Saturday, December 29, 2007

Disagreements with Ron Paul

Che Bob has twelve of them:

Abortion Rights, Embryonic Stem Cells, ANWR Drilling, Kyoto, Assault Weapons Ban, Guns - Background Checks, Citizenship Path for Illegals, Border Fence, Net Neutrality, Minimum Wage Increase, Same-Sex Marriage, and the biggie: Universal Healthcare!

Since I'm a big Ron Paul guy--no!--I thought I'd do my best to explain, in a paragraph or two, why Paul's position are substantially correct. From the list of complaints, as well as his handle, it's obvious that Che Bob is a left-leaning fellow. Notice, however, that he's taken enough time to disagree with Paul. This is a fairly good illustration of why Paul is more electable than any of the other Republican party presidential candidates. I dare say Che Bob would never vote for Rudy or any of the other Republican contenders.

To the points:

1) Abortion Rights: Paul is a firm believer in the Constitution; since that document nowhere mentions--or even alludes to--abortion "rights", the correct position is to let the states decide what to do about abortion; this is how things used to work before Roe v. Wade. Allowing the
states to decide is far more democratic than allowing unelected judges to write national policy. And while Paul is in favor of banning abortions at the federal level, he wants to do so through the Congress, though, depending on the makeup of the high court, this could require an amendment.

I've written time and again about abortion--most recently here--so there's no need to rehash any of that presently; Che Bob knows the arguments on both sides. I clearly believe that abortion is immoral, as does Paul. The important point, however, is that regardless of what one thinks about abortion, Paul's position is constitutional, and anyone with any respect for that document--which should be all of our representatives, given the oath they must take to enter office--should have no trouble accepting, and in fact advocating for, such a position.

2) Embryonic Stem Cells: First, recent developments have rendered the utilization of embryonic stem cells unnecessary. This is good news for everyone; science can continue to attempt to make our lives easier and more pleasant without having to wade around in morally murky waters. Second, what does the federal government have to do with stem cells? I'm being serious. We don't have the federal government involving themselves in other technologies--or rather, we shouldn't. This is plainly an issue for the private sector, at least if we want any real progress to be made.

3) ANWR Drilling: Drill away, I say. Nature is a means whereby man may communicate with his God, but it's also been given him to improve his condition. We've started an immoral foreign war, in part because we needed the oil; how profoundly idiotic historians will think us given that we had our very own supply, in the most thinly populated state, but chose to leave all of the land to the caribou. I'm not one of those rape-and-pillage-mother-earth folks, and I don't think Paul is either, but it strikes me as absurd to the nth degree that we're going to refrain from drilling in a very minuscule portion of a very large reserve, that is so far removed from the rest of the country that few of us even bother to visit it.

4) Kyoto: I can't wait until we can all look back on the global warming scare and have a good laugh about it. Of course, by then, we'll be worried about global cooling, so laughing will be verboten. Anyway, it's very silly to inhibit our ability to produce things, so that we can attempt to slow down a process which might not have much of anything to do with our actions. The predictive models, which folks like Al Gore use to demonstrate that we're all going to die, aren't accurate enough to anticipate the changes we've seen in the last couple of years. By all means, conserve energy on your own, start a movement for like-minded folks even, but don't use the federal government as a weapon of social control. I note in passing that the hubris of global-warming types--we puny humans are going to destroy the planet!--is matched only by the neo-cons and their global democratic revolution.

5) Assault Weapons Ban: Constitutionally speaking, this should be another issue of states' right. In any event, it's largely irrelevant, given the propensity for laws of this type to be ignored.

6) Guns - Background Checks: See number 5. As numerous studies have shown--I'm fairly certain John Lott deals with this in More Guns, Less Crime--the only impact these laws have is to reduce or eliminate the ability of owners of gun shows to make some money.

7) Citizenship Path for Illegals: It makes no sense for a nation, any nation, at any time, to allow any people who come marching across its borders, to become part of that nation. A nation is a people with a common history and language, and a shared culture. While there is something to be said for pluralism--it seems unavoidable in a post-Reformation west--diversity, is, in the long run, destructive. Only a relatively homogeneous society can exist in a stable state; a nation which only exists as an abstraction of blurry lines on a map is no nation at all, and will soon disintegrate. Allowing illegals to stay will destroy this county as it did imperial Rome.

8) Border Fence: I'm not actually one hundred percent sold on this one. A fence is useful in keeping the barbarians out, but it's also useful in keeping potential expatriates, such as myself, in. Clearly, though, some border security is needed to prevent problems like number 7 from reoccurring. Moreover, sufficient border security is the best way to combat terrorism; it is not immoral like invading foreign countries, and it is not only cheaper, but should also prove much more effective.

9) Net Neutrality: I had to look this one up. My guess is that Paul thinks, as I do, that allowing the government a hand in regulating any part of the Internet will give the government a better chance to regulate the content of the Internet. I'd like to believe that: 1) the government knows where to draw the line; and 2) the First Amendment would prevent them from threatening our free speech rights, which we daily exercise here on the Internet, but neither assumption is reasonable, especially given the current state of government. I pegged Che Bob for a free-speech advocate, so perhaps he can clarify for me on this one.

10) Minimum Wage Increase: I just finished Hilaire Belloc's The Servile State--which I highly recommend, by the way. Therein he notes that "the effects of Socialist doctrine on Capitalist society is to produce a third thing different from either of its two begetters - to wit, the Servile State." In the last section, he notes that a minimum wage law was precisely the type of legislation which would further our road to serfdom. The divide between those who control the means of production and those who do not is ever-growing. However well intentioned, minimum wage laws have been wholly ineffective, not only at mitigating the plight of the proletariat, but at allowing him to take some small hold of the means of production. In fact, the rise of "the servile state" has ensured that he is far more worried about becoming unemployed than he is about becoming a genuine owner. It makes no sense to continue policies which will only force us to march ever onward on this lonely road.

11) Same-Sex Marriage: This is another one of those issues for the states. I happen to think that the Religious Right is tremendously misguided on this one; the tide of public opinion is moving against traditional morality. Further, allowing the state to define marriage is senseless; marriage is primarily a religious construct. I won't say that the non-religious shouldn't be allowed to get married, but I'm unclear as to what the benefits for such folk might be. And, of course, it goes without saying that the Constitution has nothing to say about the matter.

12) Universal Healthcare: One of the central problems with the Federal Government is that they do almost everything badly. Outside of the military, which is rather good at fighting--but only against traditional enemies like the Nazis or the Russian Communists--the biggest objection to government is that it doesn't work as intended. Granted, our healthcare system is screwed up--I would argue, largely because of government interference in the private sector; why should we let the same people that couldn't get us out of the depression without a world war; that waged a war on poverty whose only result was the solidification of the servile state; that can't keep drugs off the streets despite billions upon billions of dollars allocated for that end, to run a healthcare system. The only argument for universal healthcare is that it will be be run so poorly that it will invariably force a few liberals to rethink their position on the role of government.

That was fun, now wasn't it? Of course, I'll be glad to do my best to handle any feedback thrown at me.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Why MAD still applies

We've heard this rhetoric before: 9/11 changed everything. No longer can we fight wars by conventional means, or even by traditional morality, because our enemy is--well, different.

It's worth mentioning again that we still haven't defined our enemy; oh, we've given them a series of, mostly inaccurate, names--Islamofascist, Islamonazi; alas no one utilized my contribution: Islamocommunist--but these are only convenient abstractions. While allowing us an entity to hate upon, they remove the important question from play. Al-Qaeda, our original enemy, was defined; then Bush upped his rhetoric and decided to defeat all terror, everywhere. Such a goal is as elusive as the nature of a terrorist itself. After all, our use of water-boarding is, by the admission of many, including John McCain, torture. This would seem to make us terrorists.

Before we go on, I'm not necessarily equating the U.S. military to Al-Qaeda. What I am suggesting, is that, by engaging in torture, to say nothing of immoral foreign wars, we've further clouded the already murky waters. If we are truly intent on eliminating all terror, we have no alternative but to stop torturing the terrorists.

The neo-cons would suggest that: 1) water-boarding isn't torture; and 2) this war must be fought by non-traditional means. Morality, like everything else, has changed. Cliff May of National Review summarizes:

The point about MAD — Mutally Assured Destruction — is just this: the Soviets were evil but they were rational. Very few were willing to die for the sake of Communism. To a Russian — even one who had become a corrupt, vodka-swilling apartchik — the idea of Moscow devastated by a nuclear attack was terrible to imagine. The consequence of all this was a certain level of restraint.

