Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns


Justice Souter retiring?

He apparently hasn't hired his clerks yet.
Categories > Courts

Pop Culture

The Incredibly Politically Incorrect Mr. Dylan

Bob is all for God and Texas. Dylan's music is all over the map, but he's always put artistic truth over anything ideological.
Categories > Pop Culture


Obama and Despotism

Here's the view of ME concerning what we really have to fear. For more detail, scroll down a bit to Ivan the K's more nuanced and higher pay-grade post on Bush, Obama, and the politics of science.
Categories > Presidency

Literature, Poetry, and Books

Letter from London

April 29, 2009

As promised on arrival, I have been stimulating the Global Economy like no tomorrow. This is easy to do in a place where your hotel breakfast sets you back forty bucks, if you skip the orange juice. If I understand the approved G-20 recovery program, the principle is spend, spend, spend. Especially spend what you haven't got. This puts you in debt, and debt is the key. Once everyone gets comfortable being in debt up to their eyebrows again, there will be confidence. Then people will lend, lend, lend, and Bob's your uncle. Useless spending, if I've grasped the essential idea, is best. People will keep buying useful things despite the crisis--they have no choice. It's the buying of useless things at exorbitant prices with money you haven't got that really falls off in a crisis like this. Government's role is to assist you in not having the money you must spend, by raising your taxes.

The second prong of the travel campaign is juicing up the Special Relationship, and a pleasant trip to Oxford the other day provides a great opportunity for some juicing up. P.G. Wodehouse, of course, was not able to go to Oxford because, though "Plum" was a cracker-jack student of Greek and Latin, his father couldn't afford to support him in university. Unlike Shakespeare, however, who despite earning the title of America's Greatest Poet also did not attend Oxford, Wodehouse actually became an American. Put it on your patriotic calendar: he made it official on 16 December, 1955, if I've got my facts straight. On the joyous occasion, with his usual keen syntactical sense, he wrote a friend: "Thank God for being an American (I don't mean God is, I mean I am)." Anyone who knows Wodehouse knows what an effusion of strong passion is expressed in the title of his memoir of gratitude to his adopted country: America, I Like You.

Plum's biographers say that as a lad he could write Greek and Latin sentences as rapidly as he could write sentences in English, and Wodehouse acknowledges that his boyhood study of Greek and Latin shaped his writing. This is a good advertisement for the classical languages, because Wodehouse's English sentences are wonderful works of art. Sometimes they entertain just by making you keenly interested in seeing how they are going to turn out. No matter what roof he throws them off of, they always land on their feet. Before winning fame for his Jeeves and Bertie stories, he was a great lyricist for American musical comedies in their golden age. You might be interested to learn, if you hadn't heard it in some bar already, that Wodehouse once said that Harry Leon Wilson's Ruggles of Red Gap "made a great impression on me and ... may have been the motivating force behind the creation of Jeeves." No small contribution to Western Civilization!

But we were in Oxford. ... (Maybe some of the stuff above, and certainly some of the stuff below comes from the recent Robert McCrum biography and David Jasen's 1974 portrait, and I apologize for muddling the quotations--I don't have a Kindle so I can't carry all my books with me.) Wodehouse was awarded an honorary doctorate of literature (D.Litt) by Oxford University on 21 June, 1939. The annual ceremony for these awards was called an Encaenia. The university's Public Orator (PO) customarily delivered a Latin salute to the honorands on these occasions. The PO, Cyril Bailey, had never read Wodehouse, and was given some of his writings to prepare him for the salute. According to Wodehouse's recollections of the ceremony, his fellow honorands received "tepid applause" while he "had to stand for quite three minutes while thousands cheered." (McCrum)

The Public Orator saluted Wodehouse with

a brilliant and witty celebration of Wodehouse's gifts composed in faultless Latin hexameters after Horace. Having made ingenious reference to Bertie Wooster, Jeeves, Mr. Mulliner, Lord Emsworth, the Empress of Blandings, Psmith and Gussie Fink-Nottle, Bailey concluded in prose that Wodehouse was 'our Petronius, or should I say, our Terence?' (Petroniumne dicam an Terentium nostrum?) a tribute that provoked more wild applause. (McCrum)

Terentium nostrum, indeed! Vice-Chancellor of the University, George Stuart Gordon, presented the degree to Wodehouse with these words:

Vir lepidissime, facetissime, venustissime, iocosissime, ribidundissime te cum turba tua Leporum, Facetinarum, Venustatum, Iocorum, Risuum, ego auctoritate mea et totius Universitatis admitto ad gradum Doctoris in Litteris honoris causa.

