Thursday, November 30, 2006

Iran in Iraq

"With four guys on horses, and violent red visions, famine and death and pestilence and war.
I'm pretty sure I heard this one before. " - The Hold Steady, The Cattle and the Creeping Things

This from the folks at ABCNews:

U.S. officials say they have found smoking-gun evidence of Iranian support for terrorists in Iraq: brand-new weapons fresh from Iranian factories. According to a senior defense official, coalition forces have recently seized Iranian-made weapons and munitions that bear manufacturing dates in 2006.

This suggests, say the sources, that the material is going directly from Iranian factories to Shia militias, rather than taking a roundabout path through the black market. "There is no way this could be done without (Iranian) government approval," says a senior official.

I can't say this is a surprise. WND has been reporting this sort of thing for months, if not years; that they lacked a "smoking-gun" is irrelevant, as it wasn't hard to see why their assertion would be valid. The Iranians do not benefit from a U.S. presence in Iraq--of course, neither do the Iraqis, but that's a different story--thus they have attempted to remove that presence. They're doing a good job.

It remains to be seen whether Bush tries to clamor support for an invasion of Iran. I can't say I'd bet on it, but it's not beyond the pale either. The other option, of course, is simply to withdraw. Any day now...

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

In Defense of Smokers

This is a full-length column which may or may not have appeared in today's paper.

[T]he new Paganism will tend, not to punish, but to restrain with fetters; to prevent action, to impose coercive bonds.” - Hilaire Belloc

To illustrate Belloc's point: in many states the right of patrons to smoke in bars and restaurants has been abolished. Obviously this move is inimical to the constitutional right to pursue happiness—that is, property—upon which this country was founded. It is the right of the owner of a particular establishment to determine what his patrons may do therein; if a customer is repulsed by smoking, he should find alternative arrangements for dinner and drinks.

Again, this is readily apparent, and I need hardly mention the foolishness of trading liberty for pleasantries. Applying this principle into perpetuity, anti-smoking puritans should warmly embrace a totalitarian regime which would remove all annoyances—save that of freedom, which they do not esteem.

In an effort to fully disclose my own biases to the reader, I must confess that I have an affinity for tobacco. I am not dependent on it, and can go for weeks at a time without enjoying it. The prohibition of smoking within certain establishments which I frequent would be a mild nuisance, insufficient to cause me to make alternative arrangements.

My allegiance to smokers is twofold. First, as a libertarian, I loathe the protrusion of governmental hands wherein they have no place. I was philosophically opposed to smoking bans even before I became a casual smoker. Second, I have friends and acquaintances who smoke; I feel their designation as pariahs to be repulsive. Smokers are not criminals; nor should they be treated as such.

The myth of the danger of secondhand smoking has been debunked by no less than the World Health Organization. Yet time and again smokers are chastised for their behavior. The irony is particularly delicious when the screed bellows from the gut of one especially rotund. For while smoking is certainly not good for one's health, neither is a steady diet of chocolate chip cookies and soda pop. Indeed, 2001 data suggests that a full 21 percent of our nation is obese, making America, to quote Lewis Black, “the fattest group of f___s on the planet.”

Nor is the threat of secondhand obesity insignificant. Anyone who has watched someone waddle down the street has doubts about the reaction time of that big-boned body. Excessively fat people make worse drivers than their slimmer siblings, even if they aren't eating Big Macs whilst attempting to navigate the roads.

My point is not to lambast fat people, though if smokers merit ire for falling prey to an addictive product, surely that ire should be doubled for those who cannot blame nicotine for their “addiction”. I merely note that we have a tendency to insufficiently point fingers at all behavior which may be partially self-destructive by instead creating scape goats of the smoking crowd.

If I may return to Belloc's original point, our increasingly Pagan society seems to have lost the grasp between behaviors which are unpleasant and those which are immoral. The smoking of a cigarette—or a cigar, if one prefers—is no more immoral per se than eating a cookie for dessert—that it becomes so when abused is irrelevant. Should we similarily ban burgers and shakes so that they are not likewise abused?

It is always good practice to refrain from unnecessarily annoying other people, but righteous indignation should be saved for those who deserve it. Instead of scowling, try smiling at a passing smoker. Maybe even go so far as to bum a smoke. I promise you that one won't kill you.

On Video Games

Another mediocre PCP here follows. I don't know why I even write these things anymore:

My esteemed colleague, Mr. Fox, has claimed that console game is dying due to the various gimmicks employed to get us to buy the things as well as what he perceives as a drop in the quality of the games available. But the use of gimmicks is not intrinsically tied to the loss of popularity of a particular product, or even the fears thereof. If one believed as much, one would glean that American Idol, Pepsi and the NFL were likewise suffering from a drop in popularity. So long as our economic system places no limits upon the baseness of human greed, corporations will go to extraordinary lengths so as to ensure the sales of whatever pathetic product they are attempting to peddle. The degrading quality of advertisements is not confined to console gaming; and it is an indictment, not of corporations for possessing so mean a character—for it has always been thus—but of the gullibility of the American people, that is, another topic for another day.

