Showing posts with label Politics. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Politics. Show all posts

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Political Campaign Alternatives: A Modest Proposal

Democracy is perhaps one of the most fetishized and least questioned aspects of modern political life. This is not so unusual insofar as a we live in a society where the individual is thought to have personal sovereignty and thus then the liberty to. . . well it gets a little hazy at that point, since democratic elections have been known to produce all manner of illiberal results which get blessed with the democratic imprimatur. At the very least, though, we acknowledge the right to voice concern over one's fate, even if we deny people the actual ability to choose it. This liberty, such as it is, then becomes Sophie's choice between the populist crimes and fantasies du jour. If you don't like those choices then you get branded with the scarlet letter reserved for puppy-kickers and seal-clubbers: you're anti-democratic. You don't love America. You can "take it or leave it." You can "Go to Russia." Your vote for those icky third-party candidates "doesn't count" then.

My favorite of these bromides is the assertion that if you don't vote then you can't complain, as if in not choosing to get poisoned I shouldn't complain when I get stabbed. To fuse Tom Woods and Stefan Molyneux: Choose your cage, citizen. Rejoice. Repeat. Because democracy.

There is, however, something to be said for exercising one's will, if not for picking one's poison. One problem is that people have so many different criteria for what makes a good leader. Some people want businessmen, some rabble rousers. Others economists or reformers. Some want military heroes, others legislators. And so forth. The success of President Obama's carefully curated curriculum vitae is a good example of the dangers of credentials, so perfectly mixed was it to anesthetize moderates' fears of reform and stimulate reformers' hope for change. Everyone saw what they wanted and the perfection of the American experiment was at hand.

Alas, he's not been up to the task and citizens are no more prepared now than they have been thoroughly to examine the candidates. As a result, campaigns have degenerate into promises and administrations into quagmires. Thus, I offer a modest proposal which I believe will increase competition among candidates, drum up popular interest, and produce candidates of a higher caliber.

The Presidential Olympics

Round 1: Marathon
  • I'm not asking for a full marathon, but the president should be able to run a few miles in a reasonable amount of time without keeling over. 
Round 2: Feats of Strength
  • An American Gladiators style obstacle course designed to test their ingenuity, dexterity, and guts. 
Round 3: Academic Decathlon
  1. Math (Jeopardy style)
  2. Geography (Jeopardy Style)
  3. English Grammar (Quiz Show style)
  4. American History (Written)
  5. American History (Quiz Show Style) - This consists of information on present conditions including revenues, expenses, military capabilities and positions, economic statistics, foreign agreements, and so forth.
  6. Logic (Jeopardy style) - Candidates must spot the logical flaw in an argument.
  7. Economics (Oral Interview) - Candidates must explain various phenomena and prescribe a course of action.
  8. Economics (Practical) - Candidates must execute a prescribed business plan, and profit.
  9. Art (Guided Tour) - Candidates must plan and give a unique guided tour of an American museum, explaining ten works. 
  10. Important Concepts (Lecture) - Candidates must give 10 short talks explaining specific concepts from various disciplines. 
Round 4: Practical Arts
  1. Change a car's tires
  2. Cook a three course meal
  3. Clean one house, top to bottom
  4. Hunting/Target Practice
  5. Work five different 9-5 jobs in a week without getting fired
Round 5: Debate
  1. Declamation of the memorized Constitution & Declaration of Independence
  2. Deliberative defense, pro and con, of a piece of original legislation
  3. Ceremonial speech praising an American who has been dead for at least 50 years
  4. Moderated debate on select topics against other candidates.
  5. Moderated debate on select topics against a panel of experts. 
Round 6: Following and Leading
  • Follow a commander and then lead a group, through a series of tasks in the following environments: 1) kitchen, 2) classroom, 3) choir/orchestra, 4) sailboat/fishing boat, and 5) a military exercise.
Finals: Games
  1. Monopoly
  2. Risk
  3. Chess
This course would be timed and compressed into the space of one month, replacing the yearslong spectacle of campaigning. Some events would be timed or goal based, and thus objective, and others would be subjective and judged by democratic voting. In the cases of subjective events, this system would at least provide voters with something the candidate actually did, recently, and himself. It would also force candidates to acquire and perfect tangible skills before entering office. Finally, the failures would be educative, entertaining, and of course, democratic. 

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Economics 101 on the Daily Show: Hard Hat Zone

Everyone has had the experience of explaining something to someone who's just not getting it. Maybe your intended student is misinformed and trying to reconcile other information, maybe he's just a little slow, maybe he's having a bad day. So you try other examples and explanations and variations until you get through. It's when you really don't get through that things get interesting. Am I unclear? Have I not understood the matter myself? Your confusion takes a curious turn, though, when you start to see that your interlocutor is not engaging your arguments but deflecting them, and thus you realize that you're bashing your ahead against a wall.

With that in mind, Rand Paul must have some headache after his Daily Show interview with John Oliver last night. Now before moving on, I'd like to admit that I don't like the Comedy Central news shows. The clever tag-team of John Stewart and Steven Colbert occasionally make me chuckle and they've pulled some enlightenment from their hats, but the operating principle behind their shows seems to me clear and twofold. First, appeal to the vanity of the twenty-something would-be intelligentsia. It seems the majority of criticism which the hosts level is directed at supposed stupidity, and likewise most right opinion presented as obvious. Second, the shows are invidious hits against the political right. Not universally or unilaterally critical, but calculatedly critical hits for making the left wing seem, at worse, the lesser of two evils.

Senator Paul's 8/12 interview is a good example of these three phenomena of obtuseness, obsequiousness, and nefarious selectivity.

After some cute salutary remarks, (1:35) Oliver gets to the heart of the left's conception of the right's objections to the Affordable Care Act by characterizing Paul's objection as "religious." Such a description translates, to an irreligious demographic, as a fundamental invalidation of whatever principled explanation might be offered. Paul chooses to dodge the constitutionality and morality play and focus on policy, a wise turn because the CC audience will not likely be persuaded by principled opposition of this kind, but it will be receptive to arguments that the bill simply won't work.

Next, (2:21) Oliver suggests the fact that a certain number of Americans are uninsured self-evidently demonstrates market failure. Before noting the senator's remarks, we may ask why anything should be treated as self evident, let alone this. Healthcare, which is now a political totem and catch-all, is not an unquestionable good in all circumstances for everyone nor an end in itself. As such, why should a lack of it demonstrate any failure at all, let alone market failure? Paul proceeds with an economic counter-example culled from his firsthand experiences, a prudent choice, from which he segues into the process by which insulation from prices raises costs.

In response, Oliver resumes his religiously-oriented characterization by calling Paul a "disciple" for smaller government. He then asks whether healthcare is not something where government should step in, suggesting an affirmation. The question again invites an ideological response which would again confirm the religious set-up, but Paul declines again, offering not prudential but economic arguments. Oliver also chooses here to re-clothe his previous question. He says that business has had decades of opportunity to insure people, and it hasn't, which again implies that people without healthcare are being denied healthcare, a point which Paul easily contradicts.

After that exchange, Oliver suggests that the free market's predilection for profit is at odds with society's goal of stopping people from dying. First, note the puerile characterization, "stop people from dying," which should read "promote health." Second, notice how the statement implies contradiction simply by putting different things next to one another. What is this, Elysium? If Oliver had said what his statement is tantamount to he would have been the subject of humor, and what he said is the fatuous assertion that two things are different and contemporaneous, and the one I don't like is the causal problem. Why are different goals "often at odds?" Just because they're different? This isn't a remotely credible statement, but it's treated as self-evident. Again, Paul responds with an economic, empirical example, although I think it is generally unwise to cite for liberals the Soviet Union as an example of socialistic failure because they often see the USSR as having failed for totalitarian, not economic reasons.