This point has been brought up before, and while I've never found it terribly convincing, I've spent some time thinking about it. Certainly the existence of suicide bombers seems to offer a new twist. Of course, we've seen this before with the Japanese fighter pilots in WWII. As Churchill discusses in his memoirs, it was only once they knew that the war was lost that they began to resort to suicide attacks. In any event, I think the terrorists actions are different because the Japanese only attacked military targets.

Mr. May is operating on the assumption that the only goal of the terrorists is to kill Americans--and probably Jews, too. But this assumption strikes me as inaccurate. The killing of Americans is not an end; it is a means to an end which we have not properly examined. The Japanese weren't bent solely on the destruction of Americans. Certainly, that was part of the goal, but only because if the Americans suffered enough casualties, the Japanese would win--or at least, not lose--the war.

We need to entertain the possibility that the terrorists are similarly rational. The idea of a devastated Moscow was abhorrent to the Russian Communists; I suggest that the idea of a devastated Mecca is equally, if not more, abhorrent to the Islamic terrorist. As Chesterton once remarked, "The true soldier fights not because he hates what is in front of him, but because he loves what is behind him." I don't see why this wouldn't apply to the terrorists.

Granted that the terrorist is indifferent to his personal fate, that doesn't mean that he is indifferent to the fate of his loved ones. In point of fact, he cares very much for them; they give purpose to his fight. The terrorists are not atheistic nihilists; they have a definite goal in mind--a Middle East free of American presence, both military and cultural, and no more support for Israel--which should be able to take care of itself. Very rarely, if ever, does hate exist within a vacuum. There is always a good for whose end evil must be extirpated.

Restraint enters in because the terrorists know full well that a nuclear attack on America will be met with violent rebuttal in the form of a reciprocal nuclear attack on Middle Eastern soil. Rudy would probably bomb the entire area; most of the other presidential candidates would hopefully be content to only take out large portions of the area. Such an end does not help the goals of the terrorists.

It is entirely possible that they will strike America again, but I think it unlikely. They are winning the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. As Buchanan points out in his new book, the misguided interventionism of Bush in the former country brought Al-Qaeda back from the dead. In the long run, our attempts at playing at empire are unsustainable; when we are finally forced to remove all of our troops from the region, Osama will have won his war. A nuclear attack on American soil will not help him achieve victory; if anything, it will completely remove its possibility. The prospect of victory will ensure that Osama exercises a "certain level of restraint".

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Merry Christmas

Now there were shepherds in that region living in the fields and keeping the night watch over their flock.

The angel of the Lord appeared to them and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were struck with great fear.

The angel said to them, "Do not be afraid; for behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.

For today in the city of David a savior has been born for you who is Messiah and Lord.

And this will be a sign for you: you will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger."

And suddenly there was a multitude of the heavenly host with the angel, praising God and saying:

"Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests."

Luke 2:8-14

Monday, December 24, 2007

They must not read the blog

Because they certainly haven't heard of my boy. Then again, this is the L.A. Times:

Mike Huckabee, one of the most conservative Republicans in the 2008 presidential race, has embraced one of the most radical ideas on the campaign trail: a plan to abolish all federal income and payroll taxes and replace them with a single 23% national sales tax.

"Radical", "one of the most conservative", so much for objective journalism.

He is the only major presidential candidate to make the idea central to his campaign. "The first thing I'd love to do as president: Put a 'going out of business' sign on the Internal Revenue Service," he said at one debate.

While amusing, this is completely false. In one of the early Republican debates, Ron Paul explained how, "in my first week, I eliminated the IRS". I suppose that the Times can claim that Paul isn't a major candidate, but I'm not sure that's accurate at this point. Paul will almost certainly finish in front of "major" candidate Fred Thompson in Iowa and N.H.; despite McCain's latest "surge" in the latter state, I'd be very surprised if he finishes ahead of Paul in either state.

There's something to be said for a "fair tax", but, even supposing such a scheme could be enacted, it would probably do more harm than good, for a variety of reasons.

First, such a tax will fall unfairly on the lower and middle classes--as all taxes inevitably do. The very rich will have no trouble purchasing their yachts from abroad and shipping them to their millionaire estates, though, in fairness, since Huckabee is something of a protectionist, a tariff could theoretically correct this problem to a large extent.

Second, although tax reform is to be preferred to tax cuts, without concomitant decreases in spending, any deficits will have to be paid by the nation's children at a later date. I have no idea how much revenue might be raised by a "fair tax" of this nature; but it's wise to be wary of more unbalanced budgets since Huckabee has yet to explain how he'd trim government fat--unlike Paul who wants to cut whole departments en masse and enact massive foreign policy changes which would save the country hundreds of billions of dollars.

From the article:

To ease the effect on the poor, they propose a "prebate" -- a monthly cash payment to every family -- to cover sales taxes on spending up to the federal poverty level...

Critics argue that this aspect of the plan would create an unwieldy new government program akin to welfare.

A report by the president's tax-reform panel said such a program could cost $600 billion a year -- "which would make it America's largest entitlement program," the report said.

Why not make it an exemption? Creating new government programs is a bad idea, especially for a so-called conservative. Count me among the skeptics.

Independent analyses have concluded that the tax would have to be far higher than 23% to maintain the government at current levels -- especially if Congress did not eliminate popular tax breaks, such as the mortgage-interest deduction.

William G. Gale, a tax expert at the centrist Brookings Institution think tank, estimates that the levy could run as high as 50% -- a tax so steep that it would be an invitation to mass tax evasion.

I know very little about economics, but these numbers seem high. When Steve Forbes was running for president back in 2000, a lot of people were talking about a national sales tax, and I remember someone putting the figure at between thirteen and fifteen percent. Then again, this was before Bush's expensive war on terror, so perhaps the number has climbed substantially.

Third--yes, we're still in the middle of a list--creating a new form of tax is a bad idea because, even if the IRS is effectively killed, there's no telling when it will be brought back from the dead. In that case, we'll be faced, not just with a sales tax, but an income tax.

I like Paul's plan better: get rid of the IRS and replace it with--nothing. Unfortunately, this pipe dream is only possible if we reexamine our view on the proper role of government. A return to a constitutional republic of limited size doesn't require the IRS; a compassionate conservative government, one that wars on all terror, everywhere, and provides cradle-to-the-grave payouts to members of society, needs to rob Peter to pay Paul. Those are just the facts.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

The Huckabee factor

This one is a bit long, so strap yourself in tight.

I'm a small government type. I call myself a libertarian, and, for the most part, it's an accurate appellation. I'm pro-life, and, much like Ron Paul, I want Roe v. Wade overturned because it's blatantly unconstitutional nonsense. And because I'm a Catholic first and a libertarian second, I'd also be up for making abortion illegal, though such action would have to come through the Congress, and might even require an amendment if the pesky Republican-controlled court gets in the way.

Abortion is a very important issue, and Mike Huckabee passes the litmus test on abortion. It's one big reason, perhaps the only reason, for his ever-growing support. Unfortunately, the rest of his record is anything but acceptable. For one, it reeks of corruption of the Clintonian variety. For another, he's about as fiscally irresponsible as Mitt Romney. If Huckabee would really do something about abortion, I'd consider holding my nose and voting for him. But we've elected "pro-life" candidate before; the only thing we have to show for it is a larger leviathan at the federal level, and more promises that the next election is "the most important ever", and that we're oh so close to over-turning Roe v. Wade. Some of the dupes believe it. I'm not buying.

Abortion is directly connected to the life issue. Any candidate who is pro-life, but supports immoral foreign wars--read: interventionist--cannot be trusted, especially when there is another candidate who is consistent on the life issue. Liberals like to bring up capital punishment, and while this is a life issue, it merits slightly different treatment. While the U.S. has no real reason to allow the practice, capital punishment is 1) a states' issue, and hence ultimately irrelevant in a presidential race; and 2) is hardly comparable to abortion
and/or immoral foreign wars because of the disproportionate size of the latter. Abortion has led to the deaths of 40+ million; the U.S. war in Iraq, as high as 655,000. Capital punishment has ended 15,000+ lives in the U.S., just over 1000 since 1976.

In short, a candidate should have things right when it comes to abortion, and also when it comes to just war. It would help if he had his head screwed on straight when it comes to capital punishment, too, but it's of far less importance.

