Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

How Ward Churchill Got Tenure

Saved, like Mack the Knife at the 11th hour, is this academic con-artist? I must admit that after hearing this befeathered confidence man that I came to admire him for his skillful exploitation of a great but stupid university. See this revealing four-year old post on "How Ward Churchill Got Tenure" --through a school that was also trying to hire the Cold War traitor Alger Hiss.

Another cheap pleasure

A good note about why memorizing poetry is better than reading it aloud and better than having it on an iPod.

"The process of memorizing a poem is fairly mechanical at first. You cling to the meter and rhyme scheme (if there is one), declaiming the lines in a sort of sing-songy way without worrying too much about what they mean. But then something organic starts to happen. Mere memorization gives way to performance. You begin to feel the tension between the abstract meter of the poem — the “duh DA duh DA duh DA duh DA duh DA” of iambic pentameter, say — and the rhythms arising from the actual sense of the words. (Part of the genius of Yeats or Pope is the way they intensify meaning by bucking against the meter.) It’s a physical feeling, and it’s a deeply pleasurable one. You can get something like it by reading the poem out loud off the page, but the sensation is far more powerful when the words come from within. (The act of reading tends to spoil physical pleasure.) It’s the difference between sight-reading a Beethoven piano sonata and playing it from memory — doing the latter, you somehow feel you come closer to channeling the composer’s emotions. And with poetry you don’t need a piano.

That’s my case for learning poetry by heart. It’s all about pleasure. And it’s a cheap pleasure."


The publication of this flogging of a seventeen year-old woman may help moderates in Pakistan. Also note this BBC report on the same incident, and then this on the latest drone attacks.


Where's my bailout?

More and more people are asking that question. In New York City, protesters are complaining about the government bailing out banks but not the little guy. But aren't Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, Food Stamps, Unemployment benefits, and the rest of the hand-outs government sponsors a form of bailout? They are designed to help mitigate bad luck in life. One interesting question is whether the kind of culture that has such handouts can have the strength of will not to expand the principle too far. We're not doing so well on that just now.
Categories > Economy

Clash of the Egos

Instapundit links to this story about the $210 million in retention bonuses that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac will be paying, and asks whether the recipients of the money will receive the same harassment as AIG employees faced.

I suspect they won’t. Why? Part of the reason is that Fannie and Freddie have political cover. They are, in effect, government run businesses. Their boards and management are largely composed of politicians and politically connected people. Why does that save them attacks? In part it has to do with the passions at play in the current financial crisis. John Adams noted long ago that the basic political passion is the "spectemer agendo"--the desire to be seen in action. When the market produces billionaires regularly, and those billionaires look down upon politicians, the politicians come to want their pound of flesh. Why are they in politics in the first place if not to gratify their desire to be loved? By tearing down businessmen, they are trying to block the competition.

Political Philosophy

Leo Strauss, Digitized

I recall the days when longing political philosophy students would attempt to secure a copy of the closely guarded class transcripts of Leo Strauss's courses at the University of Chicago. Now 47 of these courses are to be digitized and thus made available to those who want to expel stupidities through a close read of Thucydides and to be in the know on Rousseau. As a sampler, here's a link to his course on Plato's Meno. My favorite transcript is his course on Plato's Gorgias, but many others might be mentioned by Strauss's close students.

This will fill your Ipod and help put in its place amusement such as this: The old tv series Gunsmoke and Perry Mason explain the core of Strauss's political teaching.

UPDATE: I'm told by a scholar editing some of these courses that transcripts will also be produced.

White House Conference Sex Call?

Hillary Clinton can’t seem to catch a break when it comes to technology or name association. First she gets lost in translation over in Russia with her infamous "reset button" and now she gets tied up in this mess . . . and with a man named "Jones" no less!

To echo Steve Hayward’s faux conspiratorial speculation from a couple weeks ago . . . it almost makes you wonder if Obama really is an evil genius.

Damning with faint priase?

"Investors dove into stocks Thursday, extending a rally that gave the Dow Jones industrial average its best four weeks since 1933."

Greetings from the soggy South

Just got back into town after spending yesterday down at Mercer, where they put on a nice event featuring John Danford and Michael Zuckert as keynoters. I missed Danford’s talk on Tuesday evening, but Zuckert’s was a characteristically thoughtful and careful explication of the role of slavery in the "natural rights republic."

Kudos to Will Jordan and Matt Oberrieder (the organizers and co-directors of Mercer’s new center), and their very interesting group of colleagues at Mercer. I predict great things.

Out with the dishwater . . .