You can all but see Oliver's mind flipping to what Tom Woods calls the 3x5 card of approved ideas: the greedy free market wants profits over people, the right is religious about everything, the free market has been tried and it failed, and everyone wants what the left wants.

It is of course worthy of note that man Oliver characterizes as a religious disciple is the one offering empirical examples and it is Oliver who's offering solipsisms. Meanwhile, we're supposed to infer from characterization of republican disagreement, called "contempt" for Obamacare, is counterbalanced by the rational, democratic support and passage of it.

Unfortunately, Oliver's closing, honest question on healthcare–how we will judge whether "Obamacare" (Oliver's choice of term) is successful–didn't make the cut. It is available on the CC website's page of full interviews, though. Paul responds again with economic predictions rooted in facts principles, and again Oliver doesn't contest them. On not one point was there an exchange. Oliver concludes that the two won't see eye to eye on the matter, but he hasn't actually made any arguments.

I'm not suggesting that Paul's positions are unassailable, only that Oliver's questions towed the usual lines and there was no fruitful exchange, the show's usual pitfalls. The hipster and bohemian fervor for these shows as honorable alternatives to the mainstream eludes me. They do just as poor a job of informing you, although they're chock full of marginally entertaining cheap shots and juvenilia. They're only must-see if you need your ego stroked.

I imagined for a moment that the producers of the show read this article and decided to rebut it, and that they'd do it first by quoting, "They do just as poor a job of informing you," and then cutting to the worst moments of Fox and MSNBC. Then they'd quote, "they're chock full of... juvenilia," and the host would pull his pants down, feign indignation, and the audience would laugh. Doesn't that seem disappointingly probably?

Friday, August 9, 2013

Presidential Rhetoric VI: John Quincy Adams

Welcome to Part Six of our series on the rhetoric of American presidential inaugural addresses. Please feel free to look at the previous entries in the series:
  1. Worthy of Marble?
  2. John Adams
  3. Thomas Jefferson
  4. James Madison
  5. James Monroe
We continue with our present look at the rhetoric of John Quincy Adams' inaugural address. The first presidential son of a president, John Quincy fittingly owes his considerable education, Classical and otherwise, to his father.

As a child he was instructed in history yes, but with a point of observing "treachery, perfidy, cruelty, and hypocrisy" which he "should learn to detest." Before his teens he delighted in Shakespeare, though in old age he confessed what humor he had missed as a child. Later, visiting Johnny at the Passy Academy in Paris in 1778, the father Adams would remark, "this child. . . learned more french in a day than I could learn in a Week with all my books." Years on when studying at Leyden, Johnny would receive from his father a gift of Terence in  both French and Latin, which the boy had of course learned by now de rigueur. From Leyden Johnny would write how he was "writing in Homer, the Greek grammar, and the Greek testament every day," although his father would write, outraged that the curriculum didn't include Cicero and Demosthenes, an inclusion upon which he insisted. Johnny's Harvard years, which he didn't reflect on with too much affection, rounded out his formal education, before adding to it an MA from his alma mater and joining the bar, age 23.

Let us see to what end the second presidential Adams' considerable intelligence, education, and experience met the occasion of his Inaugural Address, delivered Friday, March 4, 1825.

As usual, the speech is available via Bartleby, which we reproduce here boldface, with my comments following.

[A] IN compliance with an usage coeval with the existence of our Federal Constitution, and [B] sanctioned by the example of my predecessors in the career upon which I am about to enter, [C] I appear, [D] my fellow-citizens, in your presence and in that of Heaven [E] to bind myself by the solemnities of religious obligation [F] to the faithful performance of the duties allotted to me [G] in the station to which I have been called.

For his opening, Adams has folded all of his introductory ideas into one sentence. He begins with two parallel prefaces in which he identifies the occasion of his inauguration as [A] coeval, and thus of equal authority, as the constitution, and [B] sanctioned by his predecessors' examples, and thus sanctioned by tradition and excellence. Adams delays his appearance in the speech until [C], which coming after his prefaces about the history of the constitution and the previous presidents, gives the effect of Adams appearing at this moment, a subtle and effective instance of style mirroring content. No sooner does he introduce himself, though, than he addresses his fellow-citizens [D], smartly associating himself with the people and continuing the image of the speaker presenting himself to the people. Adams continues with overt religious analogy by identifying his oath as sacred [E], his duties as both [F] obligatory (faithful performance) and specific (allotted), and his election as democratic. [G]

The most succinct opening yet, Adams packs a lot of detail into a very small span with his Latinate and Ciceronian phrasing.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

The Case of Anthony Weiner

New Yorkers are __________ that Anthony Weiner is running for mayor. Your choices are: outraged, insulted, stupefied, or shocked. They're all correct, of course, and they're all irrelevant as far as I can tell. Why? Because disgrace is a fickle condition.

The word implies the status: a fall from honor. So to fall from grace you need to have some to begin with. The worse your crime, the more honor you'll need. Only by this calculus can many of history's Great Men come out smelling so good. Julius Caesar may have exterminated Gauls, but that little paragraph of "reforms" that comes at the end of the text book chapter makes it all better. Napoleon might have plunged Europe into war, but the Napoleonic Code was so progressive. In American history, Lincoln suspends habeas corpus and fights a war against Americans, but he supports the 14th Amendment. Wilson lets the Versailles Treaty get well out of hand, but he dreamed big: a League of Nations.

John Adams is an interesting case. He passed the abominable Alien and Sedition Acts, but all he did for the better was avoid war with France. Priorities.

Bill Clinton is another interesting example. Here we have an unremarkable administration led by a man who is charged by the House of Representatives with perjury and obstruction of justice. Clinton would seem to have had no capital to expend, right? Well, not in terms of objective accomplishments or virtues. He did however benefit from his own charisma and the appearance that the charges against him were motivated by political maneuvering and not the law. His case suggests that by honor and dishonor we don't mean anything necessarily involving virtue so much as favor. For many, Clinton never fell from grace and to this day people casually throw around how he was impeached simply for sexual impropriety.

Which brings us to Anthony Weiner, everybody's favorite politician-cum-photographer, portraits a specialty. Why has Anthony Weiner sunk to Caligula's popularity level while Slick Willie's a hit everywhere?

First, he didn't do anything exceptional which might have let this miasmatic funk waft by. The emperor is deflowering virgins? Well, it's better than civil war, and oh look at the pretty buildings!

Second, like Eliot Spitzer, Weiner looks like a loser. People will tolerate, it seems, dishonest and even abusive behavior, but one whiff of the pathetic and you're out.

Third, Weiner is an easy target. He's not in office, so no one has to call for a resignation. There's no need for special laws or elections or procedures. We don't need to question the system. Everyone just gets to poke fun. Right now, amidst so many problems we refuse to deal with, castigating this man feels like an easy way to exercise power and regain confidence. We'll tolerate incompetence, corruption, deceit, and mayhem at every level of government, but his line we will not cross.

No, Anthony Weiner is not a great or virtuous man, but his failure should be at the ballot box. Meanwhile, the finger-waggers would do well themselves to take responsibility for the city and nation's runaway problems, risk their own fortunes and reputations, and suspend their incredulity at the audacity of a failed fool's hope.

