Wednesday, December 31, 2008

quote of the day

"Before we examine Conor’s response to Charen’s excellent and persuasive column, let’s state the obvious: there is no conservative case to be made for gay marriage. Gay marriage is one of the most radical changes to a social institution in the history of the world. Whether that is good or bad is debatable. What it is not, by any meaningful definition of the term, is conservative."

~Joe Carter

Well that sort of limits the terms of the debate, doesn't it? More on this later. For now I'm planning on enjoying my New Year.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

more W.H. Auden - "stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone"

Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.

Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead
Scribbling on the sky the message He Is Dead,
Put crêpe bows round the white necks of the public
Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.

He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last for ever: I was wrong.

The stars are not wanted now: put out every one;
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun;
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood.
For nothing now can ever come to any good.

more thoughts on public schools

As a followup to my earlier "engine" post...

There are two huge problems with public schools that must somehow be remedied:

1) Lack of funding. The way we fund our schools, through property taxes, is wrong-headed to begin with. Then we under-fund them and complain when programs are cut, and students under-perform. With competition from Charters, etc. the funding issue becomes even more difficult. This has to be addressed.

2) Waste. Part and parcel with the funding issue is the amount of waste in many of our school districts. I was speaking recently with a life-long teacher from Oregon. In her neck of the woods there are several very small towns up and down the central coast of Oregon. They are within a handful of miles of one another. Once upon a time, one Superintendent managed all these little towns and villages, under one School District. Somehow, over the years, though population didn't increase much, they broke this one district up into several districts, and hired 6-figure income Supers for each one. So now you've got several districts, all paying hundreds of thousands of dollars in administrative costs--one must figure in all the other assistants and bureaucrats that go into running each of those districts.

Then they complain about funding problems--can't pay their teachers well, have to cut programs, etc. etc.

Now, this is not always the case. In my home town we do not have the same problems with waste, but we do with funding and competition. Charter schools have so bloodied the public schools that we are in fact shutting down an entire high school and moving its remaining population to the other two in town.

Still, from my days in high school to now, we've seen most art, theatre, and music programs cut completely. Even some history classes have been shut down. Athletic programs have grown smaller. I substitute taught at my old high school a while back, and the entire place had just changed--I'm not sure how to describe it. It hadn't been terribly long since I was there, but the atmosphere was different.

A new ubiquitous sort of apathy hung in the air. I think to myself--what would my high school experience have been like without the "unnecessary" programs? Without the theatre--yes, I was an actor then, and did my time on the stage--without the art classes? The extra stuff for bright or creative kids, or the technical stuff for the technically minded, etc. etc. etc.

I didn't need to go to private school then to get an amazing education--though I was a self-starter, and was quite good at occupying any down time with some activity or other. I know some kids need more direction than that, but surely an efficient, well-funded public school could achieve this...they have in the past.

Waste not, want not. First step seems to be, cut back waste--not art and theatre programs, but unnecessary administrators. Teacher pay isn't so huge an issue as some would think--but it is time we started, as a society, to start paying the respect teachers deserve. Finland is a good example of this, where teachers are paid a little better, but are considered professionals just like doctors or lawyers and so forth.

Then we need to do away with inequitable funding of public schools. If property taxes are the best way to fund, we should at least pool and evenly distribute those funds. And there should be transparency. The public should know if the bulk of their tax-dollars is going to pay some overpaid administrator, and that's why their little Picasso can't take art class anymore.

It's time for the system to be held accountable, for its own sake...

Monday, December 29, 2008

the engine of the republic

The American tradition of public school is almost as old as the Union itself. The first major proponent of a strong public school system was Thomas Jefferson, who believed that in order for a Republic to function its populace must have at least a rudimentary education. The effect of a poorly educated populace would be poor choices at the voting booth—a fear of Jefferson's that, many would argue, despite our efforts at universal education, has already come to pass.

Over the years the public school system has changed and evolved with advances in science, politics, population and demographics. Basic subjects such as arithmetic and reading skills have broadened to include philosophy, art, theatre, and myriad different languages. One-room school houses have fallen by the wayside, replaced by gargantuan structures housing sometimes thousands of students.

Yet, for all the change, one thing has remained constant, and that is the public nature of the system itself. Private schools have existed alongside this system, and many have argued that these schools have done a better job educating their students, though this is debatable and difficult to prove. One thing is certain—as funding for public schools decreases, and waste in the system grows, students pay the price. Subject after subject is deemed “unnecessary” and classrooms become overcrowded.

The landscape of the American public school is changing once again, and this is probably for the best. Charter schools, magnet schools, and other innovations that seek to improve education and address the needs of individual students are becoming commonplace. The tradition of public schools in America has been one of continuous improvement. It has been a struggle, and yet modern public opinion has shifted to such a degree that many people no longer believe the outcome is worth the effort.

A debate has re-emerged recently over the notion of how to best resolve what is increasingly seen as the dilapidation of the American public education effort. The debate has been parceled in terms of school choice. Proponents of school choice argue that the public system is failing in so many ways that the only way to fix it is to replace it altogether, or to force the system to reinvent itself through competition. Opponents of this view believe the problems identified with public schools are exaggerated, and that competition is exactly the wrong approach to take. Rather, the continued lack of funding has lead to any decline in the system.

Indeed, the controversy over public schools is as old as the tradition of public school itself. Adam Smith was the first to argue in favor of school vouchers, a cause taken up later by Milton Friedman, and many of Friedman's students and successors. It has now become a mainstay of the modern conservative movement, with little room for debate.

Smith and Friedman argued that the public school system should follow the rules of the free market, and that the best way to do this would be to put the public schools in direct competition with their private counterparts. Conservative theorists today argue that taxpayers who choose not to send their children to public school ought to receive a tax subsidy, or voucher, to help pay for the private school of their choice. The voucher would be paid to the school of the taxpayer's choice, rather than directly into the public school system. This creates a very immediate competitive dynamic between the public and private spheres, as the funding of one is entirely dependent upon the funding of the other.

This competition, in theory, should lead to more efficient public schools, forced by the market to make the necessary hard decisions that will lead to better schools fought with less waste and flush with innovation and common sense—an outcome obviously preferable for taxpayer and student alike.

Still, such an argument does not take into account many of the obvious repercussions of a competitive landscape in which the public school system rather than improving vis a vis increased competition, is actually outperformed to such a degree that it is no longer a viable option. In other words, what if the end result of school choice is not better public schools, but no public schools at all?

When discussing competition in education, it is important to note the many inherent disadvantages the public school system faces in a leveled playing field with private industry. Public schools are forced to accept any and all who come knocking. This is their greatest disadvantage, and their most important function. Public schools accept students based not at all on merit, but on the very basic fact that they are citizens of this country, and in need of an education.

This also means public schools must accept all special-needs students, and find a way to pay for their very specialized education. One child with cerebral palsy costs a great deal more than an unimpaired child. Whereas a private school simply need not accept such disabled students, a public school must—and while there are, indeed, private schools that specialize in treating these special needs students, still there is no evidence that they have anywhere near the capacity to treat all of them, nor that vouchers would in any way cover those costs.

Merit-based admissions put the public school at a basic disadvantage as well. Public schools do not admit students based on test scores or admittance exams, and so they are left to the mercy of chance—and often chance is little more than the immutable circumstance of neighborhood. Due to the inequitable nature of school-funding, wherein the vast majority of a school's budget is made up of property taxes, this simply compounds the fact that in poorer neighborhoods where tax revenues are lower, test scores and student performance is also inevitably low.

Proponents of school choice argue that this is exactly the reason why vouchers are needed—that students in these poorer neighborhoods would no longer face the misfortune of attending their neighborhood's public school. Then again, perhaps a rethinking of the way in which these schools are funded would do a great deal more to help a great many more students attain a proper education. After all, if the disadvantage of poverty is crippling even before a child enters the school system, how can these disadvantaged children be expected to compete in a merit-based private school system? Can we truly expect these students to test competitively against a far more affluent demographic?

