Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Studies Show That Fewer and Fewer Schools Are Being Named After Famous People--or People at All

Either we’ve lost confidence that particular men and women can be models of excellence, or the endless controversy any name engenders today is just not worth the trouble. This is surely equality run amok: Honoring is privileging or instrinsically inegalitarian. And even privileging members of our species over the indigenous birds, trees, and rivers is questionable. If Tocqueville is right, we’ll soon be stuck with thinking up various pantheistic ways of distinguishing one place from another, and that’ll be pretty darn hard.

Is Everyone Tired of the President?

Byron York reminds us that Bush might have been aiming at subtle statesmanship or the very opposite of demagoguery on immigration and with his Libby commutation. But his real achievement in both cases was to alienate himself from everyone. And whatever the facts on the ground may be, he still appears to be relatively clueless on what to do about Iraq. Throwing around a few vetoes probably won’t help him much at this point. I really want to say something good about or at least offer some good advice to a president who has displayed some admirable intentions. Can’t do it, at least right now. I’ll leave it up to you.

HRC’s faith

This NYT article offers an extended account of Hillary Rodham Clinton’s Methodist faith, which seems to focus on forgiveness and social action. The one Bible verse mentioned (the reference to James, "faith without works is dead") was a staple of the 2004 Kerry campaign. And the talk about forgiveness seems to come at the expense of talk of sinfulness and human limitations.

In other words, HRC is very much the candidate of a religious Left inclined mostly to challenge us to be more "generous" in our social policy. No surprises here.

Obama Supports Merit Pay in Front of NEA Audience . . .

. . . and lives to tell about it! Of course, that lump of coal came wrapped in the pretty paper of promised "across the board" pay raises.

Merit pay is a good idea. The problem is that Obama still wants the federal government to be involved in determining who is meritorious. He got applause for not wanting "testing" to determine merit. I would applaud that too. The testing is ridiculous. Republicans tend to favor it because it seems, on its face, to be a fair way to determine if our tax dollars are wisely spent. But here’s a real radical idea for Obama or any Republican who wants to get the NEA mad but really implement good: why not get the federal government entirely out of the business? Why not let communities, school boards, parents and principles decide which teachers deserve merit pay and which teachers deserve to be fired? Obama panders to the special interests while many Republicans seem to patronize.

Sixth Circuit Rules Against ACLU In Surveillance Case

The United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit ruled today that the ACLU and assorted petitioners who sought to challenge the Terrorist Surveillance Program could not demonstrate that they had standing (that is, the kind of requisite, demonstrable, concrete and particularlized injury necessary to meet the "case and controversy" requirement which permits court to hear a case under Article III of the Constitution), and ordered the case dismissed.

The full decision in available here,here, and news reports of the opinion are available here. Volokh’s contributors describe the case

here and here.

A quick read of today’s opinion suggests that it is well reasoned, particularly in light of the Supreme Court’s decisions of the past two terms which demonstrate that a majority of the justices still strictly defend standing as a constitutional limitation on the court’s authority. The only notable exception in which the Supreme Court chose to expand standing in recent terms was this year’s EPA case, where they did so to create a special new category for state petitioners--an exception that clearly would not apply in the context of the present national security case brought by private plaintiffs.

The Sixth Circuit’s decision is all the more welcome given the gross errors and plain misstatements of law made in Anna Diggs Taylor’s lower court opinion, in which she found not only standing based on speculative claims that foreign terrorist suspects were reluctant to talk on phones which might or might not be tapped (she failed to even address why it is that they would be more willing to talk if the taps were conducted with secret FISA warrants, a necessary element to show that the relief sought by petitioners would actually redress the alleged injury), but also reached the merits of the case. While those on the left cheered her results, even they could not justify her reasoning, which was thoroughly critiqued here and here.

Decadent Bismarck

Someone at NRO noted this obituary of Gottfried Alexander Leopold Graf von Bismarck-Schonhausen, or, if you prefer, the great-great-grandson of the Iron Chancellor. Such writing is rare in an obituary, and the man’s life was astounding.
Gottfried Alexander Leopold Graf von Bismarck-Schonhausen


Both the New York Times and the BBC stories on the Islamists occupation of of the Red Mosque in Islamabad are worth reading. It looks like Musharraf is doing the right thing in more or less the right way, and this may return him some authority.

