Rants and Raves

Opinion, commentary, reviews of books, movies, cultural trends, and raising kids in this day and age.

Thursday, January 31, 2008

We're here!

Moved into the house last week. We're still in let's-go-out-and-find-ways-to-spend-money-rather-than-unpack mode though.

On this particular morning it's getting a new battery installed in the car. When the temp hit zero, it was just too much for the old one to turn the engine over fast enough.

We took the kids to the library the other day and when my wife spoke Polish to them a charming lady with a Ukrainian accent and a child a little older than our daughter came up and said, "Are you Polish?"

Then said to her husband, "Honey this was the lady I told you I heard about."

Then turned to Monika and said, "It's a small town, you'll get used to it."

Now this is the funny thing that occurs to me; my wife is a big city girl from Warsaw. She's having the small town experience for the first time in America.

I on the other hand, have had the small town experience before - in Poland.

This is going to be interesting.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

In case you're wondering...

In case you're wondering where I am and why y'all hadn't heard from me - I'm on the road.

We're headed north in a truck and probably not logging on for a while.

See ya!

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Second Guessing History: This Lincoln Garbage, Part 2

Part 2: Don't Call Me No Goddam Yankee!

“Free men are aware of the imperfections inherent in human affairs, and they are willing to fight and die for that which is not perfect. They know that basic human problems can have no final solutions, that our freedom, justice, equality, and so on are far from absolute, that the good life is compounded of half measures, compromises, lesser evils, and gropings toward the perfect. The rejection of approximations and the insistence on absolutes are the manifestations of a nihilism that loathes freedom, tolerance and equity.”

Eric Hoffer

On the question of the Civil War and Emancipation, some indignantly ask, "How do you explain that every other country in the Western Hemisphere abolished slavery without a war?" (They usually forget to mention Haiti.)

I don’t have to explain it. It’s not true.

What destroyed slavery throughout the western hemisphere wasn’t a full-scale land war but a prolonged, unglamorous campaign against the slave trade fought largely on the high seas by the US and Royal navies. A campaign that included intercepting and seizing ships sailing under foreign flags and amphibious assaults against slave trading ports on the African coast.

When Great Britain abolished slavery, were Jamaica or Barbados in a position to resist the overwhelming might of the British Empire? Only in America were the opposing forces equally matched enough to make war an attractive possibility.

(And by the way, navy men get rather irritated when you describe what they do as “not war”.)

And now that some of you are darkly muttering “Goddam Yankee” (I’m not) I’m going to defend the South. With the example of Haiti we come to the crux of why the South was so reluctant to abolish slavery, quite apart from free labor and the ability to discretely keep harems in a nominally Christian and monogamous land.

The example of Haiti was horrendous. The first country in the hemisphere to follow the lead of America and throw off its colonial yoke, resulted in ruin for almost every trace of culture and civilization in the country and the slaughter or exile of the entire White population. Haiti is to this day a basket case, even as Latin American countries go and shows no sign of getting any better in the near future.

This is what the South feared would be the result of universal manumission. And they had every right to, there were no examples to the contrary and in some areas slaves outnumbered whites as much as five to one.

But it wasn’t so bad after all, compared to what it might have been.

“The relations of the Southern people with the Negro are close and cordial. We remember with what fidelity for four years he guarded our defenseless women and children, whose husbands and fathers were fighting against his freedom. To his eternal credit be it said that whenever he struck a blow for his own liberty he fought in open battle, and when at last he raised his black and humble hands that the shackles might be struck off, those hands were innocent of wrong against his helpless charges, and worthy to be taken in loving grasp by every man who honors loyalty and devotion.” (Grady, loc. Cit)

Notice, once you get past irritation at the patronizing tone, the gallantry of that acknowledgement. A Southerner speaking to a Yankee audience of his just pride in the recovery of the South from an incredible devastation and he felt himself obliged to give credit to the contributions of the former slaves.

This was the kind of gallantry shown by Robert E. Lee, who Winston Churchill, with good reason called, “one of the noblest Americans who ever lived”.

In his later years, when Lee was a professor at Washington (now Washington and Lee) University, during the presidential campaign of Ulysses S Grant a Southern professor spoke scathingly of General Grant. Lee turned to him and said, “Sir, if you ever presume to speak disrespectfully of General Grant in my presence again, either you or I will immediately sever all connection with this university!”

In what is I hope a like spirit, as one proud of his Southern heritage, I say to those who compare Abraham Lincoln to Adolf Hitler, “Sir, you are no gentleman!”

And now we get to the point alluded to in the quotes at the beginning. What does all this say about us?

Libertarians appear to have problems with ambiguity. There are many among us who demand unambiguously good solutions to problems of this magnitude.

Sorry, you can’t have them.