If this is hard to imagine, than it is even harder to presume that somehow the best private schools will suddenly begin accepting students the public school system can barely manage. Such acceptance and socialization of private schools would devalue them to unacceptable levels. The only alternative would be private schools that accepted the bottom of the barrel, as it were. Such schools, it can be imagined, paid for almost wholly by vouchers, and lacking any of the essential oversight present in the public school system, would hardly be the paragons of success that school choice proponents would have us believe.

With these inherent disadvantages, throwing the public schools into the arena of the free market would have many unintended, but disastrous, consequences.

For instance, let us imagine a town somewhere in America, which we shall call Town A. Imagine there are one hundred children enrolled in Town A's private school this year, out of one thousand total, and next year school vouchers will go into effect for $3000 a head. This means, that all at once, with no change whatsoever in school enrollment, $300,000 will be drained from Town A's public school budget.

There remain only one hundred students attending the private school. Likewise, the same number of children remain enrolled in public schools. Only now there is substantially less money for the remaining public school students, and substantially more for the private school students.

In the end the effect of this will be manifold.

First, public schools will face budget cuts, layoffs, and decreased enrollment. Students will have a harder time taking "unnecessary" subjects like history, art, theater, music, and so forth. This will have the long-term effect of “dumbing down” future generations of Americans, making it more difficult for Americans to compete in the global economy.

Second, vouchers will likely lead the better private schools, and perhaps many of the mediocre ones, to raise their tuition. There will be more money in the hands of people who can already afford a private education, so these schools will have no reason not to raise their rates, as well as admittance standards. This is why a need-based "grant" system, similar to the Pell Grant, might work better, though even that could cause the price of education to increase.

Third, it is true that vouchers would eventually lead to the opening of new private schools. Town A might have a second private school open and another one hundred students admitted (draining another $300,000 from the public schools). This still leaves the remaining eight hundred students without school choice; with further budget cuts; a higher ratio of problem students; and an even more burgeoning degree of special needs costs. Class disparity simply widens further under this outcome, especially if the private schools continue to admit students based on merit—arguably the very point of private school—vs. lottery or location-based admissions.

School voucher proponents believe that ideally, somehow all one thousand of Town A's students will be able to go to private schools paid for with government vouchers. This may very well be the outcome of the collapse of the public schools, as such a collapse, however gradual, would lead to market solutions for education.

This begs the question, however: if everyone attends private school, will we not see the very same decline in the private sector that we've seen in public schools? After all, the low end of the scale will be the least funded--perhaps solely paid for by vouchers, and populated largely by the lowest achievers and the poorest student demographic. The better schools will also be paid for by vouchers, but their tuition will be higher and thus inundated with a great deal more private money. The gap will be similar to what it is today, and likely much worse, only now students will not have the safety net of the public school system, or the guarantee of a free education. Nor will they have the democratic protection of elected officials taking stewardship of their children's education. Accountability will be all in capital, as accountability always is in the free market.

So the question inevitably comes down to our vision of what education should amount to for our children. Do we envision a robust American public school system—the sort imagined long ago by Thomas Jefferson and others of our Founding Fathers, to be the engine of our Republic? Or have we decided to give up on that institution? There is little doubt that improvements can, and should, be made in our public schools, but there seems also to be great potential for a system of public education that is at once efficient, free, and competitive not only with America's private schools, but with schools the world over, private and public alike.

Vouchers do not represent the whole of the school choice debate any more than Milton Friedman represents the whole of our economic debate. Michael Oakeshott famously wrote that conservatism is a disposition, not an ideology. The conservative approach to any problem is to favor tradition over reaction, the wisdom of generations over the singularity of isolated and abstract reason. In other words, to favor what has been proven to work over what simply might work in theory.

This seems to cut to the heart of the issue of school choice. The ideology of privatization over public administration has become such a driving force in conservative debate that we have forgotten that there are things, even in the public sphere, that deserve preservation — that “complete the circle” as Jefferson once remarked. Oakeshott wrote that conservatism is “a disposition appropriate to a man who is acutely aware of having something to lose which he has learned to care for.” Perhaps the loss of our public schools, a tradition as old as this nation itself, is something of which we ought to be acutely aware.

There is room in this debate to consider innovations, improvements, and necessary and long overdue changes to the way in which our schools are operated and administered. Merit pay, charter schools, and trade schools for those students the least likely to attend college, but who could benefit enormously from practical skill training or apprenticeships, are all ideas that deserve careful consideration. There is certainly a case to be made for poor kids to receive grants to attend private schools—though this really isn’t a “school choice” matter so much as a question of welfare.

Indeed, this entire debate deserves as much careful consideration as possible. Rather than latching on to a talking point or an ideology, or turning this into a political gambit—essentially, rather than couching this debate in terms of economics or politics at all—we should view this instead as a matter of tradition and civilization, of preservation of that which has worked for generations, and can be made to work again for generations to come. Sadly, this has become a debate in which the only acceptable conservative stance on the issue is that of school choice, quite frankly, is not always a liberating thing.

I find myself wondering how this can be, how an entire discussion of such a delicate matter can be confined so utterly to one dogmatic response. On this matter I call to mind another great conservative thinker, and in doing so find that I, too, am standing “athwart history, yelling Stop, at a time when no one is inclined to do so, or to have much patience with those who so urge it.”

Our public schools are a great American tradition, and they are worth preserving. They are worth the struggle. Let us not be too hasty in our attempt to dismantle them, lest we lose them altogether. Such a loss would be a historical one. On this matter especially, let us be conservative in our disposition, not merely conservative in what has become the generally accepted talking points and political strategy. Such a debate transcends politics, after all, and rightly so.

painting of the day "bacchanal"

~Fransesco Zuccarelli

poem of the day

Introduction to Poetry

by Billy Collins

I ask them to take a poem
and hold it up to the light
like a color slide

or press an ear against its hive.

I say drop a mouse into a poem
and watch him probe his way out,

or walk inside the poem's room
and feel the walls for a light switch.

I want them to waterski
across the surface of a poem
waving at the author's name on the shore.

But all they want to do
is tie the poem to a chair with rope
and torture a confession out of it.

They begin beating it with a hose
to find out what it really means.

in the comments

Commenter Wellsy writes:
I think in this situation you have 2 worlds: the world outside the conflict, where people debate statistics, records, and events, maybe from the comfort of their homes on the internet, and the world inside the conflict, where people are trying to live their lives and survive. Their homes might be in ruins.

The reality is that any good idea that may be hatched in the first world will probably wither and die when it makes the transition to the second world. Peace has to arise naturally in the region or else it won't hold. And it's not going to arise naturally unless Israel, obviously in better shape than the ragged "Palestine," decides to take the lives of Palestinians seriously. Israel's not exactly trying to win over Palestinian moderates here.

Anyway, ideas from the first world might not fare well when the rubber hits the road, but international support for peace, especially from America, is a step in the right direction. This means sometimes rapping Israel's knuckles and treating the Palestinian government as if it is completely sovereign even though, in reality, it may not be.

I can understand why objectivity may be hard for those that are directly involved, but for many in the blogosphere, I just don't understand why its lacking.
It is interesting how these two tumultuous worlds mirror one another--or rather how the "world of ideas" mirrors the conflict on the ground--becomes so divided and bitter and polarized. One thing is that in an online or television or even print format there is this dissociation from those with whom you conflict. It's pretty easy to get riled up and call names on an internet forum, or shout on some television pundit's show, or write something scathing about somebody else when you know, in this day and age, nobody will call you out on it and demand pistols at dawn.

Thankfully, I do see some true bi-partisan efforts emerging. I'm not too hopeful, as this conflict is older than any member of the commentariat, but I like to be the eternal optimist...

Three for the price of one

More proof that Iraq was not a war that benefited Israel.

More proof that Iraq was not a war that benefited the United States.

More proof that democracy in and of itself is dangerous and combustible, and should not be "spread" without a good deal of contemplation--or by organic means...

Settlements, continued...