Congress and Iran

The WSJ’s Kimberley Strassel observes that Congressional Democrats should hope that "the world will little note nor long remember" what they’ve done so far. The good independent Senator from Connecticut has a suggestion about how to make the world, especially one particular part of it, take note.

In that regard, Sen. Pete Domenici may not be helping matters. (Gary S., what do you think?)

Making life swing

Ralph Ellison once said of jazz that it is the "brassy affirmation of the goodness of being alive". I like that. Because I have been re-reading Ellison I have also been reading about, and, of course listening to, jazz (and blues). A conversation I had with Gordon Lloyd last night makes me think that you might be interested in knowing that the three books I am currently reading on jazz are these:
Ted Gioia’s The History of Jazz, Marshall W. Stearns’ The Story of Jazz, and the wonderful Hear Me Talkin’ to Ya: The Story of Jazz As Told by the Men Who Made It (Nat Shapiro and Nat Hentoff). Of course, I claim no expertise in this matter (and says the voice, or any other), but I like these three books .

Ralph Ellison, writing in 1945, on the blues:

"The blues is an impulse to keep the painful details and episodes of a brutal experience alive in one’s aching consciousness, to finger its jagged grain, and to transcend it, not by the consolation of philosophy but by squeezing from it a near-tragic, near-comic lyricism. As a form the blues is an autobiographical chronicle of personal catastrophe expressed lyrically."

Experimental libertarianism

Michael Gerson finds what he calls an online experiment in libertarianism. His conclusion:

[The online role-playing game] Second Life has plenty of spontaneity, and not much genuine order. This experiment suggests that a world that is only a market is not a utopia. It more closely resembles a seedy, derelict carnival -- the triumph of amusement and distraction over meaning and purpose.

Of course, online role-playing is presumably all about "amusement and distraction," so perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised and shouldn’t draw big conclusions.

Lowry on Libby

I agree with much of what Rich Lowry has to say on the subject. A snippet:

The Founders created the pardon power to grant relief from a justice system that might, in the words of Alexander Hamilton, be “too sanguinary and cruel.” It doesn’t serve that function so much anymore, but has turned out to be a safety valve in an era when each party criminalizes political disputes when it suits its purposes.


[E]xcept for the most blatant crimes, the political arena is the best forum for politically controversial charges of wrongdoing.

Dr. Pat on American Exit Strategies

Deneen explains why we’re creeped out by both politics and babies. It’s always good to be reminded of the creepy side of individualism. We do live a world full of networking, hooking up, and duty-free marriage, and so one in which sophisticated people have trouble talking and acting in terms of love and loyalty. Pat may be given to dramatic exaggeration, but who isn’t?

What Studies Show on the Difference Between Politics and Economics

Men with high testosterone levels are too proud or magnanimous to make sound business decisions (as, say, Aristotle also noticed). So rational choice theory should appeal, most of all, to testosterone-challenged men--economists and accountants, who prefer, as Mr. Mansfield explains, "rational control" to displaying their excellence. A real man, we might say, has too much b---- to be low-balled, even if accepting the low offer in his interest.

Edwards’ hair cost

Joseph Torrenueva, John Edwards’ barber, did not like the "that guy" reference, so he is talking. His honesty is refreshing, and the details of the cost (and travel, etc.) of each touch-up actually amazes me. This has to cost Edwards politically.

Men are Just as Chatty as Women

The results of this study indicate that there is only a statistically insignificant difference of 500 words per day between men and women. So there goes another stereotype. Women who walk around town with their fathers or husbands and happen to come across on of that man’s acquaintances have always known this--or they have suspected that men were more chatty. Men, I suppose, believe that women are more chatty because their wives and mothers seem always to wish to talk with them about matters upon which they would prefer to remain ignorant or--at least--undisturbed. The bottom line is this: if a person is talking about something you want to hear, he or she is not chatty, but outgoing and engaging. If a person is discussing something you find boring, he or she is chatty.

The cabbie and the terrorist

Alex McIlveen, a cabbie who took on the Glasgow Airport terror suspects told yesterday how he booted one of them in the privates.

He kicked the man, whose body was in flames, so hard that he tore a tendon in his foot. "He didn’t even flinch. I couldn’t believe he didn’t go down. A doctor told me later I’d damaged a tendon in my foot," McIlveen said.