Friday, July 26, 2013

The Snowball of Progress

That aspect of conservatism which is simply a disposition toward preservation gives rise to much consternation for both progressives and conservatives. On the one hand, conservatives in simply preserving the status quo must preserve what they do not actually approve. On the other hand, progressives must concede they too need a conservative disposition if they are to preserve progress. Ideology naturally determines just what each person wishes in particular to preserve, but testifying that disposition often trumps ideology is the fact that both sides wish to preserve nearly every political policy.

It is thus the position in 21st century America that we find ourselves in a state of legislative torpor, not due to a natural democratic deadlock, but the fact that we can't both infinitely preserve and progress everything. Everything which has been added to policy at the national level is sacrosanct. What was once added as an experiment or a measure for the moment is now eternal policy. Moreover, it no longer satisfies conservatives or progressives enough to conserve, for even reductions in the rate of increase are viewed as regress.

Of military matters, we went from debating the prudence of a standing army to mainstream politicians regarding as "dangerous" any upset to the surveillance state. Regarding economics we have failed WWII era planning still gumming up commerce and a near-century of the Federal Reserve presiding over the dollar's decline. If you want to End the Fed, though, then you're some crazy old cook. In education, academic perfection was attained for mankind back in the hoary antiquity of 1979. If you admit to skepticism of The Department of Education you might as well confess you want to grind up the Parthenon friezes.

The irrational origins of the social services are as forgotten as the debates which surrounded their passage. They passed so they're permanent. Conserve progress. There's a telling line in the BBC television program Yes, Prime Minister in which the naive private secretary to the PM, Bernard, asks Civil Service chieftain Humphrey Applebee about the progressive schools:

Bernard: Surely progressive education was an experiment which ought to be validated?
Sir Humphrey: Yes, Bernard, but not in-validated!
Never mind whether they were needed at the time or now, never mind whether they worked at the time or now: we have the programs. They're permanent. Resistance is futile. The states as bastions of experimentation? Pfft! Every program's a winner! Between the people who believe they are necessary and those who actually use them, the programs are popular enough to prove invulnerable to protest. One can no more propose change to Social Security than one can propose to chip away at the Washington Monument. History has been written.

Without the creative destruction of a free market constantly reallocating scarce resources to where they are needed most at the moment, leviathan stomps along, following its antiquated map. The conservatives and progressives have succeeded, contra both conservatism and progressivism, in enslaving the present to the greatest fools of yesteryear, a mind-boggling fact which prompted the following summation from Chesterton:

The business of Progressives is to go on making mistakes. The business of the Conservatives is to prevent the mistakes from being corrected.
The result of programs accruing at such a rate and being administered on such a scale has had a twofold effect. The first is that the government has ceased to become a guarantor against aggression but a dispensary of rights with the Commander in Chief doubling as apothecary. The second result is clamor for the uses and services of the government even as its inefficiencies reduce the quality and availability of the product. The government has effectively crowded out both a marketplace of trade and the virtues of civil society. A fragment of Ennius describes the pernicious effect:

Cum debere carnufex cuiquam quicquam quemquam, quemque quisque conveniat, neget.
Since the rascal denies that anyone owes anything to anyone, let each one sue the other. 
To arrest the downward trajectory of commerce, politics, and civility, conservatives and progressives need to realize that neither disposition implies linear activity. Instead, both require prudent cultivation, a process always slow, often oblique, and varied with respect to person, place, technique, time, and tool. Not every good must find expression in government policy, and not every policy, even the good, need be permanent. The alternative is a Sisyphean punishment for both the foolishness of thinking politics permits the solution to all problems, and the hubris of believing you've found it.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Just Plain Bad

The latest speech from the 21st century Cicero has arrived and it's a doozy. How long and boring and tedious it is!

It's all over the place, from attempts at epithets, "proud Maytag workers," stranded analogies, "the bargain began to fray," and inexplicable shifts in tense:
Technology made some jobs obsolete. Global competition sends a lot of jobs overseas. It became harder for unions to fight for the middle class.

We get some awkward ordering of phrases:
But by the time I took office in 2009 as your president, we all know the bubble had burst.
 Then there are plain old bizarre turns of phrase:
doled out bigger tax cuts to the very wealthy and smaller minimum wage increases for the working poor.
You can dole cuts? "Smaller minimum increases?"

Strained connections:
And so what happened was that -- (applause) -- the -- the link between higher productivity and people's wages and salaries was broken.
A link between three things?

Don't forget pointless asides:
Or they'll bring up "Obamacare" -- this is tried and true -- despite the fact that our businesses
So what's tried and true? That they bring it up? Doesn't that imply that you were just lying?

Then there are the vast gaps in explanation:
we've got to continue to end the war in Afghanistan
So we've been ending it? When? How? When was the middle? When did the end begin? What constitutes an end? Can you in fact be ending before you've ended, or is there simply an end?

We get perhaps the worst antistrophe ever:
That's what we have to spend our time on and our energy on and our focus on.
"Let's see, which word should get the emphasis? Hmmm. I know, on, because words!"

Don't forget the plain old ugly: It does not require havingeverybody who's fighting to get intothe cornerstones of what it means. Oh the humanity!

Finally, there's the incomprehensible:
This growing inequality not just of result, inequality of opportunity, this growing inequality -- it's not just morally wrong; it's bad economics because when middle-class families have less to spend, guess what?
Nope, I'm not guessing anymore. I'm out of here.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Yeah but. . . you know

The well of imbecility runs deep, dear reader, and in the latest demonstration of its inexhaustible depths the president has shared the following wad of wisdom:

"...if Trayvon Martin was of age and armed, could he have stood his ground on that sidewalk? And do we actually think that he would have been justified in shooting Mr. Zimmerman, who had followed him in a car, because he felt threatened? And if the answer to that question is at least ambiguous, then it seems to me that we might want to examine those kinds of laws." -President Barack Obama, 7/19/13 [Link]
Foolishness is never more dangerous and dastardly than when disguised as wisdom and moderation. Here we have an incongruous analogy set up as a hypothetical test of a tangential issue presented as the vindication of unspecified criticism about the Zimmerman verdict. It's a good thing the president decided to, "let all the legal analysts and talking heads address those [legal] issues."

The appeal of such a statement is more peculiar and particular, though, than the logic therein, for one must ask: why would such a sentiment appeal to anyone? From whence comes the need to find a systemic problem? Can't anything happen without being part of a trend, which the newscasters love to term a "disturbing pattern of events," that necessitates rethinking, reforming, and too often, infringements on liberty? Wouldn't you be glad if something bad weren't true?

Moreover, why do some people seek to prove that America is fundamentally flawed? It is one manner to admit that your home has flaws, even grave ones, for the purpose of admonishing it, but quite another to exercise with such alarming regularity a reflexive instinct toward disparagement. On the other hand, the contrast of heedless patriotism's motto "my country right or wrong" is of course an equally deleterious condition, but I find it harder to understand the repudiating tendency which Roger Scruton has called oikophobia. First, home is the natural seat of affection. Second, the facts prove otherwise, at least in the present matter.

Now I would be less inclined to allege that "some people seek to prove America is flawed" if they didn't demonstrate their inclination so ably in the deft disregard for facts we see exemplified by the president.

I would be more cautious to allege such if the president hadn't prefaced the above statement with anecdotes which we're not only supposed to take on faith, but from which we are urged to extrapolate general truths.
There are very few African-American men in this country who haven't had the experience of being followed when they were shopping in a department store...
There are probably very few African-American men who haven't had the experience of walking across the street and hearing the locks click on the doors of cars...
There are very few African-Americans who haven't had the experience of getting on an elevator and a woman clutching her purse nervously and holding her breath until she had a chance to get off...
These assertions are apparently meant to stand in lieu of factual, empirical demonstrations of racism's causes and effects. So we're supposed to concede that racism has created certain problems, but also, "not to make excuses for that fact." This is illogic masquerading as pragmatism.