The result of the war was that liberty was achieved for many – and diminished for others. The fatal compromise of the Constitution was resolved, and violence done to principles of organization that many of us hold dear. A tremendous evil was abolished, and evil precedents set in doing so. A slaveholding civilization was destroyed, and with it much that was gracious, cultured and noble in the finest sense of the word.

You could have done it differently? You think an evil of this magnitude could be done away with without a tremendous and lasting cost?

What a pity you weren’t in charge! Perhaps when you are, you’ll consent to lead us all to the Promised Land.

(Without an appreciation for ambiguity there can be no sense of tragic irony. I sometimes wonder if this is why Ayn Rand for me, just maddeningly misses being great literature. She’s a great technician with the English language, remarkable in one who learned it as a second language, but what is meant to be tragic in her work comes across as pathos and she appears to have no sense of humor - closely related to, and derived from a sense of tragedy.)

A point proceeding from this: libertarians often seem to have trouble with the idea of trade-offs (also a notable problem with the Looney Left).

Liberty can be broadened (extended to more people) or deepened (more liberty within a fixed group of people). Historically the advance of liberty often occurs when a segment of society, usually an aristocracy or a rising middle class, wrested a greater share of it (i.e. deepened liberty) from the center of power (e.g. a monarchic state or established church) without intending to spread it outside their own class, for example, the Magna Charta, Declaration of Arbroath or indeed the Declaration of Independence.

But once the justification for it was explicitly stated, it could not be denied that it applied to all individuals. As an old black blues man once put it, “Don’t tell me Thomas Jefferson was a slave owner! He wrote the Declaration of Independence!”

What many libertarians just can’t seem to deal with is the fact that gains in one area must often proceed at the expense of another. Better get used to it, I believe it’s called “Economics”.

Moreover, libertarians seem to have a problem with the fact that liberty must often be advanced by military force – some in fact deny that it ever can be. However note that the claims to liberty made in all of the aforementioned documents were furthered by force or the threat of it.

Often libertarians lionize military actions far enough away in time or space to obscure the gritty realities of armed conflict, or they approve of warfare when conducted by partisans and irregulars but disapprove when conducted by anybody in a uniform. The American Revolution meets with universal approval, and almost no other war in our history.

Sorry folks, tyranny is seldom talked to death, it’s too much fun being a tyrant.

Another motive seems to stem from the Romanticism of Heroic Failure. There is something dreadfully appealing about this. Among other things a Lost Cause will never win and disappoint you. (Remember the Armenians? Nobody thought they’d ever get their country back.) You don’t have to worry about the unromantic details of what you are going to do with your victory.

Listen, I’m a Celt by heritage and I absorbed the Romanticism of Heroic Failure in the songs, stories and poetry I was raised on. You buy the beer and I’ll sing and recite poetry from every lost battle and uprising in Ireland and Scotland over the last eight hundred years*. And you know what? I’m sick of it! Screw heroic failure, I want to win!

Libertarians and libertarian-leaning scholars have made tremendous intellectual contributions to historical research, economics and legal theory but aren’t strongly represented among career military personnel. What we do have is a lot of theorizing from people without experience in physicaly violent, as opposed to verbal/intellectlual conflict. It’s only human to stress the importance of your own field of expertise and downplay that of others.

Since war is a special case of the use of political power, it would seem that many libertarians have trouble dealing with the use of power in general. Some deny that there is any rightful use of power (beyond immediate self-defense) and would abolish it entirely.

Sorry, that doesn’t happen in the real world, the desire for power is too much a part of human nature. And here I’m going to really offend some people but, if you don’t understand power you don’t understand liberty either.

In fact, I’d have to say that they’ve lost sight of the crucial insight of the Founding Fathers; that to secure a reasonably free and just political order you must work with human nature, not against it.

When George Washington made that incredibly honest and perceptive remark, “Government is not reason, it is not persuasion, it is not eloquence… it is force. And like fire, it is a dangerous servant and a terrible master”** he was not suggesting that we do away with either fire or political power. The radical idea was that power should be controlled by being limited, distributed and balanced.

How limited, distributed and balanced is a whole study in itself, and there do not appear to be any final solutions. Balance, as any athlete can tell you, is dynamic not static. After Lincoln the limits, distribution and balance were different, but the principle was still intact.

You don’t think the Fed should ever interfere in the internal affairs of the states?

Not even when they are dispossessing Indians of treaty lands inside their boundaries?

Not when a territory is trying to secede from the United States for the purpose of establishing a despotic theocracy?

Not when black people can’t get justice because the local police forces are controlled by the Ku Klux Klan?

The problem of slavery was one on which action had been delayed to the point where something finally had to be done, by which time a peaceful resolution was impossible.

“Tyranny, like Hell, is not easily conquered.” Sometimes it cannot be simply talked to death. And since talk is what they're best at, this appears to offend the delicate sensibilities of some libertarians.

