Sunday, July 27, 2008

That's All Folks

UPDATED, 09/05/09

That's the end of my stint at Blogspot, I should say. All of my new posts are at Politics & Prosperity. (Note to readers: This is a new location. Please change your bookmarks and feed links.)

But don't go away empty-handed. There are more than 2,000 posts here; you can't have read all of them (if you've read any). Check out "The Best of Liberty Corner," browse the archive, and explore the various categories linked in the sidebar.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

The home schooler threat?

Guest commentary by Postmodern Conservative.

Here's a perceptive op-ed from the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal: "Home-schoolers threaten our cultural comfort." In all fairness, however, I think that the level of acceptance for home schooling has risen tremendously, at least in some parts of the country.

Here in Richmond, Va., sympathy for home schooling (or at least a lack of antipathy) is fairly high. I imagine that most of the rejection comes from leftists and/or adults who are into minimalist parenting. I suspect they are made to feel guilty by home schoolers, or more traditional parents in general.

Some of the article's criticism is applicable to anyone who puts material goods ahead of the basic spiritual, emotional and intellectual needs of their children:

Young families must make the decision: Will junior go to day care and day school, or will mom stay home and raise him? The rationalizations begin. "A family just can't make it on one income." (Our parents did.) "It just costs so much to raise a child nowadays." (Yeah, if you buy brand-name clothing, pre-prepared food, join every club and activity, and spend half the cost of a house on the daughter’s wedding, it does.) And so, the decision is made. We give up the bulk of our waking hours with our children, as well as the formation of their minds, philosophies, and attitudes, to strangers.

It's the old "here are the keys to the car and leave me alone" syndrome; only now it's "go play your video game, go on the internet, play with your iPhone, and leave me alone" syndrome. But when parents can no longer afford such distractions, as our economic downturn threatens levels of frugality unheard of in decades, the spoiled children will come home to roost. And then what?

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The Budweiser Buy-Out

Guest commentary by Postmodern Conservative.

The coverage at The American Spectator is generally good. But everyone's entitled to say something stupid at least once and awhile. In this case it's G. Tracy Mehan, III ("This Bud's Not for You") waxing nostalgic about his hometown company, Anheuser-Busch, which has just been bought out by the Belgian mega-brewer, InBev. In his desperation Mr. Mehan says he's willing to abandon his "free-market, free-trade principles" all because of "an American brand." I'm just as nostalgic as anyone else at times, but when push comes to shove, A-B is an overrated producer of stale suds. So if InBev buys out a US brewery, what's the upshot? I imagine that most of the jobs will stay and, heck.... maybe the beer will get better! After all, the Japanese gave America better cars. That's what the market is all about.

Friday, July 11, 2008

The ANWR Slide Show

Here's a great pictorial exhibit on ANWR and the impact of oil drilling in northern Alaska from Dr. Philip Blosser: The politics of oil and the truth about ANWR drilling (July 8, 2008). The facts speak for themselves.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Current Events in Catholicism

Guest commentary by Postmodern Conservative.

I know that not everyone reading this blog has a direct interest in religion or Catholicism. But theologically-minded or not there's no denying that the Catholic Church figures heavily in the news, especially on political and ethical issues. Many conservatives—from Ronald Reagan through to the current president—have seen this as an important (and benevolent) role at the very least. One can cite the "tag-team effort" of Reagan and John Paul II in the collapse of the USSR and the Eastern Bloc. Then there is the enthusiastic alliance of George Bush and Benedict XVI in the ongoing culture wars.

At the same time, for many conservatives it is safe to say that the apparent "left turn" by the Church since the 1960s and Vatican II has been a source of consternation. This "modernization" (a.k.a. "modernism" in theological circles) or accommodation with contemporary culture is a point noted by people from every political viewpoint, by believers and non-believers alike. There is no disputing it. Yet whatever the superficial vicissitudes, it would seem that this change in policy has never affected Catholic fundamentals, which remain markedly unchanging. Still it has had an impact on day-to-day activities: the roles of the clergy and laity, the liturgy, pastoral policies, etc. And these things have been keenly felt, often with a sense of confusion and disappointment. Historically speaking, this is not without precedent. The Catholic Church has had plenty of ups and downs throughout the millennia—periods of apparent decline and corruption followed by reinvigoration and reform.

Now with the pontificate of Bendict XVI it is clear that the "Vatican II generation" is coming to an end, and in more ways than one. Benedict (Josef Ratzinger) was a key participant in the Council's proceedings and will likely be the last cleric from that era to be made pope. He also signals the end of a generation because he has become one of the most outstanding critics of the post-conciliar Church. A good example of this is a recent discussion in Homiletic & Pastoral Review of Benedict's encyclical Spe Salvi ("On Christian Hope"). As the Brian Graebe notes:

[I]t is what the encyclical does not say that has engendered no small amount of controversy. As numerous commentators quickly recognized, Spe Salvi contains not a single reference to any of the documents from the Second Vatican Council..... Throughout his writings, interviews and memoirs, Joseph Ratzinger clearly sees the legacy of Vatican II as having been hijacked, and needing to be restored to its proper place in the heritage of the Church.

Benedict is even more outspoken on the Catholic Mass (e.g., the liturgy) and his moves to restore the traditional forms of worship to the Latin (Western) Rite and to the Church as a whole. The recent Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum which has garnered so much attention, is just one example. And the Mass, being the public worship of the Church, is undoubtedly the most visible point of dispute in recent years. To put it in a nutshell, both conservatives and liberals have seen the liturgy as not only an outward manifestation of Catholic culture and piety but also as a crucial indicator of theological direction. They are both right. The question is, how did people respond to the undeniable confusion that erupted in the wake of Vatican II?

Many people (including priests, monks and nuns) simply left. It was one of the worst mass exoduses from the Church in its 2000 year history. Others stayed on, as they always do, with varying degrees of commitment. Then there were the theological minorities on the "left" and "right." Some liked what had happened and wanted to push things even further: changing Catholic teaching on contraception and divorce, admitting women to the priesthood, etc. Others dissented in the opposite direction, criticizing the New Mass that came out of Vatican II as well as many of the pastoral decisions. This "dissent on the right" spanned the spectrum from cautious conservatism to outright schism (e.g., those who denied that the pope was really the pope). In particular, those who insisted on maintaining the old Latin liturgy and criticizing some or all of the post-conciliar Vatican policies were known as Traditionalists. Even these latter represented many different shades of opinion. However it is interesting that a large of number of traditionalists over the years, including some fairly strong critics of the Vatican's past policies have reconciled themselves, no doubt encouraged by the new course in Rome. The most recent example is the traditional Redemptorists based in Scotland.

It is clear that this pope is on a mission. His efforts at the restoration of "pre-Vatican II" Catholicism, as some have put it, were understandably cautious in the first months of his pontificate. But he now seems to have the bark of Peter under full sail. In addition to promoting the old Mass, which has seen an explosion of interest since it was freed up last year, Benedict is planning a commission to restore the New Mass to its original, more reverent rubrics. Meanwhile, as the Church of England, which broke from Rome in 1534, continues to fall apart in its own eager concessions to theological and moral progressivism, Bish. Andrew Burnham has announced his desire for a mass return to Rome on the part of conservative Anglicans.

Populist myths to the contrary, direction comes from the top—whether it's in a family, a government, or a church. And after decades of papal inaction and/or neglect, which reached a low point in the much publicized clerical sex scandals a few years ago, Benedict XVI is taking a hands-on approach which is filtering down to all levels. The new generation of clerics is generally more orthodox than their predecessors and it is these men who are being promoted to influential positions. For example, Raymond Burke, previously Archbishop of St. Louis and an outspoken conservative, is now the first non-European head of the Apostolic Signatura, the highest judicial tribunal in the Church. Meanwhile, Cardinal Cañizares Llovera, a champion of traditional liturgy, is due to be appointed head of the Congregation of Divine Worship.

Summary: Apart from these purely religious developments it will be interesting to see on a secular level what impact a reinvigorated leadership of the Church has on the worldwide culture wars, on such topics as abortion, "alternative lifestyles," and so forth. Just a few generations ago Catholicism had a tremendous moral influence on popular culture in the United States. It seems likely that the left-liberal status quo, now at the zenith of power and hubris, will once again be challenged.... from the highest levels!

Monday, July 07, 2008

The "Sixties Campus": Good Riddance at Last?