Which meant more or less:

Wittiest of men, most humorous, most charming, most amusing, full of laughter, by the authority vested in me and the entire university, I hereby admit you and your whole crowd of witty, humorous, charming, amusing, uproarious creations to the degree of honorary Doctor of Letters.

(Jasen, McCrum, and a bit of Flannery)

Now there is an honorary degree worth having! At formal dinner for four hundred at Christ Church afterwards, the undergraduates began "to bang the tables, chanting 'We want Wode-house ... we want Wode-house.'" Amen.

But isn't it most wonderful to think of those thousands of undergrads bursting into wild applause at the Latin jokes?

As a beginning young writer in London at the turn of the 20th century, Wodehouse dreamed of sailing to America, to the New World. His dream came true in 1904, when he was just 22. As Robert McCrum says, he "fell in love with Manhattan at first sight." Wodehouse:

To say that New York came up to its advance billing would be the baldest of understatements. Being there was like being in heaven, without going to all the bother and expense of dying.

When he returned to London several weeks later, he found that he was regarded as an expert on America (a very different kind of Tocqueville, no!?), and his writing on the subject of America was in great demand: "After that trip to New York, I was a man who counted. ... My income rose like a rocketing pheasant." So, it's not just that his American readers love his idyllic England; his English readers are charmed by his mythical America! (McCrum) What could be better for the Special Relationship?

Wodehouse lived the last 30 years or so of his life in America--Long Island--and died on Valentine's Day 1975. The names of Psmith, Lord Emsworth, Mr. Mulliner, Bertie Wooster, and Jeeves are inscribed on his tombstone, the way Jefferson had inscribed on his tombstone his greatest accomplishments. I gather tourists can have a rough time finding Wodehouse's grave, but it is behind the Remsenburg Community Church in Long Island.

Oh yes, Oxford. It takes you only 50 minutes to get there from Paddington Station in London on a perfectly pleasant train. And if you haven't packed your four course lunch as half the veteran passengers seem to do, and you're especially peckish when you arrive, stop by the Brasserie Gerard 5 minutes into the 10 minute walk into town from the train station. Try the croque madame or the quiche Lorraine. It's not Anatole's best, but you won't regret it.




Obama speaks at Notre Dame, Mary Ann Glendon does not

Here is the letter Harvard Law professor, prominent Catholic public intellectual, and former Ambassador to the Holy See Mary Ann Glendon wrote, declining to accept the Laestare Medal and share the dais with Barack Obama.

The President has responded, first through a spokesman and, indirectly, at last night's press conference. Here's what he said last night:

You know, the -- my view on -- on abortion, I think, has been very consistent. I think abortion is a moral issue and an ethical issue. I think that those who are pro-choice make a mistake when they -- if they suggest -- and I don't want create straw men here, but I think there are some who suggest that this is simply an issue about women's freedom and that there's no other considerations. I think, look, this is an issue that people have to wrestle with, and families and individual women have to wrestle with.

The reason I'm pro-choice is because I don't think women take that -- that position casually. I think that they struggle with these decisions each and every day, and I think they are in a better position to make these decisions, ultimately, than members of Congress or -- or a president of the United States, in consultation with their families, with their doctors, with their clergy.

So -- so that's -- that's been my consistent position.

The other thing that I said consistently during the campaign is, I would like to reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies that result in women feeling compelled to get an abortion or at least considering getting an abortion, particularly if we can reduce the number of teen pregnancies, which has started to spike up again.

And so I've got a task force within the Domestic Policy Council in the West Wing of the White House that is working with groups both in the pro-choice camp and in the pro-life camp to see if we can arrive at some consensus on that.

Now, the Freedom of Choice Act is not my highest legislative priority. I believe that women should have the right to choose, but I think that the most important thing we can do to tamp down some of the -- the anger surrounding this issue is to focus on those areas that we can agree on. And that's -- that's where I'm going to focus.

This is about as good a statement as you're going to get from someone who is essentially pro-choice and certainly capable of framing it differently, in a way that abortion rights groups find more congenial. But I also note that there are plenty of moral issues on which he thinks it's entirely appropriate for government to take a stand and to legislate, even though there is deep disagreement.

Categories > Presidency


The First 100 Days

Various folks grade the mythical first 100 days here. I live up to my hard-earned reputation as a tough grader, and Peter Lawler seems to grade him on a curve (which is to say against his peers).
Categories > Presidency


The Bond Villain from Pennsylvania

So Snarlin' Arlen is revealed finally to be the Blofeld we always knew this SPECTER was.

Actually, I used to have a nickname for him I'm not sure I can use on a family website. Let's just say I rendered his last name in a term that almost rhymes with "tincture." (Hint: Add the letters "h" and "n" in the right places, change the "e" to an "i", and . . . you'll get it.)

P.S. I think Lawler is too restrained as usual. Specter is an insult to genuine hacks.