The boy and the fox

Five-year old Rayshun McDowell grabbed a rabid fox--after the fox bit him--by the neck and pinned it to the ground during a family cookout, protecting six other children until his stepfather could kill the animal. "I wanted to protect my little brother," he said. He is being treated for rabies.

A Kennedy Court?

NRO’s Jonathan Adler thinks (worries?) that this is a Kennedy Court.

Expanding the critical canon

Mark Bauerlein thinks that the canon of literary criticism should be expanded, so that English professors should be acquainted with Hayek, Strauss, Fukuyama, and Kristol, as well as with Derrida, Barthes, et al. Who thinks there’ll be a groundswell of enthusiasm for this suggestion?

HVJ on Hugh Hewitt

FYI: Harry V. Jaffa is on the Hugh Hewitt show right now (3:00 Pacific) speaking about the Declaration.

Happy Birthday to us

Enjoy this great day and remember the American Cause. Here are two of my favorite speeches on the day. Calvin Coolidge in 1926, and Frederick Douglass in 1852. A paragraph from Coolidge:

"About the Declaration there is a finality that is exceedingly restful. It is often asserted that the world has made a great deal of progress since 1776, that we have had new thoughts and new experiences which have given us a great advance over the people of that day, and that we may therefore very well discard their conclusions for something more modern. But that reasoning can not be applied to this great charter. If all men are created equal, that is final. If they are endowed with inalienable rights, that is final. If governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed, that is final. No advance, no progress can be made beyond these propositions. If anyone wishes to deny their truth or their soundness, the only direction in which he can proceed historically is not forward, but backward toward the time when there was no equality, no rights of the individual, no rule of the people. Those who wish to proceed in that direction can not lay claim to progress. They are reactionary. Their ideas are not more modern, but more ancient, than those of the Revolutionary fathers."

Imagine that

An earth without people. Baboons might rule. But without us, rats, cockroaches, and head lice would probably go under.

Hat tip: Jonah G.

Human capital

Jonah Goldberg elaborates on chapter 5 of Locke’s Second Treatise.

Happy Birthday to the United States of America!

And to Lionel Trilling, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Calvin Coolidge--three particularly eloquent and profound Americans...

Justice, mercy, and the rule of law

I don’t want to deal with the general hysteria of this post by a distinguished legal academic suffering from a severe case of BDS, but I do want to raise a question to be discussed by the distinguished commentariat here at NLT.

Sanford Levinson says this:

No one should doubt that we are in a constitutional crisis. And part of the crisis can be found within the Constitution itself. Perhaps it is a good idea that the President can pardon (or commute) convicted criminals. This is the notion that justice should be tempered by mercy.

I had always thought (and said as much here) that the prerogative in the case of pardons and reprieves has at least as much, if not more, to do with justice as with mercy. Stated another way, we all ought to recognize that the rule of law is at best an approximation of the rule of justice. To the extent that the rule of law falls short, to the extent that general principles can’t adequately account for individual cases, we have recognized that, in particular instances, the executive has discretion to rectify (and I use the word advisedly) injustices brought about by the merely mechanical application of the rule of law.

Am I right about this? If I am, the debate is over what the just penalty ought to be in Scooter Libby’s instance, not whether GWB has been sufficiently clement in other cases. And, once again, if I am right, then we can properly take into account comparable cases (e.g., Clinton, Berger) as we debate about whether Scooter Libby has "suffered enough."

Jonah Goldberg’s seismic (?) shift on immigration and the American identity

Our friendly neighborhood paleocon (and I do mean friendly) wonders whether the neocon Trotskyite internationalist lapdog (have I left any terms of opprobrium out?) Jonah Goldberg is beginning to see paleo reason.

Jonah can, of course, speak for himself. My own view is that a nation that defines itself in terms of the Declaration of Independence and celebrates a conscious act of founding (as we will tomorrow) can’t simply be a "normal" country. (Given its revolutionary heritage--at odds with certain of its other elements--I’m not sure France can be either.) There is no American ethnos, no sense of American autochthony. There are American principles (to which our most cosmopolitan fellow citizens--if we can still call them that--no longer subscribe) that we say are accessible to anyone anywhere. (I hasten to add that that doesn’t mean that we should impose them by force anywhere or that anyone anywhere will inevitably and/or immediately embrace them.) Anyone can become an American. Not just Europeans like my dad and mom, or my friend Peter Schramm, but also the Asian kids adopted into families I know and the myriad patriotic Japanese- and Chinese-Americans with whom I’m acquainted. And Dikembe Mutombo too. I don’t have to offer an exhaustive list for you to get my drift.