Guest commentary by Postmodern Conservative.

Here's an interesting commentary from The New York Times (July 3, 2008):

Baby boomers, hired in large numbers during a huge expansion in higher education that continued into the ’70s, are being replaced by younger professors who many of the nearly 50 academics interviewed by The New York Times believe are different from their predecessors — less ideologically polarized and more politically moderate.

Whether this will reveal itself to be a positive trend remains to be seen. I never trust liberal analysis of what's "good" or "moderate," etc. But it is true that philosophical attitudes follow definite cycles. For example, after the French Revolution and Napoleon there was a conservative reaction in Europe. This happened again in the wake of the First World War and the Bolshevik Revolution, though it was cut short by the "success" of F.D.R.'s New Deal (in fact, it was the progressives riding on the coattails of American victory in World War II). In that sense, the leftist dominance of American campuses pre-dates the hippies.

Certainly a conservative resurgance—which we see elsewhere, in politics and religion—is welcome, though it's no cause for complacency. So much damage has been done it will take a lot of work just to clear up the debris left by the old regime.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Parting Shot: What's Wrong with The World

Guest commentary by Postmodern Conservative.

I won't be posting as often to Liberty Corner in the coming weeks, as I catch up on some offline projects. Meanwhile, let me share my explanation of what's wrong with the world (of politics) in less than 300 words.

* * *

What's wrong has to do with human nature. That nature is flawed and it is also unchanging. However the safeguards that were once in place to deal with man's frailties are falling away bit by bit. So the drift to the left has, as you've probably guessed, only increased.

Leftists dominate politics because they promise more than candidates and officials on the right. It's not what you deliver but what you promise. Leftists can raise the gas tax but they can still promise more programs.

Leftists have an edge because they cater to people with too much time on their hands: welfare recipients and comfortable ideologues. Leftists, as a general rule, don't like to raise their children. Other people can do that. Now these people have more time to spend on their leftist politics.

Political responsibility is not just a question of keeping busy, but what you keep busy with. For leftists it always seems to be someone else's business. Leftists also offer more perks than conservatives for those who want to spend their time irresponsibly. People can do what they want and the consequences are either ignored or become the justification for more leftist programs.

Leftists offer meaningless freedoms. Real freedom requires responsibility and has to be worked for. It means that rewards are greater, but they are deferred. Leftists cater to instant gratification. They let consenting adults do whatever they want (except own firearms).

Finally, the leftist creed offers all the spiritual satisfaction of religion. You can feel better than others without changing your lifestyle. You just need to recycle more stuff. You can worship the earth, but you don't have to obey the Ten Commandments. And any rules that are made are made for someone else ("not me"), imposed by means of government programs.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Classics on Film: Last of the Mohicans

Guest commentary by Postmodern Conservative.

When watching film versions of great books I am reminded of the old "classic comics"—those illustrated presentations of famous literature that were put out in the '50s and '60s. I managed to get hold of one or two ragged copies of them as a kid in the '70s. Of course, there is always the danger that popular presentations of classic stories, abridged in print or film, can result in the dumbing-down of great literature. The Veggie Tales series, for example, goes too far in that direction, turning stories of the Bible and famous novels into silly preschool caricatures. It reveals the tendency of adults to underestimate children. But if done right, movies can give young people a taste for good books, and they can be enjoyable in their own right.

This past week my kids and I watched the 1971 BBC miniseries of James Fenimore Cooper's The Last of the Mohicans. Like a lot of British productions from the period it is low budget and you can see them recycling some of the same actors as both British soldiers and Indians. Yet they really did the most with what they had. There are memorable characters and good dialogue. Cooper has Indians declaiming like Shakespearean actors. But that is no more anachronistic than having ancient Romans talking like Elizabethan Englishmen. What matters is the story. That is probably why my kids also liked the 1953 version of Julius Caesar. And there's plenty of well choreographed action in Last of the Mohicans—realistic but not too violent for younger viewers. No doubt because it was a British non-Hollywood production it was true to the original story, more accurate (and I would say probably more enjoyable) than the 1992 version.

Friday, June 20, 2008

China Options?

Guest commentary by Postmodern Conservative.

Even conservatives are divided on how to deal with China. Most are agreed that it is ruled by an oppressive regime, but they often part ways on how to remedy that. Can China be coaxed along through burgeoning capitalism into accepting a de facto western economic and political order? Or is this just appeasement? According to China expert Lloyd Richardson in The Policy Review (in a book review that was recently forwarded to me), those who benefit most from the controlled capitalism of Bejing are a tiny minority of urban Chinese, not the broad masses in the countryside. Moreover, these Chinese yuppies are entirely beholden to the Communist Party for their tenuous position. Quoting James Mann's book Soothing China, it is possible that in two or three decades "China will be wealthier, and the entrenched interests opposing democracy will probably be much stronger. By then China will be so thoroughly integrated into the world’s financial and diplomatic systems, because of its sheer commercial power, . . . there would be no international support for any movement to open up China’s political system." In conclusion, there may be no easy answers. But it does not help that, in Richardson's view, there has been no honest debate about China for decades.

Poisonous Light Bulbs?

Guest commentary by Postmodern Conservative

Brought to you by the same people who helped create the government-subsidized ethanol fuel driven food shortage.... According to WorldNetDaily the new compact fluorescent light bulbs, which are meant to phase out standard incandescent bulbs in 2012, can cause toxic exposure if broken. Mercury vapor from the broken bulbs can potentially result in toxic levels 100 times that considered safe by the EPA. It's yet another example of what happens when the government tries to make decisions better handled by the marketplace. My wife brought this to my attention. After reading the article she looked all over the bulbs and couldn't find anything. Then she looked at the box they came in. There is an easily overlooked warning about mercury and the need to dispose of the bulbs properly at the county landfill, not in one's trashcan. When you consider the loud, colorful warnings on all sorts of other household products this sort of oversight is just a little scandalous.

It just goes to show that concerns for the environment are highly selective, no doubt depending on which special interest lobbies are at work. It's rather like the way in which the ill-considered DDT ban of the 1960s has resulted in the return of epidemic levels of malaria in Africa. The propaganda of Rachel Carson's Silent Spring (the original eco-panic bestseller) to the contrary, even the World Health Organization has come out advocating limited use of DDT in households to prevent outbreaks of malaria which are deadly to nearly 1 million children each year, under the age of five in sub-Saharan countries.

Historical Bias 101

Guest commentary by Postmodern Conservative.

Stupid bias in books is ubiquitous, but it is particularly obvious in children's literature. There is a reason for that. Not only are most works of popularized history and social sciences low brow, but the level of juvenile books is even lower. For that reason I give my twelve-year-old credit for spotting the obvious bias in The Cold War by Britta Bjornlund, which we got from our local library. Reagan was an "aggressive" leader but Gorbachev gets all the credit for ending the forty year standoff of East and West. Ms. Bjornlund also has a pet cat named "Trotsky," so go figure.

But there are some good books for younger readers if you hunt for them. A truly first-rate study is Albert Marrin's Stalin: Russia's Man of Steel which was put out by Viking Penguin in the late 80s, and which draws heavily on the work of scholars like Robert Conquest—the British historian who was one of the first to tell western readers about the full scope of Russia's mass murders. I'd recommend Marrin's work for older readers as well. It provides an accurate and unflinching portrayal of the USSR and the man who came to rule it.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

A Guide to Social Graces

Guest commentary by Postmodern Conservative.

“Every man of any education would rather be called a rascal, than be accused of deficiency in the graces.“—Samuel Johnson

The following is a list of social graces compiled by a gentleman of experience, who has offended against most of them.

1. Don’t invite yourself into the conversations of others. Do not ask “what are you talking about?” or “what are you laughing about?” If people want you to know they’ll tell you.

2. Prefer brevity to volubility. Keep your answers relevant, and do not go into intimate details when unnecessary. When people ask “how are you doing?” reply “I am fine.” They do not want your life story.

3. If you find the conversation of most people boring, assume they feel the same about you. The less we speak, the better conversationalists we become, and the more people will prefer our company.

4. Avoid activity that draws attention to yourself. Do not guffaw loudly or talk at high volume among strangers. Do not assume that the entire world is interested in your cell-phone conversation.

5. Be observant. Size up the situation and the audience before speaking. Do not act like a talk show host who dispenses opinions indiscriminately.