So what is Huckabee's stance on the War in Iraq and the War on Terror? Glad you asked. We'll take some representative--and revealing--quotes from the links on his website:

I believe that we are currently engaged in a world war. This war is not a conventional war, and these terrorists are not a conventional enemy...

During the Cold War, we had hawks and doves, but this new war requires us to be a phoenix, rising reborn to meet each new challenge and seize each new opportunity...

The terrorists train in small, scattered groups. We can accomplish a great deal with swift, surgical air strikes and commando raids by our elite units...

Iraq is a battle in our generational, ideological war on terror...

Setting a timetable for withdrawal is a mistake. This country has never declared war until "a week from Wednesday," we have always declared war until victory.

As Scooby-Doo might say, "Rut roh!" Huckabee recently came under fire for criticizing President Bush's foreign policy, but if you can spot a single difference between the two when it comes to our wonderful war on terror, you're a better detective than Sherlock Holmes. Huckabee said Bush shouldn't have gone at it alone; specifically, he chastised Bush for an "arrogant bunker mentality". What Huck fails to note is that, when it comes to Afghanistan, he didn't go-it-alone. And when it comes to Iraq, nothing is going to convince countries to sign up to be junior members in the all but non-existent "coalition of the willing". To put it bluntly, unless we start to rethink our policies, we're going to be forced to go-it-alone. It's obvious Huck has put very little thought into foreign policy.

Equally disconcerting is his assertion in one of the debates that he would do "whatever is necessary to protect the American people", even if it meant ignoring Congress, the branch responsible for declaring war. Cowboy Huck sounds a lot like Bush--or Rudy.

And we haven't even gotten to his fiscal problems. Suffice it to say that, like every other Republican running, except for Ron Paul, he didn't discover a principled defense of limited government until he decided to run for office. In short, aside from his admirable stance on abortion, which appears to be genuine--unlike Romney's--he's a lot like Hillary Clinton--or George W. Bush. We'll get more of the same nonsense on the foreign policy front, and nothing to make a conservative happy on the fiscal one. Anyone who supports a federal smoking ban is not going to have any problem using the government to achieve his ends.

It's safe to say that Huckabee won't be getting my vote come November, assuming he manages to claw his way through the primaries and get the nomination. So why even write about him at all? Well, for one, because even though I'm not a big fan of our sham democracy, I can't seem to prevent myself from dwelling on it. For another, Huckabee's emergence as a first-tier candidate is fascinating for what it reveals about my former party.

For months, social conservatives have been told that they should go along with a Rudy nomination because he can beat Hillary. Ignoring the fact that projections more than a year before the actual election are bound to be inaccurate, many social conservatives balked at the idea that mere electability was paramount. There are limits to which the anyone-but-Hillary crowd will go. Rod Dreher captures the point:

I think it's fair to say that it was assumed that Giuliani would be a sound representative of the Republican Party, and that the social and religious conservatives would do like they always do and get in line. Pat Robertson sure did.

But lo, it turns out that the candidate who's caught fire comes straight out of the religious/social conservative wing of the coalition, and he is unsound on issues most important to the fiscal wing. It's not supposed to work that way. Nobody at the elite level seems to expect the economic conservatives to suck it up for the sake of party unity. What does that say about the place of social conservatives in the party all these years?

I've written about this before, but once a voting bloc demonstrates that it will go along with anyone who pays a bit of lip service to their issue of choice, they have lost all of their power. It's one reason I stopped voting. Continually electing the lesser of two-evils is a prescription for more of the same. The Republican Party has used social conservatives for years, and it appears at least some of them are sick of it.

And while it's true that Huck isn't fiscally conservative, it's important to note that: 1) neither are the rest of the candidates the conservative commentators keep telling us we need to support; and 2) the Bible is far less clear about the role of government in redistributing wealth than it is about murder; in short, being opposed to abortion doesn't make one an opponent of Big Government. My objection to Big Government stems from my pessimism and my knowledge, albeit limited, of history.

The first point was brought out clearly by Joe of The Evangelical Outpost. National Review, who insensibly endorsed Mitt Romney, ran an attack piece against Huckabee. But as Joe pointed out, all of the criticisms leveled at Huck could apply equally to Romney:

My point is simply that the selective criticism of Huckabee is unfair and borders on dishonest. As governor, Huckabee was far more fiscally conservative than Romney. He was also more fiscally conservative than Giuliani. So it is surreal to constantly hear the bogus attacks on his record and his positions.

The Republican Party no longer gives a damn for limited government. This has become increasingly apparent during the Bush administration, and it's even more obvious now that every "major" candidate for the presidency is fiscally liberal. Those that care for limited government have joined the Paul camp; if he doesn't get the nomination, I'll be very surprised if many of them vote. Seriously, what's the point? All of the candidates are virtually indistinguishable; none will change the collision course upon which we have foolishly set sail. (Can you tell I recently finished Pat Buchanan's new book?)

What Huck demonstrates, above all, is the dearth of principles in the "conservative" media. By ignoring Bush's irresponsibility, failing to hold his feet to the fire when it came to his social commitments--i.e. doing something about abortion--and casting aside all conservative principles in an effort to support Bush's idiotic War on Terror, the commentators have reaped what they have sown.

If Al-Qaeda is truly the existential threat that it is purported to be--it isn't--if we can really make the world safer by invading other countries--such invasions actually make us less safe--supporting any of the clowns running for higher office should be acceptable. They all support continuing Cowboy Diplomacy; they'll all rattle impotent sabers, at Iran and at Russia, and America will continue its slide from lone world superpower into decadent has-been.

If fiscal policy matters, than why didn't we hear about it until now? And if fiscal policy is truly of the utmost importance, why not support the only man who cares for limited government and liberty? The Republican Party of today doesn't deserve Ron Paul. They deserve a Democrat-controlled house and a Hillary presidency. It shall soon be theirs.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Just for Troutsky

If you think being in the middle of four books would stop be from reading my newly arrived copy of Paul Johnson's Intellectuals, you don't know me at all. Dissecting Karl Marx, he writes:

If the [capitalist] system had not been in the process of reforming itself, which by Marx's reasoning was impossible, Capital could not have been written. As he was unwilling to do any on-the-spot investigation himself, he was forced to rely precisely on the evidence of those, whom he designated 'the governing class', who were trying to put things right and to an increasing extent succeeding. Thus Marx had to distort his main source of evidence, or abandon his thesis. The book was, and is, structurally dishonest. - p. 69

I don't tear down idols because I'm a jerk; I do it because most idols, Marx included, do not deserve to be worshiped--or even revered. There are many, many flaws inherent in the capitalist system, but its ability to self-correct destroys Marxist thought. Hence all attacks on capitalism which are based on Marxist premises are untenable.

Monday, December 17, 2007

A splendid little tea party

In which Ron Paul's supporters come up big:

Republican presidential hopeful Ron Paul's supporters raised over $6 million Sunday to boost the 10-term Texas congressman's campaign for the White House.

Called a "Money Bomb," the goal was to raise as much money as possible on the Internet in one day. The campaign's previous fundraiser brought in $4.2 million.

The important thing isn't the amount of money; don't get me wrong, 6 million is extremely significant for a campaign that was attempting to raise 12 million dollars for the entire quarter. The really important thing is that this money bomb was even bigger than the last one.

In political campaigns, if you're not moving forward, you're dying. None of the four so-called major Republican candidates--Giuliani, Thompson, McCain, and Romney--are moving forward. Only Ron Paul and Mike Huckabee are picking up momentum.

Oh, and the average donation amount was fifty dollars. This means that a lot of people are committed to the Paul campaign, committed enough to fork over their hard-earned money so as try to get him elected. I'm not going to say no "special interest groups" aren't fond of Dr. Paul; but this isn't just a matter of a couple of rich corporate types financing a campaign. His support is widespread.

So far as I know, Huckabee hasn't raised much cash. Of course, when you've been endorsed by Chuck Norris, you don't exactly need money, and it helps that the media is less opposed to running stories about you than they are concerning Dr. Paul. But in general, while the Huckabee supporters are glad to have someone besides Rudy McRomneyson, the Paul supporters are generally fired up about their man. To put it another way, if you're the kind of person who is going to give money to a politician, you're the same kind of person who is going to talk about that politician, and make YouTube videos about that politician, and write endless columns and blog posts about that politician.