This is not to say that America doesn’t have a regime (in the Aristotelian sense) and that there doesn’t have to be an effort at civic education.

And, above all, that current conditions make educating citizens challenging. Let me just mention a few points in this connection. First, there’s much more mobility now--more traveling back and forth to the old country--than there was even a generation ago. People used to kiss their homes goodbye, to return maybe once or twice after many years in America. Now they are constantly returning, which makes it easier to keep up old habits and old allegiances, harder and less necessary to pick up new ones. Second, our elites have less confidence in America and the American way (the "habits of the heart" about which many have written) and hence they’re more reluctant to promote them. The only American principle they’ll admit is toleration of differences, upon which they have a hard time insisting in the face of the obdurate differences they say they respect and tolerate. (Well, that’s not entirely true: they’d be happy to marginalize religious conservatives, if only they could. But I digress.)

Finally, to the degree that we’re in a post-literate society with a diversity of non-verbal sources of information and "cultural niches" in which people can immerse themselves, it’s hard to inculcate anyone, whether native-born or immigrant. (Not impossible: every schoolchild appears to know lots about Martin Luther King, Jr. But, again, I digress.)

I propose this as the beginning of a list of differences between our current circumstances and, let’s say, the circumstances a century ago. What think and say you, gentle and not-so-gentle readers?

Update: On education and American identity, we could do much worse than to read this by Bill Bennett and this by Richard Reeb.


McDonald’s is very popular in France, again. This being France, we get an existential justification: "We hate it and go to it. It’s our paradox," a journalist for the French magazine Challenges, Alice Mérieux, said. "We’re very anti-American in principle, but individually, if you’re going to the movies and have to eat in 10 minutes, you go to McDonald’s." A castle is for sale. It is near the city of Brasov, and Vlad the Impaler spent one night there, but because it is in Romania it’s called Dracula’s castle and is therefore a tourist attraction. It is owned by a Domic (Archduke) Habsburg, and architect living in New York, but, because "The Habsburgs are not in the business of managing a museum," it will be sold. The Habsburgs will only sell to a buyer "who will treat the property and its history with appropriate respect." An Alabtross from Argentina, flying slightly off course, lands in England. They let him go below the kirk, below the hill,
below the lighthouse top. Colonel Gaddafi of Lybia called for the creation of a "United States of Africa", and appeared to be positioning himself to be its first leader. Former astronaut Lisa Nowak didn’t wear diapers during her 950-mile road trip to confront a romantic rival, her lawyer said. It turns out that most Canadians according to a poll, know so little about their own country that they would flunk the basic test that new immigrants are required to take before becoming citizens. "Only 4 percent knew the three requirements a citizen had to meet to be able to vote while only a third could correctly identify the number of provinces and territories. Just 8 percent knew that the Queen is the head of state." The list of the ten least intelligent dogs, includes Beagles, Bulldogs, and Pekinese. You may not want to look. Jesica, a hippo , thinks she is a house pet. She enjoys sweet coffee and a massage before she goes to bed and her favorite room is the kitchen.

Casus belli again

Can you top this?

Diversity and social capital again

Reader Rob Driscoll sent me a link about Robert Putnam’s research on diversity and community, first mentioned here.

Turns out that, in addition to the John Leo piece I noted earlier, there have been three other articles on Putnam’s research, one in the NYT, one in the Guardian (U.K.), and one in the Portland Oregonian. All represent in varying forms a hopeful take on the ultimate effects of diversity, whatever its short- to medium-term diminution of social capital.

I’ll have more to say about all this when I’ve read Putnam’s article, now that I have a link to it.