As to the quality of the games, I haven't the foggiest idea as to whether we are in the midst of a decline in quality—less than surprising, given the pejorative state of human affairs—or if we are approaching the dawning of the new metaphorical video gaming of Ancient Rome. Little known fact: Nero actually played Fiddle Hero whilst his city burned. But it occurs to me that while my video game prowess is less than salutary, especially given the nerd-saturated environment in which I presently dwell, my relationship toward the favorite past time of a number of my colleagues might be, not inaccurately, construed as normal.

In short, I have failed to notice anything which would serve to confirm any of Mr. Fox's fears. After all, people didn't line up for days merely to get shot at. A PS3 was most definitely involved.

I have a meeting with my editors tonight. It should be a barrel of chuckles.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

More on Homeschooling

In which Troutsky asks some questions and I attempt to answer.

About homeschooling, which i missed earlier,what sorts of checks and balances do you propose so that these kids aren't used by private Hitlers and lennins?

In a word, none. The threat to turn children into dicators is always present, but I think it very unlikely. The more probable failing of homeschooling is that it could, under certain circumstances, create, not well-rounded adults, but androids, slaves to whatever idealogy with which their heads have been filled.

While this threat is real--see Jesus Camp; the movie made me rethink, but not change, my position on homeschooling--there is nothing that can be done about it for two reasons. First, the State is just as likely to create mindless cretins, and already does so at an alarming rate. I am often embarrassed about my lack of knowledge concerning certain topics, but ignorance, even that which far surpasses my own, is the rule, not the exception. Remember, the goal of "education" is proper socialization. Fools make solid citizens in a consumerist culture.

Second, the reason homeschooling is to be preferred is not because it provides a better education, though there are some exceptions; though this is certainly true. Simply put, children belong to their family, not the State, and it is the duty of the former and not the perogative of the latter to raise and educate them. Mandating that children spend seven hours a day, five days a week, for nine months a year, away from their parents is tryannical. That parents may do an insufficient job in eduating their children is irrelevant; the responsibility still lies with them and not with the State.

What kind of accountability substitutes for school boards, community, state (we the People) or parent oversight?

Barring incidents of abuse, in which case the government would be compelled to step in, there can be no legal oversight, morally speaking. Of course, homeschoolers may wish to allow some governmental oversight so as to establish the proper paperwork--for diplomas and the like--but one must remember that over-zealous oversight may have been the impetus for homeschooling to begin with.

How do our universities remain so filled with public school kids?

Numerical superiority mainly. As an attendee of the university, I don't particularily find them to be that valuable. There are exceptions of course--most degrees in the hard sciences and engineering are rigorous; whether or not they are economically advantageous is another matter--but many people who go to college are not receiving anything akin to a good education; nor do they mind. At times they do not know how badly they are being cheated; other times they do not care.

Also, many homeschoolers come from conservative homes and environments. Rather than spend a boatload of money on a mediocre education via the Ivy Leagues, wherein they will be made excrutiatingly uncomfortable for holding many of their more traditional viewpoints, they often enroll in smaller, sometimes private, colleges. This places them off the radar, but most homeschooled children are far more adequately prepared to enroll in college--and to succeed therein.

How will racial, ethnic equality remain if white(and educated,wealthy) folk pull out of public system?

It won't. But I think most, if not all, people should homeschool. I think the chrisitan churches could and should take up slack to help out people who come from homes wherein homeschooling is not a practical option. No one has a duty to remain in a failing school--pardon the redundancy. If racial and ethnic equality--which doesn't exist anyway--is exacerbated by the homeschooling movement, perhaps the politicians will do something about the schools.

I'd recommend burning them to the ground.

As always, thanks for the questions. I need to do some more research on this topic. Look for more posts to follow.

Free Speech: Casualty of Fear

What with break and the closest thing to writer's block I've experienced in some time, it's been quite awhile since I updated this thing. Allow me a few quick thoughts on Newt Gingrich's latest attempt to remove any remaining shred of respectability he may once have had.

Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich yesterday said the country will be forced to reexamine freedom of speech to meet the threat of terrorism.

Gingrich, speaking at a Manchester awards banquet, said a "different set of rules" may be needed to reduce terrorists' ability to use the Internet and free speech to recruit and get out their message.

My views on liberty notwithstanding, so long as the reduction forever mutes former heads of state and ex-congressmen from speaking, I could consider getting behind that.

Is this man serious? Was he really the Speaker of the Republican House? Just how on earth is this line of thinking even vaguely defensible, especially if one views government to be but a necessary evil?

