year's television ratings attest, the league makes big money inspite of itself.  For some sinful reason I'm sure, it really bugs me when people posture as geniuses when in fact they're only riding a favorable wave they neither created nor chose.  You know, like stockbrokers in the 1990s. 

Anyway, the fact that the "suits" at NFL HQ never considered the possibility of a less-than-.500-record division-winner going ALL-THE-WAY amuses me greatly.

Go Seahawks!

Parental Units

First, in the armed forces, it went from "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" to "Please Ask, Do Tell."   Now, at the State Department, it's going from, are you ready for this, "Father and Mother" to "Parent One and Parent Two."   In February, new "gender neutral" terminology will be used on all US passport applications.

If this weren't so sick and sad, it would be funny.

By the way, while they'll no longer offend homosexual applicants with the new terminology, won't they risk offending one or the other parent by labeling them "one" and "two"?   

Law and Order

Heather MacDonald begins her report in the City Journal thus:
Conservative ideas are responsible for the two great urban-policy successes of the last quarter-century: the breathtaking drops in crime and in welfare dependency since the early 1990s. You’d never know it from members of the opinion elite, however, who have rarely recognized these successes, much less their provenance. So let’s recapitulate an epic battle about the foundations of social order, a battle that had not just a clear winner but also a clear loser: the liberal policy prescriptions for cities that many opinion makers and politicians still embrace.
"Still embrace."

It's unbelievable really that these same people, and so many others besides, who simply won't let go of their demonstrably foolish ideas about the "foundations of social order", continue nevertheless to be elected and reelected to public office, to be appointed to important positions in this Administration and others, to be hired as writers and reporters at Big Media outlets, to win tenure at elite universities, etc.  In a sane world they would be ignored, mocked, or both.

It's also excruciatingly frustrating that common-sense notions like, oh, I don't know, able-bodied men have to work if they expect to eat or all crime (no crime is petty if you're the victim) must be punished, have to defended at all.

But they do.  MacDonald's piece is as good a defense as you'll see and well worth a moment of your time.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Did He Just Say That?

Well, someone has too.

I'm referring to The American Spectator's William Tucker and his take on the assassination last week by one of his own guards of Salman Taseer, the Pakistani governor of Punjab.  Taseer had the temerity to call for a pardon for the 45-year old Christian mother of five, Asia Bibi, who is currently imprisoned and sentenced to death for the crime of blasphemy against Islam.

To the extent that the story's been covered at all, Tucker lists some of the media's more "mealy-mouthed" explanations for the madness, explanations that range from class conflict to post-traumatic stress to colonialism.  Tucker will have none of it.  Instead, this:
Here's an alternative explanation to the story. These people are crazy. They live in a world that most Europeans left behind when Hieronymus Bosch hung up his paintbrushes -- a world that most contemporary American leave behind somewhere around first grade. I remember well the panic we all felt that year trying to escape some particularly unpopular girl's "cooties." After another year, however, the terror subsided. We began to lead rational lives. Not so in the great Islamic Republic. The phobias, irrational fears, superstitions, and delusions that most cultures would ascribe to madness are part of daily life. The place is a lunatic asylum. Thank god they live on the other side of the world. But of course, as 9/11 showed, that's not really true anymore. And they do have a nuclear weapon, too -- think of that.
Yes, do think of that.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

You've Just Been "Blogged"

I learned a new word today, "denominalisation."  It's the practice of turning a noun into a verb and it seems to be unique to the English language.  But, as Anthony Gardner notes, while some love it, others hate it.  Either way, we're stuck with it.

However, if it is in fact a case of poor or lazy grammar, then the word "blogged" may be a particularly heinous example.  It's a word that begins as a noun with roots in computer jargon, "web", which is transformed into another from a blend of "web log", and then ends as the past tense of the infinitive, "to blog".

But wait!  Doesn't all that etymology make what I do sound pretty smart after all?  Huh?  Doesn't it? 

Suppose They Gave a War...

By way of a book review, Brian Doherty over at Reason.com, makes a point about fighting terrorism, fighting any enemy for that matter, that simply has to be answered.  The book is in part about the "first war on terror", that is, the fight against the terror practised by anarchists and associated radicals during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  As Doherty sees it, that war, like today's, was largely unnecessary.
In the late 19th century, as today, a terrorist cabal detonated bombs in the heart of the Western world. Judged by the number of successful attacks on politicians and royalty, that force was more directly threatening to the inner circles of power than today’s radical Islam.