Finally, I would be more likely to believe such people suffered from a mere lack of facts than an aversion to them if the president hadn't proposed pretty blandishments like collecting data on traffic stops, "resourced us training police departments" (N.B. "resource" is not a verb), and spending "some time in thinking about how do we bolster and reinforce our African-American boys?"

As if those points are not incredible enough indictments of the president's lack of seriousness, he peppers them with a sudden doubt about overweening federal legislation ("I'm not naive about the prospects of some grand new federal program") and deference for federalism, ("Traditionally, these are issues of state and local government," remarks which could scarcely have less credibility.

Overall, the president's speech is sophomoric in thought and insidious in effect. Couched in a faux-casual flurry of "you knows," the speech pretends to walk a line of moderation and pragmatism even as it exemplifies and justifies the thinking which precipitated the problem. It will only compel those who already harbor foregone conclusions, just like the case it pretends to transcend.

Monday, July 15, 2013

The Art of Not Having An Opinion

While swimming in the jury pool with my fellow citizens earlier this year, I found myself waiting long whiles with them in an auditorium festooned with televisions. At the time, everyone was following the trial of Oscar Pistorius, who was accused of murdering his girlfriend. Whether out of interest or deathly boredom, people freely gossiped about the courtroom drama. The ad hoc popular verdicts were unanimous in affirming his guilt, a fact which troubled your humble blogger who found these extra-legal pronouncements quite disturbing, coming as they did from people who might imminently serve on a jury.

Hours later, though, many of these same mystics and prognosticators sat with me in the courtroom for some pre-selection procedures. They asked me a good many ways whether I would be able to remain impartial: do I know anybody at the court, do I know anybody who's been involved in the case, and so forth. Then the defense reminded us about holding to the facts of the case, and the prosecution about the burden of proof. None of these reminders shattered my conceptions, but they were presented with a degree of seriousness, in an environment of such seriousness, which, combined with the gravity and procedures of an actual trial, might have snapped a few folks from their penchants for armchair adjudication. I'm not generally sanguine about the popular penchant for remaining focused, logical, and objective, but with enough prodding, it's not inconceivable.

On the other hand, I sat down at my desk yesterday morning beneath such a Vesuvius of thesaurus-emptying, fact-averse vomitus that I found sole consolation in the fact I had yet to take my shower. I wonder if people realize how insulting it is to speak about matters on which not only are they inexpert, not only which have they not studied, but with which they have not even bothered to acquaint themselves, and then, furthermore, to voice that uninformed, unexamined opinion with all the trumpets-and-drums pomp can muster, and then, crowning their abdication from reason and decency, to dare and criticize anyone who refuses to lap up their piddling blather.

I know it's shooting fish in a barrel, but look at this nonsense in response to the verdict in the Zimmerman trial. It is simply staggering how much ignorance, and inelegance, you can squeeze into 150 characters. Do these people want someone to set them straight? Does Ice Cube want someone to ask him what he could possibly mean by alleging that a whole city wanted Zimmerman acquitted? Do Chris Rock and Nicki Minaj know that 911 operators can't order you what to do, and they are not police? Does Michael Moore know his inverse hypothetical proves nothing? Does Mia Farrow equate patrolling an area which the police were apparently unable to, with "hunting?" Does Evan Rachel Wood think that every single instance resulting in death is equivalent? Do Omar Epps, Chris Brown, and Rico Love think all crimes involving guns are equivalent? Does Russell Simmons think that every instance of discrimination ought to be illegal, qua discrimination? Does John Cusack not know what a tragedy is, or does he think a fatal flaw was involved? Does Olivia Wilde think we can just "demand" a better justice system into existence ex nihilo?

As preposterous as these claims are, though, I've heard the same from people I'd heretofore thought predominantly reasonable, but who this time clamor in accord with their more famous counterparts in stupidity and hate mongering. These folks simply can't compute the fact that this case doesn't support what they think it does, which is that murder is legal, any particular people are racist, or the justice system is broken. The case, in fact, demonstrated very little: that a jury, given specific evidence and specific burden of proof, was unable to convict Zimmerman of specific charges. With no ulterior motive, one must find specific fault with the evidence, burden of proof, or criteria for self defense in order to find fault with the verdict. Stefan Molyneux did a fine job of assembling the facts of the case, but even his scrupulous video was greeted with familiar, unreasoned responses, in many cases because people see the verdict as the outcome of variables other than the evidence, namely unstated, unknown, and nefarious motives of Zimmerman, the jury, and the police. These are pitiable people tyrannized by their opinions.

There's an instructive lesson about prudence in Tom Hooper's 2008 miniseries John Adams in which Thomas Jefferson, already acclimated to the Parisian world, asks the recently arrived Mrs. Adams what she thinks of the Gallic character. Mrs. A. declines to answer on the grounds that she couldn't possibly form a just opinion in so little time, a denial which prompts Jefferson to tease that she has already done just that. Finally and to the chagrin of her silent, onlooking husband, Mrs. Adams coyly notes that even if she had, she'd not announce her opinions until experience had confirmed their wisdom or folly. Prudent advice from a lady worth the title, and how better off would we all be to follow the example.

It's not easy, though, because we all harbor preconceptions. Sometimes those thoughts are arrived at by reason and principle and sometimes they're heuristic haphazards that we've patched together. In either case, every time we encounter a new situation we're tempted to shoehorn it into our existing view and see it as yet another example of something we already know. To some extent this is necessary because we can't reevaluate every situation as if we've never seen it before, but on the other hand we need to exercise humility and prudence when the facts don't fit. It is better to educate oneself in silence than to speak out in principled error, or worse, shameless grandstanding.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Your Daily Pernicious Infusion

Drudge was linking the other day to the latest in a string of articles on preposterous  arrests and charges. Some allege a pattern of outlawing of just about everything, others see in increasingly SWAT-like tactics the militarization of police, and others see plain old brutality. I've always heard a lot about such issues in left and libertarian circles, but even the right, which is fairly quick to pull the anti-cop card, seems to be growing alarmed. There is plenty of literature on the important legal and moral issues but I would  draw two points.

First, police are not aliens: they're fellow citizens who, prudently or not, have been vested with a good deal of authority. I wonder whether police recruiters are doing enough to ensure they hire people with the proper disposition to be officers of the law, and whether they're following up with proper evaluations, for to every job there are both complementary and opposed dispositions. Also, it's quite possible that there are more positions than can be filled by proper candidates and no amount of funds or training is going to fix the problem because you can't give or incentivize character. The pool of ideal candidates for any job will vary from time to time, and employers across professions need to have the liberty to hire the worst and acquire the best as they see fit. Not everyone's good at his job and many jobs are dangerous when poorly filled.

How often, though, do we wonder about that: how well our friends and loved ones perform their jobs? Are they efficient? Respected? The thought that your friend or spouse is ineffective, or worse, at work is a surprisingly potent disappointment. We really ought to consider the needs of  our friends' qua professionals. As we noted above, not everyone is perfectly suited to their job and thus people often force a disposition, a tiring and stressful task. Police come home tired of having to be on alert, teachers tired of quieting children, managers of making endless corrections, and on and on. People need daily help, some complementary others supplementary, to get through their days, and such needs are all too easy to ignore.