Matthew Yglesias is among the many calling for US pressure on Israel to halt settlements:
Under the circumstances, throwing up our hands and saying “it’s too hard!” isn’t an option. We can decide we don’t want to be involved, which would mean unwinding the ties of collaboration and assistance between the US and Israel, or we can try to play a constructive role in bringing an end to the conflict. I’m not personally sure of how you do that. But I’m quite certain that the first step would be pressing Israel — hard — to stop expanding settlements in the West Bank and start dismantling them. To show to Palestinians interested in a two-state solution (perhaps including some Hamas people or perhaps not) that there’s credibility on the other side. I think Israelis wouldn’t welcome such action by us, but ultimately it would be in their own best interests. On the other hand, those who really do think the best thing for the United States is to just wash our hands of the whole mess have an obligation to really stand behind that belief and urge us to wash our hands of the situation. But just proclaiming a pox on both houses while in practice heavily subsidizing one side isn’t a viable option.
That's the first step we can make, but the Arab states in the region can make a step also, and that is to denounce terrorism and stop funding Hamas and Hezbollah. So yes, there's things people can and should do, and a role to play in the East and the West to come to a solution. Also, I think Yglesias is partially wrong about Israelis welcoming the US pressure. I think some would actually agree pretty strongly, but feel their own voices drowned out by the settlers...

It's not as though all Israelis are happy to have their military bombing Gaza, but many of them I think are confused, feel helpless, and are confounded by a mix of feelings on the issue. Just like a lot of Americans--and probably a lot more Arabs than we would imagine.


A while back Scott Payne asked "Whither Daniel Larison?"

To my knowledge, the question remains unanswered.

More on settlements

I think John Marshall is exactly right about the settlement issue:
But no settlement of the West Bank issue is possible with continued expansion of settlements. Indeed, I would say no settlement is possible without uprooting almost all the current West Bank settlements, with the possible exception of some in the girdle around Jerusalem. That's the core issue. And what's happening right now in Gaza does not change any of that. Of course, Hamas makes no distinction of the Green Line. That's a given. But I don't think that's the point. Israel desperately needs the West Bank issue settled. Everything that makes that more difficult endangers the state.
My support of dismantling settlements is as much because of my admiration of Israel as anything else. I'd like to see Israel continue to exist, prosperous and safe, alongside their neighbors. That's not going to happen unless something is done about the settlements.

That said, this post by Dylan Waco, I disagree with on a number of levels,
As someone generally predisposed to the notion that states don't have any rights and international institutions are criminal cartels, it is especially annoying to me to see a country of sixty years, that owes its existence to the UN, constantly invoking its "right to exist" as a welfare dependent of American taxpayers. The unwillingness of America's political class to cut off the spigots is partially related to campaign contributions, partially related to our hyper-PC culture of victimization, and partially related to cultural and religious identity politics. Still, regardless of why it happens, this endless flow of weapons and money is the reason Israel survives.
First of all, Israel survived prior to America's "endless flow of weapons and money" and did so rather well. Israel's economy is quite a lot more than a subsidized American welfare state. I wish we would reduce or eliminate aid to Israel (not alliance, just aid) so that critics like Waco would see that they can be self-sufficient.

Then again, I'm all for pulling out all military aid and financial support to Europe as well, but that isn't in the cards, I fear...

the question of asymmetrical warfare

In the comments on his blog, Freddie writes:
Should a 5 year old Palestinian girl be responsible for that? And does that responsibility, forced on her, carry a death sentence? That's what you're arguing, if you are indeed justifying these attacks. To be clear, that's the mainstream position; most people believe collateral damage is a sad but necessary aspect of war. And, indeed, the same argument cuts against the Palestinians-- even if I thought military aggression against Israel by the Palestinians was wise, beneficial or justified (and I think none of these things), I wouldn't allow it to justify killing innocent Israelis. That's, I know, an idealists take. But I can't stomach the moral consequences of collateral damage otherwise; I think it's as stark a question as I put it above.
Not to bandy about this Israel question too much with Freddie--not every question needs answering, nor will every question ever be answered in this debate--but the topic of asymmetrical warfare is one so close to the issue at hand that I have to make at least an attempt at a response.

First of all, I don't like it any more than the next guy. Civilian casualties should be avoided at all costs--and does Israel make every attempt to do so? I doubt it. Does Hamas make it quite difficult for Israel to avoid said casualties? Of course. It's part of the guerrilla/terrorist strategy. It's been used before in other arenas--Vietnam comes to mind. Beirut.

But what's to be done? I ask this in the comment section:
I'm not sure how one responds at all to terrorist attacks... There isn't really symmetry in combating such tactics (I suppose firing back rockets quid pro quo into Gaza might be, but that's just silly) which is why the entire notion of a "war on terror" is such utter, inexcusable nonsense, and why this debate is so difficult.
So perhaps the entire question of asymmetrical response is the wrong one--perhaps we'd be better off asking "What is symmetrical warfare when one side is using terrorism and the other is using a conventional military?"

How ought Israel respond to the rocket attacks? It's not quite the same as the Irish terror assault on the UK. After all, the IRA wasn't out to totally annihilate Great Britain, whereas the Hamas Charter states quite clearly that they will accept nothing less than Israel's complete destruction. Either this is rhetoric (with evidence to the contrary) or this is a real problem in negotiating peace.

I'm not saying I agree completely with Israel's response. I think they continue down this drunken path of half-measures followed by massive assaults followed by half-measures followed by shock and awe followed by....well, you get the picture. There is very little consistency in their approach, and then they lay into Gaza with this monstrous assault. It's confusing. It's hard for the rest of us to understand or follow--and it may very well be politically driven, as Freddie suggests. Politics are so often interfering with any coherent response, as Israel replaces government after government after government...

But Israel has to do something...and I'm at a loss to what that may be. What is the proper, or symmetrical, response to these terrorist attacks? I fear that Democracy has made it more difficult for Israel to deal with her neighbors. The new Democracy in Palestine (and the newly elected Hamas government) will only make things more difficult there...

extremism online

Freddie has responded to a comment I made in this post which essentially speaks to Freddie's generalization of pro and anti Israel arguments. And it may be an exercise in futility, this whole definition of the argument and those who make it, but let me expand a little. Freddie writes:
I have a tendency to rhetorical maximalism that is nothing else than a character flaw. I'm working on it. I am perhaps overzealous in the prosecution of my arguments. But I don't back down from anything I said in that post, and this is why I think that examining the context in which those who oppose the hardline regarding Israel operate is so important: while I may be extreme in my language, I think my side's ideas, what we advocate (rather than how I express it) is remarkably moderate in comparison to the consensus position of Israel hawks. (As opposed to Israeli hawks.)

Ultimately, this is an impossible conversation to have in some ways, because you can never really pin down who, exactly, is an extremist in any given debate. Extremism is a relative quality. It seems to me, though, that the side that is consider extreme and the side that is considered mainstream are exactly opposite. As ED points out, there are not actual holistic camps on either side that have signed any affinity statements or endorsed any particular set of beliefs, so this is necessarily general. But I find that there are no real anti-Israel extremists in what I would consider the mainstream, national conversation.
I think the important thing here is the definition of mainstream vs. non-mainstream. I think that what a lot of pro-Israel people don't ever forget, and what a lot of critics of Israel simply don't notice, is that outside the mainstream there is actually an awful lot of really vapid, hateful, over-the-top criticism of Israel that is way beyond anything reasonable critics of Israel ever suggest. There are those who spend all their time and energy criticizing Israel's human rights record, ignoring utterly the track records of any other nation, turning a blind eye to Iran, China, etc. out of some strange, obsessive need to bash Israel.

What this creates online at least is a disproportionate debate--one in which the extremists have a much louder megaphone than anyone else. You get these hard-liner Zionists on the one hand, advocating the expulsion of all Arabs from Israel, and on the other you get these hard-line anti-Zionists who want to expel the Jews and give the land back to the Palestinians (an argument I, as a North American, find difficult to espouse, since it is just a tiny bit hypocritical unless we, too, give back our land to its original inhabitants...)

Of course, Freddie is right about the mainstream discussion, and certainly there is a lot less constructive criticism of Israel in the mainstream dialogue than there ought to be--and perhaps this is a reactionary trend. Perhaps things like the UN declaring Zionism was racist have had a backlash effect. Extremes beget extremes, after all.