6. Do not be unduly helpful. Quiet compassion is more appreciated than ostentatious sympathy. The latter is an excuse to indulge our own emotions rather than to soothe those of others.

7. Do not spend much time being “unique.” People who make a point of not being boring become predictable in their non-conformity.

8. Choose your battles. Don’t be a zealot about everything, especially matters of taste. Your judgments will carry more weight the more sparingly you utter them.

9. Complain less. Most of our trials are minor irritations that everyone is subject to. The amount of sympathy we obtain is inversely proportional to our whining.

10. Be slow to criticize. Do not offer unsolicited advice.

(P.S. Point 10 may be optional, especially if one is a blogger.)

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Poland: Winning the Culture Wars

Guest commentary by Postmodern Conservative.

Popular culture in Poland is very different from ours. There is widespread outcry over the fact that a 14-year-old girl is being pressured by Planned Parenthood to abort her unborn child. Most Poles find this politically-motivated emotional exploitation reprehensible. See: Poland in an Uproar after Coercive Abortion Pressure Put on 14-Year-Old by Planned Parenthood.

On a related note is the story of a Agata Mroz, a 26-year-old champion Polish volleyball player who chose to delay invasive therapy for a fatal case of leukemia until the birth of her baby daughter (April 2008) even though it lead to her death just three months later. See: 2005 Polish Volleyball Champion Sacrificed Her Life for Unborn Child.

This sums up what the culture war is really about, more than just ideology or polemics. As Edmund Burke pointed out long ago, the most important things in life are beyond politics and it is these things that define our political values, not the other way around. That may explain why the Poles are more successful in fighting the culture wars than many of their Western counterparts, despite the fact that they have the added liability of a totalitarian past. Nor can it be put down to simply a political reaction. After all, Russia is still a huge mess. The difference is Poland's strong religious heritage which has survived political and cultural vicissitudes.

For a related commentary on Polish social conservatism, see our January 24 post.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Boswell's Book

Guest commentary by Postmodern Conservative

On a more uplifting note, here is a piece about James Boswell's Life of Johnson, a 1,200+ page book I've read through twice, by Henrik Bering in Policy Review:

Among the great encounters of literature, none ranks higher than the one that took place between James Boswell and Samuel Johnson in Tom Davis’s bookstore in Russell Street, Covent Garden on Monday, May 16, 1763.

Of particular interest are [Johnson's] reading habits. Dropping by for a visit, Boswell found Johnson dusting his books, with a “cloud of dust flying around him,” “wearing a pair of large gloves such as hedgers use,” and living up to Boswell’s uncle’s characterization of him as “a Herculean genius, born to grapple with whole libraries.” (When visiting others, Johnson would make a beeline for their bookshelves and lose himself completely, “almost brushing the books with his eyelashes,” as the novelist Fanny Burney has noted.) One of the Life’s nicest images shows us Johnson outside “swinging upon the low gate” of the Thrale residence without his hat, totally absorbed in his book.

Johnson was a host of contradictions: by turns kind and brutal, stern and forgiving, a subtle intellect which could be incredibly rigid, an intellectual bruiser and a kind and humane man, and for Boswell it was imperative to get the emphasis right ("The
Ultimate Literary Portrait

Policy Review always has good political and social analysis. This is the first time I've seen a literary essay. It was enjoyable.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Slavery: East and West

Guest commentary by Postmodern Conservative.

Islam expert Robert Spencer writes in First Things how it is unacknowledged that "Christian principles played" a big role in the abolition of slavery in the West, which was "an enterprise unprecedented in the annals of human history." By contrast,

Slavery was taken for granted throughout Islamic history, as it was, of course, in the West as well up until relatively recent times. Yet while the European and American slave trade get lavish attention from historians... the Islamic slave trade actually lasted longer and brought suffering to a larger number of people.... There is evidence that slavery still continues beneath the surface in some majority-Muslim countries as well... ("Slavery, Christianity, and Islam").

Moral Culture Clash: Europe and the US

Guest commentary by Postmodern Conservative

Say what you like about American "puritanism" and the rest of it, there are some things we do have over the Europeans, like social priorities. According to veteran Catholic reporter John L. Allen, who provides sometimes sensible analysis for the National Catholic Reporter, there is a huge moral divide between American and European Catholics, and presumably between Americans and Europeans generally. Speaking about a visit to Rome this past April, he noted that

if the dominant “single issue” temptation for American Catholics is to focus almost exclusively on abortion, the analogous “single issue” tendency within Catholicism in Italy and elsewhere in Europe is the death penalty.

Although my guess is that Allen also opposes the death penalty, like many Catholic leaders, including the current pope, he points out that

For American Catholics, this focus on the death penalty rather than abortion can often seem terribly imbalanced. According to Amnesty International, there were 1,591 executions worldwide in 2006, while the estimated number of abortions around the world each year is on the order of 45 million. On a purely quantitative basis, some would argue, there’s no comparison in terms of which is the more grave threat to human life. Moreover, many abortion opponents would also argue that while all killing is wrong, with the death penalty we’re usually talking about convicted criminals, while abortion strikes at the most innocent and vulnerable ("What
abortion is to American Catholics, the death penalty is for Italians

It should be pointed out (and Allen does point out) that opposition to the death penalty on the part of the Church is a prudential option rather than a matter of dogma. Some believe that executing criminals is "unnecessary." I respect those who are at least consistent in being against the death penalty and killing the unborn. But personally I say: punish the guilty, protect the innocent. To me the two are inextricably intertwined.

Plato's Republic Redux

Guest commentary by Postmodern Conservative

Another good piece in First Things is by R. R. Reno who warns that we are coming closer to realizing Plato's utopian design in which the state defines all relationships, not only political and economic, but also social and domestic, with new state backing of same-sex unions. Reno calls it the "politicization of culture."

[T]he left imagines itself expanding the scope of freedom for all. It seems all gain and no loss. In California, homosexuals can get married, and nobody is prohibiting heterosexual marriage. Everybody seems to be getting what he or she wants. But what seems is not necessarily so. When the state can rise up to redefine marriage, then the counterweight of tradition is diminished, the political instruments of power are emboldened, and our collective liberty is at peril ("Personal Freedom Without Political Liberty").

Monday, June 09, 2008

Richard Scarry Gets Scary?

Guest commentary by Postmodern Conservative.

Actually, Richard Scarry books have be dumbed-down for years, but I only noticed it recently because of my young children. I regret now that some of their older Scarry books have bit the dust from over-use. As it turns out, they were irreplaceable.

What about new editions and reprints? Don't count on it. For example, I own a copy of Richard Scarry's Best Storybook Ever, an original from the 1960s. It's in rather poor shape so I was thrilled to see that it has been re-issued. It's the most visually appealing of all his books with some great stories. But it turns out that the story of the Quebec bruin, "Pierre Bear," is gone. I imagine it's because he is shown hunting seals and turning their pelts into fur coats.

For a sad comparison of Scarry's popular Best Word Book Ever between 1963 and 1991 editions, see this. Not only is the artwork altered in the name of political correctness, in many cases it just plain remedial compared to Scarry's originals. Another point made by critics is that the language has been made stupider compared to what kids a generation or two ago were reading. Unlike Scarry, these publishers don't know how to write for children, only overindulged leftist adults.

Library Daycare

Guest commentary by Postmodern Conservative.

On my way to work I stopped by my local library to drop some items in the book return slot and found both doors and a couple of windows boarded up. According to some people nearby, kids had knocked them out with rocks.

In recent years I've seen the place became a daycare center for kids waiting for their parents after school. I've often encountered gangs of loud and ill-mannered adolescents hanging around the entrance, who like to occasionally hassle and intimidate other (well-behaved) children. I had to up put with plenty of that in my youth, but never around the library. But things have changed, and public institutions seem bent on feeding the problems that plague them.

Perhaps what annoys me most is the fact that there are multiple computer banks most of which are used by young people to surf the internet or play online games. It's tax-supported entertainment. And considering just how ubiquitous PCs and the internet is today, I can't imagine the justification for it. Pay phones, for instance, have been taken out of most public places because cell phones are so common. And you can be sure all the loud kids at the library have cell phones—it's the only way their parents get in touch with them. Of course, libraries have long provided useless media for young people, like trashy books and magazines and the so-called "graphic novels." When I was growing up in the 1970s and early '80s I liked comic books (when they were still largely aimed at kids) but I didn't expect my library to stock them anymore that I expected to go there to watch television.