This episodic violence, loosely associated with the extremist wing of the anarchist movement, lasted roughly from 1880 to 1910. It claimed the lives of only about 150 private citizens but also killed a president, a police chief, a prime minister, a czar, a king, and an empress. Yet the wave of terror eventually receded. No one has lived in mortal fear of bomb-throwing, dagger-clutching anarchists for nearly a century. Will citizens in 2110 view radical Islamic terrorism as a similar historical curiosity, useful mostly for colorful storytelling?...

...To the powers of the time, the anarchist threat was not to be downplayed or doubted. After the anarchist-linked Leon Czolgosz assassinated U.S. President William McKinley, McKinley’s successor, Theodore Roosevelt, issued a pronouncement that presaged George W. Bush’s rhetoric about the post-9/11 threat of radical Islam: “When compared with the suppression of anarchy, every other question sinks into insignificance.”...

...As history has shown, Roosevelt was wrong about the significance of the anarchist threat. So was George W. Bush when he used the jihadist threat as an excuse for policies that may have done far more to damage America and elsewhere than they did to prevent attacks.
I've seen more and more of this kind argument lately and there is a huge, glaring, problem with it.  That is, you cannot prove a negative.  Noone can say anything about what would have become of anarchist terrorism had it not been resisted.  Similarly, no one can say what the world would look like today had the US in effect shrugged its collective shoulders after 9/11.

When it's not motivated by liberal self-loathing (which in this case it may well be), the temptation to this kind of thinking is, somewhat, understandable.  It's certainly predictable.  It goes something like this:

The anarchists did not succeed in the early 20th Century, nor have the jihadist successfully attacked the US since 9/11.  So maybe we over-reacted, in fact, maybe we didn't need to react at all.  Moreover, we know that all big endeavors are accompanied by inefficiency and outright waste.  We also know that when the big endeavor involves the use of armed forces, sadly, that waste includes not only treasure, but human life as well. 

But, while the costs of taking action are, or at least become, obvious, the costs of doing too little or nothing at all are not so.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

The Squeaky Wheel

So, as oil approaches $100 per barrel, where exactly is the Democrat Party's congressional leadership?  Shouldn't they be scrambling to get in front of an obliging Main Stream Media camera, complete with a sympathetic reporter?  Shouldn't I, by now, be hearing from them a litany of angry complaints, decrying the Administration's policies that have lead to this outrage, demanding that something, that anything be done about it: "Don't just stand there, whine, pout, scream for heaven's sake.  Demagogue at least, will ya?" 

I was just wondering.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

What About the Democrats?

Have you noticed that the latest media template is to badger the incoming Republican House majority about their duty to "govern"?  For the last four years, however, their focus has been on the the minority GOP's responsibility to not "obstruct".  When, pray tell, will they hold the Democrats accountable for anything?

I'm not sure, but when hell freezes over comes to mind.

Repeal the 17th Amendment?

So long as we're talking about tinkering with the mechanisms of government, consider this argument for repeal of the 17th Amendment by FOX News' "The Judge", Andrew Napolitano.

The 17th Amendment, passed in 1913, is the one that authorized the direct popular election of US Senators and, as Napolitano points out, it came with a cost.

The Filibuster and Freedom

It seems the Gray Lady's editorial board ha weighed in on the side of a number Democrat pols by arguing that it's high time we reformed the practice of filibustering in the US Senate.  Hmmm, I wonder where they stood when the GOP controlled the body and threatened the "nuclear option" in order to ensure up-or-down votes on judicial nominees?  Liberals love streamlined majority-rule democracy, except, of course, when they don't.

However, aside form the hypocrisy, the reforms suggested in the NY Times editorial appear reasonable enough and warrant further discussion at least.  But before we do, we need to be clear about what it is the filibuster is meant to achieve in the first place.

To state the obvious, the Founders were committed to democratic government.  For them, a government that did not rest on the consent of the governed was illegitimate.  But, and this is important, government by consent was not an end in itself.  Rather, it was but a means to an end, a very important means, to be sure.  That end was to secure unalienable rights to life, liberty, and property.  When any government, even democratic government, became destructive of that end, it was a problem.  Actually, when it was democratic government it was a very big problem.  Government by consent means by definition that the majority rules and what the Founders feared most about democracy was the threat to our unalienable rights that came from a concentrated and motivated majority, that is, from a tyranny of the majority

To forestall that threat, (in democratic government it's impossible to eliminate it altogether), they instituted several protective measures.  The first was a written constitution that formally outlined the limited power of the national government.  Second, they included within the constitution several measures to divide that power, first between the national and the state governments (federalism), and secondly within the national government itself (separation of powers).  Within the legislative branch they further divided its power between two houses, the Senate and the House of Representatives.  Moreover, they even further divided  that power by differentiating between the nature of representation within the two houses.  In the House, where representation is proportional to population, big states are big, and small states are small.  In the Senate, all states are equal, big or small.