This is a shame, because we do need legitimate criticism of Israel. I, for one, think the continued expansion of settlements in the West Bank needs to stop, and that the extremists behind the settlements are not only harming the Palestinians, they are also bringing about indirect harm to their fellow Israelis. But it's hard to say that in the current climate, and that's simply not conducive to a healthy debate.

There's a lot to admire about Israel, and hopefully someday we'll be able to say the same thing about Palestine. Two states living peacefully side-by-side is a good dream to have, and I think a lot of people in the middle feel that way. Does the mainstream conversation need to change to reflect this? Yes, it does. And we'd all do well to remember that the conversation online is usually a lot more virulent, heated, and outrageous than the conversation in the real world. So maybe a little less "rhetorical maximalism" would do us all good, though in Freddie's case at least his rhetoric, however maximalist, is at least coherent and sensible. Take a trip around the Israel/Pali blogosphere sometime. It's illuminating, to say the least...partisan to the point of inanity...

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Bring out your dead...

There is something terrible about these photos of Israel's attack on Gaza, and not just in the destruction. Quite frankly, Gaza had it coming. Hamas is just asking to be bombed, civilians be damned.

No, what's troubling to me is that at this point I don't know which of these photos represents actual casualties. After all, the Palestinians have made such an art out of fake-casualty photos that it's rather like the Boy Who Cried Wolf at this point.

Then, too, where is the honor in parading your dead about like this? Is international sympathy worth the shame of using one's dead to gain it? How about STOP lobbing rockets into Israel in order to gain international sympathy. That might work a tiny bit better.

Just a thought...

Reading List addition...

Just added a fantastic new blog "The Left Conservative" to the sidebar... Dylan Waco and Daniel Bein are contributors, and just browsing for a few minutes convinced me that this was a top notch site.

Check it out.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Merry Christmas

Scroll through the blogroll. All my faves have Merry Christmas posts, and they're all great. Go read them, and have a lovely Christmas with your families and loved ones!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

How do you feel about Felt?

Patrick J Buchanan has little sympathy and much disgust:
Indeed, if what Felt did was honorable, why did he lie and deny it repeatedly when asked if he was leaking to the Post? Why did he lie in his memoir in 1979, when, well into retirement, he emphatically denied he was Deep Throat? Was Felt so noble he could save our republic, yet refuse, to the point of lying in his memoirs, to take any credit?

Answer: Felt knew what he did was dishonorable, corrupt — and unnecessary. For honest FBI agents were steadily making progress toward proving that higher-ups at CREEP were involved in aiding those caught in the Watergate break-in.

Felt had another reason for lying about his role as snitch for the Post. Former colleagues would be disgusted, for his was not only a breach of law, but of faith and trust, a dishonoring of his oath as an FBI agent.

Read the rest. There's always more to the story.

Merry Christmas Mr. Potter

Saturday Night Live - Its a Wonderful Life Lost Ending

Monday, December 22, 2008

Google link alerts

Has anyone else noticed that Google link alerts has become totally worthless, reporting every comment, every blogroll link...dozens and dozens of posts with only a sidebar link to your site?

And then actual links don't show up?

One would think a company such as Google would be able to get this right. They have the funds...

Quote of the day

I shopped today. Not for gifts, but for fruit and vegetables and Obama-esque arugula. There were 500 zillion people in every single store. There is no bloody way we are staring a Great Depression in the face, no way at all.

I’m going to take a Xanax now.

~Wendy Sullivan

I've braved a few visits to Target, the grocery store, the gas station...and I concur. It's bloody madness out there. The piles of snow don't help, but they don't seem to hinder shoppers any more than the recession has--at least here. Lines are long, people are typically hurried, harried, and rude, and maneuvering parking lots is an exercise in patience.

Fortunately, other than printing a few photos, I think we're about done with the gifting aspect of Christmas.

The irony here, of course, is that the more people who give up on this hyper-Dickensian consumerist version of Christmas, the more economically ugly the season will become. In other words, the closer we get to actually celebrating the True meaning of Christmas (even the secular true-meaning, i.e. love, family, lots of little glittering lights) the worse it is for our economy.

Damned if you do, damned if you don't. Do we shop like mad and spend outrageously for the collective well-being? or do we cut back, live more simply, give the gift of our time rather than go in to debt, and let the retailers wail? Or, do we as a nation and a people reevaluate the definition of "collective well-being"?

Twas the Monday before Christmas...

Well I've been honored with a mention at the fantastic Ladyblog, where Elizabeth Nolan Brown drudges up my rather ambiguous post on social vs cultural conservatism and asks:
I’ve always thought "social conservative" and "cultural conservative" meant the same thing....So I thought I’d bring the discussion to Ladyblog. Do any of you make a distinction between ’social’ and ‘cultural’ conservatism? Or have you heard people make it? And, if so, what’s the distinction?
My response on her thread is rather messy and floundering, so if anyone has a better answer stop by Ladyblog (a Culture11 location) and air your thoughts...I admit this is one of my most difficult struggles. I view conservatism as a disposition, and a cultural disposition at that, not a set of ideologies, whereas today's social-cons tend toward a pretty defined set of ideologies. Maybe that's all the distinction I can muster...

It's a struggle because I am drawn most toward a brand of Christianity that is quite conservative--classic Roman Catholocism or Orthodox (I am still digging about the bones of my spiritual self to find what it is that Faith and God mean to me, and it is an endless struggle) and yet I'm drawn also toward political positions that generally reflect a much more liberal standpoint on such issues as gay marriage (well that's the big one, I admit.)

In other pre-Christmas happenings, John Schwenkler has moved his blog to Culture11... so go change your bookmarks and let the fact that all best blogs are moving to the same neck of the woods sink in for a while. (H/T Publius Endures)

Speaking of Publius, Mark and I (and others) have been engaging in a very healthy debate over school vouchers, though it has for the moment come to a close. In any case that has led to an exchange of blogroll additions, and exposure for yours truly to some really excellent commentary. Go check it out....

Elsewhere, please go read Jack Gillis's take on the Caroline Kennedy potential appointment and join him in his quest to repeal the 17th amendment! Probably the best commentary on the Kennedy mess I've read so far...

In any case, Merry Christmas everybody! Stay warm...

Pardonable Offenses - From Whiskey Rebels to Jihad Johnny: The Legacy of Presidential pardons

In 1795 President George Washington pardoned members of what came to be known as the Whiskey Rebellion, exercising his right as President to pardon Federal offenders. The Whiskey Rebels took arms against what they believed were unreasonably high taxes on alcohol, and perhaps Washington, who had so recently helped orchestrate the American rebellion against the British, largely under the auspices of unfair taxation, felt sympathy for these men.

Since then countless criminals of all-stripes have applied for Presidential pardons. For the past few years John Walker Lindh and his family have appealed for just such a pardon.

Such a notion has dismayed conservative columnist Michelle Malkin, who is livid at the notion and the audacity of "Jihad Johnny" and his family, and somehow the entirety of the "Left", that an American member of the Taliban would expect such a favor.

If it’s December, it’s time for the Left to throw another shameless pity party for convicted American jihadist John Walker Lindh (aka Suleyman al-Faris, aka Abdul Hamid). Every Christmas season for the last four years, the Taliban accomplice and his parents have asked President Bush to pardon him. This country should save its tears and mercy for the defenders of freedom....

...In Afghanistan, I remind you, Jihad Johnny took up arms with the terrorists. His purpose was to kill Americans and his “reserve of will” accomplished the goal....and upon being captured [he] deliberately and defiantly chose not to tell American CIA officer and former Marine Corps artillery specialist Mike Spann about a planned Taliban prison revolt. Spann was killed in the riot.

It is, without doubt, a tragic story, and Malkin is right to be infuriated. Indeed, the very notion that this man even has the ability to be pardoned is extremely disconcerting. And yet, the best she can muster is a flimsy, "may American traitor John Walker Lindh rot in hell."