This is another example of the hazards of "public" institutions. If it were a private library, with even a token membership fee, I doubt it would keep out any of the deserving residents—those who are serious about reading and studying—while it might give the rock-throwing juveniles a reason to congregate somewhere else. It's an old lesson of civilization that as soon as you make anything "free" you provide an open invitation to freeloaders and riff-raff. The people who really could make the best use of these things are gradually driven off.

Friday, June 06, 2008

"Great" Britain No Longer

Guest commentary by Postmodern Conservative.

Tom Bethell addresses this topic in a recent article for The American Specator. As a British expatriate, he tells us

I go to England fairly often as I have family there -- a brother, two sisters, and my 95-year-old mother. Otherwise I doubt if I would go back.

In particular, he points to socialist-driven economic decline and the related social rot:

The same culture war that is being waged in the United States is already much further advanced in Britain. Over there, the forces of resistance are negligible, so the cultural revolution has almost completely triumphed.... The ruling-class embrace of semi-capitalism has brought about the rise in prosperity, but this has been accompanied by mounting social chaos. One of the main indicators is the rise of family breakdown (or non-formation) and out-of-wedlock childbearing. The key enabler of this change has been the transfer of tens of billions of pounds to fatherless households. Only a society wealthy enough to collect and redistribute revenue on this scale can sustain widespread illegitimacy.

I can contribute some further thoughts: I was told that in the UK people now speak of "Britain," not "Great Britain." I guess it's considered too imperial and anachronistic. But even this small change in usage is revealing. Quite simply, in all the years that I've been to Britain, beginning in the 1980s, I became slowly aware it is no longer the "blessed plot" of Shakespeare. Like most Americans, my vision of a quaint, gentile civilization was derived from old film depictions. For that reason I was an Anglophile, and even now I can't quite shake my love of England (or least the England that once was). I like hot tea with milk, Youngs and Sam Smith stout, and most of my favorite authors are English.

Of course every culture has it downside. When I speak of Britain I am thinking specifically of the English, since they have been its rulers and imparted to it many of its virtues, as well some of its vices. England always had a checkered past: the persecution of Catholics under the Tudors, the ill-treatment of the Irish, the massacres at Culloden, the depredations of the American Revolution, the Boer War concentration camps, to name a few instances. But in general the English have held up pretty well.... at least until the last two or three decades.

I was reading some comments in Orwell about how, in the 1940s, the English even then regarded Americans as purveyors of decadence. But, to take the example of rock music, the American variety wasn't politically subversive. British rock was. But then it came out of a totally different political and economic climate. (One thing I learned in my travels in the UK was that a permanent welfare class need not be relatively new or relatively non-white. In England it goes back to the 1950s, if not earlier, and is traditionally white.)

Elvis was no saint, but his vices were normal and he was as patriotic as the next American. By contrast the music of "British Invasion" was more explicit in its promotion of sexual decadence, drugs and political radicalism. But if hippie scene was bad, the punk rockers of the following decade were overtly nihilistic. It's this punk/skinhead subculture that gradually spread through the UK and into the US. In those years I've seen fringe behavior become mainstream, like body piercing and extensive tattooing, not only of men but women as well. And we got all of this from the UK.

Colin Firth, star of the 1990s version of Pride and Prejudice, said that: "The English people, a lot of them, would not be able to understand a word of spoken Shakespeare. There are people who do and I'm not denying they exist. But it's a far more philistine country than people think." Say what you like, the last great figure in English history was Margaret Thatcher, who embodied all the best qualities of "Britishness." At least she was no philistine.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Will Obama Campaign Set Back Race Relations?

Guest commentary by Postmodern Conservative.

So many commentators have remarked on the surprising racial component of Hillary's campaign against Obama, it's hard to add to the pile. But one snippet I picked up yesterday from The American Spectator was indicative. It quoted an aging Democrat harridan screaming:

"And the Democrats are throwing the election away! For what? An inadequate black male who would not have been running had it not been a white woman that was running for president!"

It is this sort of racial motivation (which Liberty Corner commented on previously) that has caused discomfort for Democrats and no doubt played into Obama's hands. To sum up, here are some things worth pondering:

1. As many have noted, an Obama nomination will push many fence-sitters over to McCain. It's the "racial crossover vote." But as I pointed out, these people are superficial, cultural reactionaries, not true conservatives and in most cases definitely not social (i.e., moral) conservatives.

2. Unfortunately even some Republicans share this racial prejudice. However, amongst both crossovers and Republicans a certain subtlety should be thrown in: often times what is hastily perceived as anti-black prejudice is really just an annoyance with a certain type of black culture and black politics—whining victimization theory and leftist welfare state politics that contains, one might add, a degree of black racist assumptions, whether conscious or not. (In my own place of work it is notable that when blacks speak of "diversity" what they often mean is a pro-black emphasis, blatantly ignoring Asians, Latinos, etc.)

3. Despite his ambiguous March 18 speech on race, with some sensible statements thrown in, Obama failed to divest himself completely of the biased liberal race agenda.

4. In the short term a liberal black candidacy will favor McCain, possibly winning him an election that previously seemed out of reach due to the controversies surrounding the Bush administration. Note my emphasis, because a black conservative candidate would presumably pick up many black votes as well as most white conservative votes.

5. In the long term, because of the clannish attitude of the majority of blacks (see previous comments) the election could become as racially divisive as the Rodney King and O.J. Simpson trials of the 1990s. They will assume, as they have been indoctrinated to do for generations, that a vote for McCain is a vote against them. This has already happened in the case of Hillary's shameless opportunism in playing the race card for her own benefit.

6. One regrets that the views of outstanding black Americans like Thomas Sowell, Judge Clarence Thomas and J.C. Watts are not nearly as popularized as those of Oprah, Al Sharpton or, for that matter, Barack Obama. One wishes that liberals of whatever color could heed the words of actor Morgan Freeman who (though no Republican) has said: "I don't want a black history month. Black history is American history" and "Stop talking about race and racism will end." Now as it turns out, Freeman has endorsed Obama, but at least, as he was keen to point out, it wasn't for racial reasons.

7. One last thought: a positive development could come out of this if enough minorities like Asians and Latinos were to clearly favor McCain, then what at first sight seems a rehash of ideologically driven black favoritism might finally give way to a more sensible (in fact equitable) view on race relations.

Monday, June 02, 2008


Guest post by Postmodern Conservative.

Today I had to take an online employee harassment seminar which, to some, might seem a form of harassment itself. Joking aside, much of it was common sense. The things that had to do with sexual harassment are questions of basic morality. My workplace is very conservative in that regard, partly because of the nature of the industry—a professional services firm—and partly because (I am guessing) the more traditional region I live in (the South).

Likeminded individuals will say that not only are unsolicited sexual actions disagreeable, but so are "welcome" ones. The same goes for dirty jokes, etc. A couple of years ago my supervisor, an aging frat boy, tried to show me an online striptease game. I passed on it saying, "No thanks, I've already got one naked woman in my life," since I'm a married man.

No doubt modern sensitivities about this sort of thing are probably an improvement on the culture of twenty or thirty years ago. But with the good comes the bad, especially in our ideologically-driven workplace. One example was given in the slideshow of a man dating another man and how co-workers expressed their dislike... not persecution, mind you, but just quiet disapproval. But even that's frowned upon. This goes to show that with many HR issues, it is an agenda that is being promoted that demands not just "tolerance" but acceptance. Fortunately, the very mentality that makes our firm conservative on male-female relationships have also keep this sort of thought-policing at bay.... at least for the moment.

Finally, I just had to laugh when I read in the online quiz that a party given to a 40-year-old, which joked about someone being "over the hill" and "ready for retirement," might be considered age discrimination.... at least for someone with no sense of humor. I'm now 41 and I honestly never thought of myself as belonging to a protected category. Too bad!

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

The Problem of Political Tribalism

Guest post by Postmodern Conservative.

Barrack Obama's appeal to 90% of black American voters is an example of "political tribalism." By this I don't mean a slur on African ethnicity or any ethnicity in particular. The fact is that all sorts of people and races indulge in this sort of identitarian or group mentality. The Croats and Serbs of former Yugoslavia are an apt example. But whatever its manifestation, it is a problem that must be consistently combated. Any sort of balkanized politics is opposed to basic principles of western civic tradition, republican stability, and the rule of law.