"We need to get ahead of the curve before we actually lose a city, which I think could happen in the next decade," said Gingrich, a Republican who helped engineer the GOP's takeover of Congress in 1994.

The possibility of "losing a city" is always present. But a reduction in liberties cannot increase safety; in fact, it will only lead to a reduction therein as citizen's of the twentieth century and onward possess a higher likelihood of being murdered by their own government than by either foreign invaders or one's own citizens. But we must give government the power to keep us safe. Can someone show me one historical example of when this actually worked?

Giving government power is always a terrible idea. They will abuse it; and never will they return it to its rightful owner. Liberty, once forfeited, is good as gone. Sort of like the republic.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

A Well Deserved Defeat

On the other hand, this turned out reasonably well:

The American public served a resounding “F-You!” to the Republicans on November 7th. While my affinity for the average, that is to say unprincipled, Democrat is comparable to my desire to concoct the Ebola virus, I get no small amount of joy in seeing Bush's “mandate” fall apart like the house of cards it always was. Additionally, like many Americans, sick of the rule of the party of Douche—to borrow from Trey Parker and Matt Stone—I consider the rise of the Turd Sandwiches to hold the prospect for amusement.

With the Democrats holding a fairly substantial lead in the House, and a similar though smaller advantage in the Senate, Bush will have a harder time finding that rubber stamp which Congress had been in the habit of giving to his agenda. He may in fact begin to veto the occasional spending bill, a hitherto singular event. Ironically then, the conservatives cannot be entirely displeased with a Democratic victory; deadlock is notoriously antithetical to the pecuniary desires of a less than thrifty Congress.

But all this shall come in due time. For now, I concern myself with discerning why the GOP suffered ignominious defeat. First, but not necessarily foremost, is the War in Iraq. Most Americans thought it a good idea to topple Saddam's regime; yet few had the will to make a longterm commitment to building a new democratic regime. For, despite our power, in some sense unprecedented in its scope and extent since perhaps the early Roman Empire, Americans, almost to a one, abhor the notion of empire.

In his book Colossus, Niall Ferguson highlights “three fundamental deficits that together explain why the United States has been a less effective empire than its British predecessor... the most serious of the three... [is] its attention deficit.” Ignoring the great many logistical problems which would prevent the re-building of Iraq to the tune of glorious democracy, the single biggest reason why the mission in Iraq will fail is simply that the American people do not have the will to “stay the course” and finish the job. They have now let Congress and by extension President Bush know this.

But while the War in Iraq was an important issue to the electorate, its influence is likely to be exaggerated. As one who occasionally reads what passes for conservative commentary these days, the one issue that the pundits continued to come back to was the War on Terror, the War on Iraq being a larger component thereof. And while the Malkins and Shapiros of the world are almost embarrassingly lacking in not only historical insight but also basic reasoning skills, it would be strange if someone did not find their cliché-strewn imbecilic columns to be of some value.

For Malkin and Shapiro, as well as all those other unfortunate “conservatives” who have felt compelled to support both Mr. Bush and his runaway Congress, have few weapons with which to defend. Aside from a mediocre tax cut—which, divorced from spending cuts, is merely a future tax on the nation's children—Bush has yet to enact a single “conservative” reform. Instead, he has spent more than even LBJ. And while the War on Iraq is not the least bit “conservative”, as I have previously discussed, grasping this point takes some degree of intelligence, an attribute severely lacking in those who continue to support the policies of their President.

This election then, was also a moratorium on the faux-conservatism of the neo-cons. Besides being bored with nation-building, many conservatives were sick of Bush's fiscal irresponsibility and embarrassed by his failure to take their concerns to heart. Bring on the Turds!

Concerning the Ostensible Lull in the Music Industry

This is the real PCP for the week, and I think it confirms my earlier thoughts on the issue. I'm never happy with the way these things turn out. And for some reason I used sufficient or a variation thereof about five times in three hundred words. Unbelievable.

One of the distinct advantages of living in the UP is its cultural isolation, though, now that I think about it, this may have more to do with my tendency to shun the world so as to stay in my room reading various books. The reality, of course, is that the American culture has little to offer in the substance department, as evidenced by its vacuous television programming, seen-it-before blockbusters, or, worst of them all, cookie-cutter bands who lack not only creativity—that is, the mark of an artist—but anything vaguely resembling talent.

I cannot recall the last time I listened to a radio station that was neither WMTU nor on the AM dial, but a trip to Yahoo's music video section ensured me that while it had been a substantial period of time since I had bathed in the cesspool that is popular music—who in the devil is Akon, and why does he feel the need to “Smack That”?—I had not been missing much.

Yet this is nothing new. The moment when popular music ceased to be of substantial value cannot be precisely determined, but their was sufficient impetus for The Dead Kennedys to break musical barriers with their 1980 debut, Fresh Fruit For Rotting Vegetables. Certainly good records still appeared, especially from established bands—witness Bruce Springsteen's 1984 Born in the U.S.A. —but gradually good music all but disappeared from corporate hands, though the underground boomed.