Categories > Congress


Specter is an Unprincipled Hack (Really)

...which why his switch is deeply uninteresting on one level. On another, astute unprincipled hacks do know which way the wind is blowing these days.
Categories > Congress


The Car of Tomorrow

Now that it looks like the government will be taking over General Motors, here are a few ideas for innovative designs.
Categories > Technology

Literature, Poetry, and Books

Letter from London

April 27, 2009

Old Friend,

The world turns. Here, let it turn around the Globe, where the season of "Young Hearts" is under weigh. For a few days now, beginning with a closed rehearsal on the afternoon of Shakespeare's birthday--not even staff admitted (to reveal any truth or beauty, you must conceal some!)--the players have submitted to being the instrument twice a day of the revelation of The Most Excellent and Lamentable Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet.

Young hearts! It still breaks my old heart a little with sympathy to be reminded again that Juliet is ... thirteen! I mentioned that Shakespeare's brother Edmund was granted burial in what is now Southwark Cathedral, down the street from the Globe--the sort of stories told by local street musicians and jugglers say that he might have been the first boy to play Juliet. The boys, remember, still played the girls back then. He died when he was 27--still a boy!--and his big brother seems to have arranged for him to have the honor of being buried in the church, rather than outside.

I asked a local authority whether the (open air) Globe Season always opened with Shakespeare's birthday. He said no, that this had been done only the past two seasons, which opened on April 23 and ended in mid to late October, and that originally and for the first ten seasons they had opened in mid-May and ended in mid to late September. "It's too cold in April and October!" he said. "You have to wear three layers of clothes in the evenings. Sitting down is the coldest. Go to the matinee!"

I go to a matinee in a few days. In the meantime, I carry my little Yale Romeo and Juliet around London with me. My older sister Linda gave me the set when I was in college. Remember her? She was high school friends with Natalie Wood, who came over to our house one time that I remember, and stayed behind the closed door of my sister's room down the hall while the two of them giggled, and my heart broke a thousand times. Or that's how I remember it, but I was only seven, and my heart was too young for lamentable tragedy. Linda was prettier anyway!

On Saturday, I carried R & J over to Regent's Park, spread, as ever, along the northern horizon of the old haunt at 10 York Terrace East where you and I lived and listened to IRA bombs going off in those more innocent days. Lunch unfolded at an effortless pace al fresco in the park at the Garden Terrace Café, where the goat cheese and spring onion tarte with toasted pine nuts was like Anatole's best. Everything about the scene and the moment offered anecdotal proof (the only kind available!) that perfection is constantly repeated in infinite variety and irreducibly particular places and times, and always has been and always will be. The day was so stunning it stopped you in your tracks like a beautiful girl walking by, except it didn't walk by--it surrounded you and was everywhere. The temperature was probably 18 or 19 (as they say here in the world of Celsius--mid-60s Fahrenheit), gentle pampering breezes, thick white cotton clouds scudding in a celestial hush across skies so blue they make you squint, shade and sunshine rolling and breaking like silent waves across the landscape. And the park--an English paradise of spring-blooming flowers and trees arranged as if by nature's gardener on a majestic scale. OK. I won't start naming flowers. But I could! What does one do in paradise? I open my Shakespeare at random, like a man of endless leisure, a man of scholê with a timeless book, a schoolman forever.


Gallop apace, you fiery-footed steeds,
Towards Phoebus' lodging: such a wagoner
As Phaethon would whip you to the west,
And bring in cloudy night immediately.
Spread thy close curtain, love-performing night,
That runaway's eyes may wink and Romeo
Leap to these arms, untalk'd of and unseen.
Lovers can see to do their amorous rites
By their own beauties; or, if love be blind,
It best agrees with night. Come, civil night,
Thou sober-suited matron, all in black,
And learn me how to lose a winning match,
Play'd for a pair of stainless maidenhoods:
Hood my unmann'd blood, bating in my cheeks,
With thy black mantle; till strange love, grown bold,
Think true love acted simple modesty.
Come, night; come, Romeo; come, thou day in night;
For thou wilt lie upon the wings of night
Whiter than new snow on a raven's back.
Come, gentle night, come, loving, black-brow'd night,
Give me my Romeo; and, when he shall die,
Take him and cut him out in little stars,
And he will make the face of heaven so fine
That all the world will be in love with night
And pay no worship to the garish sun.
O, I have bought the mansion of a love,
But not possess'd it, and, though I am sold,
Not yet enjoy'd: so tedious is this day
As is the night before some festival
To an impatient child that hath new robes
And may not wear them. O, here comes my nurse ...