I may be wrong in this, but once you've experienced what Vox Day calls the Ron Paul epiphany, you're not going back. I'm not saying you won't eventually succumb to voting for the lesser evil if Paul is ends up being snubbed by his party; but you would do it very reluctantly. The Paul supporters are still relatively few in number, but we're growing, and no one is leaving this bandwagon. Despite Troutsky's insistence to the contrary, Ron Paul is unique; his allegiance to the Constitution, unprecedented in decades, is giving rise to a very unique following:

Paul's online popularity, to the surprise (and envy) of other Republican campaigns, proves to be one of the most fascinating fundraising stories of the year. He's the only candidate, Republican or Democrat, to increase his fundraising haul with every quarter, raising $640,000 in the first quarter, $2.4 million in the second, $5.1 million in the third.

Long live the Ron Paul Revolution!

Friday, December 14, 2007

Barzun sounds like Buchanan

Scholars wrote monographs on sovereignty, asking themselves and the public, "What Makes a Nation?" A large part of the answer to the question is: common historical memories. When the nation's history is poorly taught in schools, ignored by the young, and proudly rejected by qualified elders, awareness of tradition consists only in wanting to destroy it...

A common language, a core of historical memories with heroes and villains, compulsory public schooling and military service finally made the 19C nation-state the carrier of civilization.

Now all these elements were decaying and could not be restored.

- Jacques Barzun, From Dawn to Decadence, p. 775-6

In addition to adding to the long list of reasons to home school, such a statement suggests that it is unreasonable to expect a large portion of migrants to assimilate quickly. The Europeans are having little luck getting the Turk to melt into the rest of society; and if the Mexicans are generally less violent, their use of a different tongue, and a history which is not only different but often opposed to that held by Americans, doesn't support the notion that the present situation is a tenable one.

Thoughts from Thoreau

[A]nd yet he had rated it as a gain in coming to America, that here you could get tea, and coffee, and meat every day. But the only true America is that country where you are at liberty to pursue such a mode of life as may enable you to do without these, and where the state does not endeavor to compel you to sustain the slavery and war and other superfluous expenses which directly or indirectly result from the use of such things.

- Henry David Thoreau, Walden, p. 148

I've little to add, except that I'll be paying my share of taxes soon, and doing my darnedest to live without life's non-essentials so as to, perhaps, be able to take a reprieve therefrom, if only for a short while. Graduation is tomorrow, and I'm already longing for early retirement.

Nostalgic pessimistic waxing

All of the Republican commentariat keeps combing the field, looking for the next Reagan, but Peggy Noonan wonders if the Gipper would cut it in today's Republican Party:

The Republican race looks--at the moment--to be determined primarily by one thing, the question of religious faith. In my lifetime faith has been a significant issue in presidential politics, but not the sole determinative one. Is that changing? If it is, it is not progress.

I wonder if our old friend Ronald Reagan could rise in this party, this environment. Not a regular churchgoer, said he experienced God riding his horse at the ranch, divorced, relaxed about the faiths of his friends and aides, or about its absence. He was a believing Christian, but he spent his adulthood in relativist Hollywood, and had a father who belonged to what some saw, and even see, as the Catholic cult. I'm just not sure he'd be pure enough to make it in this party. I'm not sure he'd be considered good enough.

As a man of faith, one might suppose that I would commend the rise of religion in politics, but there are a number of problems I could highlight. Ideally, at least for presidential candidates, faith provides a system for action. For instance, while I am glad that Bush also believes in the saving power of Jesus Christ, I am far more worried that he routinely and remorselessly violated the commands of his supposed Savior. I would prefer that a man be right with God before he take such a commanding post, but only because getting the first things right tends to reinforce right action. Since Bush's Christianity hasn't helped him govern in a manner consistent with Christian teaching, his faith is useless, at least to the electorate. James 2:17 springs to mind: "So also faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead."

Mike Huckabee is rising in the polls, and the Huckster is, without a doubt, this field's Bush candidate. The Evangelicals are all about Mike, since he's one of them. I would caution them to back away from the sola fide kool-aid and reexamine recent history. Bush came into office as a "compassionate conservatism". Those who had studied his record closely were skeptical of his conservative credentials--rightly so it turns out. Conservatives of all faiths would be unwise to support Mike Huckabee, who is a slightly more coherent George Bush number three. Ronald Reagan he ain't.

(And before Troutsky jumps in, I know Reagan wasn't all that conservative either. The point, I think, is that charlatans like Huck don't even bother using the rhetoric of Reagan, so support of him is inexcusable.)

It's increasingly clear that Huck is not a conservative by any stretch of the imagination. As Ilana Mercer points out in today's column:

Here's Huckabee's Heads-Up-for-Illegal-Aliens Plan, articulated at the Univision "panderfest":

When people come to this country, they shouldn't fear. They shouldn't live in hiding. They ought to have their heads up, because the one thing about being an American is, we believe every person ought to have his or her head up and proud, and nobody should have to be in hiding because they're illegal when our government ought to make it so that people can reasonably come here in a legal fashion. [Emphasis added.]

Let's unpack Huckabee's hucksterism: Illegal aliens in the U.S. are hanging their heads when they ought to be holding them high. The reason for these imaginary drooping crests is illegality brought on by harsh immigration policies. The way to raise heads high is to make illegality a thing of the past.

This makes him a slightly more religious, and perhaps less crazy, John McCain. But there's more. Mercer doesn't even discuss--this week--his affinity for a nationwide smoking ban or his fiscal history which put him to the left of Bill Clinton. Instead:

Huckabee's antidote for the bumper crops of ignoramuses being produced in public schools follows the progressive Pleasure Principle: Please the little darlings; pleasure them, Huck prated at the Republican presidential debate in Iowa, for they are "bored to death." We must "make sure we build the curriculum around their interests." [Emphasis added.]

Hackneyed Huckabee is unaware that child-centered schooling has been in place for decades. Progressive pedagogues and parents have been gratifying children's demands for fun and frivolity for a very long time now.

Mercer might have pointed out that the federal government has no business with education at all. It is--supposed to be--a state issue. I don't recall Reagan discussing the benefits of the Federal Department of Education--maybe because I was three when he left office--but I have been told that it was later a plank of the Republican Party platform that the Department should be abolished.

The current Republican Party doesn't deserve even Reagan; were the latter to reemerge, he would no be marginalized as unelectable. Much like Ron Paul, who, not only has a record of staunch conservatism, but, last I checked, passed the litmus test on the God issue as well.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

A last reflection on scattered words

Today's first column. This is also the last week I'll be writing these things. Believe it or not, I'm graduating. I'm not sure what this will do for the old blog; I've rather liked churning out columns on a weekly basis, but I'm not sure I'll keep it up without a looming deadline and the prospect of being published. I guess we'll see. Still, it's been an intriguing experiment. If you go back in the archives, I think you'll find I've gotten better at this writing business. More importantly, I think I started to cover more substantive topics. Then again, I might look back at this column two or three years hence and say the same thing. That wouldn't necessarily be a bad thing. I've got a lot of writing life ahead of me, and while I would like to say I've stumbled beyond mere competency, I also like the prospect of progression.

Anyway, the column:

“I would not like these last statements to generate automatically another view common to bad writers—namely, that one writes only for oneself. Do not trust those who say so: they are dishonest and lying narcissists.” - Umberto Eco

Writers are a curious breed. A good friend of mine once remarked that my predilection to write was indicative of pride; anyone who writes, he reasoned, felt themselves superior to the rest of humanity. It would be easy for me to casually dismiss the statement as babbling of the envious, but there is some truth to my friend's statement. There are any number of writers—thank goodness—who are far superior to me, even if none of them write for The Lode. Nonetheless, I confess a superiority concerning the ideas for which I advocate, even if I will not stoop to sole ownership of them. This sense of superiority strikes me as unavoidable.

When I first started writing for the paper, one of the reasons I did so—though not the primary one—was to see if I could get a reaction from a campus reputed to be apathetic to the point of torpidity. I stayed far away from mere sophistry, but—occasionally—I turned up the rhetorical heat to attempt to generate a response. Pessimism suggested that Tech students were more interested in playing video games and running equations—so as to attain a job making power points in a cube factory—than they were about mulling over the so-called bigger issues. I've been writing columns for two and half years, and while it might be unfair to use letters to the editor as the sole means of measurement, their number can be counted on a single hand. As they teach in statistics: not enough evidence to reject the null hypothesis.