So long as “My Humps” is deemed sufficient for those who enjoy music primarily for its booty-shaking potential, the industry will have no reason to seek out good musicians, assuming it has the ability to do so.

There is still plenty of good music out there, if one is sufficiently ambitious to look for it.

Interestingly enough, I'm actually listening to some new music right now. The Hold Steady's Boys and Girls in America is, like their previous two releases, phenomenal. Check it out.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Point Lacks a Point

Another PCP That Never Were (Was?)

Whether or not I've ever managed to express it explicitly, I think it's clear that I feel that my weekly PCP columns are lackluster, at least in comparison to my full length articles--whether or not the latter are of substantial quality themselves is another matter. Anyway, my new editor was none too pleased with my recent submission. I'm all for starting off on the right foot:

Like the prevent defense and universal suffrage, PCP is a laudable concept, even if its implementation leaves much to be desired. Our deadline for these things is Monday at noon; thus I email Joel on Sunday night and ask him if he has any ideas for PCP. He seldom does, whereupon I dig through that which masquerades as news to find a topic upon which we can disagree. I almost invariably fail, and one of us is left to wage war half-heartedly in arguing something we care little about.

This makes for embarrassingly bad reading, even by Lode standards. To write a good opinion piece, one must necessarily combine right thinking with effective elucidation, composition of which is largely dependent on one’s audience. But to make for an entertaining read all that one requires is the ability to write tolerably well with a large shot of pathos.

Now it could be argued that no one cares about the other articles I write. This is entirely possible, but ultimately of no concern to me. I can’t pretend to occupy my mind with trivialities which tend to clog lesser minds, but I can suggest that my passion for whatever bizarre topic I choose to discuss makes for an interesting read.

Hence it is paramount that the writer cares about the topic on which he writes. Therein lies the present problem with PCP. If Joel and I were passionate about the same topics, perhaps PCP would work, but as it stands, it seems to me to fail miserably.

Lastly, supposing we do find a topic upon which we vigorously disagree—I think it may have happened once—we are confined to a miserly three hundred words. Such space is scarcely enough to properly conduct an argument. Ironically, this poor attempt at arguing against PCP may be my most successful.

I've been doing these PCP columns for a year, and, to be honest, they've always been far more of a chore than I've ever wanted writing to be. As the sheer volume of the posts, if not quality thereof, will attest to, I have little trouble writing. True, I may hit the same several themes over and over--and over and over--but one must remember that, first, so far as I know, no one who reads the Lode is familiar with this little blog of mine. Second, while the variety of my topics has been less than impressive, it has not been wholly pathetic either. The recent column on home-schooling was a fair example; there was the usual spiel about how government is evil and how we are all screwed, but the topic was singular, at least insofar as my Lode submissions have been concerned.

Thing is, I just can't seem to get over the continual increase in governmental authority. If I saw things differently, I would write about them, but I have always been an infernal pessimist and the facts only seem to deepen the rut from which lay and write. Reading H.L. Mencken and Hilaire Belloc isn't helping.

I guess I'm up for suggestions. What would make Thoughts and Ideas more interesting. More Chesterton? Less Chesterton?--as if. Less we-are-all-going-to-die type rants? I'm always looking to improve the quality of my writing. Whatever the fallout over my incendiary little jab at the paper which employs me--though as they don't pay me, I could argue that I am merely a volunteer--I shall continue to write. And, baring a tremendous change in either the facts or, what is more improbable, my outlook, I shall probably still be an infernal pessimist. It has always struck me that there are far worse things to be.

The Run to the Middle Begins

We shall see if the Republicans have learned anything from recent history, though my guess is that they haven't. In 2000, conservatives flocked to Bush who was less moderate than McCain, but now it looks like the honorable Senator from Arizona will be the right-wing candidate this time around.

Former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani, a moderate Republican best known for his stewardship of the city after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, has taken the first step in a 2008 presidential bid.

The former mayor filed papers to create the Rudy Giuliani Presidential Exploratory Committee, Inc., establishing a New York-based panel that would allow him to raise money to explore a White House run and travel the country.

The four-page filing, obtained by The Associated Press, lists the purpose of the non-profit corporation "to conduct federal 'testing the waters' activity under the Federal Election Campaign Act for Rudy Giuliani."

One potential rival for the GOP nomination, Sen. John McCain of Arizona, said Sunday he was taking the initial step of setting up an exploratory committee.

Color me bored. In six years of Republican control, we've turned McCain from a moderate into a conservative. Gee, pragmatism seems to be working. Can you see why I'm tired of the GOP?