Well, okay, that's certainly the "Op" part of an Op-Ed. Nobody could say with a straight face that Malkin's opinions are in any sense of the word diluted. On the other hand, perhaps it would be more interesting to hear some analysis of the risk involved here--in other words, a little less opinion, and a little more dissection of the underlying problem, which isn't Lindh sadly, at least not directly.

Certainly Lindh represents a problem with this nation's disillusioned youth. He is a potential case-study in all sorts of misguided delinquent behavior, from gang activity, to school shootings, to membership in suicide-bombing clubs like Al-Qaeda, or misogynistic theocrats like the Taliban. But he's been captured, and those studies are ongoing sociological quagmires without any likely positive or definitive outcome. Boys will be boys, as the old adage goes.

More to the point is the question of Presidential pardons. The idea that President Bush would even consider pardoning a terrorist is absurd, of course, but then again, he pardoned a cocaine dealer the other day. Anything's possible when a man has the power to sidestep the law so utterly. Clinton pardoned all sorts of crooks and scumbags, including yet more cocaine dealers, embezzlers, and con-men. Potential campaign donors, I suppose, and future political allies.

Article II, Section 2 of the US Constitution states that the President "shall have power to grant reprieves and pardons for offenses against the United States, except in cases of impeachment." An official Pardon Attorney assists the President in the legality of his pardons, though the framework for such acts of clemency and reprieve seems woefully lax. After all, Nixon had no trouble pardoning that crook Jimmy Hoffa. It wasn't because he was innocent, either. And then, of course, Ford didn't bat an eye when he pardoned that crook Nixon.

At times the pardons do seem just. There are men wrongly accused, or whose sentences were too stringent, or perhaps faced sentences that were largely political. Andrew Johnson pardoned the entire South after the death of Lincoln. This was an important step toward healing the nation, and a just and noble thing to do. It should be noted that nobody pardoned the North, though arguably their crimes against the Constitution were as bad or worse than anything the secessionists did in exercising their right to secede. A pardon for the South's crime of slavery would have been more apt, in a way, though I fear no President can absolve men of such barbarism.

Still, the extraordinary power of Presidential pardons raises countless questions. A whole litany of potential abuses seems to crop up at the end of any Administrations term. So are Presidential pardons necessary? Do they circumvent our legal system too much? Do they undermine justice in this country, or do they provide a necessary safeguard against injustice that only a man as powerful as the President can exercise? Or do they place too much power in the Executive branch?

It's true that only a relatively few people are pardoned by the President. The most frivolous pardoner, FDR, was also the longest serving. He pardoned 3,687 criminals. Also true is the fact that information surrounding Presidential pardons is readily available and public--though the relationships between pardoner and pardoned tend to be less transparent.

Essentially, the problem with Presidential pardons is that they inherently favor prominent figures usually of political persuasions similar to the President who pardons them. It is a power without check or balance, a Constitutional authority that sits above the law, and anything above or outside the law has the potential to do great good, or be greatly abused, and usually the latter prevails. Certainly every President in the past few decades has pardoned people that most Americans consider at the very least controversial, from George Steinbrenner to Marc Rich. President George W Bush has actually pardoned far fewer people than his predecessor, and neither man came close to FDR's staggering figure.

President Bush has pardoned far fewer high profile offenders than Clinton, though with the emerging data on illegal torture activity condoned by the Administration, it is quite possible that more are in the offing. If there is one dark legacy that will stain the history of the Bush Administration it is the top-down orders for the use of torture as a method to interrogate prisoners. It will be blacker still if nobody is held accountable, and could certainly embolden future leaders to take similar steps outside the law.

The very fact that we are not as bad as our enemy, and that even the torture we utilized was not as heinous as the crimes of our enemy, should act not as justification for our actions, but the most pressing argument against them. Torture is simply not an American institution, and regardless of political persuasion or perceived threat, it should never be used, and never condoned, and never pardoned, lest it become one.

Nor should terrorism. John Walker Lindh should remain in jail, and feel lucky that he wasn't executed for his crimes against his country and people, something past generations would have had no qualms doing.

So here we face the true moral dilemma of the Presidential pardon. The terrorist we rightfully leave to spend his days in prison, yet the torturer goes free. The traitor is denied his pardon, but the men who acted as representatives of the American people and then used an abhorrent, un-American practice on the prisoners in their care should be pardoned de facto, sans trial.

Is that there any clarity in this, moral or otherwise? Was this what our Founders intended when they wrote this power into the Constitution?

Like so many of the powers granted to our Executive Branch, Presidential pardons do not have to be abused. It can be hoped that the men and women we elect to serve as our leaders can choose to rebuke the many corrupting powers they are given--to use them in the way they were intended by our Founding Fathers--carefully, and cautiously. Perhaps the model future Presidents should follow is not that of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, but of George Washington, who in eight years of service to his country pardoned only sixteen men. Maybe if our future Presidents look to his actions more often they will stray less from the mission they've been given--to lead us safely and honestly forward as a nation; to preserve our integrity as a people; and to act as our first diplomat to the world.

Somehow pardoning white collar criminals, cocaine dealers, and political officials responsible for endangering our troops through despicable acts of torture, simply doesn't seem to fit into that job description. These are hardly Whiskey rebels.

Somehow I doubt that George Washington would approve.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Bailout Santa

Damn. I had this idea a few weeks ago--planned to write a story about it, actually. I probably still will...too funny.

Merry Christmas

Friday, December 19, 2008

Quote of the Day

If I cannot pray with Rick Warren, I realize, then I am not worthy of being called a Christian. And if I cannot engage him, then I am not worthy of being called a writer. And if we cannot work with Obama to bridge these divides, none of us will be worthy of the great moral cause that this civil rights movement truly is.

~Andrew Sullivan

Scott Payne agrees with Sullivan's conclusions, arguing that "Divisiveness breeds its own and perpetuating stereotypes about those that oppose you only provides fodder for the perpetuation of the stereotypes you seek to address."

I was having this discussion with my wife last night actually. I argued that the gay activist movement had pushed this marriage thing too hard, and she said that while she agreed that it wasn't likely to move very far very fast, that the only way to really get anything done was to keep protesting, keep making noise, and not let the movement die out, or become too passive.

I didn't have an argument against that, though I still feel that the initial, short-term effects of overselling the gay marriage idea is more pain for the homosexual community--like here in Arizona, where the voters have decided to amend the State Constitution to legally define marriage as between a man and a woman.

Er, one man, and one woman. Gotta be careful with those definitions these days...

Essentially where my wife and I do agree is that nothing major will happen until the older generations die out and the newer, more open-minded generations take their place. Think how many more young conservatives support gay marriage than a decade ago, after all...think how much more support there is amongst the youth of today than the youth of yesterday.

Who said that--that most good ideas simply have to wait until their opposition dies out before they can be implemented? I can't recall, but it's very true, and I think we have decades to go before gay marriage becomes a national right in this country. I hope I'm wrong.


I'm fascinated by the Orthodox Church, I must admit. I'm enthralled by the artwork and iconography. I love the history and the depth of theology. Still, I come at this world with a generally open-minded, even dare-I-say liberal view--I regard homosexuality, for instance, as totally normal, totally natural. I'm pro-life but I have huge reservations about banning abortion, as we are in no way as a society ready to handle that backlash, nor are we prepared, I think, to morally handle the rise of an abortion black market.

Certainly as a country and a society we haven't done nearly enough to change the situation on the ground that leads to abortion. We have not embraced or provided for the single mothers of the world, nor the rape victims, etc. To be truly pro-Life I think we must start from the other end, working toward fixing the problem rather than just sweeping it under the rug, as a ban would most certainly do.

I've always been at odds with my faith and my personal experience of the truth of this world. I think there is always something that draws me toward the Catholic or Orthodox Church--that sense of age, of history, of theology and a sort of deeper, more mystic understanding of the divine that you really can't find in protestant Church, and certainly not in something like the Unitarian Church.

Still, difficult to find a way to reconcile these conflicting things--the social conservatism of these older, more conservative Churches, and my own more modern views.