Second, the public bears the fruits of its expectations. I've grown to think that, along with political caterwauling about crime rates, the fact that seemingly every night some variation of Law and Order precedes the 10PM news is having a deleterious, disquieting effect on our society. For my part, I've never flipped past either program without being appalled by the relentless fear mongering. I'm not sure whether you can spend two hours, maybe a few times a week, one speculating about fictional crimes and the next confirming them, and not grow a little paranoid. I'm not suggesting anything nefarious or the absence of criminal and dangerous activity, but Ii may simply be that in the absence of grave, imminent danger, man tends to seek some to give his activity purpose and import. Expectations seem to dictate much here.

For example, the NYC City Council recently approved of measures to increase police oversight, over the expected objections. Whether the council's reaction reflects genuine democratic sentiment I can't say, but there is a potentially troubling breakdown of trust here. Citizen's don' trust the police, who again are still their fellow citizens, neighbors, friends, and fellow New Yorkers, to leave the innocent alone, citizen's don't trust the mayor or commissioner to administer the police, the mayor and commissioner don't trust the people to hold them accountable as they see fit, and last but not least the people think a police force of such scale is necessary to protect themselves from criminals, criminals who are nonetheless fellow citizens as well. Troubling for sure, but I wonder whether our negligence and expectations have as much to do with the apparent breakdown as actual crime.

Sunday, June 30, 2013

A Citizen's Examination of Conscience

  1. From where did/do I derive my political ideas: Reason, tradition, emotion, et cetera?
  2. Have I ever returned to study, and possibly challenge, the ideas I first learned?
  3. Do I speak on, and address others about, only matters which I have thoroughly researched and considered, and on which I have opinions which I can logically and clearly articulate?
  4. Of my own ideas, do I keep current on matters with which they intersect?
  5. Do I stay informed on a variety of issues, or only certain ones?
  6. Do I speak as appropriate to prove my case to others, or to gratify myself?
  7. How often do I read scholarly books and articles?
  8. How often do I read any books and articles which articulate opposing viewpoints, or do I only read ones with which I already agree?
  9. Do I seek out the best opposing viewpoints to understand them and potentially challenge my own ideas, or am I content to read the most easily refuted opposing ideas?
  10. Do I check the facts of articles?
  11. Do I especially check the facts of articles with which I agree?
  12. Do I stay informed about legislation and court cases?
  13. Do I read legislation and court cases myself, or do I rely on others' opinions and summaries?
  14. In evaluating political decisions, do I consider:
    1. Both universal and particular law?
    2. Whether the matter is of a political nature in the first place?
    3. Whether the law ought to be passed or the case heard at that particular level of government?
    4. The principles on which the decision rests?
    5. The precedent which informs it and the precedent which it sets?
    6. Potential side effects, positive and negative, and their probabilities?
    7. Whether there is enough information to decide the matter at all?
    8. Whether the desired outcome might be better achieved by another means?
  15. In evaluating candidates for political office do I:
    1. Have an objective set of criteria against which I equally compare all candidates?
    2. Stay equally informed about all candidates?
    3. Consider as separate, but related and relevant the character, talk, and action of the candidate?
    4. Separate rhetoric from logical arguments?
    5. Hold officials accountable after delegating my authority to them?
  16. When disagreeing, do I do so from principle or as a reactionary or emotionally? 
  17. When disagreeing, do I use facts which I can cite, or have I allowed my facts and sentiments to congeal into a sense which is no longer rooted in particulars?
  18. Do I promote the good by ways other than voting?
  19. Do I treat speculation with appropriate skepticism?
  20. Do I expect of other citizens what I do not do myself?
  21. Do I admit when I am wrong?

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

The Odd Couple

Rain on My Parade, Please

Something about celebration invites abuse. Atheists mock Christmas, anarchists mock Election Day, pacifists Veteran's Day. Irked by the politicization of "going green" a lot of conservatives have developed a not-so-quiet loathing for Earth Day. Valentine's day seems the most loathed these days, a towering rod electrified by hate. Why?

It's not so hard to imagine a few reasons. Some folks think qui tacet consentire and that's not unreasonable. They don't want to look like they condone something they find foolish or even worse. Other people simply bask in the joy of contrarianism and relish the thought of not joining the club. Some people are too insecure about an idea, even if they assent, to affirm their accord. At the dark end of the spectrum lurks envy, where some angry people find genuine displeasure at the sight of people affirming the good.

To varying degrees and toward various groups, holidays, and celebrations, we've all felt some of those ways. Perhaps we ought endeavor, though, to curb our sarcasm and not rain on anyone's parade. That it takes so much restraint to shut one's yap, or keep hands off the keyboard, suggests that silence is often a prudent response, at least at the time of their celebrating. After all, how much of our own disagreement is not justification of principle but rather self-aggrandizement and self-assuring masquerading as reason. There are in fact very few people with whom I'll disagree in person. In fact, whether and how I disagree is based on a rather complex calculation of the appropriateness of time and place, and most of all, how likely I am to persuade the individual. Most times and places aren't occasions for debate, and most people find genuine debate irksome, which is not unreasonable.

For my part, though, I welcome the rain, but mostly because I don't hold any parades. You see, the conservative that I am isn't in unqualified love with a great many things, first because everything has unintended consequences, and second because even the intended consequences can be taken too far in degree. As such, all activity is an invitation to a great deal of harm and I find do no harm an excellent principle. When you combine that approach with philosophical and generally curmudgeonly dispositions, you'll find that activity itself is a specious enterprise. In fact I'm not a fan of any activity per se, and find much appeal in the ideal of energetic stasis. Life requires a good deal of work just to maintain itself against entropy and it requires as much affection as well.

Such doesn't mean that the present is the best of all worlds, but that enough people cared to preserve it. Maybe it is the mindless accretion of prejudice or the meaningless terminus of accident-after-accident, but you can always spot the progressive by the list of geniuses he claims to have outsmarted. Problems rise and persist, often fundamental ones, but when possible they should be pruned and filed, not exploded. Rare is the need for violent revolution, and all revolutions are violent revolutions.

The complement of energetic stasis, then, is a sanguine curmudgeonry in which everything is at once loved and loathed. This all sounds very harsh, but what good relationship is rooted in unquestioning approbation? None, of course, or the short-lived perhaps. Instead we take delight in teasing and being teased, and in all teasing there is truth and tooth in the taunt. In time we correct our ways and all that's left is the happy memory of being teased. Life as love.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Celebrate Good Obama: Scandal Remix

Update: This video after several thousand views was blocked by Viacom, evidently because they don't understand the concept of fair use.

Thursday, June 20, 2013


I'd like to take a quick peek at an article which a friend brought to my attention this afternoon. I would preface with the fact that I'm not condoning or denying Mr. Taranto's arguments, only presenting them as I understand them and explicating them in the light of what seem to be the implications of the Media Matters "piece," which is in fact little more than an assumption hidden in a byline meant to cast a wicked spell over a series of quotations. Hard-hitting journalism at its finest.

First, in the most recent article in question, Mr. Taranto doesn't allege or deny that the judgments in question are illegal or immoral, but rather that they "show signs of becoming" an effort to criminalize male sexuality. 

Second, what he does affirm in his most recent article is that the judicial and legislative reactions demonstrate not that any crime is acceptable, but rather that, "The presumption that reckless men are criminals while reckless women are victims makes a mockery of any notion that the sexes are equal." In other words, Taranto's point is that either A) men and women are in fact not equal and thus the law and judgments in question  in the 6/17 article are potentially and partially proper in principle, or B) men and women are equal and thus the laws and judgments should reflect that premise in their executions. Taranto predicated this argument on the fact that with equally ambiguous evidence (in the case mentioned in his 6/17 piece), the man's testimony was deemed less reliable for no apparent reason.