It's going to be hilarious watching the Evangelicals explain why we need to elect a pro-choice Republican to save us from a pro-choice Democrat. I eagerly await the reign of our new queen.

As Vox Day wrote back in 2003 and as he reiterated today:

Pragmatism in politics is self-defeating in the long run. It is a euphemism for the slow sacrifice of one's principles. The constant substitution of "electable" moderates for principled conservatives is what repeatedly kills the Republican Party and prevents it from ever realizing even a small part of its platform when it is in power.

Readily obvious stuff, really. I wish I could say I'm hopeful that those who bow down to the GOP will doubt long enough to ponder the virtue of whom they serve, but I try to avoid lying. I'm off to Adoration. Getting out of this mess is going to take something of a miracle.

The Homeschooling Threat

This from last week's Lode:

By educating the young generation along the right lines, the People's State will have to see to it that a generation of mankind is formed which will be adequate to this supreme combat that will decide the destinies of the world. - Adolf Hitler

In light of the later success of the Hitler youth in the calamitous war that soon followed, it is worth examining closely the words written by future leader of the Third Reich while imprisoned on the heels of his failed Beer Hall Putsch. For while it has become almost taboo to claim that Hitler was anything other than an inhuman monster, the aforementioned quote suggests that he was not wholly devoid of reason.

Indeed, molding the fresh minds of youth is the surest way to a revolution, as fellow humanitarian Vladimir Lenin realized when he promised, “Give me four years to teach the children and the seed I have sown will never be uprooted.” His statement is almost Biblical: Proverbs 22:6 reads, “Train a boy in the way he should go; even when he is old, he will not swerve from it.”

The education of children then is of utmost importance to the powers that be. Thus the federal education system; thus the opposition thereto by many parents; thus the homeschooling movement, which now stands at 2.5 million students nation-wide.

When homeschooling is discussed, one always hears that such students are improperly socialized. It is not a cheap shot to suggest that Hitler and Lenin felt the same way.

For the end to which modern education aims has little to do with the “three R's”. While literacy and basic computational skills are desirous qualities in students who have succeeded in becoming “educated”, these effects are actually secondary. The real purpose of school is to ensure proper socialization as defined by the State. It so happens that those who can read, write, and do simple math are more readily employable, and thus attainment of these skills serves the needs of the State, but only to a point. Those who read too much can be dangerous, especially to those who profit from stability.

There are three types of students in a class room. First there are the intelligent. These quickly realize that school moves far too slowly to be entertained thereby and either seek amusement elsewhere or become burnouts. Most become exceedingly docile; many are pumped full of Ritalin to combat symptoms of boredom or boyhood, I mean A.D.D. Many end up in cubes.

Second, are the lucky few who can learn the material at the pace at which the teacher is teaching. These are not torpid, but neither are they brilliant or motivated enough to threaten the status quo; nor will they be given material which will challenge their mind too seriously.

Third are the students who are either wholly ineducable or simply too slow to follow along. Occasionally someone may take an interest in one whose only fault is hereditary, but most of these students stumble along to nowhere, which serves the elites very nicely. There will always be burgers in need of flipping.

The value of homeschooling is its ability to allow students to dictate the pace of their learning. Bright children are not restrained; slower ones are not left behind. More importantly, by dealing with a child one-on-one, he learns the importance and the beauty of individuality. But this is dangerous to the State.

If mastering the “three R's” was the real purpose of education, home-schooling would be encouraged; nine years of home-schooling is equivalent to twelve years in the government-run monstrosities. Yet no matter how badly schools fail to educate students, they continue, not only to exist, but receive more and more funding.

As the power of the State continues to increase, we will shortly see the day when home-schooling is made illegal and those who are actually learning must be placed in schools wherein no learning can be had. After all, we'd hate to have people who aren't “socialized”.

Murder Not the Despot

From last week's Lode:

In what can hardly be a surprise, Saddam Hussein was recently sentenced to death by the Iraqis he once lorded over. Now defending Mr. Hussein is, in a word, indefensible. He was a cruel tyrant who killed many of his own people. That he was a light-weight by the dictatorial standards of the bloodbath that was the twentieth century is irrelevant; Saddam was guilty of crimes against humanity.

But does he deserve death? The short answer is an emphatic yes. By repeatedly and willfully taking the lives of his fellow human beings, Saddam's life ought to be forfeit. Yet more to the point, whatever his crimes, should he be hanged, that is to say murdered, by another human being, at the behest of the State? The question merits contemplation.

Representative of the natural law, which all rational people recognize as legitimate, the Fifth Commandment explicitly prohibits murder. The common translation, “Thou Shalt Not Kill”, is insufficient: killing is not immoral in cases of self-defense; murder is always so.

Now no one can, with any degree of intelligence or honesty, claim that Saddam will be hanged out of self-defense. There is no reason he cannot be kept behind bars for the rest of his miserable life. Hanging him may give closure and a superficial sense of justice, but the morality of such a decision resides on substantially shaky ground.