Next: Why No Goddam Yankee Peckerhead is Every Going to Make Me Ashamed of Being Southern

*OK, just this once for free. (Think lachrymose bagpipe music in the background and no foolin' my voice is pretty good for this kind of thing.)

Dool and wae for the order
Sent our lads to the border.
The English for aince by guile won the day.
The flowers o' the forest,
That fought aye the foremost,
The pride of our land lie caud in the clay.

**When I first quoted Washington to my wife, she said "Why can't anybody write like that anymore?" Perhaps that's why she consented to naming our first child "Jerzy Waszyngton Browne."

Second Guessing History: This Lincoln Garbage, Part 1

Note: Well, it's happened again. Some libertarians are again wailing on the most terrible president in American history - Abraham Lincoln.

The last time this argument raged I wrote the following for Liberty magazine. However, by the time I submitted it everyone was heartily sick of it, so it went into cold storage for the next time. So-o-o-o-o, here we go again.

“The difference between ignorant and educated people is that the latter know more facts. But this has nothing to do with whether they are stupid or intelligent. The difference between stupid and intelligent people – and this is true whether or not they are well-educated – is that intelligent people can handle subtlety. They are not baffled by ambiguous or even contradictory situations – in fact, they expect them and are apt to become suspicious when things seem overly straightforward.”
Neal Stephenson “The Diamond Age”

Every time I think this current Civil War revisionism has about run its course, it seems to crop up again, much to my amusement, embarrassment and discomfort.

Amusing because I’m old enough to remember when in Libertarian circles, the historically minded would point to the prewar South as the closest thing to a functioning police state the US has ever had (so far), complete with networks of paid informers, interception of mail and internal passports for certain classes of people. And I remember when Ayn Rand pointed out that it was the Capitalist North that destroyed the slave-holding South.

Embarrassing because on this issue I’m not skewering strangers whose opinions I don’t care for, but some of my closest friends and most respected colleagues whose opinions matter to me, who have somehow bought into this bullshit.

And troubling because this intellectual fad is not just weirdly wrong-headed and eccentric, but seems to say some disturbing things about Libertarianism and libertarians at the core. I was going to write a whole different article about this, but then Timothy Sandefeur went and did it much better than I could have.

See: http://libertyunbound.com/archive/2002_07/sandefur-union.html

and: http://www.geocities.com/sande106/LibertyandUnion2.pdf

Since then I’ve thought on what this whole argument says about us, what it shows through the arguments presented and what one might speculate about motive – and I stress that talk about motive is always speculative.

The claim that the Civil War was “not about slavery” is just too weird to be taken seriously.

And how do I know that it was? Because they said so God damn it!

Yes, States Rights blah blah blah, yes the nature of the Constitutional Union di-dah di-dah, tariffs etc. But none of those issues was sufficient to go to war over and arguments about the authority of the Federal government to interfere in the internal affairs of the states were almost always about interfering in the “peculiar institution”.

(Yes, you did have principled individuals such as Robert E Lee, who detested slavery but thought their first loyalty was to their state, rather than the Union.)

This contention has been supported by a weird collection of irrelevancies.

An old friend wrote me, “Steve, I really think you ought to consider an economic explanation for the Civil War?”

Really? Gosh, Lincoln wiped out billions of dollars worth of personal property in the South with a stroke of a pen and it never occurred to me that the South’s objection might be just a teensy bit financially motivated.

Another pointed out that Lincoln had once defended a slaveholder in a law case involving his slave.

Oh whatever will this poor old world be forced to endure next? A lawyer taking the case of a client he may detest for money. Surely that doesn’t happen anymore?

“Only one in fifteen whites in the South owned slaves anyway.”

This is perhaps the most startlingly irrelevant fact of all. Surely what matters, is not the percentage of slave owners, but the percentage of slaves? From one eighth to one sixth of the population approximately; not a trivial figure.

Lincoln made racist remarks.

So what? People talk about racism as if it were always and everywhere the same thing. Could it be that a man might sincerely believe in the natural inferiority of a people, inherited or inculcated by circumstances, and still not believe it constitutes a legitimate reason to oppress them?

“You mean that whites are intellectually superior to blacks, and, therefore you have the right to enslave them? Take care again. By this rule, you are to be slave to the first man you meet, with an intellect superior to your own.” (Lincoln: 1854 in Lincoln, Selected Speeches and Writings: Vintage: 1992)

Or, “Suppose it is true, that the negro is inferior to the white, in the gifts of nature; is it not the exact reverse of justice that the white should, for that reason, take from the negro, any part of the little which has been given him?” (op. cit. 175)

As the first quote shows, Lincoln’s hostility towards slavery was long-establish and well known. If he equivocated, and a biographer as admiring as Carl Sandberg says Lincoln was without doubt “a trimmer”, it would seem that he concealed the extent of his plans against slavery until quite late in his career by claiming only to want to restrict it to the states where it was already legal, when he perhaps had plans to attack it in the heartland when the time was right.