One writes, I think, because one wishes to convey truths, about which one is convinced, to one's fellow man. It would benefit mankind, so the theory goes, were such truths taken sincerely to heart. Since writing amuses me greatly, the size of my audience is of little consequence. Yet all of my scribblings are intended to move the minds of my readers, whoever they may be. Getting people riled up is enjoyable, but any argument which rests upon an appeal to the emotions will be transitory in its impact. While it is impolite to suggest as much, not everyone is interested in arriving at the truth through the use of reason; most prefer comfort, which excludes entertaining ideas contrary to one's own. The implication is that those who arrive at conclusions based on the capricious whims of their emotions are not worth attempting to convince of anything.

The corollary suggests that the rational are always harder to convince. It is good that this is so; it would be very ridiculous if the rational amongst us wavered incessantly. Conclusions should only be drawn after careful study of the facts. A further implication is that while the columnist may suggest alternative ways of looking at an old problem, his impact, though not insignificant, will be slight. As Vox Day—my favorite columnist—put it: “750 words such as these can't teach you anything of substance, but 750 pages can. And only after building a solid base of knowledge can one begin to make sense of the bits of information floating in the media stream around you.”

I don't know how many minds I have changed by my miserable words; only God knows how fruitful my efforts have been. But if a few of you folks sit down with a good book tonight and turn off the damned television I'll consider the venture well worth the while. I heartily recommend Orthodoxy, by G. K. Chesterton.

Hold fast to all liberty

Today's second column. I typed this up in about an hour and had to hand it in quick, so it's a little less polished than I would like it to be, but it came out reasonably well.

UPDATE: I guess it wasn't actually printed. This means the last word I ever wrote for The Lode was "Chesterton". Seemed fitting.

On Sunday, December 9th, Matthew Murray killed two people at a missionary training center near Denver, Colorado. Just twelve hours later he fired on parishioners leaving a church service, killing two more people: a pair of sisters, Stephanie and Rachel Works, aged sixteen and eighteen. Further calamity was prevented when Jeanne Assam, a former police officer with a license to carry a concealed handgun, took down Murray.

While the especially obtuse might claim that Assam acted in an unchristian manner in killing Murray, it is important to note that the commandment which supposedly forbids killing actually forbids murder, and that Christ's command to “turn the other cheek” applies when one is the subject of persecution; it doesn't preclude defending others from similar treatment. In short, while Christianity does not condemn the personal pacifist, Assam acted well within the bounds of Christian morality; Murray forfeited his right to life the instant he opened fire. Although the phrase is overused almost to the point of meaninglessness, her pastor's appellation of “hero”applies well to Assam. By his estimates—admittedly uncertain, but not implausible—her actions saved the lives of hundreds.

Thus we have yet another example of how guns in the hands of law-abiding citizens save lives. The old adage about dog biting man explains why we so seldom hear about the defensive use of guns. Economist John Lott wrote a whole book about it: The Bias Against Guns. Therein, Lott quotes a survey he conducted which suggests that in the U.S., guns are used defensively 2.3 million times in the course of a year. His estimate probably warrants some skepticism, but his larger point is entirely valid: guns save lives, and they do so far more often than we would suspect.

There are two reasons to be opposed to gun control. The flimsier of the two suggests that it is an exercise in futility. Laws do not always prevent action; often they must be content to provide a mechanism for correction after their violation. Laws against speeding haven't eliminated speeding; on the other hand, they've added immensely to the coffers of local governments. The same applies in regards to guns. Studies, such as those of Lott, demonstrate that strict gun control doesn't reduce crime; if anything, crime increases when guns are taken out of the hands of law-abiding citizens. Since only a totalitarian regime would be able to completely eliminate guns from the populace, and criminals will pack heat anyway, a reasonable policy would allow citizens to conceal and carry handguns.

The second reason is more fundamental. The founders enshrined—albeit in curious language—the right to bear arms within the Bill of Rights, because they knew it was essential to a republic founded to preserve liberty. It would have been impossible for the Declaration of Independence to be asserted by the young colonies if the colonists were unarmed. As the power of the federal government continues to grow, we may again find ourselves impelled to separation, in which case the guns will come in quite handy.

More prescient concerns have thrust gun control to the background of late, but the time will come when the powers that be shall again attempt to take away the rights of the people. In recent years, the tendency has been to give away liberty so as to attain elusive security. Much attention has been paid to the Orwellian Patriot Act, which, like all such measures before it, takes away freedom as promised, but fails to deliver anything but the illusion of safety. Aside from being beneficial, it is also worth remembering that the right to bear arms was a liberty the founders thought essential to the republic. The next time a terrorist threat gives impetus for the seizure of guns, it would be wise for the people to resist.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

At least he's read his Bible

This strikes me as less than newsworthy:

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, surging in Iowa polls in the Republican presidential race, wrote on a questionnaire while running for U.S. Senate in 1992 that homosexuality is "aberrant" and "sinful."

Isn't that what the good book says? Let us see:

1 Corinthians, 6:9-10
Do you not know that the unjust will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators nor idolaters nor adulterers nor boy prostitutes nor sodomites nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor robbers will inherit the kingdom of God.

Seems pretty clear to me.

The revelations could dampen the enthusiasm for the candidacy of Huckabee, a former Baptist minister, because the language clashes with his image as a compassionate, sunny leader.

What utter nonsense. If anything, the revelations help him solidify his position as the man of the Religious Right. I hope Huckabee fades, but not because of these benign statements.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Why even bother asking?

Apparently not everyone read the NIE. As a matter of fact, I haven't either--I was too busy with papal encyclicals. According to the report, Iran is no longer developing nuclear weapons; to the best of our knowledge, they ceased development in 2003.

Americans haven't gotten the message:

Just 18% of American voters believe that Iran has halted its nuclear weapons program. The latest Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey found that 66% disagree and say Iran has not stopped its nuclear weapons program. Twenty-one percent (21%) of men believe Iran has stopped the weapons development along with 16% of women.

This is what comes from getting one's news via cable. I'm not saying everyone needs to concur with every word included in the report; in fact, a dash of skepticism is always good to apply to government reports. But I find it a bit preposterous that two-thirds of American know that Iran hasn't stopped their program. What's the point of intelligence if we're not going to use it? Don't answer that.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Torturing the Terrorists

Today's first column:

“A world which has to create its own justice is a world without hope.” - Pope Benedict XVI

Papal encyclicals excite me even more than the latest celebrity gossip. I know, I'm weird. When the present Pope produced the second letter of his pontificate, Spe Salvi—Latin for Saved by Hope—I hesitated little in reading it. Therein, His Holiness writes, “the capacity to accept suffering for the sake of goodness, truth and justice is an essential criterion of humanity, because if my own well-being and safety are ultimately more important than truth and justice, then the power of the stronger prevails, then violence and untruth reign supreme. Truth and justice must stand above my comfort and physical well-being, or else my life itself becomes a lie.”

His letters are intended for the one billion Roman Catholics worldwide, but non-Catholics would be prudent to listen carefully to the Bishop of Rome. For Benedict's words have been turned precisely on their head by our President, George W. Bush. To defeat the nebulous ideology of Islamofascism, the Bush administration has explained that certain procedures, such as waterboarding, are not torture; and anyway, they are necessary to prevent the terrorists from winning. To Bush, the safety and well-being of American citizens—or at least his perception thereof—are paramount. Waterboarding a would-be-terrorist is a measure of precaution, probably an evil one, but one that would, according to the tenants of an implausible hypothetical, prevent a still greater evil.

But torture should be rejected for two reasons. First, although it is effective in the sense that it delivers results, the results themselves are ultimately unsound. The Communists of Russia, our old enemies, were tremendously good torturers. A confession could be procured by disallowing the penitent from sleeping; after several days, the victim invariably confessed his sins against the Party; but only a fool would suppose that everyone who was tortured was guilty of the crimes to which he eventually confessed. Sending all and sundry to the gulag provided Stalin and his successors with the slave labor he needed to fuel the economy, but one wonders what it will avail the Bush administration to collect untruths from non-terrorists—or how one would justify torturing the innocent.

There is a better objection to torture—and yes, as even John McCain admits, waterboarding is torture—and that is that it is immoral. The Catechism of the Catholic Church, which was compiled by the current Pope when he was known as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, has this to say, “Torture which uses physical or moral violence to extract confessions, punish the guilty, frighten opponents, or satisfy hatred is contrary to respect for the person and for human dignity.”

Advocating torture furnishes the maxim that the end always justifies the means. Using this rational, it would be inconsistent to oppose any act that would eliminate any threat posed to America. Such acts must not be restrained by traditional morality; thus there is no reason why the jailing of the innocent, the murder of the disreputable, or—to take the flawed principle to its logical extreme—rape and cannibalism may not, at times, be deemed likewise morally acceptable.