Terry Eastland on Race and the Constitution

Terry’s account of the recent decision is the most astute. Despite all the BROWN talk in the various opinions, the bottom line is that Roberts explains clearly that what Seattle and Louisville are doing simply has no justification in the reigning prcedents, in the compelling state interests of addressing intentional discrimination or the educational benefits of diversity. The effect of the decision will be fairly activist, but the argument is a model of restraint. Here the dissenters are the innovators. On the table, of course, is the need to question diversity as a compelling state interest, but there was no need or even no warrant to do so in this case. Eastland also shows how implausible and inconsequential Kennedy’s lonely waffling is. The question for discussion: Should the Republicans go further than the Court and campaign on "the colorblind Constitution," as Terry suggests? One reason they should: It would be better if the complete uprooting of race from the law would have as much support as possible from legislative initiatives and not appear to be an activist judiciary overruling the will of the people. The abortion mess is pretty much a judicial creation, but the Court didn’t invent but has only upheld some (usually basically legislative) affirmative action. Arguably a decision based on the proposition that all well-intentioned, race-based remedies are unconstitutional would be inconsistent with the general principle of judicial restraint.

Happy Birthday Thurgood Marshall

We can’t have all this talk about BROWN without remembering Thurgood. For those looking for southern balance, let me add that it’s also Richard Petty’s birthday.

The Emerging Right of Medical Self-Defense

I, the center of the universe, have the right to all means necessary to keep me alive. So, for example, if I need a new kidney not to die, I have the right to buy one. I have to admit this makes a fairly creepy but real kind of libertarian/Hobbesian sense. (Thanks to Ivan the K.)

Fred Barnes on religion

TWS’s Fred Barnes briefly answers some questions on religion, world affairs, and journalism. Nothing earth-shatteringly new, but a peek into the spiritual life and religious views of a prominent, smart, and interesting talking head (and writing hand).

Original Zinn

Brother Hayward, I’ll see your James Burnham and raise you a Joseph Cropsey. In an essay included in Left, Right and Center, Cropsey dismantled Howard Zinn’s critique of patriotism, 42 years before Zinn wrote it:

“[Liberalism] envisions the natural fraternity of mankind. The liberal view is that man’s nature prepares him to live uncoerced in society. [It] aspires to the transcending of the nation, if only through the union of the nations. Rightly repelled by vain self-love, it is dogmatically blinded to just self-respect and conceitedly captivated by a priggish self-depreciation. Liberalism, which makes a by-word of pluralism and recoils from ‘absolutes’ however misunderstood, should welcome the diversity of nations, and their sovereign security upon which that diversity rests, as a valuable guarantee of the freedom of men to go their separate ways in the quest for justice or for the truth about justice. It must be conceded, however, that the highest good known to liberalism is not truth or even liberty itself, but fraternity and its alter ego, equality. Politically speaking, this has come to mean that the highest good known to liberalism is peace, or self-preservation.

“If it is narrower, it is also more human, surely more civil, to love what is near and similar, as such, than what is remote and strange, as such. [Patriotism will necessarily] be extinguished by the doctrine that exhibits it as offensive to peace, as an ignorant expression of ethnocentric bias, the neurosis of aggressive personality types, the posturing of the fatuous for the edification of the gullible, or the delusion of innocents seduced by schemers after wealth and power.

“The liberal view is consistent with itself in applying to domestic as well as to foreign affairs the dictum that trust edifies and absolute trust edifies absolutely.”

These observations appeared in an essay on “Liberalism and Conservatism.” They show that while pacifists like Zinn, Noam Chomsky or Cindy Sheehan make conservatives angry, they make mainstream liberals nervous. The problem is that the hard left follows liberalism’s premises to their logical conclusions. The soft left doesn’t, but only because it knows that proclaiming these conclusions would be, politically, self-annihilating. Liberals cannot explain what principled differences separate their position from Howard Zinn’s. And because they cannot explain that difference, they can only hope to stand far enough away from Zinn so that no one notices the resemblance.

Hillary’s Gender: A Non-Issue for ’08

Cathy Young does a nice job of taking apart the whole issue of gender as it relates to Hillary--both as a plus and as a negative--for the ’08 election. Those who criticize her for not being a good feminist because of how she put up with Bill’s infidelity haven’t got a good point, she argues, because she’s not auditioning for the role of feminist-in-chief. Further, they can’t judge the inner workings of a person’s marriage from where they sit. Those who criticize her for her myriad unattractive qualities and policies cannot fairly be called misogynists either. She’s a big girl who has demonstrated that she is carrying her own load and if she is not likable to some . . . well, that should be expected and accepted. To cry misogyny every time you get slapped down is to demonstrate that you are not ready for the big show. Gender, in short, is not the issue in ’08 and it cannot fairly be exploited either by her supporters or her detractors.