“But Lincoln violated the Constitution!”

Perhaps he did, and it’s interesting that I’ve heard this from some of the same people that I’ve heard argue that the Constitution is a fraud because it was not ratified by the universal consent of the people. Or did Lincoln just settle a fatal ambiguity in the Constitution? At the point of a gun to be sure, but it damn sure had to be settled.

“Lincoln destroyed the principle of limited, local government.”

He certainly changed the idea forever, but though it might not seem so to you, America is still largely governed on a local level. Compare it to Europe where almost everything is decided on the national level. For example, we still don’t have a national uniformed police force.

And I have to ask, how “limited” is local government to a slave?

And by the way, how many of the admirers of local government have actually worked in one and seen how it operates close up? I spent twelve years of my working life in America as an employee of city government in the public utilities field (a nice term for garbage and sewage). Too often it answers the description of “grass roots tyranny” and is, unlike the Fed, near enough to take a personal interest in you.

Lincoln instituted a military draft, an income tax, suspended habeus corpus and a lot of things I don’t care for at all. In short, he wasn’t a strict Libertarian.

Thomas Jefferson advocated a vast public school network, a steeply graduated income tax and personally owned about 200 slaves. Do you want to kick him out of the pantheon of those who have contributed to liberty as well?

I don’t like the draft at all and some years back spent a lot of time and effort evading one. One could argue that a draft might not have been necessary if Lincoln had agreed to enlist and arm free blacks earlier. One thing private enterprise did to encourage enlistments was to offer free transport to impoverished young men in Europe to America, on condition that they join the Union army and pay for their transport with their enlistment bonus.

(That’s how a young man named Joseph Pulitzer came to America – except that he jumped ship in the harbor, enlisted and kept the bonus as the foundation of his fortune. Well, perhaps not every great fortune is founded on a crime...)

And at the end of the war when the situation was desperate enough in the South, it was suggested as a last-ditch strategy that they offer slaves their freedom in return for fighting for the Confederacy. It was rejected explicitly because it would have undermined the whole raison d’etre for the rebellion – in spite of being favored by Robert E. Lee. Instead they tried a draft.

“We understand that when Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, your victory was assured; for he then committed you to the cause of human liberty, against which the arms of man cannot prevail; while those of our statesmen who trusted to make slavery the corner-stone of the Confederacy doomed us to defeat as far as they could, committing us to a cause that reason could not defend or the sword maintain in the light of advancing civilization.” (The New South: Henry W Grady: 1886 in An American Primer; Daniel Boorstein ed., Meridian Classis: 1985)

"Lincoln had editors of copperhead newspapers arrested."

Yes, and I’m not comfortable with that either. But, is this really a free press issue? Or is this a category error of the “shouting fire in a crowded theater” kind? (i.e. Often cited as a free speech issue when it is really an implied contract issue.)

If you are in a fight for your life and someone stands up and yells, “I’m on THEIR side!” how do you treat them? I suspect that this issue is about to become relevant again.

And bottom line, when the South was on the ropes, they offered to rejoin the Union if it would drop the demand for emancipation.

Lincoln replied, “I should be damned in time, and for all eternity, were I to return to bondage the Black warriors who have so nobly served our cause.”

“Lincoln should have let the South secede and slavery would have died out anyway.”

And exactly how do you know this? If slavery was uneconomical, then why weren’t plantations going broke right and left? An institution may be harmful to the economy of a nation but damned good business for the few individuals who benefit from it – as we all know to our sorrow today from the politics of special interest groups.

Southerners in my own family have argued that Lincoln should have just let the South secede, and it’s tempting to think that we might have avoided that terrible war by doing so. And then what? Let Northern textile mills compete with Britain to buy Southern cotton and piously wash their hands of the issue that they were profiting from the labor of slaves?

And are you so sure there wouldn’t have been a war anyway, perhaps after the South had had enough time to build a munitions industry of their own? There were any number of reasons to expect a war, the issue of who was going to annex the western territories for example.

Do you think a Confederacy would have been content to let the Union absorb all of the western lands? A plantation/ latifundia economy always needs more land. Estates are passed down entire in line of primogeniture to maintain the family fortune intact, younger sons must get land of their own if they can. And estates had to move from time to time because of soil exhaustion due to cash monocropping.

Some have suggested that a free Union would help slaves escape across the border after repealing the Fugitive Slave Act and overturning the Dred Scott Decision.

And you think the South would have stood still for that? The border between the slave and free states was already a hotbed of contention, with slave catchers raiding across the border to recover escaped slaves, kidnap free Blacks and even people who were not black but simply dark complected enough to be explained as mustees or mustifinos.