There is another reason to keep Hussein alive, which the poet John Milton captures nicely:

He that hath light within his own cleer brest
May sit i'th the center, and enjoy bright day
But he that hides a dark soul, and foul thoughts
Benighted walks under the mid-day Sun;
Himself is his own dungeon.”

Paradoxically, while it is is immoral to kill him, it is more just to keep him alive.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Buch's Thoughts on the Election

As usual, Buchanan finds a way to say something unique without making things up.

A rising spirit of nationalism is evident everywhere in this election, not simply in the economic realm. Americans are weary of sacrificing their soldier-sons for Iraqi democracy. They are weary of shelling out foreign aid to regimes that endlessly hector America at the United Nations. They are tired of sacrificing the interests of American workers on the altar of an abstraction called the Global Economy. They are fed up with allies long on advice and short on assistance.

Other leaders in other lands look out for what they think is best for their nations and people. Abstractions such as globalism and free trade take a back seat when national interests are involved.

China and Japan manipulate their currencies and tax polices to promote exports, cut imports and run trade surpluses at America's expense. Europeans protect their farms and farmers. Gulf Arabs and OPEC nations run an oil cartel to keep prices high and siphon off the wealth of the West. Russians have decided to look out for Mother Russia first and erect a natural gas cartel to rival OPEC. In Latin America, Bush's Free Trade Association of the Americas is dead.

We are entered upon a new era, a nationalist era, and it will not be long before the voices of that era begin to be heard.

Truth be told, I'm torn on the issue of free trade. The libertarian stance is obvious, and while the tendency to reject messing with the market is usually sound advice--if only because it refrains from handing over power to the federal government--in practice, free trade has yielded very dubious results.

And while global laissez-faire capitalism is decidely immoral, it seems less than wise to give the federal government more power as the enactment of higher tariffs will assuredly do. Still, as an almost engineer, certain tariffs would most likely benefit me personally by disuading companies from out-sourcing American jobs. Moreover, we will tariffs should reduce the trade deficit, and may help balance the budget, though the latter provision assumes, somewhat illogically, that Congress will develop something akin to restraint.

I've finished my article for next week's Lode--my apologies on not getting the new articles up, but the website is down, and the internet does not work at my house--wherein I failed to discuss the issue of free trade, but I see no reason to steal Buchanan's point, despite its accuracy. Yet this will surely be an issue to watch. A return to protectionism will almost surely help the democrats elect the Lizard Queen.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Election Results

Yesterday, the Republicans got rocked hard, losing majorities in both the House and the Senate.

US President George W. Bush took responsibility for a "thumping" by Democrats in congressional elections, and admitted the drubbing reflected frustration over a "lack of progress" in Iraq.

"I know there's a lot of speculation on what the election means for the battle we're waging in Iraq," Bush said at a White House news conference, as his Republican party digested its defeat by Democrats.

"I recognize that many Americans voted last night to register their displeasure with the lack of progress being made there," he said.

The election was not just a moratorium on the War in Iraq. The Democrats won this election because of conservative voters who had the good sense to stay home and moderates who, sensibly seeing little difference in the governing policies of either party, voted for change.

When you abdicate the principles which got you elected, don't be surprised when your base loses interest in re-electing you. It's simple, really.

When Republicans refused to address illegal immigration in any serious manner; when they refused to balance the budget; when they spent more on pork than the Democrats ever did, and didn't curtail government spending in the least, they could not have honestly been surprised when conservatives failed to re-elect them.

"She's not going to abandon her principles and I'm not going to abandon mine. I do believe we have common ground to move forward on," he said.

Seeing how Mr. Bush has already abandoned any conservative principles, I couldn't care less what he does with Pelosi. One of two things will happen: either things will continue as before--reckless spending, failure to do anything not wholly destructive, etc.--or Bush will begin to exercise his veto power. It's about damned time.

I don't feel an ounce of pity for the Republicans, and I eagerly await the Democrats turn to prove they share equally in evil.

Expect another column on this for next week's Lode. Also, I'll make sure to post this week's columns as soon as the website is back up.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Judicial Democracy

If you don't regularily read Drudge, you need to do so today. He has no less than fifteen separate articles whose headlines suggest that fishy circumstances may surround this present election. I've not read them; I truthfully don't care who wins, and can feign no interest in the "legitimacy" of an election wherein the candidates are identical.

Still, it is fascinating to observe the inability of America, international spokesnation for Democracy, to conduct an election properly. It has been said that after Bush won Florida by the slimmest of margins no one could claim that one's vote did not matter. In reality, the 2000 fiasco demonstrately this perfectly. Pretending, for the sake of the argument, that both parties are substantially different, one still has little reason to vote for one's preferred plutocrat. If the result is a victory by wide margins, one's vote was irrelevant--or superfluous, depending--if the result was close, voting irregularities will cause the "losing" candidate to sue, whereupon the courts will decide the will of the people, as they are already in the habit of doing.