Good News for the Holiday

Thanks to regular commenter, R.O.B., for bringing this heartening story from David Broder to my attention today. Broder recounts the testimony of David McCullough in hearings with Senators Lamar Alexander and Ted Kennedy (!) about the prospects for improving the teaching of American history in our schools. McCullough’s main point closely dovetails the example of his own work. History should be narrative. It should be written in a way that is engaging and interesting because--after all--history is engaging and interesting. It is only the studied ignorance of the last several academic generations that has served to make it boring. McCullough pointed to the emergence of the Harry Potter phenomenon as evidence that students are desirous of and willing to digest lengthy and interesting reading; and he decried the utter lack of depth and seriousness in most of the commonly used American history textbooks. These books are full of large type, glossy pictures and inane prose.

What can we do about this problem? I don’t know that much about the regulations governing teachers in the classrooms these days, but I do know--from talking with teachers who are serious about history and about teaching--that they often feel constrained by time constraints and state standards. Perhaps teachers need to be given more leeway to engage their classes in lengthy reading and discussion of things as they strike their interest. I know teachers have much to cover in a year--and it’s nearly impossible to do it all. So my question is: why is that the requirement? Why not cover a few things really well and forget about being comprehensive? Teachers should be treated like professionals and be given more freedom to make their subjects come alive for students. This won’t prevent bad or ideological teachers from doing mischief . . . but if school boards had more discretion in firing too, that shouldn’t be as insurmountable a problem as the current malaise in history education seems to be.

Betting on Hillary?

Some big bucks are being laid out on wagers that Hillary will make it. That’s putting your money where your mouth is.

Bush, Churchill and Islam

The Washington Post offers this dismal article from Lynn Olson trying to bash Bush for his fondness for Churchill. The piece is so pathetic that a point-by-point rebuttal would be tedious.

A look at one sentence will do. Olson: "Churchill would snort, I believe, at the administration’s equation of ’Islamofascism,’ an amorphous, ill-defined movement of killers forced to resort to terrorism by their lack of military might, to Nazi Germany, a global power that had already conquered several countries before Churchill took office in 1940."

Here’s what WSC wrote about Islam in 1900 in the original edition of The River War(an edition generally not available for reasons too long to go into here):

How dreadful are the curses which Mohammedanism lays on its votaries! Besides the fanatical frenzy, which is as dangerous in a man as hydrophobia in a dog, there is this fearful fatalistic apathy. The effects are apparent in many countries. Improvident habits, slovenly systems of agriculture, sluggish methods of commerce, and insecurity of property exist wherever the followers of the Prophet rule or live. A degraded sensualism deprives this life of its grace and refinement; the next of its dignity and sanctity. The fact that in Mohammedan law every woman must belong to some man as his absolute property-either as a child, a wife, or a concubine-must delay the final extinction of slavery until the faith of Islam has ceased to be a great power among men. Individual Moslems may show splendid qualities. Thousands become the brave and loyal soldiers of the Queen: all know how to die. But the influence of the religion paralyzes the social development of those who follow it. No stronger retrograde force exists in the world. Far from being moribund, Mohammedanism is a militant and proseltyzing faith. It has already spread throughout Central Africa, raising fearless warriors at every step; and were it not that Christianity is sheltered in the strong arms of science-the science against which it had vainly struggled-the civilization of modern Europe might fall, as fell the civilization of ancient Rome.

Now, just imagine what Ms. Olson would say if Bush dared to quote this passage.

Thou Shalt Not Zinn

I had to search the archives, but I knew that about three years back I had included James Burnham’s meditation from Suicide of the West about why liberals hate patriotism. They key passage:

The rise of liberalism to predominance in the controlling sectors of American opinion is in almost exact correlation with the decline in the ceremonial celebration of the Fourth of July, traditionally regarded as the nation’s major holiday. To the liberal mind, the patrioic oratory is not only banal but subversive of rational ideals; and judged by liberalism’s humanitarian morality, the enthusiasm and pleasures that simple souls might have got from the fireworks could not compensate the occasional damage to the eye or finger of an unwary youngster. The purer liberals of the Norman Cousins strain, in the tradition of Eleanor Roosevelt, are more likely to celebrate UN Day than the Fourth of July.

