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!