When one thinks about it, the only surprise is that it took the courts this long to exercise this power. After all, they have decided all the important issues--from abortion to affirmative action, from property rights to the use of birth control--on behalf of the American people for decades. Evidently, the courts slovenly movement to fully abolish democracy, which has yet to come to full fruition, is due, not to a lack of ambition on behalf of the courts themselves, but instead due to the paltry power of the legislative branch.

But make sure you vote.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

The Enstupidation that is a College Education

While I should probably be taking care of some homework, I felt compelled to make a quick post in light of a recent blurb I got from the Washington Times, courtesy of Vox Popoli:

The Intercollegiate Studies Institute recently tested 14,000 freshmen and seniors at 50 colleges with 60 questions on American history, government, market economies and U.S. foreign policy. The average "civic literacy" score for seniors was 53.2 percent, for freshman 54.7 percent. Failing grades all. The longer a student attends class, the dumber he gets. Students at the elite schools fared worse than students at some church and land-grant schools. The Ivy League school whose students ranked highest were those at Princeton, at No. 18. Harvard's students were 25th. The lowest scores were posted at such bastions of higher learning as Cornell, University of California at Berkeley and Johns Hopkins. Go figure, as some unhappy parents will no doubt do.

I find this less than surprising, for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the incessant anecdotal evidence offered by some of my college friends and colleagues. Recently, one of my house mates told me that he had never heard of the Divine Comedy; a quick perusal of the campus paper will confirm that if my fellow staff writers aren't wholly ignorant of history and economics, they do a marvelous job of pretending thusly. I also routinely receive comments telling me that a reader cannot make heads or tails of my columns. And while it is true that my style is less sophomoric than some of the talking heads in the punditry, I would suggest that one should be able to read writing which is more sophisticated than the incoherent babbling that is a Bill O'Reilly column, especially if one is college-educated.

The actual study reports four findings:

1. America's colleges and universities fail to increase knowledge about America's history and institutions.

2. Prestige doesn't pay off.

3. Students don't learn what colleges don't teach.

4. Greater civic learning goes hand-in-hand with more active citizenship.

I'd like to concentrate on points one and two; the latter two findings seem obvious and would render commentary trite.

America's colleges and universities fail to increase knowledge about America's history and institution for two reasons. First, an astounding portion of the faculty is wholly ignorant of the topics themselves. I can think of three professors, Noam Chomsky, Camille Paglia and Walter Williams, who seem to have a proficient grasp on the history and institutions of America. I have read too little of Chomsky to explain our differences, but whether or not he is wrong, he is not an ignoramus; thus I include him in the list.

Yet these should not be exceptions. Well, Camille Paglia is always an exception, but our institutions of higher education should regularly be producing scholars, if not of Paglian stature, scholars nonetheless. But they are not even approximately doing so. Paglia has much to say about the degradation of higher education--see "Junk Bonds and Corporate Raiders" for starters--but pseudo-intellectual hacks will never be able to produce scholars. It took Socrates to give us Plato who gave us Aristotle. Anything approaching a modern day Socrates is not likely to be found in the hallowed halls of higher ed.

Second, the object of college is not to bestow knowledge upon the students. There are simply far too many people attending college for any of this nonsense, many of them torpid fools. Since the those who are either ineducable or wish to be so cannot or will not learn, neither will the professor's pretend to teach. Those who love knowledge will seek it on their own; those who care nothing for her will prefer the modern college environment: a retirement home for the perpetual adolescents of the middle and upper classes. If college becomes a perpetual party, the pupils will be more likely to stay for five or six years, spending all kinds of mom and dad's hard earned money. Tough tests and true scholarship are sure to weed out those who neither deserve nor would be capable of appreciating a real education, and the soulless administrators are unlikely to bite off the hand that feeds them.

As for point number two, one simply needs to apply all of the previous babble to schools wherein the student body is far more likely to have a larger quantity of cash. If Yale becomes competitive, the students who do not wish to work hard shall go to Princeton--or perhaps it is the other way around; it makes precious little difference. I lost all respect for Harvard when I learned that 96% of their student body graduated with honors. I reckon that's a mighty tough place to "learn".

I applied to one school, a mid-sized, moderately priced, Midwestern engineering university. And while my time here has been mixed, I have learned a fair amount. It seems that engineers, unlike government bureaucrats, cannot be wholly incompetent. Moreover, I have learned a great deal of history, and more besides, from trips to the library or the secondhand bookstore.