From the AP, via Corner:

SPOKANE, Wash. — The quest for squeaky-clean dishes has turned some law-abiding people in Spokane into dishwater-detergent smugglers. They are bringing Cascade or Electrasol in from out of state because the eco-friendly varieties required under Washington state law don’t work as well. Spokane County became the launch pad last July for the nation’s strictest ban on dishwasher detergent made with phosphates, a measure aimed at reducing water pollution. The ban will be expanded statewide in July 2010, the same time similar laws take effect in several other states.

A procedural question: Was the ban an actual piece of legislation or was it done by the administrative bureaucracy interpreting a delegation of legislative authority to them?

Update: It looks like it was an actual bill. Will the people of Washington ask their representatives to repeal it?

We have met the enemy . . .

And he is us. I invoke Walt Kelly’s famous quip to describe the problem of prevailing wages. On the radio earlier today, I heard President Obama noting that one of the reasons why executive compensation has gotten so high is that there has been a great deal of inside dealing. CEOs stock boards with people friendly to them. The compensation committees of those boards look around at comparable companies, see what they’re paying, and add a bit to it, and up goes the spiral from company to company. What’s interesting, is that the same process, or a similar one, is at work in the public sector whenever "prevailing wage" (or Union wage) is demanded. Asking to meet the prevailing wage, or perhaps go a bit above it, is standard across the board in all kinds of salary negotiations in the US. That’s one of the reasons why the mandatory arbitration requirements in the Card-Check legislation are such a concern. They ratchet up wages unreasonably. The numbers, to be sure, are much smaller than CEO pay, but the principle is the same. As Churchill would say, we’re just haggling over price. The CEOs are, on balance, no more, or less, corrupt than other employees.

The Paucity of Substance in Obama’s "False Choice" Rhetoric

As all the Obama happy talk of hope and change has finally settled back into its former status of "joke" in the minds of most thinking American adults--winked and nodded at as the necessary stuff to build fever-pitch in campaigns but unworthy of a victor now setting about to govern--the President has had to unveil a new rhetorical device for his high purposes of obfuscation in and mastery of the national conversation. Ben Shapiro cleverly (and accurately, I think) divines that this new rhetorical sword is the oft repeated and calmly delivered phrase: "false choice." When you consider the number of disputes in American political life that Obama has proclaimed boil down to "false choices," it is a wonder that such a visionary man as he would have any interest at all in governing such a stupid people.

As Shapiro notes, Obama has dubbed the choice between capitalism and a government-run economy a false choice. The gulf between those who favor government funding of embryonic stem-cell research and those who see moral complications with either the funding or with the research in general is also proclaimed to be a "false choice." We face similar false choices with regard to the protection of the environment and with respect to national security. If we can’t all just get along, Obama would have us believe, it is because we are caught up in these silly disputes over false choices. We don’t have to be like that anymore and politics needn’t be so hard and full of that nasty shouting anymore. If we want to escape it, we can look to him; Obama, our new philosopher king. He will tell us why we need not trouble our hearts . . . he has the answer. He will end the argument by winning it and, on top of that, he is happy to let you think that you didn’t really lose. After all . . . it was only a false choice that troubled you. Good thing he was there to show us the truth.


New York House race

The New York congressional seat special election (held by Democratic Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand) has ended in a dead heat, with the Democrat ahead by 65 votes. It looks like the race will not be decided until after April 13. Gillibrand had won by over 20 points in November, and yet, many are claiming this a huge GOP defeat. I don't get it.
Categories > Congress

Medvedev Might Tutor Obama on Tocqueville

Given President Obama’s dramatic power grab, crushing and baiting American indviduals, e.g., the ex-GM Chairman and Rush Limbaugh, we are nonetheless confounded to see that he can get a lesson about American freedom from the President of Russia.

Medvedev concludes his otherwise saccharine WaPo op-ed by affirming gthe truthh of Alexis de Tocquevillefs words predicting ga great future for our two nations.h Tocquevillefs actual words are sobering. At the conclusion of volume I of Democracy in America he predicted (in 1835) that Russia and America each seemed destined to ghold the destinies of half the world in its hands one day.h His conclusion emphasizes the dramatic differences between the nations, then and now:

g[T]hus the conquests of the American are made with the plowshare of the laborer, those of the Russian with the sword of the soldier.

gTo attain his goal, the first relies on personal interest and allows the force and reason of individuals to act without directing them.

gThe second in a way concentrates all the power of society in one man.

gThe one has freedom for his principal means of action; the other servitude.h

Does Obama realize "the truth" of these distinctions? Medvedev asks that Russia and the U.S. should "work together" and thus renounce their specific characters. With his latest actions Obama seems to be meeting him more than half-way.