A close friend says, “Lincoln let 600,000 Americans die.”

Lincoln didn’t let 600,000 Americans die, they were at each other’s throats and it’s difficult to see how anybody could have keep them apart.

And bottom line - the South fired the first shot. It's amazing how often that goes unmentioned amid charges of "Northern aggression."

Another libertarian author taxes the Federal government with keeping an army of occupation in the South for twelve years after the war ended.

That it did – and after it removed that army of occupation (as a result of a political bargain when one side needed the Southern votes badly enough) the Ku Klux Klan owned the night.

The Klan then set about to totally reverse any strides towards full citizenship freedmen had made and prevent the rise of a Black middle and professional class by murder and intimidation.

Next: Part 2: Don't Call Me No Goddam Yankee!

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

And some more good watches

In a comment to my post "Free Speech: Where's the Outrage?" blog friend Paardestaart says that over at Little Green Footballs you can see "Ezra Levant from Western Standard is lecturing the Canadian Human Rights commission who summoned him to appear for a hearing and to explain why he placed 'the cartoons' in his magazine..The way he tells her that she is out of line, and that he deeply resents being summoned to a kangaroo court is priceless, and a lesson to all of us, who seem to have forgotten our basic rights as free westerners.."

Go here http://littlegreenfootballs.com/weblog/?entry=28582_Outrage_of_the_Week-_Canadian_Publisher_Persecuted_for_Mindcrime&only

It's three YouTube videos and it's good. Levant sticks up for his right as a free man to say and publish what he pleases eloquently, articulately and forcefully.

Thanks friend. Could you tell us a little more about yourself? As much as you feel comfortable with. The name sounds Dutch (?) Is it a nomme du guerre meaning..?

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

A couple of good watches

I've recently come across two good, thought-provoking presentations.

One is from the Heritage Foundation archive of their noon lecture series.

Evan Sayet, a comedian, writer and former liberal talks about Regurgitating the Apple: How Modern Liberals "Think". http://www.heritage.org/Press/Events/ev030507a.cfm

Sayet begins with a story about a friend who continually says, "I hate my wife."

He reacts by thinking, "Oh of course he doesn't really hate his wife" until one day they're having lunch together and he sees his friend's wife getting mugged in the parking lot.

"Hey let's do something!"

"Nah, I hate her."

And then he realizes, "He really hates his wife!"

Likewise, after the post-9/11 reactions from the Left he realized, "My God, they really do hate America!"

This is his notion about why.

Now over here http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=437008356106616816
you can find Dr. David Brin's Beyond Belief: Enlightenment 2.0

There is a lot where I disagree with Dr. Brin, but damn he makes you think! And, last I looked disagree is what free men do.

Brin looks at the Enlightenment project - and how unique it is in the history of the human race.

He points out that everyone in every previous civilization has run into the problem of the impossibility of perfect knowlege. You can't perfectly know the chair you're sitting on (for example.)

But here's where Western civilization differs from all previous approaches: eveyone else reacted to this realization by - giving up.

Only in the Enlightenment project did men start to say, "OK, we can't ever have perfect knowlege, but we can keep poking away at it, learning more about it, and most importantly we can say a lot about what it's NOT."

Great stuff. Now get a cup of coffee because they are both about a half-hour.

Nota: I've written a fair amount about my own notions as to why so many intellectuals in this country seem to loathe it.







Monday, January 14, 2008

Uncomfortable Thoughts: Empire part 2

OK, in spite of the common insult, we're not an empire. (And see the comment to part 1.)

But what if...

-weapons of mass distruction became cheap and easy to manufacture by any moderately industrialized country? Say, Zimbabwe, Columbia (the part ruled by FARC), Ivory Coast? What if the only way seriously crazy regimes could be prevented from doing so was by occupying them for the foreseeable future? What if they become affordable by the bigger street gangs?

-large areas of the world became so chaotic that no industry or resource extraction could occur until some kind of order was restored?

-large-scale mass murders, too large for the rest of the world to ignore (say, on the tens of millions scale) start to occur in an area of strategic importance to us? Or even in one that isn't. Point being, what if the only way to prevent genocide is the permanent occupation of the area?

-the entire rest of the world outside of North America goes to hell in a handbasket? I mean no law, no cops, no currency etc. Civilization reverts to its default state - feudalism.

I don't like the idea of the US becoming an empire. We've had this great little experiment going to see how far we could push the envelope of liberty and still maintain a reasonably orderly society. (And my definition of "reasonably orderly" is pretty loose.) I don't want us to call it off now.

But I can foresee circumstances, some of them at least fairly likely, that might mean that we'd have little alternative than to occupy and govern significant areas of territory not assimilated into the polity and culture of the US.