It is of especial disappointment that Christians like George W. Bush would advocate such egregious acts. That he is perpetuating evil in order to prevent non-existent threats only adds to the tragedy. Benedict writes, “We can try to limit suffering, to fight against it, but we cannot eliminate it.”

Our attempts to eliminate suffering will fail as they always do. Heaven belongs in the clouds. All attempts to create one on earth fail; worse, they end up creating Hell. If we are to be saved, it will not be through torture. It is far more likely that its use will play a pivotal role in our undoing.

Fiat and the Fed

Today's second column:

In 1933, gold backing was removed from the U.S. dollar, leaving Americans with a fiat currency. Unlike money that is linked to a metal of intrinsic value—usually gold—fiat currency is backed by the word of the government alone, and managed, at least in this country, by the Federal Reserve. The dollars you hold in your wallet cannot be exchanged for gold at the nearest bank; but they do have value, since it is understood that they can be exchanged for goods and services.

Proponents point out that, prior to the Great Depression, recessions occurred about once every twenty years. Since Keynesian theory lifted us from the Great Depression, recessions have been small and manageable. The kindly navigators of the Federal Reserve have steered us clear of economic disasters, the sort which inevitably occur when the currency is tied to gold.

Most people accept the myth of Keynes and agree that fiat currency is generally a good thing. To the contrary, a strong argument can be made for the abolishment of the Federal Reserve, and the re-linking of the currency to gold. The primary objection to the Federal Reserve is that it allows appointed—not elected—bureaucrats to manage much of the economy. It is tremendously unwise to allow for so much power to be vested in so few hands. One of the—alas, largely unlearned—lessons of the twentieth century, is that as government power increases, so too does its temptation to violence. Allowing Bernanke to run the Fed is as stupid as allowing Bush to war on whomever he pleases.

There are also historical objections to fiat currency. Libertarian Murray Rothbard explains, “At the end of 1776, the Continentals were worth $1 to $1.25 in specie [gold]… By the spring of 1781, the Continentals were virtually worthless, exchanging on the market at 168 dollars to one dollar in specie. This collapse of the Continental currency gave rise to the phrase “not worth a Continental.”

The same thing happened in France during their Revolution. After five years of mismanagement, the assignat wasn’t worth a Continental. It is telling that the American dollar has lost ninety-six percent of its value during the last seventy-five years. The Federal Reserve has watered down the value of the currency, just like all micro-managers before them; should we really be excited that they’ve spread out the inflation over a longer period of time?

It is also worth examining the myth of Keynes, whose pernicious doctrine states that government interference is good for the economy. The accepted opinion is that Hoover was a laissez-faire capitalist, who kept us mired in the Great Depression, until the interventionism of FDR extricated us from its deadly grasp. But, as historian Paul Johnson explains, Hoover was as much of an interventionist as FDR. Further, the economy didn't actually recover until ten years into the depression and seven years into FDR's presidency. Johnson notes, “If [economic] interventionism worked, it took nine years and a world war to demonstrate the fact.”

As the dollar continues its free fall, Americans may finally reexamine the value of a micromanaged currency. Ron Paul points out that “Fiat dollars allow us to live beyond our means, but only for so long.” But as students of Keynes know, in the long run, we, like the American currency, are quite dead.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Derb needs some hope

It is always amusing when I lambast someone for their pessimism, but John Derbyshire is none too optimistic about the potential for positive change in his adopted country. Despite his role as a political commentator, he finds himself thoroughly bored with the race. He writes:

What's dragging me down into the swamps of indifference — aside from the fact of having grown up in a nation where election campaigns last two weeks if you're unlucky — is more a generalized feeling of despair about the entire federal government. They can't do anything. They're hopeless. No president could do much with them.

Probably true. But it is especially true if you settle for the gaggle of usual suspects: Rudy McRomney, and, increasingly, and surprisingly, the equally hopeless, though a bit more likable, Mike Huckabee. Regular readers can fill in the rest.

Our financial regulators have let a ghastly credit crisis develop. Our customs controllers have let the country be flooded with poisonous toys and toxic pet food. Our intelligence agencies, we now know beyond any reasonable doubt, have essentially done nothing useful for about half a century. When they've managed to agree on anything, it's been wrong. Our diplomats screw up our relations with other countries so badly we get into wars; then the diplos balk at going to serve in the war zone.

The folk who direct our armed forces have spent four and a half years struggling inconclusively with a rabble of fanatics who have no navy or air force, no armored units, no regular formations at all in fact, and munitions they operate with cell-phones and lengths of string. In three and a half years, our grandfathers turned two mighty, sprawling fascist empires to rubble. What am I missing here?

What Derb is missing is that the enemy we currently face has not been named; it is far more elusive than the Nazis and the Soviets were. For one, the opponents of yesteryear wore uniforms. But the real reason we cannot win against the "rabble of fanatics" is that we've settled on the idiotic notion that victory will only come when we force democracy upon a people that has never known it. Destroying a conventional army is something the United States can do; terminating a nebulous organization, and forcing deeply divided people to play nice is a nice thought, but it is a far more difficult matter. Hence we have failed.

The most elementary function of the federal government — one that, in fact, it jealously guards as its own alone — is the management of immigration and border control. This, as we surely all know by now, is a complete shambles. It's not just illegal immigration; the legal kind is fubar, too — read this. I've been blaming George W. Bush and his predecessor for a lot of this. They didn't give a damn, I've been saying. They're sentimental and clueless about immigration, or hooked up with business interests hungry for cheap labor, I've been saying.

This is the part where I reintroduce Ron Paul. I'm not certain how much good he will be able to do--even if he manages to surpass all expectations and win the presidential election. But I do know this: if Ron Paul can't fix the problem, we're completely hosed. If Derb is right and governmental inertia will prevent any real changes from happening, it doesn't matter who you support. As a matter of fact it doesn't. Unless you decide to support Ron Paul.

Paul's adherence to the Constitution allows him to stand apart in a sea of more-of-the-same. The president, especially one who abides by the Constitution, has limited power; Paul can veto every bill he wants, but he's still going to be liable to an override, and he will be forced to sent the troops to war if Congress demands that he do so. Nonetheless, insofar as there remains a hope to reverse the trend of decades of history; if it is possible to return to a humbler foreign policy, and to call the troops home to defend, not the borders of other countries, but only our own; if we can yet again subsist on a sound currency and balanced budgets--Paul is that hope. My hope is that enough of us realize this before it's too late.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Spe Salvi

In which I include selections from the latest encyclical from Pope Benedict XVI:

[Karl Marx] forgot that man always remains man. He forgot man and he forgot man's freedom. He forgot that freedom always remains also freedom for evil. He thought that once the economy had been put right, everything would automatically be put right. His real error is materialism: man, in fact, is not merely the product of economic conditions, and it is not possible to redeem him purely from the outside by creating a favourable economic environment...

In the twentieth century, Theodor W. Adorno formulated the problem of faith in progress quite drastically: he said that progress, seen accurately, is progress from the sling to the atom bomb. Now this is certainly an aspect of progress that must not be concealed. To put it another way: the ambiguity of progress becomes evident. Without doubt, it offers new possibilities for good, but it also opens up appalling possibilities for evil—possibilities that formerly did not exist. We have all witnessed the way in which progress, in the wrong hands, can become and has indeed become a terrifying progress in evil. If technical progress is not matched by corresponding progress in man's ethical formation, in man's inner growth (cf. Eph 3:16; 2 Cor 4:16), then it is not progress at all, but a threat for man and for the world...

The right state of human affairs, the moral well-being of the world can never be guaranteed simply through structures alone, however good they are. Such structures are not only important, but necessary; yet they cannot and must not marginalize human freedom...

We can try to limit suffering, to fight against it, but we cannot eliminate it. It is when we attempt to avoid suffering by withdrawing from anything that might involve hurt, when we try to spare ourselves the effort and pain of pursuing truth, love, and goodness, that we drift into a life of emptiness, in which there may be almost no pain, but the dark sensation of meaninglessness and abandonment is all the greater. It is not by sidestepping or fleeing from suffering that we are healed, but rather by our capacity for accepting it, maturing through it and finding meaning through union with Christ, who suffered with infinite love...