For example, we saw political tribalism in the early '60s in the way American Catholics, otherwise as a very conservative bunch, backed John F. Kennedy and later his brother Ted. Whole segments of the Church, bishops and priests included, bought into a political machine because they mistook a surface "identity" with their religious or cultural background (for example, working class Boston Irish) for real principles. In the end, the principles were lost and only the smarmy Kennedy mafia machinery remained. The modern faithlessness of Boston Catholics is now legendary. And while blacks have long had a reputation for religiosity and love of family, one can safely say that this has been totally imploded thanks to a similar sell out of morality for ideology. Both blacks and Catholics got sidetracked by what Lenin perhaps aptly called the "trade union" mentality in politics.

A rightist version of tribalism is evinced by John Derbyshire, a columnist for National Review, who has engendered controversy for his racialist views. Although married to an Asian women, he has made clear his dislike for blacks and likes cavorting with high-brow bigots like Jared Taylor. He admits he is a "racist," albeit "a mild and tolerant one." He is an ex-Christian turned New Ager who enjoys bashing proponents of Intelligent Design. He also is pro-choice and supports euthanasia. And I have run into a lot of right-wingers like Derbyshire who are hard-core on all the wrong issues, or on issues that are secondary to the more important social and ethical concerns of conservatism. In previous posts I've noted the problem of paleo-tribalists like Joseph Sobran and Samuel Francis.

What is particularly devious about modern tribal politics, whether of the class, ideological or ethnic variety, is that unlike the old barbarian clannishness, it makes a sham appeal to universal morality in denouncing oppression or discrimination. And many of those claims may in fact be true. But it then goes on to apply a totally subjective remedy which is no more than an expression of envy or hatred. It undermines any sense of equitable justice. It keeps the wheels of vengeance turning, and reduces human polity to a series of never-ending vendettas. This may be the way of savages (of the cultural or ideological variety) but it is totally out of keeping with our Greco-Roman notions of law and our Judeo-Christian moral heritage.

As Benjamin Franklin, himself an agnostic, once admitted: "If men are so wicked with religion, what would they be if without it." The point is that if political ethics are not based on something transcendent then they have become just another form of vice.

Glorious Leader Poster: Mao and/or Hillary

Guest post by Postmodern Conservative.

It's hard to believe it's true, but compare the posters below:

Chairman Mao

Chairman Hillary

Hillary Clinton Artist Print 2

No joke, you can buy it at

A tip of the hat to Christina Bellantoni at The Washington Times who monitors the Maoist/Democrat media.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Obama: It's About the Future, or Hope, or Change... or Something

Guest post by Postmodern Conservative.

This YouTube video is not only a hilarious parody on Obama, it's a nice send-up of campaign-speak in general. I've taken the liberty of transcribing the narration. It's very quotable.

Man 1: I'm voting for Barrack Obama because I believe in the future.
Narrator: A vote for Obama is a vote for the future.
Man 2: Because the future is ahead of us, and the past has come before us, and the future is yet to come.
: A vote for Obama is a vote for hope.
Woman 1: I believe Obama believes in hope, and hopes for a future filled with hope.
: If you believe change can't happen if you don't do something, vote Obama.
Woman 2
: I believe that we, U.S. Americans, want change, and Obama will change things, and not leave us unchanged.
: If you believe that the future is not now, and not in the past, vote Obama.
Woman 3
: The past is, like, history, and that is so, like, yesterday.
: If you hope that there is a candidate that believes in hope, vote for Obama. If you believe that Obama believes in everything you believe in, vote for hope, vote for change, vote Obama.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Buckley: Mixed Signals, Mixed Legacy?

While Thomas is on a sabbatical from the blog, I will continue my occasional guest posts - Postmodern Conservative.

When William F. Buckley passed away in February, I found myself harboring mixed emotions. I probably wasn't the only one. The man had quite a legacy, fostering a major movement that was an improvement on the conspiracy-obsessed and isolationist John Birch variety of right wing politics that had become a stereotype of conservative thinking in the mid-20th century. At the same time, I could not embrace Buckley as a hero. He believed in the legalization of marijuana and, more importantly, adopted the pose of an urbane sophisticate who winked at the seedier side of popular culture. What seemed to be his main gripe was not so much bad morals as a lack of panache. Thus he would write witty pieces for Penthouse magazine and his National Review rather infamously celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of Playboy in the 2003 article by Catherine Seipp (a fact which alienated social conservatives). Was this just fashionable posing? Even Buckley's take on the issue was infuriatingly contrarian and ambiguous. There is something sanctimonious in that, like wanting to have your cake and eat it too.

I don't think anyone believes conservatives must be puritans, but the obvious problem with Hugh Hefner's Playboy is that it took a cultural sideline—eroticism and sexual irresponsibility—into the mainstream. The barrier was down and worse things would follow. It was not possible to keep things in little boxes, as the libertines (conservative or liberal) imagined. After all, Hefner and his lobby worked heavily to promote abortion and homosexuality. If nothing else, the whole STD dilemma that we are still grappling with is due in large part to the attitudes fostered by the Playboy lifestyle.

If it's true that the conservative movement that came out of Buckley's experience was an intellectual improvement, it was not necessarily a philosophical one. There is a difference. While it's important to reach people through the common culture, it does not mean dumbing-down beliefs in favor of short-term ideological gains. It is this glib attitude that, rightly or wrongly, caused many people to split off from Buckleyite conservatism into the paleo-con movement.

As John Henry Newman put it: "Knowledge is one thing, virtue is another; good sense is not conscience, refinement is not humility...." Newman was as much an intellectual as Buckley, but he knew that in the end people are converted from error not because an argument is clever but because it is right. And one has to wonder how long Buckley's influence will last. Will it be as defining as that of Malcolm Muggeridge, Russell Kirk, and Thomas Sowell? Time will tell.


This blogger is taking a leave of absence. For how long? Who knows? There's too much else to do, and too little time in which to do it. Check back in a month.

Friday, May 09, 2008

The Insatiable State and Its Enablers

Who are the enablers of the insatiable state? They are many; among them are those who believe, contrary to experience, that the state must intervene in the operation of the economy in order to "save" it; those who futilely want the state to enact "social justice"; those who simply want to get "their fair share", that is, what they can't (or won't) earn by openly and fairly by competing with other companies and individuals for business and jobs.

Many enablers operate from the premise that another little bit won't "cost much" and will have observable benefits (for a particular interest group). Voters, the ultimate enablers, fall for that line and ignore or forget the slippery slope and the ratchet effect:

[O]nce a polity becomes accustomed to relying on the state for a particular thing that could be done better through private action, it becomes easier for that polity to ask the state to do other things that could be done better through private action....

[And a]s people become accustomed to a certain level of state action, they take that level as a given. Those who question it are labeled "radical thinkers" and "out of the mainstream." The "mainstream" -- having taken it for granted that the state should "do something" -- argues mainly about how much more it should do and how it should do it, with cost as an afterthought.
Other enablers -- namely, politicians, their hangers-on, and the more sophisticated beneficiaries of their largesse -- have simpler and more cynical motives: to impose their will on others (power) and/or to profit from the exercise (theft).

The excuses of "compassion," "fairness," and "consumer protection" are rationalizations for power-lust and theft. The powerful can sustain their power -- and thus feed their power-lust -- only through (legalized) theft. Power-lust is raison d'être of the insatiable state; theft is its inevitable modus operandi.

Why Hillary Won't Quit

Hillary won't quit because she is infused with power-lust and an obdurate unwillingness to acknowledge (to herself) that she has any failings. She is like her husband in both respects.

Hillary, given her psychological inability to accept defeat in any form, is now grasping for the life-raft of racism. She believes that she is electable because she is white, whereas Barack Obama is unelectable because he is black. From that belief springs a further one: Enough superdelegates will perceive the "truth" of her belief before it is too late, and they will swing the nomination to her.

P.S.'s James Taranto ("Best of the Web Today") offers a similar analysis of Hillary's "white strategy," an analysis that I hadn't read at the time of posting.

Election 2008: Ninth Forecast (Updated)


Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Are You Happy?