One final anecdote:

Some years back I was doing some work for the Polish Academy of Science. A colleague there was a paleobiologist who I had many stimulating conversations with. The last time I spoke to him he did manage to shock me speechless when he suggested that the US should create an empire, "and then we (the Eastern Europeans) could be Americans junior class, something like the late Roman/Byzantine empire did with grades of citizenship."

Now I think the idea of diferentiated and ranked citizenship goes against the whole American idea, but I actually wonder how much of the world would go for it? Forget anti-American rhetoric - two-thirds of the people who are trying for a permanent change of address every year are trying to come here.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Uncomfortable Thoughts: What if empire is the only choice we have?

Note: see here http://rantsand.blogspot.com/2007/12/new-blog-feature-uncomfortable-thoughts.html for the rules and disclaimer of this blog feature.

In a previous post I argued that the United States, in spite of the "imperialist" insult, is not an empire by the accepted definition. http://rantsand.blogspot.com/2007/12/new-blog-feature-uncomfortable-thoughts.html

"Webster’s revised unabridged dictionary (© 1996, 1998 MICRA Inc.) defines empire as:

n 1: the domain ruled by an emperor or empress 2: a group of countries under a single authority; "the British empire" 3: a monarchy with an emperor as head of state 4: a group of diverse companies under common ownership and run as a single organization
and imperialism:
n 1: a policy of extending your rule over foreign countries 2: a political orientation that advocates imperial interests 3: any instance of aggressive extension of authority.

"By the standard definition, the US is not an empire. It is neither a monarchy nor is it a group of countries, but a single country with a recognized common culture whose legislators are chosen from every region of the country without any legal qualifications of ethnicity, religion or even native birth. By the second definition of empire (and ignoring the pejorative connotations of the word) there are only two countries of any size in the world today that match the definition: Russia and India.

"As for creating an empire, after an initial period of expansion into almost empty territory[1], the US appears to have reached the limit of its territorial enlargement, the last being a few island possessions taken from the Empire of Japan at the end of WWII. And in these cases, the US grants a huge measure of local autonomy (for example the local laws of Guam are not subject to judicial review by the Supreme Court) and has made it plain that they can have complete independence any time they ask for it."

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Another Example of How Weird It's Gotten

This is from Robert Novak's column http://www.townhall.com/columnists/RobertDNovak/2008/01/12/women_vs_oprah


The politically potent presidential endorsement of Sen. Barack Obama by 60,000-member Local 226 of the Culinary Workers in Nevada, announced just after his defeat in the New Hampshire primary, was vigorously opposed by union members supporting Sen. Hillary Clinton.

Obama had lagged behind Clinton and John Edwards in winning labor support, but the Culinary Workers may be the biggest union plum. This endorsement could swing the Nevada Democratic caucuses Jan. 19 to Obama, though the state's party establishment supports Clinton. Backing for her by Rep. Shelley Berkley, who previously said she would stay neutral, was unveiled immediately after the Culinary Workers acted.

So what the hell is the Culinary Workers Union?

According to the website of local 226 http://www.culinaryunion226.org/about.asp

Culinary members work at casinos up and down the Las Vegas Strip as well as in downtown Las Vegas. Culinary members also work in food service outlets at McCarran International Airport and Valley Hospital, industrial laundries throughout the Las Vegas valley, and casinos in Reno. Members of the Culinary Union work in a wide range of job classifications including cocktails, bell department, kitchen workers, cooks, housekeepers, porters, and many more.

Hey I guess I've been a Culinary Worker. In another life I was a waiter, barter and maitre'd in a French restaurant.

Now the number of people in this country who have waited tables at one time or another must be quite large. It's a popular student job for example. The lack of such a pool of waiters is one of the things you noticed in the old communist bloc after the changes.

Getting stuck in it as a lifelong profession has got to suck though. But even here there's a ladder of sorts. There are waiters in fancy restaurants in the big cities pulling in big bucks, and I remember hearing that waiters in the tourist season in Newport, Rhode Island (where I did some growing up) sometimes live in the Carribean islands in the off-season.

But what I want to know is, exactly what the heck is political about being a food service worker? Why should an organization representing culinary workers even have to have an official position on who's going to be president? Shouldn't they be concerned with negotiating benefits and salary from the big players in Vegas?

The further socialization of the economy, that's what.

Culinary 226 members continue to fight for free health care, a secure retirement, owning a home and sending their kids to college. The Union remains strong with a growing membership and thousands of active union members.

I see now - they want these things, and the casinos and restaurants don't want to pay for them. So.... make the rest of us pay for them!

Oh, and then call it "free."

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Is this for real?

Have a look at this from CNN, dated the 9th. http://www.cnn.com/2008/POLITICS/01/09/voter.id/

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A conservative majority of the Supreme Court appeared ready Wednesday to support an Indiana law requiring voters to show photo identification, despite concerns that it could deprive thousands of people of their right to vote.