As you can see, the Founders were very concerned to protect our unalienable rights from any and all concentrations of power, even concentrations that were democratic in nature.  So concerned were they that the parliamentary measure of filibustering, holding firth from the floor in order to prevent or delay a vote on a matter before the body from actually taking place, was embraced as a way to further frustrate a concentrated majority from exerting their will on the minority.  By Senate rule, in order to force a matter to a vote, a super-majority, three-fifth's of the Senators, must agree to halt a filibuster.  (It used to be two-thirds, so the rule's already been reformed before.)  The effect of all this is to increase the relative legislative power of a minority of Senators against the will of the majority, unless, of course, the majority is large.  As a consequence, the passage of legislation is typically slow, frustrating, and extremely inefficient.

So why did they put up with it?  Because it was a rule that was consistent with a constitution that in and of itself almost always guaranteed that the passage of legislation would be slow, frustrating, and extremely inefficient.  And why did they want that?  Again, because they wanted to secure our unalienable rights to life, liberty, and property against any and all concentrations of power, even democratic concentrations of power.

If the Senate decides to eliminate the filibuster altogether, or just make it easier to stop, they'll be empowering the majority at the expense of the minority, plain and simple.  Maybe we want to do that.  Maybe we need to.  But, in any case, we need also to be sure about what we're doing first.  

Monday, January 3, 2011

Equal Enough

So why doesn't liberal Democrats' crass appeal to class envy work like it once did?  Oh, they still do it.  Just listen and you'll hear every other one of them mention the growing disparity between the rich and the middle class.  (It used to be between the rich and the "poor".  The shift in label itself demonstrates the weakness of the tactic.)

Michael Barone offers some very good reasons as to why they're not able to stir up the masses as they once could.  I'd like to add one more.

America, the actual country and the idea, is first and foremost about liberty, not equality.  It's our heritage; it's in our DNA.  When it comes to income distribution at least, socialist-inspired radical egalitarianism remains for the most part alien to us.  Oh, it has made many inroads, to be sure, but in spite of it, your average American still worries more about his freedom than he does about what the guy next door, or even the fellow living in the gated community on the better side of town, makes.

May it ever be so.

"Arts and Letters Daily"

Professor Denis Dutton has died of cancer and you'll find a very nice obituary for him over at The American Spectator

Don't know him?  Neither did I until I read the obit where I learned that he was a founder and editor of one of the Internet's very best websites, Arts and Letters Daily.  Someone recommended it to me about ten years ago and I've found it indispensable ever since.  If you haven't already, do check it out.

The site is more or less a clearinghouse for many of the more substantive short pieces currently published in periodicals.  The range is extremely broad and eclectic.  While there's nothing particularly conservative in what the site presents, in fact it's often decidedly to the contrary, it does seem to feel that way nevertheless.  Not sure why.  Maybe you have a thought.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Happy New Year Everyone!

While the Sage hasn't exactly been on vacation for the last week or so, he has been surrounded by so much family and so many friends that keeping up with a blog has been challenging to say the least.  It's a challenge I'm afraid I wasn't up to.  Even today we're off to my sister's house in an hour or so for our traditional "Day After Christmas Family and Friends Get Together".  It was postponed from last Sunday due to the inclement weather caused by our nonetheless beautiful White Christmas.  We're a big family and to avoid the pressures of trying to see everyone on Christmas Day, and fretting over offending those you don't see, we simply come together the day after, very casually, and...EAT!  (What else?)  This year it's pork BBQ, the product of a homegrown pig and twelve hours of careful smoking by the Sage himself.  Why, I actually feel sorry for those of you who can't join us.

Anyway, my blog is now one year old and I want to thank those of you who encouraged me to do it in the first place.  I was initially skeptical and very worried that I would simply run out of gas in a month or two.  But somehow the liberal Democrats have managed to keep me riled up just enough over the year to want, to need, to vent to someone now and again.  Thanks for listening.  (I do pray the venting was more than mere "electronic grunts" as one wit described the state of contemporary communication.)

With the first day of 2011, our country continues to face serious challenges, many of them dangerous.  But it's a new year and a new beginning, and as good a time as any to start again the long struggle to set things aright.  As Scripture enjoins us, "Fear not!"