Justin Wolfers (Freakonomics blog) has completed a series of six posts about the economics of happiness (here, here, here, here, here, and here). The bottom line, according to Wolfers:
1) Rich people are happier than poor people.
2) Richer countries are happier than poorer countries.
3) As countries get richer, they tend to get happier.
All of which should come as no surprise to anyone, without the benefit of "happiness research." Regarding which, I agree with Arnold Kling, who says:
My view is that happiness research implies Nothing. Zero. Zilch. Nada. I believe that you do not learn about economic behavior by watching what people say in response to a survey.
You learn about economic behavior by watching what people actually do. consult your "priors." It is axiomatic that individuals prefer more to less; that is, more income yields more satisfaction because it affords access to goods and services of greater variety and higher quality. Moreover, income and the wealth that flows from it are valued for their own sake by most individuals. (That they might be valued because they enable philanthropic endeavors is a case in point.)

It is reasonable to conclude, therefore, that the "law" of diminishing marginal utility, which may apply to particular goods and services, does not generally apply to income or wealth in the aggregate. But, in any event, given that Wolfers's first conclusion is self-evidently true, the second and third conclusions follow. And they follow logically, not from "happiness research."

Monday, May 05, 2008

Burkean Conservatism at Volokh

There's an excellent exchange on the subject of Burkean conservatism at The Volokh Conspiracy. Dale Carpenter, a Burkean, gets the best of it, in my view (e.g., this post).

P.S. Ilya Somin's "final thoughts" add nothing to the mix, in that Carpenter's "clarification" is only that, and not a concession. Moreover, Somin reveals himself as a Left-libertarian who simply wants life to be "fair" to everyone. Well, life just ain't fair -- get over it, Ilya.

Related posts:
"Libertarian Conservative or Conservative Libertarian?" (29 Jul 2004)
"Where Conservatism and (Sensible) Libertarianism Come Together" (14 Apr 2005)
"Common Ground for Conservatives and Libertarians?" (04 Sep 2005)
"Conservatism, Libertarianism, and 'The Authoritarian Personality' " (01 Feb 2006)
"The F Scale, Revisited" (27 Dec 2007)

A Human Person

The ludicrous and (it seems) increasingly popular assertion that plants have rights should not distract us from the more serious issue of fetal rights. (My position on the issue can be found among these links.) Maverick Philosopher explains how abortion may be opposed for non-religious reasons:
It is often assumed that opposition to abortion can be based only on religious premises. This assumption is plainly false. To show that it is is false, one need merely give an anti-abortion argument that does not invoke any religious tenet, for example:

1. Infanticide is morally wrong.
2. There is no morally relevant difference between abortion and infancticide.
3. Abortion is morally wrong.

Whether one accepts this argument or not, it clearly invokes no religious premise. It is therefore manifestly incorrect to say or imply that all opposition to abortion must be religiously-based. Theists and atheists alike could make use of the above argument.
MP then quotes from a piece by Nat Hentoff, an atheist and Leftist. Hentoff writes, apropos Barack Obama and abortion, that
I admire much of Obama's record, including what he wrote in "The Audacity of Hope" about the Founders' "rejection of all forms of absolute authority, whether the king, the theocrat, the general, the oligarch, the dictator, the majority ... George Washington declined the crown because of this impulse."

But on abortion, Obama is an extremist. He has opposed the Supreme Court decision that finally upheld the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act against that form of infanticide. Most startlingly, for a professed humanist, Obama — in the Illinois Senate — also voted against the Born Alive Infant Protection Act....

Furthermore, as "National Right to Life News" (April issue) included in its account of Obama's actual votes on abortion, he "voted to kill a bill that would have required an abortionist to notify at least one parent before performing an abortion on a minor girl from another state."

These are conspiracies — and that's the word — by pro-abortion extremists to transport a minor girl across state lines from where she lives, unbeknownst to her parents. This assumes that a minor fully understands the consequences of that irredeemable act. As I was researching this presidential candidate's views on the unilateral "choice" that takes another's life, I heard on the radio what Obama said during a Johnstown, Pa., town hall meeting on March 29 as he was discussing the continuing dangers of exposure to HIV/AIDS infections:

"When it comes specifically to HIV/AIDS, the most important prevention is education, which should include — which should include abstinence education and teaching children, you know, that sex is not something casual. But it should also include — it should also include other, you know, information about contraception because, look, I've got two daughters, 9 years old and 6 years old. I am going to teach them first of all about values and morals.

"But if they make a mistake," Obama continued, "I don't want them punished with a baby."

Among my children and grandchildren are two daughters and three granddaughters; and when I hear anyone, including a presidential candidate, equate having a baby as punishment, I realize with particular force the impact that the millions of legal abortions in this country have had on respect for human life.
And that's the crux of the issue: respect for human life.

Thus I turn to a Peter Lawler's "A Human Person, Actually," in which Lawler reviews Embryo: A Defense of Human Life, by Robert P. George and Christopher Tollefsen:

The embryo, George and Tollefsen argue, is a whole being, possessing the integrated capability to go through all the phases of human development. An embryo has what it takes to be a free, rational, deliberating, and choosing being; it is naturally fitted to develop into a being who can be an “uncaused cause,” a genuinely free agent. Some will object, of course, that the embryo is only potentially human. The more precise version of this objection is that the embryo is human—not a fish or a member of some other species—but not yet a person. A person, in this view, is conscious enough to be a free chooser right now. Rights don’t belong to members of our species but to persons, beings free enough from natural determination to be able to exercise their rights. How could someone have rights if he doesn’t even know that he has them?...

Is the embryo a “who”? It’s true enough that we usually don’t bond with embryos or grieve when they die. Doubtless, that’s partly because of our misperception of who or what an embryo is. But it’s also because we have no personal or loving contact with them. We tend to think of persons as beings with brains and hearts; an embryo has neither. But personal significance can’t be limited to those we happen to know and love ourselves; my powers of knowing and loving other persons are quite limited, and given to the distortions of prejudice. Whether an embryo is by nature a “who” can be determined only by philosophical reflection about what we really know.

The evidence that George and Tollefsen present suggests that there are only two non-arbitrary ways to consider when a “what” naturally becomes a “who.” Either the embryo is incapable of being anything but a “who”; from the moment he or she comes to be, he or she is a unique and particular being capable of exhibiting all the personal attributes associated with knowing, loving, and choosing. Or a human being doesn’t become a “who” until he or she actually acquires the gift of language and starts displaying distinctively personal qualities. Any point in between these two extremes—such as the point at which a fetus starts to look like a human animal or when the baby is removed from the mother’s womb—is perfectly arbitrary. From a purely rational or scientific view, the price of being unable to regard embryos as “whos” is being unable to regard newborn babies as “whos”....

As I say here,
abortion is of a piece with selective breeding and involuntary euthanasia, wherein the state fosters eugenic practices that aren’t far removed from those of the Third Reich. And when those practices become the norm, what and who will be next? Libertarians, of all people, should be alert to such possibilities. Instead of reflexively embracing “choice” they should be asking whether “choice” will end with fetuses.
Most libertarians, alas, mimic "liberals" and "progressives" on the issue of abortion. But there are no valid libertarian arguments for abortion, just wrong-headed ones.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

What's Next, Slavery?

Mark Perry discusses House Resolution 5800, introduced by Rep. Paul Kanjorski (D-PA), the "Consumer Reasonable Energy Price Protection Act of 2008," which would:
  • Tax the oil industries’ "windfall profits."
  • Set up a "Reasonable Profits Board" to determine when the oil companies’ profits are in excess, and then tax them on those windfall profits.
  • As oil and gas companies’ windfall profits increase, so would the tax rate for those companies.
...Kanjorski said "his legislation will encourage oil companies to lower prices to prevent them from receiving higher tax rates."

A few Questions/Comments:

1. Oil companies don't set oil and gas prices, global market forces do. The fact that oil and gas prices change daily demonstrate very clearly that oil companies are at the mercy of market forces of supply and demand.

2. If you tax something (oil), you get less of it. If you get less of something (oil), prices go up, not down.

3. How does Rep. Kanjorski know what "reasonable profits" are?....
Well, Rep. Kanjorski is a typical member of Congress, whose members' economic views reflect their constituents' economic illiteracy.

Those constituents, I am sure, would reject slavery out of hand. But they favor measures like Kanjorski's because they want to buy a given amount of a good or service (gas, health care, etc.) at a lower price. But the only way to get the same amount of anything at a lower price is through greater productivity (which can't be legislated) or by forcing people to produce more of it, that is, by making slaves of them.

(For more about economic illiteracy, follow these links. Relatedly, some links about irrational voters are here.)