The Supreme Court is reviewing an Indiana law that requires voters to show a photo ID.

At issue is whether state laws designed to stem voter fraud would disenfranchise large numbers of Americans who might lack proper identification -- many of them elderly, poor or minority voters.

In what has become a highly partisan legal and political fight, the justices wrestled with a balancing test of sorts to ensure both state and individual interests were addressed.
Civil rights activists and the state Democratic Party complain Indiana's law is the most restrictive in the nation.

OK now - do you see what I see in this?

Photo ID to vote? What's the big deal? Who doesn't have a photo ID in this country today?

For God's sake you need photo ID to cash a check! (And if you're hip enough to use an ATM you are certainly competent to get a photo ID somewhere.)

Of course, it's been gleefully pointed out that you need photo ID to vote in Mexico, and my wife informs me that you need it in Poland as well. (That probably means the rest of Europe too.)

And what's this "A conservative majority of the Supreme Court" and "highly partisan legal and political fight" thing? How is this a conservative or liberal issue? It's procedure, not policy!

Does anyone else see what seems perfectly plain about this case or am I paranoid?

This is a blatant attempt to keep it easy to commit vote fraud.

My voter ID doesn't have a picture, so I have to show a photo. If I weren't who I said I was - oh say, if I were not the person named, not a citizen, or registered in two places - then I'd have to commit not one, but two major felonies to vote. One by voting where I wasn't entitled to, and two by obtaining and using fake ID - and thereby leaving a photo trail of evidence.


If I were me in those circumstances, I'd want to cut a deal with the prosecutor to lead him to the higher-ups in the scam. Uh-oh

Makes one wonder what might have been going on till now...

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Free Speech: Where's the Outrage?

*I reviewed Mark Steyn's America Alone here: http://rantsand.blogspot.com/2006/12/review-america-alone.html

If you go to Mark steyn's web site here: http://www.marksteyn.com/ you'll see that he, and MACLEAN'S, a Canadian mag he publishes in, are in a spot of legal bother.

Steyn says:

The Canadian Islamic Congress and a handful of Osgoode Hall law students have complained about the article in Maclean's to (at last count) three of Canada's many "human rights" commissions, two of which have agreed to hear the "case." It would be nice to report that the third sent the plaintiffs away with a flea in their ears saying that in a free society it's no business of the state to regulate the content of privately owned magazines. Alas, I gather it's only bureaucratic torpor that has temporarily delayed the province of Ontario's en­­thusiastic leap upon the bandwagon. These students are not cited in the offending article. Canadian Muslims are not the subject of the piece. Indeed, Canada is not mentioned at all, except en passant. Yet Canada's "human rights" commissions have accepted the premise of the Canadian Islamic Congress--that the article potentially breaches these students' "human rights."

Since the CIC launched its complaint, I've been asked by various correspondents what my defence is. My defence is I shouldn't have to have a defence. The "plaintiffs" are not complaining that the article is false, or libellous, or seditious, for all of which there would be appropriate legal remedy. Their complaint is essentially emotional: it "offended" them. And as offensiveness is in the eye of the of­­fended, there's not a lot I can do about that. (Emphasis added.)

In case it matters, and it shouldn't, what the CIC found offensive was a remark that "The number of Muslims is expanding like mosquitoes" - which was in fact a quote from prominent Scandinavian Muslim, Mullah Krekar, in an interview with a Norwegian newspaper.

In context, what Mullah Krekar said was, "We're the ones who will change you . . . Just look at the development within Europe, where the number of Muslims is expanding like mosquitoes. Every western woman in the EU is producing an average of 1.4 children. Every Muslim woman in the same countries is producing 3.5 children."

I haven't seen the CIC's side of the argument - I don't think there is one. Plain and simple, the Canadian Islamic Congress is trying to surpress the free speech of Canadian citizens because they find what they say to be inconvenient for their agenda.

There way of thinking justifies this, ours considers it in no way justified. There can be no argument or compromise in this, opinion is either free, or it isn't.

The fact that a Canadian government body has even agreed to hear this case is a sign that they are on the defensive.

Now what I'm wondering about is, where's the outrage?

I don't mean to sound conspiratorial about this, I'm honestly puzzled.

Of course the Multi-culti Left part of the media is prone to downplay such things, but this isn't getting much attention among conservatives and libertarians either. So far I've only found it on National Review Online and Steyn's own site.

Why isn't Bill O'Reilly screaming his his head off about it, and why aren't the libertarians?

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Intellectual Sports Teams

Yesterday my wife and I were having Ceasar burgers in a great local burger joint.

Like a lot of burger joints, this had sports memorabilia on the walls. In this case team jerseys from the local high schools. You know, Norman Tigers, North Norman Wolves, etc. The kind of animal totems the human race has been using since we actually hunted - and were hunted by, these animals.