Well, Andrew Sullivan manages and he's Roman Catholic. So I guess anything is possible.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Poem of the Day - "The Fall of Rome"

The piers are pummelled by the waves;
In a lonely field the rain
Lashes an abandoned train;
Outlaws fill the mountain caves.

Fantastic grow the evening gowns;
Agents of the Fisc pursue
Absconding tax-defaulters through
The sewers of provincial towns.

Private rites of magic send
The temple prostitutes to sleep;
All the literati keep
An imaginary friend.

Cerebrotonic Cato may
Extol the Ancient Disciplines,
But the muscle-bound Marines
Mutiny for food and pay.

Caesar’s double-bed is warm
As an unimportant clerk
On a pink official form.

Unendowed with wealth or pity,
Little birds with scarlet legs,
Sitting on their speckled eggs,
Eye each flu-infected city.

Altogether elsewhere, vast
Herds of reindeer move across
Miles and miles of golden moss,
Silently and very fast.

~W.H. Auden

Christmas is for atheists, too

What a lot of nonsense. The point of cultural conservatism is not to do away with atheism or any other group. I consider myself a social liberal in the context of today's debates, and a cultural conservative, in that I believe in tradition and civilization and not being reactionary....and I see the sort of blustering reactionary talk in this video utterly absurd.

Conservative? More blow-hard than conservative. This talk doesn't represent my conservatism any more than silly atheist activists represent most atheists.

Allahpundit asks: "Um, what exactly is Gretchen saying here? Christianity’s going to disappear unless we … take away atheists’ First Amendment rights?"


The outrage game? Really?

Kyle Smith thinks Parker and Stone should give it up and move on with their lives:
Having nothing left to prove with the show, Parker and Stone would be smart to cast it aside, knuckle down and come up with a full-length feature as enduringly hilarious as Team America: World Police every couple of years instead of spending that time spitballing their way through 28 or so half-hours of hit-or-miss comedy. Like immensely rich versions of your friend in study hall, though, they won't listen to reason: They're signed to produce more episodes through 2011.
Well, I for one am glad they're signed through 2011. South Park is the ultimate hit-and-miss show. I find some episodes utterly repugnant; others boring and silly; and yet every now and then there is an episode that just works on so many levels--from the vulgar potty-mouth to the extremely timely and satiric--that, well, I keep watching.

In fact, I'd say South Park really slowed down around season seven, and had far more misses than hits, but in recent seasons has made a huge resurgence. I mean, the World of Warcraft episode was pure genius--and the "Day Before the Day After Tomorrow" episode was hands down the funniest spoof on global warming I think I've ever seen.

So, I say take the bad with the good. It's not a perfect show, and it doesn't aim to be. It's just self-aware enough to not take itself too seriously, and just smart enough not to devolve into pure silliness.

So it may not be the "graduate-level satire" that the Simpsons is, but it fills a void in TV, between the silly and the serious, and the smart and the stupid, that is altogether its own...and that's something, isn't it?

Sullivan v Carter

Carter responds to Sullivan:

I’ve been on record as supporting a form of civil unions for over four years. In fact, in November 2004 I wrote about it on my former blog. I noted that Dr. James Dobson and Focus on the Family Action, supported a bill in Colorado that would facilitate certain contractual obligations or legal arrangements for any two "unmarried persons who are excluded from entering into a valid marriage under the marriage laws of this state." I too supported the bill and believe that an expanded form of the proposed reciprocal-beneficiary contracts is the model for civil unions iin America.

Where Sullivan and I likely differ, however, is on the question of who should be allowed to participate in such civil unions. To me the civil unions should cover a broad range of domestic situations, such as two elderly sisters who share a home or a widowed parent of an adult child who has Down’s syndrome or other potentially disabling condition. Such legal protections should be completely desexualized and open to any two adults who desire to form a contractually dependent relationship.

Well, it's a novel idea. Personally, I like this a lot. I would just add the libertarian caveat that we do away with state-sponsored marriage altogether and replace it with, well, this idea. Then you can take your civil union paper down to whatever priest or pastor or rabbi you might occasionally visit and get hitched, or married, or whatever you want to call it. Two consenting adults--that's the qualifier.

Now go love each other...

more on vouchers and our tradition of public education

Freddie has a post up in defense of public schools--a defense I share--which has got me thinking again about the entire subject. Freddie believes the entire debate has been skewed by misrepresentations of the failures (or lack thereof) of the public school system.
As someone who is an ardent supporter of public education, and a committed opponent of vouchers, one of the most frustrating aspects of the conversation is the amount of work done by completely unfounded and unsupported notions about widespread public school failure. Simply put, a huge difficulty in our discussion on education is really paralyzing lack of reliable data on which schools are succeeding and which are failing. We just don't know, really, how many school districts are reliably good, how many reliably bad, and we really don't know about individual school quality within those districts.
Mark Thompson weighs in, arguing that the questions being asked-, and really the entire framework of the debate--is all wrong:
Importantly, changing the debate to focus on the question of "how much control do we give individual parents over their child's education" avoids the moral absolutism and elitism that comes with the existing debate, which makes it difficult to discuss on terms that all sides understand. Instead, changing the debate puts us all on something of a sliding scale in which individuals are forced to recognize the complexity of the issue.
But I think Mark is entirely off-base with this. First of all, is it really a new angle, or is it merely reworking the issue to once again make this about school choice, which has been the modern conservative argument all along? Does this actually level the debate, as Mark suggests, or does it simply skew the question in favor of the presupposed conservative case? Mark's take undermines the larger question, which is simply this: do we want, as a nation, to maintain our tradition of a robust public school system or don't we?

We can't have it both ways. Vouchers will kill the public school system, I have no doubt. They will take an under-funded system and cut funding further. I wrote on this before, and stick by what I said, regarding the effects of vouchers:

First, public schools will face budget cuts, layoffs. Students will have a harder time taking "unnecessary" subjects like history, art, theatre, music, etc. This will have a long-term effect of dumbing down America and making it more difficult for us to compete in the global economy.

Second, it will cause private schools to raise their tuition rates. There will be more money in the hands of people who can already afford to send their kids to school, so the schools will have no qualm, and no reason not to raise the cost of attendance. (This is why a need-based "grant" system might work better, though even that could cause the price of private school to go up. Just look at college tuition. Direct funding of colleges rather than easy-loans and easy-grants would keep tuition and debt lower).

Third, it might lead to the opening of new private schools ... but if everyone is going to private school, then I imagine we'll see a very similar decline in quality that we've seen in public schools. The low end of the scale will be the least funded--perhaps solely paid for by vouchers, and populated largely by the lowest achievers. The high end will also be paid for by vouchers, but its tuition will be higher, so more private money will inundate these schools. The gap will be similar to what it is today, only now people will not have the safety net of the public school system, and that will be a great loss.

So the question to me is not to what degree parents have choice over their kids' education. As Freddie writes in the comments:
Now, if you decide you want to send your kid to a private school, go right ahead. But you can't have public money to do it, just like you can't take "your share" of public money to use a private subway, or a private fire department, or a private police force, or a private military, or a private water department. Sorry. It just doesn't work that way.
Parents already do have choice, but the choice is not about their tax dollars. They can spend their own money however they want, but they're still required to contribute to the public coffers. This is not "socialism" -- it's community. And giving people the choice to no longer contribute even that small amount to their community is not a course that America should take.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

painting of the day - "saint andrew"

~Artus Wolffort

Computer Games

Back when I had time to play PC games (and the rare occasions I still have time) I generally stick to online shooters. Actually, I pretty much only play Team Fortress 2, and even that pretty rarely. Anyways, I love the game's sense of humor. Here's a trailer:

We are all Ponzis now....

Peter Schiff takes a crack at the Bernard Madoff Ponzi scheme, and draws unsettling comparisons between it and the housing collapse:

Madoff’s inspiration came from Charles Ponzi, the Italian-born American immigrant who promoted an investment plan in the early 1900s’ that traded postal coupons. Rather than paying investors from legitimate investment returns, Ponzi hit upon the innovative idea of paying out early investors with money collected from new investors. By creating an illusion of success, interest in his investment plan ballooned. Over time the schemes have become known by many other names, such as chain letters or pyramid schemes. They are united by the fact that they always fail in the end.