As if on cue, this week Howard Zinn writes in something called the Progressive Media Project (which has been around apparently since 1993--who knew?) that "On this July 4, we would do well to renounce nationalism and all its symbols: its flags, its pledges of allegiance, its anthems, its insistence in song that God must single out America to be blessed." But wait! It gets better:

Is not nationalism -- that devotion to a flag, an anthem, a boundary so fierce it engenders mass murder -- one of the great evils of our time, along with racism, along with religious hatred?

National spirit can be benign in a country that is small and lacking both in military power and a hunger for expansion (Switzerland, Norway, Costa Rica and many more). But in a nation like ours -- huge, possessing thousands of weapons of mass destruction -- what might have been harmless pride becomes an arrogant nationalism dangerous to others and to ourselves.

Don’t read the whole thing. You get it. Happy Fourth of July everybody.

After Athens, now Rome?

After all the references to Thucydides and the Sicilian expedition (the best one is here), I suppose it’s refreshing to see someone move on to Rome, with a book for light summer beach reading. I wonder if it contains a discussion of our obsession with food.

Update: Before I let the Rome thing go, let me offer a couple of comments, having just surfaced from teaching Livy in a summer school class. If we’re going to focus on the way that America is like the Roman Empire, let’s not forget about the decline in civic virtue and public spirit, especially among the elites. That was certainly one of Livy’s concerns. I’d also note that after 9/11, President Bush had an opportunity to galvanize us with a call for sacrifice. Instead, he told us to go shopping. And finally, I recently made an argument in a paper for this conference that Livy teaches us about the importance of "family values" for Roman republicanism, something that we who think of family in terms of personal gratification perhaps don’t fully appreciate. So let’s by all means think about the domestic implications of the Roman analogy. If we’re going to apply it to GWB and our foreign policy, let’s look in the mirror.

What Studies Show on Prayers

They are ineffective, and, in fact, it’s neurologically inconceivable that they could be heard at all.

Progressives and the Court

Edward Lazarus argues that, in effect, the golden age of judicial progressivism from 1954 to 1973 is an historical aberration. However "disastrous" from his point of view, the Roberts Court is closer to the norm. His conclusion is one that conservatives should also take to heart:

The challenge for progressives, then, is twofold. The first is to wean themselves off what has become an excessive reliance on the judicial branch to achieve their social and political goals. Progressives will now have to win their battles in the political arena.

Second, progressives need to consider whether they can make common cause with some conservatives. Such a potential agenda does exist. Call it the "accountability agenda," focused on greater transparency in government and on enforcing the checks and balances at the Constitution’s structural core.

I’d put it this way: for the protection of our liberties, we should rely principally on the two political branches. John Roberts preached judicial modesty at his confirmation hearings. He has, I think, practiced it. Everything else should lie at the feet of Congress and the President.

GWB at the center of the storm

This long WaPo article offers a nuanced portrait of a President not as out of touch and incurious as his critics say. If I didn’t know about this, I’d say his tranquility is amazing.

I should note that some of what the article tells us is old news to readers of NLT.

And finally, one of the authors whose book receives a plug in the article has an op-ed in today’s Post. I leave it to better Churchillians than I am (Hayward and Schramm, your offices are calling) to respond in detail, but I confess to being unpersuaded that GWB is more like Neville Chamberlain than like WSC. At the very least, Churchill’s emphasis on multilateralism had a substantial military dimension, recognizing the military resources that could be marshalled through cooperation. How many countries currently not contributing to our military efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan actually have something substantial to contribute?

A Cure for Bad Memories

Scientists seem to have discovered a way to eradicate one particular memory while leaving the rest of a person’s memory intact. Big issue: Should this treatment be kept under tight control and used only in very extreme cases? Or should everyone have the right to better memories? I was once on a TV show with Justice Scalia where this possibility was discussed. Someone quipped: "I sure would like to forget my first wife." Scalia responded: "The problem, sir, is you would end up marrying her again." (Thanks to Ivan the K.)