A reading of de Tocqueville and Gibbon will afford one a far more extensive survey of history than a degree will now give. And the price is far less dear. While there are reasons to attend a university, an "education" is near the bottom of the list.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

The Hasty Rejection of Christianity

My editor subtitled this one: "Can man still have morals without its influence?" which is, I think, a terribly fair question, especially as it concerns post-Christian societies. Here goes:

Last week, Brian Sabol made the latest comments in a mild dispute which has been going on for some time in these very pages. Allow me to first quote him before throwing in my two cents.

“Furthermore, Mr. Lyrenmann’s comment that ‘atheists and agnostics are held to no moral code but the laws of the government’ is not only misguided and baseless, but completely wrong. Morality is not dependent on religion. The two are not mutually inclusive. Countless immoral acts have been committed in the name of religion, the Spanish Inquisition, for example.”

Mr. Sabol gives all appearances of being intelligent; nonetheless he stoops to hoist the ubiquitous canard that is the Spanish Inquisition. It is tiring to see how frequently this tactic is employed. Mr. Sabol is obviously unaware that the Inquisition was undertaken at the behest, not of the Church, but of the Spanish Crown; further, for all its perceived atrociousness, it resulted in a mere 2,000 casualties over a period of 349 years. It is a sure sign of the benevolence of Christianity that the most nefarious crime naysayers can point towards pales in comparison to the actions of any number of agnostics and atheists in the 20th century alone. This does not excuse the crimes of the Inquisition; nor does it propose to assert that Christians are, ipso facto, better than their pagan brethren. But it does serve to provide much needed perspective.

My point here is not to argue for the truth contained within Christianity, though I am wholly convinced of this and would gladly do thusly elsewhere. I concern myself instead with the utility thereof, which, though less important, is easier to gage.

But this is still somewhat difficult to do so. Agnostics will often note, as Mr. Sabol does, that they can be moral as well, and so long as he is guided by Plato I should think he would stand to do quite nicely. For paganism is not, as is commonly and completely inaccurately thought, wholly bad. Instead, paganism is the best man can do without Christ. Thus the Divine Comedy finds the noble pagans in Limbo, and Virgil is only allowed to accompany Dante through purgatory, symbolizing the limits of human reason.

Yet it is not, unfortunately, a choice between the goodness of paganism and the greater goodness of Christianity. Were that it were so! By utilizing human reason, the pagans have promulgated a system of ethics—also known as the natural law. This law has not been ignored by Christianity; instead, we find Augustine making countless references to Plotinus as well as Plato, especially in his “City of God.” Similarly, Thomas Aquinas uses Aristotle at great length in his equally monumental “Summa Theologica.”

In short, it is difficult to distinguish the natural law from the teachings of Christianity, and it is irresponsible to pretend that a rejection of the latter will lead to a more stringent regard to the former. Tearing down the walls of Christian discipline is one thing, but it is quite another to offer an alternative in its stead. Only time will tell if the gleeful revolutionaries halt rebellion long enough to consider this all-important point.

Partial rejection of the natural law aside, while it is quite possible for agnostics and atheists to be as moral as Christians, I consider the prospect somewhat dubious. All human beings, Christians and pagans alike, are bound by the same civil laws depending on their place of residence. Yet Christians are also called to task for their sins: those that did not love their neighbors as themselves risk eternal hellfire. Few people will be good simply for goodness’ sake. With all due respect to Mr. Sabol, removing the threat of damnation shall only prove disastrous.

Slop For The Swine

Here's article number one for the week:

Human beings have a terribly tendency to abuse things. Indeed, the greater the potentiality for good, the greater the propensity for abuse. Thus, while I find certain technological features which are designed to assist to be less than so, I find my colleagues bemoaning of such to be tiresome.

It is certainly true that some aspects of the Internet can be meddlesome. Amazon’s incessant recommendation of books and Google’s employment of the page rank algorithm can seem to render choice insignificant, and, by a dangerous corollary, render the masses devoid of taste. Yet this is a false assumption for two reasons.

First, Amazon and Google do not inhibit choice; they merely seem to serve to limit it. One is not forced to purchase a suggestion of the former anymore than one is compelled to click on the first link provided by the latter. If the material recommend is deemed insufficient, I would posit the alternative of going to a library, though perhaps the skeptical would balk at a suggestion from the kindly librarian.

Second, the mass of men is neither intelligent nor gifted in terms of taste, particularly in democratic ages, if Alexis De Tocqueville is to be believed. American Idol, Nickelback and Dan Brown are the products of the Internet age, but they are not direct results thereof. Instead, both stem from the same cause: a dying civilization embracing the shallow ethos of Epicureanism—though few know what it means.

Elimination of some of the aforementioned features will do little to abate the crisis. Is Amazon really to be feared more than, say, the vacuous programming of MTV? When it comes down to it, many Americans do lack good taste. Yet one shouldn’t blame Google. Even Christ had something to say about the wisdom of casting “pearls before swine.”