When the influx of new investors inevitably slows to the point where distributions to current investors can no longer be maintained, investors look to withdraw funds. When this happens, the entire structure falls apart. The profits received by those who “invested” early as well as any funds skimmed off by the promoter, are offset by all the losses of those who came late to the party.

To a large extent, the same concept has driven the major asset bubbles of the last decade. Given the ridiculously high valuations seen by tech stocks and real estate during their respective booms, the only way the bubbles could be perpetuated was if newer “investors” could be found to pay even more outrageous prices (the greater fool). But when these new buyers balked, the whole structure crumbled. Although there was no Ponzi or Madoff to orchestrate these manias, the entire financial and economic apparatus of the country had successfully convinced the public that “investments” in tech stocks and condominiums were bullet proof and that the supply of new buyers was endless.
Schiff doesn't stop there, however. He takes it one step further, leveling the Ponzi scheme accusation next at Social Security:
The Social Security Administration runs its “trust funds” with precisely the same methods used by Madoff and Ponzi. As money is collected by from current workers, the funds are then dispersed to those already receiving benefits. None of the funds collected are actually invested, so no investment returns are ever generated. Those currently paying into the system are expected to receive their returns based on the “contribution” made by future workers. This is the classic definition of a Ponzi scheme. The only difference is that Ponzi didn’t own a printing press.
From there he tackles the national debt and the risk we run in this Ponzi economy of foreign creditors trying to sell of their investment in the US. It's pretty scary stuff.

I reccomend reading the whole thing, and everything else that Schiff writes on the subject. After all, he was right long before anyone else was. He saw this whole mess coming years ago, and said so unflinchingly, despite constant criticism.

What are the implications of this? Is our entire economy a house of cards? It seems more and more that way. And as much as I don't like the concept of bailout, I sure as hell don't like the concept of losing our last major manufacturing base.

Quote of the day

As I finish up tonight’s blogging with a nice glass of scotch beside me I realize that if I could spend my days and nights like this, alternating between writing longer form political and social analysis and shorter form blog entries, interrupting only to cook good, quality, home-made meals with locally sourced, organic foods and to do yoga, I would pretty much be in heaven.

~Scott Payne

And I would add that yes, that sounds pretty amazing. One symptom, however, of the shorter blog pieces is that I find myself focusing so much more on that format, that I begin to lose the will to write the longer pieces. Of course, that may also have to do with my 18-month old still not sleeping through the night....I find sleeplessness breeds a short attention span. Perfect for blogging--but for longer essays?

Not so much.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Virtual Torture

James Poulos doesn't like the idea of "making things safe by making them virtual"...especially our concept of pain ...
Frustrated by the irreducible remainder of suffering in the world, we want at least to be in charge of it — or at least take control of the administration of sessions in which we experience virtual suffering. We try to separate real suffering from a sense of suffering, under a therapeutic version of Mill’s ‘harm principle’ in which only real suffering, as opposed to virtual suffering, really harms people. If we can only master our response to our sense of suffering — use it to create a real hardness in ourselves — then perhaps we can face the real world with less fear and neurosis.
And I'd say that through these attempts we make ourselves less capable of empathy, or at least we leave ourselves with the illusion of empathy, when in fact we have become strangers to the basic problems of being human, first among them pain and suffering...

In any case, the whole notion of creating virtual pain (or virtual anything for that matter) to better understand ourselves and the world, strikes me as rather wrong-headed. If anything, the more we've become exposed to the "unreal" in its many forms (movies, video games, nightly news) the more detached and apathetic we've become--and this entirely by accident. We don't set out to become more numb to the world, but I think that's the price we pay for virtual living as opposed to real life.

Stopping genocide

Yglesias has a good, balanced take on this. I admit, I'm struggling on this issue. Larison has me stumped. Every time humanitarian intervention comes up it sounds quite good, but then the logistics of it--the history of the conflict, the regional realities, etc.--makes the problem quite baffling.

But non-interventionism vs interventionism seems to leave other options off the table.

In any case, here's a sample:
The basic way the conversation goes is basically that whenever humanitarian emergencies break out, we do nothing to stop them. And sometimes we invade Iraq. But then whenever anyone suggests that the U.S. commit itself to following international law and not using non-defensive military force absent a UN Security Council authorization, people show up insisting that we need to maintain the right to unilateral non-defensive war in order to stop genocide. Then whenever humanitarian emergencies break out, we do nothing to stop them. But the larger cause of unilateral militarism lives to fight another day. Or something....

...The flipside of these considerations is that when skeptics of far-flung war-fighting hear that someone or other wants to do more to prevent mass killings of civilians abroad, they shouldn’t just assume that what the person has in mind is starting a lot of new wars. That is what Robert Kagan and Max Boot have in mind. And it’s what some Democrats have in mind, too. But other people — usually the people with a real interest in humanitarian issues and the crisis-afflicted regions, rather then generic Very Serious People — are talking about actually finding ways to prevent people from being killed, not finding new pretexts for killing people.

And so the question becomes: can America or the UN or any organization really, truly stop genocide? It seemed to work in Eastern Europe in the 90's, but then again, did we merely postpone a war that was meant to be had? Would it break out now if our troops left the region? Tensions there are still remarkably high. Nationalism doesn't simply fade when the fighting stops.

It's an emotionally driven issue, and rightly so. Images from Rwanda or Darfur or the Congo, or the countless other African crisis zones are heart-rending, appalling, and make even the most dovish among us wish for some good, swift military intervention.

It's simply not as easy as all that. I'd offer up Somalia as a vision of sorts for the trouble with what appears to be a rather simple humanitarian mission. The best laid plans, as they say...

Quote of the day

Allow me also to state unequivocally and without reserve that if President Obama does not entirely repeal the policy authorizing the use of torture, and the use of rendition to achieve the same repugnant ends, then he deserves to be described the same way that Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld are rightly labeled: war criminal.

~Eric Martin

These new reports on the top-down torture policy of the Bush Administration are frightening and sad, and I for one won't defend Bush for a heartbeat.

Let them eat cake...

Pat Buchanan can't understand what the hell the Senate Republicans are doing:

Is the Republican Party so fanatic in its ideology that, rather than sin against a commandment of Milton Friedman, it is willing to see America written forever out of this fantastic market, let millions of jobs vanish and write off the industrial Midwest?

So it would seem. “Companies fail every day, and others take their place,” said Sen. Richard Shelby on “Face the Nation.”

Presumably, the companies that will “take their place,” when GM, Ford and Chrysler die, are German, Japanese or Korean, like the ones lured into Shelby’s state of Alabama, with the bait of subsidies free-market Republicans are supposed to abhor.

Buchanan's arguments in this piece are compelling. Of course, these days I'm so adrift in the arguments and counter-arguments to the bailout of US Auto, it really has become a bit difficult to wrap my brain around.

Buchanan points out a number of fallacies in the GOP argument. First, the foreign auto makers that are here are heavily subsidized both by our government and theirs. Then, too, in the world of globalization not all free trade is really all that free. Other countries protect their industry against us, and we should not feel so beholden to leave our own out there without any sort's that

The way I see it, though, is without a little protectionism (what's the government for after all?) we can't keep good American jobs here in America. They'll all be shipped away. And the crappy service jobs that do remain will all be taken by illegals since the government also doesn't see fit to enforce immigration laws. Don't get me wrong, I'm all for a foreign work force in good times. Hell, if there were good blue-collar jobs here, letting illegals work the crappy service jobs wouldn't be a big deal, would it?

But both?

That just strikes me as a remedy to get the rich richer and the middle class poorer. I'm all for globalization, but let's do it right. Let's do it slowly. Let's be bloody conservative about this process, and yell "stop" every now and then, instead of just watching our wealth and national pride slip through the drain and float overseas, bit by bit by bit...