We also used the names of Indian tribes and great chiefs, but nowadays that's considered "demeaning." (Though nobody has yet objected to the stereotypical Paddy of Notre Dame's "Fighting Irish.")

I personally think that identification with the Indian virtues of courage and stoic indifference to discomfort are a great example for youth (we'll ignore for the purpose of the example, murder, mutilation and theft as manly recreation and ritual torture of captives), but it's their call.

So I said that we ought to have intellectual names for sports teams. The anti-intellectualism of jock culture is an embarrassment to this country. (My wife's country doesn't have academic athletic teams.) How about "the Norman Nihilists"?

My wife was captivated by the idea and wouldn't let it go. We played the game in the restaurant, and that evening she took all the ideas we'd come up with and added bunches of new ones with the help of an Oklahoma map.

Guidelines: it has to use the name of a state town, should ideally be alliterative (or rhyme) and represent a philosophical/religious position. So how about...

The Ardmore Atheists

The Ada Aristotelians

The Edmond Epistemologists

The Elk City Esthetes

The Harrah Hedonists

The Newalla Gnostics

The Norman Nihilists

The Poteau Pragmatists

The Purcell Pluralists

The Seminole Skeptics

The Stillwater Stoics

The Rush Springs Radicals

The Tallequah Thomists

The Ponca City Positivists

The Tulsa Totalitarians ("We'll crush your team!")

The Perkins Platonists

The Prague Postmodernists

The Muskogee Monists

The Duncan Deconstructionists

The Enid Existentialists

The Sallisaw Sophists

The Eufala Epicureans

The Shawnee Scholastics

The Marietta Materialists

The Noble Naturalists

The Sayre Cynics

and of course... The Okemah Objectivists

So try this game at home in your state. And how about a different theme for teams? How about religion, literature or art?

My wife's already started...

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Uncomfortable Thoughts: What if they're both right?

See intro: http://rantsand.blogspot.com/2007/12/new-blog-feature-uncomfortable-thoughts.html

If I had to summarize the broad outlines of the more thoughtful views of Left and Right concerning the modern bureaucratic welfare state, I'd say that...

The Leftist holds that the modern nation state and capitalist economy has dissolved extended family ties and social support networks to the point that the state must take on the responsibilities once held by family/clan for the care of the indigent, unemployed and unemployable, the insane, crippled and those temporarily disabled or disadvantages such as single parents etc, or else masses of the dispossessed will either destroy society in their chaotic rage or become mass movement fodder for a potential dictator. Or both.

The Rightist holds that when the state assumes the role of surrogate parent it reduces the citizen to a state of childlike dependence, lacking in ambition, responsibility and morality. Or one could put it even simpler; the welfare state makes people stupid, lazy, short-sighted and self-indulgent.

I tend to agree with the latter* - but it has occured to me that there is nothing mutually exclusive about the two positions.

What if they're both right?

A good deal of The Federalist is an extended argument against Montesquie's position that a republic can only function on a small scale. Now we have a still more-or-less republican form of government with a population that recently topped 300 million, so the argument would seem to have been settled.

But what if he was only wrong by an order of magnitude or so?

What if our nation has gotten so big that it can only be administered through a huge intrusive bureaucracy? What if it can't be administered as a free country at all for much longer?

Further speculation; what if it's not a matter of total population, but population density?

In 1910 there were exactly two automobiles in the state of Kansas. (They crashed.**)

When the number of vehicles on the road is so small, you don't really need a lot of traffic rules.

Likewise, if you live on a farm, you don't need as many rules about discharging firearms as you do if you live downtown.

Perhaps you've seen the maps of the Red and Blue states? And in even greater detail, the Red and Blue counties? The only factor that seems to stick out is - population density. Blue, high; Red, lower.

Scholars I've talked to about it want to find another explanation, because it just seems to pat. But maybe it really is just that. More people in a smaller area means more rules are needed.

But of course, there's a limit to how many rules, regulations and entitlements you can have and still have a productive economy with even minimally self-reliant citizens.

What if we're just running into the natural limits of the human race to organize itself in large numbers?

I told you this was going to be called Uncomfortable Thoughts.

Well, we'll figure out whether this is correct or not later. In the meantime I'm moving to a state the size of some of the bigger European countries, with a population of one of the only middling-sized cities, where the legislature convenes once every two years...


*Based on my experience of Saudi Arabia, where virtually the entire native population is on some kind of welfare, and one of the skeletons in my closet which I'm about to reveal. For two brief months I was a welfare bureaucrat. It was the only job I've ever had that routinely disturbed my sleep.

**I only know that much about the incident and it makes a nice story - but what I really suspect was that the only two auto owners in Kansas at that time were probably doing something consensual but stupid with them.