Shameless Self-Promotion

I will be speaking next Saturday as part of a first-rate conference at St. Vincent’s in Latrobe, PA (no longer the home of Rolling Rock) on the idea of the university in our country today. The conference begins Thursday and it’s one great presenter after another.

I will also be speaking at the meeting of the Pennsylvania Association of Scholars at Duquesne tomorrow at 4 p.m. on something like Berry College and academic freedom.

Here’s my take on that Kronman book mentioned below: I actually see a lot good in the idea of liberal education as the display of the best arguments for and poetic presentations of a variety of forms of human excellence--such as the saint, the poet, the philosopher, the inventor, the artist, the statesman, and even the agrarian gentleman. But the way Kronman tells the story, this sort of education is "secular humanism" because it depends on the obvious untruth of religious dogma (which is usually all about the tyannical, "supernatural" God). One limitation of that view is that it’s obviously contrary to the self-understandings of many great men and women, past and even present. Kronman presents the choice for religion or a personal God as obviously a choice against the truth about the responsibilities given to self-conscious mortals; all "real religion" is fundamentalism to him, and one goal of college, for him, is to get over that sort of thing. All "humanism" and so the humanities are secular. That view can hardly make the study of the humanities attractive to our evangelical and orthodox believers. But before we’re too critical of Kronman, we have to think about how many defenders of liberal education today more or less agree with him. One Christian criticism of his approach would be its inability to even search for dignity or even holiness in ordinary life; not all virtue is about greatness.

Shameless Self-Promotion

Liberal Education and Republican Self-Government

I enjoyed my little shindig yesterday. It started off with a lively panel featuring my AALE colleague Mark Bauerlein, my old Toronto buddy Herb Hartmann, Judd Owen (another Toronto guy from a little after my time), and my Oglethorpe colleague Brad Smith. Many shades were invoked, ranging from Bernard of Clairveaux to Oakeshott, Strauss, and Bloom. Our allegedly short attention span students stuck it out for almost 90 minutes of give and take among the panelists and the audience.

Our own Dr. Pat delivered the keynote and wove together a number of themes centering on our multiple crises, among which (and perhaps near the center of which) is a crisis in higher education. In a nutshell (and he can clarify and correct me on this), he argued that many of our crises can be traced to a failure to appreciate and respect our limits, a failure of which "the new science" (that is, Baconian science) is the cause. The contemporary university is in some sense the central institution housing the new science and celebrating the self-fashioning which is its most common expression. (Readers of C.S. Lewis might regard it as a N.I.C.E. place.)

We also had an interesting discussion about the strengths and weaknesses of Anthony Kronman's recent pretty good book on Education's End, which covers some of this terrain, albeit not nearly as well, in large part because he can't bring himself to admit that to counterpose (or indeed oppose) the humanities to religion (or to the possibility of religious truth) is to deprive them of a principal source of their vitality. He treats religion as essentially "fundamentalist" and anti-intellectual and thinks that one can contemplate life's big questions without taking seriously religious alternatives. I suspect that it's closer to the truth to argue that Kronman's "secular humanism" (which isn't too far from the kind of conversation across the ages that someone like Allan Bloom would have suggested) must collapse into Baconian self-fashioning if it rejects out of hand (as Kronman seems to) the possibility of religious truth.

Many thanks to all the conference attendees (among them three of Lawler's students who made the trek down from Berry and an assiduous reader of Dr. Pat's blog) and to its various sponsors, including ISI.

Honor Among Surrogate Moms

So far, they’re staying on the job, even when they’re not being paid. This is another installment in the the Saletan series on the creepy side of IVF and the commodification of motherhood.

New UC Berkeley Center May Investigate Ashbrook

and Claremont, Hillsdale, Heritage, AEI, et al. I thought California had a budget crisis, but the expanding boundaries of scholarship require the
Center for the Comparative Study of Right-Wing Movements.
I recall way back when journalists compared Goldwater and Hitler. "From which political direction the financing for this latest effort is coming is masked. The donorfs request for anonymity may be more to ward off requests for other contributions than for political reasons." The usual suspects, such as this feminist scholar and sociologist Lawrence Rosenthal, are in charge.

The Clicker!

It’s the latest innovation in classroom technology. Students can give their immediate, anonymous imput, and some studies are showing better attendance and attention as a result. Some classes at my college require students--at significant expense--to purchase their own clickers. I might prefer some device that simulates the sound of the Beatnik snapping his fingers, which would be used by students every time his or her learning style resonates with my teaching style.