Third and as such, the byline is disingenuous since:
  1. Taranto does not "dismiss" the allegations but asserts their handling demonstrates something
  2. Where did the word "epidemic" come from and how is it substantiated here?
  3. The statement "the epidemic of sexual assault in the military as a 'war on men'" is not even intelligible. It technically means that the actual assaults (presumably by men) constitute the war on men, which is of course incorrect and absurd. What it means to say was that "charging men with assault is evidence of of a war on men," which is what the subsequent quotations from Taranto's pieces are meant to suggest and which Taranto never alleges. 
The byline concludes the cutting commentary by asserting all of the following quotations demonstrate sexism, to which the commentariat replies with winning charges about Goebbels, the conservative oligarchy, 18th century mores, and one which proceeds to make Mr. Taranto's point:
Actually, [men] have the right to choose not to have unprotected sex with a woman. They know or should have known that unprotected sex can lead to pregnancy. If it does lead to pregnancy, they have the legal responsibility and the moral obligation to provide for that child that they knowingly created when they chose to have unprotected sex.
Perhaps, but the point is that in such a case men and women would not be equal, since while both parties were free to have sex, and the woman is free to abort the fetus to undo some of the consequences, the man is not free to forego any consequences by refusing paternal obligations. Again, the question Mr. Taranto concerned himself with was about apparent inconsistencies in allegedly egalitarian administration of law, which he attributed to a:
war on men—a political campaign against sexual assault in the military that shows signs of becoming an effort to criminalize male sexuality.
Taranto's argument seems to be that the apparent lack of egalitarian judgments, which he alleges occurred in the cases he cited in the 6/17 article, demonstrate that:

  • The principle of egalitarianism is unworkable and thus ignored in proceedings AND/OR
  • The principle of egalitarianism is ignored for the purpose of somehow harassing men, AND/OR
  • Such anti-egalitarian judgment by Lt. Gen. Susan Helms was still somehow unsatisfactorily punitive for Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo.
Whichever is the case, Mr. Taranto does not claim that any prosecution of sexual assault constitutes a "war on men," but that at the judicial level with Lt. Gen. Helms and/or the legislative level with Sen. McCaskill, a particular, alleged "political" pursuit "shows signs of becoming an effort to criminalize male sexuality" beyond, or instead of, trying cases based on an egalitarian justice.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

A Warm Welcome

Dear Everyone Who. . .
  • wants a powerful government
  • wants to "reform" government
  • wants to fix government by putting "good people" in charge
  • wants just to "trim a little fat" from government
  • can't imagine how life could go on without the government
  • is thrilled  by the idea of "energetic" government
  • doesn't hold "their guy" accountable in office
  • thinks it "would be even worse" if the government didn't do x,y, or z
  • holds statist beliefs of varying kinds
Thanks for following the whole NSA Spying Scandal.

Please consider applying the lessons of this scandal to your other ideas about government.


Libertarians and Other Non-Statists

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Please Stand Up

The Atlantic is running another boilerplate encomium to our beloved 16th president, but above the heaping praise dangles a tantalizing question: how do you get to know a president? That's not how the author asks it, of course, but that's the bottom line. In private life we're pretty cautious about declaring that we know someone. This is simply common sense, owing to the fact that it takes us a long time to feel comfortable around someone. In public life, though, we hop aboard the political bandwagon at the slightest coincidence of feeling. We love them, we hate them, we vote for them, seldom do even the most scrupulous actually research them. And when we do our homework, what do we learn? What can we? By the time they've taken office, most politicians have held every conceivable position and grabbed dollars from every possible pot. Look at our current chief executive: we're finally at the point where every conceivable opinion of him is held by someone.

Among his supporters, he is or has been, a messianic figure who'll heal the nation and the planet. Among his detractors, he's an antichrist who is actively trying to ruin the United States. He's a radical leftist, a moderate, and too far to the right. He's too Christian, he's an atheist, and he's a Muslim. He's too agressive and too conciliatory. He's the philosopher president with Moby Dick in one hand and Thomas Aquinas in the other, and he's just having a beer with the guys. He's the peacemaker who hasn't bombed Iran or North Korea, and the warmonger waging a drone campaign. He's a pragmatist and an ideologue, a bona fide American and a foreigner, he's too formal and too casual, too cold and too folksy. He's everything to everyone.

Now I'm not saying President Obama's character is an indecipherable enigma, but I'm saying it's awfully hard to tell precisely what he believes and what he'll do in a given situation. When he acts is the deed for or against his principles? Is it the ideologue or pragmatist, and in what degree?

As we try to judge him now, we also contend with our own prejudices as well as those of the news sources, the opinion the president himself wants to convey, and the general static of life. Nate Silver has recently argued that although the information revolution has spread facts, it has amplified the noise too. Will it be any easier then, as the author of that Atlantic piece suggests, to judge President Obama in hindsight? I don't think Lincoln is the best example of a man vindicated by history, but his criterion is revealing: success. Is that the only standard? What about consistency, or the Hippocratic principle of doing no harm? How easily do we shift into relativistic judgment, and how unconsciously do we do the dirty math of calculating means and ends.

Again, though, does hindsight help us distinguish anything? Other than by success, what differentiates Marius, Sulla, Catiline, Pompey, and Caesar? Is it any clearer to us now than it was for their contemporaries? In some ways it was surely clearer and others muddier.

Of course there's no easy solution to this epistemological conundrum, save the bromides about diligence, skepticism, and reason, which are true enough. The more useful question is perhaps about the American people. What do we really want from a leader and government? Does our schizophrenic policy simply reflect a schizoid people? I can't say, but I've noticed one thing during the administrations of Bush and Obama, and that during both tenures there were seemingly substantial groups of people who just couldn't acknowledge the man as the Commander in Chief. He was always an interloper, a fraud, Bush because of the irregularities of the 2000 election, and Obama because of doubts about where he was born.

There was of course much emotion and little reason behind any of the sentiments, but in both cases, each side quieted down to a deafening silence once "his guy" was in office. I think now, perhaps, that people are genuinely afraid of the government, and only the thought, however misguided and misconstrued, of a friend at the helm, lets people sleep. I'm reminded of the famous passage from Xenophon:
The Paralos arrived at Athens during the night, bringing news of the disaster at Aigospotamoi, and a cry arose in the Peiraieus and ran up through the Long Walls and into the city itself as one man imparted the calamitous news to the next. As a result, no one slept that night as they mourned not only for the men destroyed but even more for themselves, thinking they would suffer the same catastrophes they had inflicted on others. –Xenophon, Hellenica 2.2.3
We want power, we want technology and energetic government, then we abuse it, and then like any guilty man we make excuses, and then we grow afraid, and we turn to a protector.

Or is it the politicians or pundits who whip up fervor? Most people seem pretty busy with work and life, and if left alone wouldn't have much cause to stir up trouble. Likewise the news, if it informs at all, still primes people for delusions of superiority.

Maybe, as a new account argues was the case before the civil war, that we just plain don't like one another. If that's true, a powerful and energetic government is unlikely to ameliorate relations.

There doesn't seem to be golden bullet, either, no perfect policy or system which is both energetic and incorruptible. It might be a start, though, to stop admitting leaders to the pantheon of presidential immortals, and praising citizens who do things apolitically, that is, themselves. Unlike the presidents, we really do know people like that; they're called friends, neighbors, and generally, good people. Maybe they should get a monument instead, or better, our esteem and affection.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Movie Review: Dr. Strangelove

or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb
Directed by Stanley Kubrick. 1964.