Furthermore, the capacity to accept suffering for the sake of goodness, truth and justice is an essential criterion of humanity, because if my own well-being and safety are ultimately more important than truth and justice, then the power of the stronger prevails, then violence and untruth reign supreme. Truth and justice must stand above my comfort and physical well-being, or else my life itself becomes a lie. In the end, even the “yes” to love is a source of suffering, because love always requires expropriations of my “I”, in which I allow myself to be pruned and wounded. Love simply cannot exist without this painful renunciation of myself, for otherwise it becomes pure selfishness and thereby ceases to be love.

Of course, the entire letter gets my hearty recommendation. What are you waiting for?

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Fred comes to Camille

No, it's not polite to use first names to refer to better thinkers than oneself, but in land of the ubiquitous dude references, first names are almost formal. Anyway, Fred finds himself agreeing with Paglia's point that: “Great art can be made out of love for religion as well as rebellion against it. But a totally secularized society with contempt for religion sinks into materialism and self-absorption and gradually goes slack, without leaving an artistic legacy.” He writes:

Writing a Wagnerian score requires (I think) a sense of the transcendent. To write The Lord of the Rings or to paint Leda and the swan, one need not believe in Norse gods raging in battle against chill skies, or a muscled Zeus throwing thunderbolts, or Pan leering from darkling forests. You need a mind that doesn’t smell of electrical insulation. This, few now have. The sciences are remorselessly literal. They do not admit of transcendence, wonder, or magnificence. People today drink this terrible narrowness with their mother’s milk and seldom get beyond it. They do not know what they have lost.

I hesitate to fall back on the pragmatic in defending religion, but it is a fact not easily disparaged. The irreligious society is not only darker, but it is more dull. Patrons of the arts should be wary of casting out all religion. We've only been around a little while, but, at the very least, the post-modern, post-pagan society has demonstrated an inability to create good art. Things bode badly for us.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Why the decline?

Troutsky writes:

I would be curious as to your views on WHAT is causing the decline and WHY? To me, it is no accident or natural trend.

It's not an easy question, and I'm not overly optimistic that I'll be able to give a sufficient answer, but I'll try to post a couple of thoughts anyway.

I guess we can start with the issue of decadence. Pat Buchanan has been proclaiming "The Death of the West" for several years now, and while he's been early to jump on the bandwagon if one considers popular commentators, the signs of our demise have been present for much longer than this.

Fortunately, a growing segment of the population is waking up to the fact that there is something severely wrong with our country and our culture. Witness the Ron Paul campaign. I'm not exactly sure how this fits; a truly decadent culture wouldn't have any reformers because no one would have any hope of change. Then again, I'm not sure how far Paul will be able to go. It would be very decadent of us to ignore his warnings.

I recently picked up an excellent book titled From Dawn to Decadence. I'm only about a quarter in, but I heartily recommend it. Therein, the author, Jacques Barzun writes: “When people accept futility and the absurd as normal, the culture is decadent. The term is not a slur; it is a technical label.”

That about sums it up. I started writing a piece for the paper, attempting to show how our war on terror is decadent. It was a harder piece to write than I imagined it would be, simply because the whole war on terror is so blatantly absurd--and futile. If you swallow the party line, and rehearse the Sean Hannity talking points, it will probably escape you, but the second you begin to rationally examine the principles of preemptive war, the whole absurdity becomes clear.

For instance, it's absurd to attack countries in the Middle East who haven't threatened us just because they might some day get a bomb and use it on us. Hypotheticals are dangerous pretexts with which to engage in extraordinary measures. Hypothetically, anything could happen. We could just nuke the Middle East to prevent anything unseemly from happening, but most rational people realize that mass murder is the height of immorality. As a country, our prudence is wanting. Our foreign policy is not that of a republic of rational individuals; it is that of a despot, frightened lest his power be threatened.

Or again, it is idiotic to attack the Middle East while leaving the border insecure. Troutsky gets a bit flabbergasted every time I mention the border, but he needn't do so. Whether or not massive migration is good for this country can be debated; so too can the extent of the threat posed by the terrorists. The point here, is that if the terrorists are a threat to our way of life, leaving the border insecure is the height of absurdity. But this policy goes unquestioned, not only by the elites--who have ulterior motives--but by those who support the futile war on terror. Yes, I know that the conservative commentariat clamors about border control, but that won't stop them from supporting an open-borders candidate to attempt to prevent Hillary, another open-borders candidate, from taking power.

The culture is decadent, and in other ways too. But I'm supposed to examine the reasons behind the decadence, so we'll move onto that.

One reason, I would say, is the inability of most people to live rationally. I don't think that thinking has ever been held in such disregard as it is at present. As I noted in today's paper, people don't read books; those who do, often read only garbage. What passes for a logical argument these days is embarrassing. Bill O'Reilly and the conservative clowns make so many groundless assertions that it's impossible to keep up; things aren't any better amongst so-called liberals.

The war on terror is a perfect example of inanities passed along as self-evident, but there is more to the tragedy than the foreign policy of Americans. In fact, the war on terror is a sign of our inability to think; it is not its cause.

Put another way, the acceptance of outrageous principles by a large segment of our population reveals an inability to think properly. Notice, too, that many of those who have changed their minds concerning the validity of the Iraq invasion have done so for strange reasons. Some charge that the war was poorly run, which, though true, is utterly beside the point. The problem, as I have written before, is that the war was immoral because it was an unprovoked act of aggression.

Morality has seeped into the discussion, and it is part of our lapse into decadence. It, too, is tied to the proper use of reason. The just war doctrine, a subset of the natural law theory, is a good example or right reason leading to right action. For man is, above all, a rational creature; when he fails to use his higher faculties, he inevitably goes wrong.

The natural law theory helps us identify what went wrong. As a Catholic, it should come as no surprise when I say that I think that the greatest tragedy of all-time was the reformation. The society of the Middle Ages had, alas, become decadent, and it was unable to reform itself in time. Christendom was cloven, and the modern world is a result of that shipwreck. Hence Barzun starts his book with Luther's theses.

One of the unintended consequences of the Reformation has been the collapse of the higher faculties. It is ironic, perhaps, that the champions of reason have seen their god thrown out the window by their ancestors--here we see Hegel's dialectic at work--but it was almost inevitable. By proclaiming that man, and not the Church, was arbiter of truth, the idea of objective truth became a tenuous one. The Protestant faction saw internal reformations, as sect after sect emerged with the "real" truth. Fast forward, and we have the post-modern society, where not only truth, but reality itself, is relative: mere subjective perception.

The reformers didn't intend for this to happen. Revolutionaries seldom foresee all that will come of their actions; Marx didn't envision the Gulag Archipelago, Rousseau couldn't see the Terror. But happen it did. We are left with the decadent excesses of a revolution gone wrong.

This is where the Church enters in. Whether or not She is right--I contend that She is--She is consistent and authoritative in ways no other aspect of society pretends to be. We ultimately fell into decadence because of rejection of the Church, and the conception of objective Truth which She alone purports to hold. We can no longer think because we have rejected the only Institution which dares to contain Truth; we can only get back to a better society if we return to Her. When people begin to think right, they will start to act right. So long as our thinking is flawed, we haven't a prayer at escaping certain cultural ruin.

The Church has come under fire--no pun intended--for burning heretics. The excesses of the Inquisition have been over-stated--see Henry Kamen's book for an objective account of the Spanish version--but excesses they were. Nonetheless, the Church was right in thinking that heretics are dangerous. Get a wrong idea into a man's head, and he will begin to live immorally. Allowing a man to think that preemptive war is acceptable might cause him to launch wars, willy-nilly, against his neighbors.

With this, I bring my somewhat long-winded, and fairly scattered piece to a close. In brief summation, the world has gone wrong because it cannot think; the Church is the guardian of thought and truth, and a return to Her will allow mankind to think again. Since man is rational, right ordered thought is necessary for right action. If we are to restore our civilization, we must learn to think again, and for that, I present to the reader the Roman Catholic Church.

You really didn't expect anything different, did you?

Who you calling extreme?

Today's first article:

"Where the extreme left and the extreme right meet, you'll find Ron Paul" - Merle Black

One should be careful in taking political commentators literally. As used in this context, extreme has nothing to do with the dictionary definition. Instead, it is merely a pejorative term, used to discredit anyone associated with it—in this case, Dr. Paul.