Buchanan goes on:

When an icon of American industry, Harley-Davidson, was being run out of business by cutthroat Japanese dumping of big bikes to kill the “Harley Hog,” Reagan slapped 50 percent tariffs on their motorcycles and imposed quotas on imported Japanese cars. Message to Tokyo. If you folks want to keep selling cars here, start building them here.

Fear of Reaganism brought those foreign automakers, lickety-split, to America’s shores, not any love of Southern cooking.

Do the Republicans not yet understand how they lost the New Majority coalition that gave them three landslides and five victories in six presidential races from 1968 to 1988? Do they not know why the Reagan Democrats in Pennsylvania, Ohio and Michigan are going home?

The Republican Party gave their jobs away!

How? By telling U.S. manufacturers they could shut plants here, get rid of their U.S. workers, build factories in Mexico, Asia or China, and ship their products back, free of charge.

Republican globalists gave U.S. manufacturers every incentive to go abroad and take their jobs with them, the jobs of Middle America.

Sorry to quote so much of Buchanan's essay (Tokyo Republicans) but I really do think it's worth reading. Jobs are not an abstract concept, though they may be to the upper echelons of the investment class (that class that so easily obtains its bailouts, no?).

Then again, I'm not in favor of this bailout without a few strings attached here and there. First of all, the unions may not have wage issues (the $70/hr figure includes benefits and other factors) but they do have unrealistic pension/benefits packages, and need to realize that in order to really qualify for this bailout, they should fall in line with most of American workers and accept 401ks and the like.

And the executives (not just the CEO's) of these companies need to make some serious concessions as well. Lose the perks for a while. Tighten your belts like everybody else. Sacrifice for the good of the company, the country, yourselves. People aren't going to buy many cars right now in this climate of tight-credit, so it's going to be a rough ride even with a bailout.

What keeps me leaning toward bailing out the industry (and it's a bitter pill, I admit) is just the notion of that many Americans losing their livelihoods and entering the already brutal job market.

I'll leave you with more of Buchanan's scathing words:
In today’s world, America faces nationalistic trade rivals who manipulate currencies, employ nontariff barriers, subsidize their manufacturers, rebate value-added taxes on exports to us and impose value-added taxes on imports from us, all to capture our markets and kill our great companies. And we have a Republican Party blissfully ignorant that we live in a world of us or them. It doesn’t even know who “us” is.
Trade is good, people, but every country needs a manufacturing base. We'll be in some seriously troubled waters if we choose to ignore that.

Now, somebody talk about inflation and get me all depressed again...

A shoe by any other name...or..."a similar foot"

Regarding the shoe-thrower, al Zaidi, in Iraq (who missed Mr. Bush by a hair at a press conference):

Yes, this man could have (or could have tried) to do something far more diabolical. He could have attempted to smuggle in a bomb or weapon and attempted an assassination. That would have been horrible, obviously, and the alternative--the throwing of a pair of shoes--is a far more benign form of protest. And I understand it. Sometimes these symbolic gestures speak much louder than all the words we can muster. Perhaps this journalist thought of this--perhaps he was thinking of some scathing article he could write, and found himself facing the futility of repetition.

So he tossed a shoe at the President. And then another. I get it. Iraqis do have every right to be frustrated--possibly with the invasion, but more likely with the really, really bad management post-invasion. I don't think spending too much time on the supposed "hilarity" or "horror" of the event is important. Personally I am a bit offended when my President has a shoe thrown at him or is faced with any sort of violence no matter how small, and I don't find it in the least bit funny. I thought Bush himself handled the event rather well. But I also don't think this is an act of cowardice or wickedness on the part of the shoe-lobber either.

It's more likely just an act of writer's block, or desperation, however you look at it.

I'd be frustrated too.

Wouldn't it be "nice" if Iraqi's had all just taken off their shoes and begun throwing them rather than blowing themselves up willy nilly ? If only. Such a novel protest may have been quite effective--who knows? Certainly after a couple years of incoming shoes the Americans may have gotten the point. And since security issues never would have reached the level they are at now, perhaps Americans could have pulled out long ago, chased back to the USA by a downpour of Iraqi shoes, sandals, slippers, and so forth.

Then again, what good does "if only" thinking do us? In the end, like the flying shoe itself, this is an exercise in futility. The point has been made already with dozens of suicide bombs. The shoe came too late, and missed its mark.

I suppose the next question is whether or not Obama will face a similar fate?

Quite an arm on that guy, eh? And quite the nimble President we have...

Monday, December 15, 2008

painting of the day - "the consummation of the empire"

I don't know. I thought this was fitting. Timely. I used it as the new header at NeoConstant, too...

Censorship at Culture11

Following is Hermione Gray's post "In Defense of the Hook-up Culture" in its entirety. Ms. Gray's post was cut from LadyBlog due to its supposed "moral stupidity" though I would take moral stupidity over bad censorship practice any day of the week.

By Hermione Gray

Poor Charles Blow. It must be hard to produce a fresh and entertaining column for the New York Times on a regular basis, even if he does only publish on alternate Saturdays. Today’s column critiques the Millennial practice of “hooking up” and the supposed death of traditional dating, which has, of course, been done to death. Blow offers nothing new, but to briefly recap: “Girls get tired of hooking up because they want it to lead to a relationship (the guys don’t), and, as they get older, they start to realize that it’s not a good way to find a spouse.”

Critics of hooking up rely heavily on the unsupported myth that women are more interested lasting romantic attachments than are men. But according to a 2003 survey of 12,000 men and women, Nearly 66% of men, compared with 51% of women agree with the statement, ‘It is better to get married than go through life single’. Moreover, women file two-thirds of all divorce suits, although men are only slightly more likely to be accused of infidelity and allegations of physical abuse are rare.

If most people of both genders want to be married eventually, why has dating given way to hooking up? I think that the so-called “hook-up culture” is the natural result of a cultural shift that has permitted men and women to form more and deeper platonic attachments: as fellow students, as work colleagues, as good friends and confidants. The ritual of traditional dating – in which you took an attractive near-stranger to dinner in order to get to know her better – was popular in an era of gender-segregated colleges and workplaces, which offered few other opportunities for meaningful interaction between the sexes.

Blow cites a 2006 academic paper with findings that reflect my own experience: people usually hook up with friends rather than strangers. While it seems true that men experience, on average, fewer downsides to purely casual sex, the hook-up culture may encourage more rather than less responsibility. After all, you will see a friend again, especially if you have many mutual friends. While sex between strangers does happen, I’d argue that today’s paradigmatic hook-up partners know each other better than a typical 1950s couple on a third date at the drive-in movie theater, and are more likely to be on speaking terms a few months later. A finding from the Centers for Disease Control perhaps supports this view: today’s young people are having less sex than their elders despite the hook-up dynamic.

It’s ironic that the rebellious Boomer generation has reached the stage of life at which they can be found bleating, like their elders, “Social change is ba-a-d!” But love, as Richard Curtis reminds us, remains all around, whatever its complex and evolving forms.

UPDATE: This is from one of my comments on the original thread, responding to Joe Carter...
And I guess, in the end, I simply feel that sometimes even more can be gained from a piece like this than lost. After all, sometimes the most valuable argument is the one we have to argue against. I, for one, find the “hook-up” culture morally shallow and just overall very sad. I think leaving the post up and commenting on it would have been a valuable contribution to this site, if only to allow those of us who disagreed completely with it to be able to air our thoughts and make our case.

Damn you, Snowboarders!

Austin Bramwell is not pleased:
The fall of Taos—as alarming to North American skiers as the fall of the Bastille to the ancien regime—typifies everything obnoxious in American life today: the sacrificing of the will of the majority to the complaints of the obstreperous few, the cloaking of every cause in the phony garb of victimhood, the wanton destruction of the traditions that make life worthwhile, the relentless homogenization of the cultural landscape in the name of “diversity.” Even non-skiers may take it as a warning.
Now, I'm a skier, but I've only ever skied at hybrid hills--where skiers and snowboarders shared the slopes.

In fact, I didn't even realize such a grand thing as ski-only resorts even existed, though apparently they are about to become a thing of the past.

How often do we find things just on the brink of extinction? Like magic in the Lord of the Rings, or honesty in politics...