Dr. Strangelove neither sweats nor abets squishy notions about the high-ranking peckers of the political order or the sanity of anyone up and down the military chain of command. Strangelove, however, doesn't smother its subjects in finger-wagging or withering scorn, but allows the crew helming the ship of fools to shine in their own bizarre blaze of imbecility. In fact, so absurd are both the characters and the stage that I don't know whether there's a single straight line in the whole movie.

The first drops of Kubrick's inky black comedy paint General Buck Turgidson, whom we meet not at  command desk or astride one of the military's great steel steeds, but amidst his pre-coital primping. So occupied is the tumid general with his preparations, in fact, that it's not he but his squeeze-cum-secretary, Miss Scott, who answers the phone. Unmoved by the gravity of the situation, the general has Miss Scott relay to him the facts of why there are strategic bombers en route to Russian targets.

The scene plays riotously for several reasons. The first is the sight of the bikinied Miss Scott inserted into the chain of command. Second is how she seamlessly switches between proper secretarial protocol when talking to the lieutenant on the phone and shouting at the general who's in the bathroom. Third is of course George C. Scott barking questions from his off-screen orifice. The scene climaxes when Turgidson flies out of the bathroom in an open Hawaiian shirt and shorts to answer the phone. The country's in the very best of hands.

The best character introduction in the film, though, is the shortest, and it's for the absurdly proper Group Capt. Lionel Mandrake, from the service's exchange program. When his base commander has ordered the nuclear strike and impounded personal radios so they can't be used to seed commands to spies, Mandrake finds one and in the process of impounding it, traipses throughout the base with the little box blaring its easy listening tunes. The scene is a perfect metaphor for Mandrake's cluelessness and ineffectual manners, and both contrast Mandrake as foil to the phlegmatic General Jack T. Ripper.

One of cinema's great characters, Jack T. Ripper is the grizzled general who, fed up with a feckless Washington and the corrupting communist infiltration which threatens not only the purity of the American polity but also the "precious bodily fluids" of her men, makes the very reasonable decision to buck the chain of command and begin a nuclear war by means of a preemptive strike on the Soviet Union. Sterling Hayden's performance at first seems simply the work of caricature, but it's much more than cigar-chomping and distended faces. There's a detached quality to General Ripper which at first seems pure insanity but also reads as a hyperbolic romanticism. Ripper is concerned with the manly duties, martial virtues, and the purity of the male essence. He prefers to do things himself and is prepared to take losses. The problem is that he's trying to live his old romantic vision not with a symbolic duel at twenty paces but by means of the most powerful weapons in human history.

Still, Ripper is as much out of his mind as out of his time, for romance aside, his conspiracy theories and apparent, if occasional, understanding of the cataclysmic results of his actions, just plain disturb us. In fact we share Mandrake's flabbergasted, flat-faced response to Ripper's serene hysteria. As General Ripper lectures about water fluoridation and forcing total American commitment to the end of days, we can only look on in horror. Yet all the while his confidence, the way he seems to chisel each penile pronouncement into the Washington Monument itself, America's great endowment, gives these bizarre epigrams a lapidary profundity.

God willing, we will prevail in peace and freedom from fear and in true health through the purity and essence of our natural fluids
I can no longer sit back and allow Communist infiltration, Communist indoctrination, communist subversion, and the international Communist conspiracy to sap and impurify all of our precious bodily fluids. 
And as human beings, you and I need fresh, pure water to replenish our precious bodily fluids.
Frightening as it is that General Ripper has his finger on the button at farcically-named Burpleson Air Force Base, where we are frequently reminded by a grim running gag of signs that, "Peace is Our Profession," the meat and potatoes of Dr. Strangelove are the exchanges in the war room.

Here Turgidson butts up against President Merkin Muffley as they try to deal with General Ripper's atomic insurrection. Muffley, the second in Peter Sellers' hat trick of performances in Strangelove, might be the straight man here, but he's no hero. Once he's been briefed on the details of Plan R, which we discover puts all and irrevocable authority in the commanding officer, who just happens to be General Ripper, he asks who ever approved such an idiotic plan. President Muffley is gently reminded, "You approved it, sir." Once everyone in the War Room realizes there's no turning back, Turgidson delivers the bleakest line and most outrageous understatement of the movie. "The human element seems to have failed us here."

Turgidson, however, rapidly reveals himself as one nut saner than General Ripper as he compulsively stuffs his mouth with chewing gum and articulates his plan to capitalize on Ripper "exceeding his authority" by proceeding with the strike. In a chilling moment, Turgidson, amidst articulating his plan, answers a telephone call from Miss Scott. He proceeds to pacify her randy whimpering by telling her that he'll be back shortly, and then proceeds to discuss his plan for "pacifying" the world (Remember: Peace is our Profession) by reading from his binder, titled, "World Targets in Megadeaths." When an outraged President Merkin objects, Turgidson replies:

Mr. President, I'm not saying we wouldn't get our hair mussed. But I do say... no more than ten to twenty million killed, tops. Uh... depended on the breaks.
Certainly not enough cause to let, as Turgidson cautions, "One incident invalidate the program."

Finally the Russians get involved, but only to hilarious effect. Ambassador Sadesky arrives and immediately begins taking reconnaissance photographs. The now manic Turgidson tackles him giving rise to Strangelove's most famous line:

Gentlemen you can't fight in here, this is the war room!

The heavy satire, though, lies in Muffley's conversations with the Russian president. The genius of conception here is all Kubrick's in seeing just how foolish we look when talking on the phone. Neither man takes on the gravitas of a statesman delivering an epoch-making oration but rather a frustrated, average man trying to get his take out order right. The genius of execution, however, goes to Sellers, who manages to escalate the ridiculousness of the conversation and imply of the Russian president's foolishness all by himself. Addressing his interlocutor simply as Dimitri, who the ambassador tells us has been satisfying his manly needs, Muffley talks to the man as if Dimitri is either drunk or of the mind of a child. Sellers' timing is impeccable here where Dmitri "interrupts" him and he assures his sensitive Russian counterpart that the call is not simply business and that, "Of course I like to speak to you. Of course I like to say hello." The very best of hands.

Now we get the last piece to the absurd puzzle. The Russians have a "doomsday machine" which will blanket the world in a radioactive cloud if even one missile hit its target. The ultimate and perfect deterrent, with one hitch. Dr. Strangelove, Sellers' last and most outrageous creation, wheels out from the shadows to shine an incensed light on the obvious.

The whole point of the doomsday machine is lost if you keep it a secret!

We seem to be averting disaster, though, when Captain Mandrake manages to decrypt General Ripper's doodles and discern the recall codes. One lone plane, however, is out of contact and its captain, Major King Kong, is going through with his orders. Never mind that he's about to start a nuclear war, he trusts in General Ripper enough to press on with the attack. Like his dense counterpart Colonel Bat Guano,  who nearly derailed Mandrake's attempts to forward the recall codes, Major Kong is oblivious to the situation. Unlike Col. Guano, though, who is simply oblivious to the obvious and impervious to common sense, Kong has been insulated by both technology and the chain of command from understanding or altering the situation.

With the unstoppable underway, the politicians in the war room seize on Dr. Strangelove's plan of last resort, wherein prime samples of the human species will be sequestered away underground to repopulate and emerge when the radiation has settled. No sooner has the end begun, though, then the politickers begin prepping the next war. What happens if the Russians tuck a nuke away and whip it out when the radiation has cleared? Better save a few.