The ten term representative from Texas is attacked, not because of his views per se, but because such views are, ispo facto, extreme. Tantamount to the ad hominen attack, branding someone as extreme is a useful way to discredit a political opponent, and it is of especial value to the neocons and their cronies. The Paul campaign highlights many things; no doubt his insistence on a “humble foreign policy” sits well with the growing majority of Americans tired of playing Empire. But Paul's consistently conservative fiscal policy hammers home another point: the Republican Party no longer cares for limited government. Dick Cheney once remarked that “deficits don't matter”, and the republican candidates for Presidency—Paul excepted—believe him. Many of the talking heads insist that we must find “the next Reagan”. It bears mentioning that if he did not always deliver on his promises, at least Ronald Reagan believed in small government conservatism. There will be no more Ronald Reagans in a party which has forsaken his ideas.

Castigating Paul as an extremist allows pundits to deflect criticism from their dereliction of duty to the true conservative cause: shrinking the size and scope of the government. Ignoring—for the moment—Paul's foreign policy of non-interventionism, it remains to be seen why fighting the Islamo-bad-guys in the Middle East should preclude trimming the size of the government behemoth. Not for nothing did Randolph Bourne conclude that “war is the health of the state”; still, if defense appropriations must increase, why must discretionary spending? Waging aggressive wars does not—or should not—depend on bridges to nowhere, educational bills to further the enstupidation of the nation's children, or general governmental generosity with the taxpayer's money. Ron Paul's fiscal policies reveal the republican field of presidential candidates to be fake conservatives; hence he must be maligned.

There are alternatives to the extreme theme. Any pejorative adjective will do; the point of the exercise is not to point out the flaws in Paul's reasoning: it is to defame him so that reasoning becomes unnecessary. Listen to Mona Charen of National Review: “Ron Paul is unserious. Suggesting that you will eliminate the IRS, the CIA, the FBI and other government agencies within weeks of taking office is ridiculous. These are bumper stickers, not serious reform proposals.” Instead, we must tolerate serious candidates like Rudy Giuliani, who propose to do nothing about the size of the government, but do swear to win the War on Terror. How eminently serious of him to promise to defeat an idea!

Speaking of Giuliani, the game works well in regards to foreign policy, too. Promising that one will not tolerate a nuclear Iran is a sign of seriousness, and, apparently, moderation. The fact that technological monopoly is impossible to retain in perpetuity is, evidently, a thought best left to unserious minds. Meanwhile, advocating a return to the foreign policy of the Founders, saying that we ought to mind our own business—this is extreme. Refusing to remove the nuclear option from the table is a sign of moderation; promising restraint, a sign of extremism.

Ron Paul and his growing band of supporters—he's polling at eight percent in New Hampshire—disagree. Bankrupting the country through aggressive wars, suspending habeas corpus, running massive deficits and ruining the currency, threatening countries which haven't attacked us—these are signs of extremism. But in the Orwellian world we now live in, black is white, up is down, extreme is the new moderate; and warmongers are more fit for the presidency than kindly pediatricians with the sorts of unserious ideas that just might save this country from total disaster.

As English Lay Dying

Today's second article:

Although he is a sometimes a bit of a crank, Fred Reed is a wonderful writer. In a column bemoaning the decline of the English language, he remarks, “Good English… depends on a cultivated elite to preserve it. A pride in language is needed to prevent degradation from seeping upward from the lower classes, and only careful schooling instills the fine distinctions that make the difference between the literate and those who recognize words vaguely, like half-forgotten relatives.”

Few of us receive such schooling. We at Tech do not even have an English department. The dearth of good writing, especially on this campus, isn’t exactly news. With this in mind, a friend and I decided to spend this semester discussing The Lode on our weekly radio show. For those interested—shameless plug—our show runs from 12-2pm on Fridays on 91.9 WMTU FM Houghton.

We discovered that if you lowered your standards, the campus paper isn’t so bad. There’s nothing really resembling good writing, but most articles manage to express themselves in something akin to English. Sure, subjects and verbs don’t always match up, and prepositions are occasionally AWOL, but how much can really be demanded from a bunch of college students in present day America? One in four adults didn’t read a single book last year. Judging from the rubbish atop the New York Times bestseller’s list, those of us who do manage to stumble through a book or two have terrible taste.

There's really no excuse for such intellectual indifference. Never before in human history have we had such tremendous access to information. Most works that have been out of print for seventy years or more—stupid, draconian copyright laws—are available for free on the Internet. Classics are readily available for a few dollars at any used bookstore.

It would be an overstatement to conclude that I am a good writer, but I am a competent one. During my waning weeks at Tech, the only advice I can offer to my fellow scribblers is to do what I have done. First, voraciously devour books of all kinds, especially the classics. Second, write often, revise, and write some more. To paraphrase Hunter S. Thompson completely out of context, this has always worked for me.

But this may not be enough. The will to write is not always concomitant with the ability to do so. While almost everyone wants to write, most people can’t. Meanwhile, the degradation of the language continues apace. Writers who delve deep to discover the true meanings of words, so as to use them correctly, will find that the populace is incapable of appreciating such subtleties. A slouching toward Idiocracy we go.

It is at once a relief and a disappointment that the problems faced by expand beyond the Keweenaw. On one hand, how can a handful of students, mired in a culture whose language is in precipitous decline, be expected to speak and write like their ancestors? On the other, if The Lode is representative of the best Tech can offer in the way of writers, how long until the newspaper succumbs to post-literate society and ceases to be entirely?

I don’t offer any solutions. Lowering one’s standards only perpetuates the problem, but there doesn’t seem to be an alternative. How can one write well if one cannot differentiate between good and bad writing?

The meanings of words in a dead language are forever fixed, and the unwashed masses can do nothing to degenerate them. Worse than dead, English is dying. It had a good run.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Back to the Dark Ages

I've never found the hysteria about global warming to be convincing. But if the science is sketchy, the methods to reverse the trends are doubly so. And, of course, such methods are idiotic, which means only the government would be stupid enough to insist upon enacting them.

The scare over global warming, and our politicians' response to it, is becoming ever more bizarre. On the one hand we have the United Nation's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change coming up with yet another of its notoriously politicised reports, hyping up the scare by claiming that world surface temperatures have been higher in 11 of the past 12 years (1995-2006) than ever previously recorded.

This carefully ignores the latest US satellite figures showing temperatures having fallen since 1998, declining in 2007 to a 1983 level - not to mention the newly revised figures for US surface temperatures showing that the 1930s had four of the 10 warmest years of the past century, with the hottest year of all being not 1998, as was previously claimed, but 1934.

I keep hearing that the science has settled this: the globe is warming. No one, I am told, doubts the facts; we only differ in what drastic actions we must take to prevent certain doom. Then I read something like the above, and wonder if the so-called scientists have their so-called facts straight.

Look, for all I know, the above data could be rubbish. But so could all of the data that the global warming crowd likes to cite. I'm agnostic about whether or not the the earth is warming; but I'm downright skeptical when I'm told that the internal combustion engine--and by extension human beings, especially those darn Westerners--which has been around for about a century, has caused chaos on a four and a half billion year old planet.

As always, my libertarian blood begins to boil when the government gets involved. The EU, the prototype for the North American Union, is enacting some downright draconian measures. If all goes well, the economy will grind to a halt, and all the human beings will starve to death. After all, humans are bad for the planet.

Few people have yet really taken on board the mind-blowing scale of all the "planet-saving" measures to which we are now committed by the European Union.

By 2020 we will have to generate 20 per cent of our electricity from "renewables". At present the figure is four per cent (most of it generated by hydro-electric schemes and methane gas from landfill)...

Another EU directive commits us to deriving 10 per cent of our transport fuel from "biofuels" by 2020. This would take up pretty well all the farmland we currently use to grow food (at a time when world grain prices have doubled in six months and we are already face a global food shortage).

Then by 2009, thanks to a mad gesture by Mr Blair and his EU colleagues last March, we also face the prospect of a total ban on incandescent light bulbs.

The author, Christopher Booker, concludes:

This year will be remembered for two things.

First, it was the year when the scientific data showed that the cosmic scare over global warming may well turn out to be just that - yet another vastly inflated scare.

Second, it was the year when the hysteria generated by all the bogus science behind this scare finally drove those who rule over us, including Gordon "Plastic Bags" Brown, wholly out of their wits.

Ideally, we would sit back and watch the EU. If these measures somehow don't manage to drive their economy into the ground, we can let one or two of our crazy states follow. Of course, since we haven't managed to learn anything from their senseless immigration policies and their embrace of feminism and the culture of death--or at least no more babies--it's unlikely we'll learn anything here. If anyone writes the Decline and Fall of the American Republic, I hope they highlight all of the times we willingly brought about our own death.