Friday, May 02, 2008

Departmentalism, Revisited

I somewhat cavalierly dismiss departmentalism in "No Way Out?" (05 Dec 2004), where I address alternative ways to stop "The Erosion of the Constitutional Contract" (23 Mar 2004). William J. Watkins Jr. explains departmentalism by way of example:
Departmentalist theory is perhaps best examined in the context of President Jefferson's approach to the Sedition Act. Upon entering office, Jefferson ordered the cessation of all federal sedition prosecutions and he pardoned those who had been convicted. In 1804, Jefferson received a letter from Abigail Adams criticizing his handling of the Sedition Act controversy. Mrs. Adams argued that because the judges had upheld the Sedition Act, President Jefferson had overstepped his constitutional bounds when terminating prosecutions and pardoning offenders.

In a polite response, Jefferson reminded Mrs. Adams that "nothing in the constitution has given [the judges] the right to decide for the executive, more than the Executive to decide for them." Both branches, continued Jefferson, "are equally independent in the sphere assigned to them." Jefferson recognized that the judges, "believing the law constitutional, had a right to pass a sentence of fine and imprisonment, because that power was placed in their hands by the constitution." However, this did not bind him when performing his duties as chief executive. Because he believed the Sedition Act was unconstitutional, he "was bound to remit the execution of it."
Departmentalism may be alive and well, at least with respect to John McCain's status as a "natural born Citizen" under Article II, Section 1, of the Constitution of the United States. As Matthew J. Franck argues, it is not up to the Supreme Court to decide McCain's citizenship status (as some would have it), it is up to the Electoral College and Congress. And that will be that.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Unsplit Infinitives

Eugene Volokh, a known grammatical relativist, scoffs at "to increase dramatically," as if "to dramatically increase" would be better. But better in what way: clearer or less stuffy? The meaning of "to increase dramatically" is clear. The only reason to write "to dramatically increase" would be to avoid the appearance of stuffiness.

Seeming unstuffy (i.e., without standards) is neither a necessary nor sufficient reason to split an infinitive. The rule about unsplit infinitives, like most other grammatical rules, serves the valid and useful purpose of preventing English from sliding yet further down the slippery slope of incomprehensibility than it has slid already. If an unsplit infinitive makes a clause or sentence seem awkward, the clause or sentence should be rewritten to avoid the awkwardness. Better that than make an exception that leads to further exceptions -- and thence to babel.

Related posts:
"Missing the Point" (28 Mar 2008)
"More Grammatical Anarchy" (31 Mar 2008)

Understanding Defense Think-Tanks reproduces Chalmers Johnson's review of Soldiers of Reason: The RAND Corporation and the Rise of the American Empire, by Alex Abella. Although Johnson is wrong about American "imperialism," the causes of the Cold War, and the role of RAND (the prototypical defense think-tank) in fostering and prolonging the Cold War. But Johnson is right in his characterization of defense think-tanks and their denizens. For example:
[RAND's] ideological bent was disguised in statistics and equations, which allegedly made its analyses "rational" and "scientific." Abella writes:

"If a subject could not be measured, ranged, or classified, it was of little consequence in systems analysis, for it was not rational. Numbers were all -- the human factor was a mere adjunct to the empirical."

In my opinion, Abella here confuses numerical with empirical. Most RAND analyses were formal, deductive, and mathematical but rarely based on concrete research into actually functioning societies. RAND never devoted itself to the ethnographic and linguistic knowledge necessary to do truly empirical research on societies that its administrators and researchers, in any case, thought they already understood....

It is also important to note that RAND's analytical errors were not just those of commission -- excessive mathematical reductionism -- but also of omission. As Abella notes, "In spite of the collective brilliance of RAND there would be one area of science that would forever elude it, one whose absence would time and again expose the organization to peril: the knowledge of the human psyche."

Following the axioms of mathematical economics, RAND researchers tended to lump all human motives under what the Canadian political scientist C. B. Macpherson called "possessive individualism" and not to analyze them further. Therefore, they often misunderstood mass political movements, failing to appreciate the strength of organizations like the Vietcong and its resistance to the RAND-conceived Vietnam War strategy of "escalated" bombing of military and civilian targets.

What Johnson says of RAND is typical of defense think-tanks. They tend to recruit academically minded Ph.D.s, whose understanding of the real world is off-center to begin with, and which remains almost completely innocent of the actual practice of statecraft and warfare. (See this post for a small sample.)

In my experience (30 years' worth), the output of a defense think tank is seven parts theoretical, mathematical, and speculative (i.e., bull----) and one part empirical.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Election 2008: Ninth Forecast

The Presidency - Method 1

Intrade posts State-by-State odds odds on the outcome of the presidential election in November. I assign all of a State's electoral votes to the party whose nominee that is expected to win that State. Where the odds are 50-50, I split the State's electoral votes between the two parties.

As of today, the odds point to this result:

Democrat -- 309 electoral votes (EVs)

Republican -- 229 EVs

The Presidency - Method 2 (UPDATED, 05/09/08)

I have devised a "secret formula" for estimating the share of electoral votes cast for the winner of the presidential election. (The formula's historical accuracy is described in my second forecast.) The formula currently yields these estimates of the outcome of this year's presidential election:
Democrat -- 241 to 288 EVs 241 to 357 EVs

Republican -- 250 to 297 EVs 181 to 297 EVs
I have revised my "secret formula." One result of the revision is that the margin of error is greater than before, thus the broad span of estimates. But the estimate produced by method 1 is almost exactly same as the mean estimate by method 2 (239 EVs), which gives me more confidence in method 2.

U.S. Senate

Democrats will gain five Senate seats: picking up one each in Alaska, Colorado, New Hampshire, New Mexico, and Virginia. The balance in the Senate will change from 51 Democrats (including Lieberman and Sanders, both nominally independent) and 49 Republicans to 56 Democrats and 44 Republicans.

Even if John McCain wins the election, he will face a Senate that could filibuster his nominations, given the several RINOs among the 44 GOP members.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Irony of Ironies

Hillary Clinton seems to be the "conservative" contender for the Democrat nomination. Who'd have thunk it fifteen years ago, when HillaryCare went down in flames?

But, fifteen years ago, who'd have thunk that the GOP would become Democrat-Lite?

Monday, April 28, 2008

Almost Too Absurd for Words

From SCOTUSblog:
Lawyers for Virginia death-row inmate Christopher Scott Emmett told the Supreme Court on Monday that the state follows a “unique and uniquely dangerous” method of execution by lethal injection.
A synonym of "dangerous" is "life-threatening." An execution is meant to be life-threatening. In fact, a successful execution is life-taking.

Thats the real issue, isn't it? Mustn't threaten a condemned convict with execution. (Tsk, tsk.) It might kill him.

Related posts:
"Does Capital Punishment Deter Homicide?" (04 Oct 2004)
"Libertarian Twaddle about the Death Penalty" (13 Oct 2004)
"Crime and Punishment" (23 Mar 2005)
"Abortion and Crime" (15 May 2005)
"Saving the Innocent?" (23 Jul 2005)
"Saving the Innocent?: Part II" (27 Jul 2005)
"More on Abortion and Crime" (28 Nov 2005)
"More Punishment Means Less Crime" (03 Jan 2006)
"More about Crime and Punishment" (06 Jan 2006)
"More Punishment Means Less Crime: A Footnote" (17 Jan 2006)
"Clear Thinking about the Death Penalty" (23 Jan 2006)
"Let the Punishment Fit the Crime" (14 Apr 2006)
"Another Argument for the Death Penalty" (07 Jun 2006)
"Less Punishment Means More Crime" (25 Aug 2007)
"Crime, Explained" (09 Nov 2007)

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Yankee Sensibility

I have lived among Northerners all of my life. I grew up and went to college in Michigan. I spent the worse part of four decades in the Virginia suburbs of Washington, D.C., a bastion of Northern "charm." A village in a rural, western part of New York State claimed another three years of my life. I have now lived in Austin -- another bastion of Northern "charm" (i.e., rudeness, crudeness, and lewdness) -- for almost five years.