Finally the men belie their disinterested judgment and verify their quality when they unanimously support the plan which requires them to do "prodigious service" repopulating the Earth with women selected for their "highly stimulating nature."

Best. Of. Hands.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Whose Bones?

While teaching short poems, notably Catullus 85, I'm fond of saying that if you to put forth a mere two lines of poetry, they ought to be good. Well today in my Twitter feed I saw the image to the right. Putting aside policy, what does it mean?

First I thought he meant that we individually define ourselves as a nation of immigrants, but that can't be so because I don't define myself as a nation. So then I realized that the president must mean that we collectively define ourselves as a nation, and a nation of immigrants at that. Fine. We're too far into this administration's tenure for such a statement to up my libertarian dander.

How does that sentiment, though, gel with the second sentence? Bones are pretty individual things, to start, so the image of us collectively having bones is awkward. Does the image of "national bones" resonate with anyone? Or are we the bones? Either way we still have our own, actual bones, so when he says "bones," which set of bones is he talking about? Either way, are we a nation of immigrants in our bones, or are we people who define ourselves as a nation of immigrants in the bones? Since the latter seems more likely, I am, according to the president, myself defining the nation as one of immigrants, in the, or I guess one of, the national bones?

I ask again, then, what are the bones made of? Do we constitute the bones, or do we defining ourselves as a nation of immigrants, constitute the bones, or do we actually being, which has not been established, a nation of immigrants, constitute the bones? Does something else entirely constitute the bones? Presuming, though, we're talking about metaphorical bones, he of course means essence, but the image of a bone is not that of a substance which admits a multiplicity of essences, if such a multiplicity is possible politically, philosophically, or metaphorically.

So when he says, "We define ourselves" does he mean define absolutely or partially? He must mean partially since the nation can't be singularly "a nation of immigrants" with no other dimension, but then how can we be so in our bones? As I asked, can we be multiple things in our bones?

What about the reflexive, though, ourselves? This has to be meant with reference to individuals. Do we have collective selves and individual selves? Are we anything else? I guess he meant "We define ourselves constituting a nation of immigrants, but he wrote as. None of these thirty one definitions of as fits the sentence. Maybe he's being rhetorical, using a simile? But isn't his point, which he makes three words later, not that we're like a nation, but that we are a nation? Besides, a simile is between unlike things, of what else can a nation consist than people?

So what's going on here? What's he talking about? This is Ciceronian? It's like Jabberwocky run through an Enigma encoder.

Dear Whomever Wrote Those Words,

There are only two sentences. Why couldn't you get this right? Why?

Thank You.

Friday, May 3, 2013

A Tulgey Mischmasch

It's always amusing when someone makes a ridiculous statement and then quickly backpedals to a more sensible position. In person, a few glances follow such statements and then everyone begins to chuckle. A good time is had by all and no one thinks the offender a lunatic or even a churl. He just got a little heated up. Occasionally, though, everyone begins to chuckle except the offender, and then all laughter ceases. It really is quite a sight when someone launches into a spirited defense of the patently absurd.

Before we look at a specimen, though, two thanks to Tom Woods. First, I wouldn't have come across the article if he hadn't mentioned the piece. Second, if he hadn't excerpted an interesting portion, I most certainly would not have found it amidst the disjunct prose of an author who finds the wrong word and wrong construction at nearly every turn. In fact, the piece is such a turbid kludge of vapid words clacking together in a mass of syntactical bramble that it's almost unreadable. On the bright side, the style is a perfect complement to the ideas.

All of these events are the slow stripping away of the vestiges of the state, deriving step by step the hell that waits at the logical end of the libertarian impulse, a counterpoint to every argument against state power. From a certain perspective, the state is our greatest invention, for all the horrors it has wrought when wielded darkly. It is the sine qua non of everything else we normally consider to be the triumphs of civilization. Writing, electricity, science, art. None of it is more than dust in the wind without the state to jealously guard it, without a hand shielding the guttering flame from the maelstrom. [Link]
Notice how "the state" is not defined. He employs not a single concept to delimit his encomium for state power, not government or legalism or common law or constitutionalism, not balanced power or natural rights, nor monarchy, republicanism, democracy, or bureaucracy. There is no mention of principles like justice or equity by which one might judge the efficacy of a state. But never mind all that. Never mind too how all such principles would by necessity predate the state which rests on them. Never mind his lack of formal argumentation or empiricism. And never mind that without recourse to the aforementioned principles, processes, and evidence, his essay is but a paean to monopolized authority.

Recall instead, how this author thought so little of us, and so much of himself, that he bothered neither to say something intelligent nor to say it well. What an insult.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

My Guy

Second presidential terms are fraught with speculation about potential lame-duck status. Does he have enough pull to push his agenda still further forward? It's not a useless question, but it's really just speculation about what the politicians will do, for the people have more or less checked out of the debates. The popular opposition by this time is always fully enraged. Nothing the president does, good or bad, is good. They're exhausted from opposing, angered by policy and indignant about losing not once but twice. Again, this is unsurprising. The reaction of the president's coalition, however, baffles.

You see, if a candidate I supported ever won, I would hold him to the high standard of the ideals he supposedly represents because should he fail, he would discredit my principles. I find it tough to understand the "my guy" philosophy of politics in which one must eternally support anyone and everyone he voted for. Now few would admit to unconditional support of "their guy," but somehow the equation always balances in his favor. Does supporting "x-rights" trump foreign policy and the economy? Does the economy trump education policy? It's like a game or rock-paper-scissors where everybody wins.

So I wonder now, for example, as we sit mired in a miasma of myriad misguided, misapplied, and misanthropic policies, what might finally snap one of the president's supporters from his piper's tune. Every single matter, they invariably say, would have been worse under the alternatives. If so, then there's a rather monumental political problem, wouldn't you say? I have, in fact, received such concessions from the president's men, so to call them, that we are in dire straits with poor candidates, yet they subsequently say that, even so, better to have "their guy" in charge.

Still, though, some attribute no vice whatsoever to the president. His failures all owe to external factors. The GOP, the supreme court, the lobbyists, congress, big business, Fox News, and the American people. In fact the president's only flaw seems to be an excess of virtue which renders him incapable of doing the nasty work necessary to nudge his policies through. He's too respectful, too quiet. He follows the rules. He just won't break those eggs. The great Progress-Bringer lays chained, Prometheus-like, to his virtue as the all mighty GOP pecks away at him, a painted president at the cusp of greatness.

Of course the "conservatives" played their parts as toadies before, doing their dance for President Bush.  The "my guy" mentality is unshakeable and bipartisan. "I'm a pragmatist" they told me. Funny how their pragmatism perfectly coincided with everything Bush did to the exact degree.

This is not to say these two parties won't admit the failure of policy. You only need witness their game of hot potato with the TSA and No Child Left Behind to realize that. But "my guy" had nothing to do with that. And never criticize your guy, because then you'll help the other side.  "We have to win elections." If you have principles, keep them under your hat. The implication there is of course that the machinery of government is powerful and irreversible, so just put the guy who seems best at the helm and hope for the best. We'll try and hold him accountable after we give him the power. How liberal.

It's not always unreasonable to vote for an imperfect candidate, but it should be after an honest reckoning one's principles, of what he's done and what one expects him to do, and without the conceit that because somebody was going to win, that it was moral to turn the gun over to him, for having "a guy" is nothing short of worshipping either man or power, two ends which tend to overwhelm all.