Plasma rockets

John J. Miller’s tribute to Robert Heinlein reminds me that I spent almost an hour with a real rocket scientist Friday. It reminds me because as he was explaining what he does, he kept refering to science fiction, warp drive, Star Trek, and such, which I had at least passing familiarity with. No wonder these science fiction guys are so well liked; they knew stuff about technology’s potential (and human nature). Franklin Chang Diaz, an astronaut (made seven space flights for NASA) most his life, he now runs something called Astra Rocket Company. It is a private firm that means to revolutionize space transportation by building The Variable Specific Impulse Magnetoplasma Rocket (VASIMR), in short a plasma rocket. Although he was perfectly congenial fellow, also an "American by Choice" (from Costa Rica), yet, as you can imagine the conversation became one sided very quickly. I just asked a lot of questions. All I understood about what he is doing is that his plasma rocket (usable in space only, say, between a space station and the Moon or Mars) will be able to make runs (you know, he said deliver milk, and bread and stuff, and later people) between space colonies and will cost about ninety percent less than if the government did it. He said his rocket will be up at the space station by 2010. With current rocket technologies a round trip to Mars would take two years, but with his plasma rocket
"More rapid transits are possible with a VASIMR propulsion system powered by a nuclear-electric generator. With 12 megawatts of electrical power, a ship could reach Mars in less than four months and with 200 megawatts of power the outbound trip could be as short as 39 days." More here.
An impressive American (rocket scientist)!

Antioch without soul

Steve Hayward mentioned the pretty good New York Times article a few weeks ago about the closing of Antioch College. The Los Angeles Times piece on it (about a week ago), on the other hand, can’t figure out what went wrong. Maybe it has to do with the fact that the lawns weren’t well maintained. Or, the story implies that if the society just had a better sense of what a liberal education really ought to be than Antioch may not have closed down. That’s silly, of course. As is the L.A. Times’ opinion that its endowment was too small. Well, Kenyon’s or Ashland’s endowment isn’t much larger and they are doing fine. In fact, Antioch’s "sexual offense prevention policy" was a metaphor for the collapse: sex on campus wasn’t stopped, it was just made un-erotic and (the other side of the coin) professors’ (if that’s what they might be called) and students’ (if that’s what they might be called) naturally erotic souls also became un-erotic and boring; no more longing. Antioch just stopped satisfying the eros of souls, so it closed.

Gotta Love that Al

Al Gore turns up on the New York Times op-ed page today, with an article saying--wait for it--the world is coming to an end unless we do something immediately about global warming. But the amusing thing is how he manages to wrap himself in the mantle of Ronald Reagan, citing the Gipper approvingly three times in the piece. Of course, Reagan would never have signed the Kyoto protocol, just as he refused to support the flawed Law of the Sea Treaty, which was in some ways the UN’s model for Kyoto.

That’s a neat trick. Last time I saw Gore in the NY Times op-ed page in 2002, he was blasting Reagan:

"A plain reading of the history of Republican governance under Presidents Reagan and Bush shows that these conservative administrations were beholden to special interests, power brokers who would want nothing better than a pliant president who would bend public policy to suit their purposes and profits.”

Well, which is it, Al: Visionary or "pliant president"?


It’s the opinion of that fine newspaper that a combination of tax cuts, CEO savvy, and a renewed and more competent aggressiveness in "the War on Terror" can be enough for Giuliani to make a convincing case that he’s Reagan’s heir. Your opinion of this opinion is welcome, but I have my very strong doubts that either Rudy or Wall Street really get how Reagan put a winning coalition together.

Political independents

Here’s another survey, described in this article. This one’s about political independents, with more good data-like stuff to be found here. This table seems to suggest that the proportion of independents has grown at the expense of the Democrats, which would seem to make the Democratic leanings of the independents almost entirely explicable. But I’m sure it’s more complicated than that.

One point the WaPo story makes is that independents are more heavily male than either Republicans (evenly divided between men and women) and Democrats (more female). They’re also a relatively secular group. Here’s an hypothesis: as conservative men migrated from the Democrats, the economic conservatives/small government types tended to end up as independents, while the moral/religious conservatives ended up as Republicans. The former have been joined by some social liberal/economic conservatives migrating from the Republicans. These comprise the "dislocated" among the independents.

It’s late (or early, depending upon how you look at it), and I’m hoping my insomnia has passed. More much later (a busy day ahead).

Would you be shocked to learn

That this survey, described in this story, suggests that we’re further decoupling marriage and having children? At first glance, this doesn’t reflect well on us, as it seems we increasingly care about personal fulfillment, from which children are increasingly regarded as a distraction.

More when I’ve had a chance to read and think about the survey, and not just the article.

Update: I can’t resist quoting the headline on RC2’s post: "Never mind the future, dear, just do the dishes."