I am here to tell you that Michael Hirsh is wringing wet when he writes in Newsweek that
a substantial portion of the new nation [the South and much of the West and Southern Midwest] developed, over many generations, a rather savage, unsophisticated set of mores. Traditionally, it has been balanced by a more diplomatic, communitarian Yankee sensibility from the Northeast and upper Midwest. But that latter sensibility has been losing ground in population numbers -- and cultural weight. The coarsened sensibility that this now-dominant Southernism and frontierism has brought to our national dialogue is unmistakable. (Quotation via Eugene Volokh)
The manners and mores of Northerners, as a "race," are inferior to those of true Southerners. (True Southerners are persons who can claim the South as the home of their ancestors, going back to at least the early 1800s. True Southerners are not to be confused with the merely geographic Southerners -- carpetbaggers -- who dominate the D.C. and Austin areas, among other so-called Southern locales.) The denizens of the village in New York (some of them) came close to exhibiting the manners and mores of true Southerners. As for the other Northerners in my life's experience: "fuggedaboutit."

I know whereof I speak, having been blessed in the course of my years with the love, friendship, and collegiality of many true Southerners. Their charm, hospitality, and kindness shine as a beacon in the darkness of Northern crudity, which (on the evidence of popular "entertainment") has engulfed most of the land. Whereas a Southerner says "please" and "thank you" and keeps his word, a typical Yankee's approach to social and business transactions can be summed up in "gimme that, shut up, and get outta my way, you creep." (There are glaring exceptions, of course. My father was one of them. He was an Anglo-Canadian-American with the soul of a true Southerner, even though he never ventured south of northern Ohio.)

"Sophisticated ... Yankee sensibility," indeed. "Communitarian"? Only in the sense that the coarsened sensibility of (most) Northerners finds expression through the coercive power of the state (i.e., socialism).

P.S. Whereas I am a Northerner who sees Northerners for what they (mostly) are, Hirsh (Tufts, Columbia) seems to be a Northerner who is blind to the foibles of his ilk. To change the metaphor, he is a fish in water.

"The Politics of Personal Destruction"

Barack Obama and his Obama-maniacs like to complain about "gotcha" politics and "distractions," as if Obama's relationships with whitey-hating Rev. Jeremiah Wright and unrepentant terrorist Bill Ayers have nothing to do with Obama's fitness for the presidency. What Obama and his idolizers fear, of course, is the revelation of Obama's political agenda, which he has succeeded in masking behind his "nice guy" persona, -- in spite of his wife's over-explained, anti-American slur, and his having (in 2007) the Left-most voting record among U.S. Senators.

Wolf Howling does an excellent job of piercing Obama's defenses. WH also points to a similar analysis by the estimable Charles Krauthammer. I will not try to redo what WH and Krauthammer have done so well. My aim here is to address a charge that lurks in the background, if it hasn't yet been raised by Obama, his camp, and his camp followers.

That charge? Raising the issue of Obama's associations with Wright and Ayers is the kind of gutter politics that is sometimes called the politics of personal destruction, if it isn't plain old racism. (My rule of thumb: The charge of racism in twenty-first century America is a first and last refuge of any politician or public figure who wants to shift the focus of debate from his own views, accomplishments, or agenda.)

It ain't "personal destruction" if (a) it's true and (b) it's relevant to a person's fitness to hold office (whether elected or appointed). Bill Clinton wasn't a "victim" of the politics of personal destruction when he was impeached by the House of Representatives; he was a "victim" of his own perjury and deliberate failure to honor his oath of office.

As Wolf Howling and Charles Krauthammer explain so well, Barack Obama's associations with Jeremiah Wright and Bill Ayers are a legitimate focus of attention. And those associations will remain a legitimate focus of attention for as long as Obama feeds at the public trough or seeks to do so.

Another Homage to the French

Thanks to Mike Rappaport of The Right Coast for the following (right-click and open in new tab to enlarge):

Related post: "A Fighting Frenchman" (06 Mar 2008)

Friday, April 25, 2008

Income Inequality: Myths vs. Facts

Cross-temporal comparisons of incomes by percentile are meaningless, as Arnold Kling and Russell Roberts explain. The bottom line: the persons included in a particular income range (e.g., bottom decile or quintile) in one year are not the same persons who were included in that income range five, ten, twenty, or thirty years earlier. Moreover, real (inflation-adjusted) income has grown steadily across the board: at the bottom and all the way to the top.

Those persons who are (temporarily) at the top do not take away anything from those who are at the bottom or in between. Those at the top earn because more they produce things of commensurate value. (I exclude politicians, lobbyists, and the beneficiaries of economically restrictive regulation.) Those in the middle and at the bottom earn what they earn because they produce things of less value. (Teachers, for example, earn less than baseball players because there are so many more persons who are able to be teachers than there are persons who are able to be major league ballplayers. It's that fact -- not "social injustice" -- which accounts for the fact that teachers, firemen, policemen, etc., don't make as much as ballplayers.) There's no other way for an economic system to generate more for all than to allow it to reward producers according to the market value of what they produce.

Income inequality is a bogus issue. It is exploited by economic illiterates, do-gooders, and politicians to advance various forms of welfare, which necessarily involves income redistribution. The result, of course, is to make almost everyone worse off. The only beneficiaries of income redistribution are the welfare bureaucracy, vote-grabbing politicians, and perennial parasites. The rest of us pay via higher taxes and slower economic growth.

Related posts:
"Why Class Warfare Is Bad for Everyone" (21 Sep 2004)
"Fighting Myths with Facts" (27 Sep 2004)
"Debunking More Myths of Income Inequality" (13 Oct 2004)
"The Destruction of Wealth and Income by the State" (01 Jan 2005)
"Ten Commandments of Economics" (02 Dec 2005)
"More Commandments of Economics" (06 Dec 2005)
"Zero-Sum Thinking" (29 Dec 2005)
"On Income Inequality" (09 Mar 2006)
"The Causes of Economic Growth" (08 Apr 2006)
"The Last(?) Word about Income Inequality" (21 Jul 2006)
"Your Labor Day Reading" (04 Sep 2006)
"Status, Spite, Envy, and Income Redistribution" (04 Sep 2006)
"Things to Come" (27 Jun 2007)
"The Poor Get Richer" (06 Feb 2008)

The "Good Old Days" of the Fourth Amendment?

Orin Kerr tries to identify the "good old days" of the Fourth Amendment, which reads:
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
According to Kerr:
If you had to identify a "high point" of Fourth Amendment protection, I suppose you might pick the window from December 1967 to May 1968, or maybe the six years from December 1967 until some of the pro-law enforcement decisions of the Court in 1973. But if that's right, it seems to me that the "good old days" of the Fourth Amendment were actually a pretty narrow window of time: anywhere from a few months to five or six years, around forty years ago, out of a 217-year history of the Fourth Amendment.
Kerr's high point should be called a low point. The six years from 1967 to 1973 were "good old days" when law enforcement was hamstrung in its efforts to protect us from predators. One result was to reinforce the upward trend in the rate of violent and property crimes.

In any event, the Fourth Amendment has been distorted out of all recognition, as I explained in writing about the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Hudson v. Michigan:
[T]he majority ... believed that the case did not involve a "knock-and-announce" violation. But the majority could not change the fact of Michigan's concession that there was such a violation. So the majority did the next best thing; it prevented Hudson from getting off scot-free, in spite of the supposed violation. How? The majority found the "exclusionary rule" inapplicable and allowed the evidence found in Booker Hudson's home to be used against him.

By its action the majority also forestalled claims similar to Hudson's. The second-guessing by prosecutors and judges of reasonable judgments made by the police in the execution of their duties -- especially in the execution of lawful warrants -- is not a defense of liberty. Rather, it undermines liberty by making it easier for predators like Booker Hudson to elude justice, on the questionable theory that "it is better that ten guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffer."

I contend, further, that a proper reading of the Constitution would require either "knock-and-announce" or a warrant, not both. At the time of the framing, when "knock-and-announce" was accepted law, warrants were not accepted law. As William J. Stuntz writes in The Heritage Guide to the Constitution (pp. 326-9):

. . . When the Fourth Amendment was written, the sole remedy for an illegal search or seizure was a lawsuit for money damages. Government officials used warrants as a defense against such lawsuits. Today a warrant seems the police officer's foe -- one more hoop to jump through -- but at the time of the Founding it was the constable's friend, a legal defense against any subsequent claim. Thus it was perfectly reasonable to specify limits on warrants (probable cause, particular description of the places to be search and the things to be seized) but never to require their use.

Hudson served justice, while remaining true to the original meaning of the Constitution.

Hudson may not have been the high point of Fourth Amendment jurisprudence, but it was among the higher points.