There are no clocks in the Paradise Café. Some measureless time later, still at school, maybe because of the Havana cigar that is sending rich aromas from the table next door, I put down my Shakespeare and muse of Hemingway's cafés in Paris. One café is for writing. This café is inviolable. Each writer has his own. A man who intrudes on you there is either ill bred or drunk. It is inconceivable that he would be just misinformed. Then there is the café where you meet your mistress. This too is inviolable. A man who descends upon you there is a fool. Even a beating will not improve him. Then there is a neutral café where you might go with your mistress to meet friends with their mistresses. I make this up from bad memory (note to self: re-read A Moveable Feast, after memorizing Shakespeare). Having no mistress, I need only one café. In any case, I'm in the café, without a mistress. What does one do in the Paradise Café without a mistress? I sigh and pick up my Shakespeare again and ask my wife if she would like coffee. She is reading Emma right next to me and sends her warm regards.



Brown Celebrities

No, I'm not referring to skin pigmentation. "Brown" is the term used by this website to take note of the environmentally-incorrect ways of some well-known celebrities--many of whom (e.g., Madonna and Babs) are prone to wax eloquent when lecturing others about the virtues of going green. Still . . . Simon Cowell only earns my further esteem as I note his placement on the list. Someday I'm sure I'll learn something about him to disappoint me, but so far he has amused me to no end with his no-nonsense approach to the truth, his biting wit and his complete disregard for the mind-numbing idiocy that grips so much of Hollywood.
Categories > Environment


Law, order, and liberty

I happened to see Shaw's "Misalliance" over the weekend. In light of recent debates, I found this bit of dialogue interesting:

GUNNER. Ive read more than any man in this room, if the truth were known, I expect. Thats whats going to smash up your Capitalism. The problems are beginning to read. Ha! We're free to do that here in England. What would you do with me in Jinghiskahn if you had me there?

LORD SUMMERHAYS. Well, since you ask me so directly, I'll tell you. I should take advantage of the fact that you have neither sense enough nor strength enough to know how to behave yourself in a difficulty of any sort. I should warn an intelligent and ambitious policeman that you are a troublesome person. The intelligent and ambitious policeman would take an early opportunity of upsetting your temper by ordering you to move on, and treading on your heels until you were provoked into obstructing an officer in the discharge of his duty. Any trifle of that sort would be sufficient to make a man like you lose your self-possession and put yourself in the wrong. You would then be charged and imprisoned until things quieted down.

GUNNER. And you call that justice!

LORD SUMMERHAYS. No. Justice was not my business. I had to govern a province; and I took the necessary steps to maintain order in it. Men are not governed by justice, but by law or persuasion. When they refuse to be governed by law or persuasion, they have to be governed by force or fraud, or both. I used both when law and persuasion failed me. Every ruler of men since the world began has done so, even when he has hated both fraud and force as heartily as I do. It is as well that you should know this, my young friend; so that you may recognize in time that anarchism is a game at which the police can beat you. What have you to say to that?

GUNNER. What have I to say to it! Well, I call it scandalous: thats what I have to say to it.

LORD SUMMERHAYS. Precisely: thats all anybody has to say to it, except the British public, which pretends not to believe it.

Categories > Politics

Fred Thompson, Ashbrook Dinner, Cigars, the CIA, and Shakespeare

These matters are connected. Follow the dots. I started reading Losing Mum and Pup: A Memoir by son Christopher Buckley this weekend. As I suspected, it is a good. WFB was a thoughtful and interesting guy, spent a year (we think no more!) in the CIA, wrote great spy-books, and all the other things he is responsible for y’all already know. (The NYT Magazine runs an extract from the book, by the way.)

Fred Thompson is our Annual Dinner Speaker this Friday, speaking on how the first 100 days have gone (although we have almost 600 folks coming, tickets are still available, buy one or two, for the Ashbrook Scholars’ sake). This should be fun, he is a smart fellow and amusing, speaks with a nice lilt and drawl, and was on the cover of the May issue of Cigar Aficionado); also, Thompson said yesterday that President Barack Obama is revealing his "naivete, ineptitude and arrogance" as he deals with matters of national security. And he also said that the "dogs of war have been loosed" over left-wing attempts to single out Bush-era officials for prosecution relating to the treatment of detainees.

World Affairs

In the current issue of World Affairs Scott McConnell writes Not So Huddled Masses: Multiculturalism and Foreign Policy. It is a good and thoughtful essay. I am prompted to bring it to your attention because I find myself reading World Affairs with more regularity. The opinions are all over the map, but never wacky, and the writing is good; no scholarly pretentiousness or, you know, that painstaking circumspection practiced by those establishment-types who think their position (or possible future position) prevents them from saying anything true or interesting. Here is essay from past issue that is worth reading by Robert Kagan and then a Exchange about it.

Chavez and the idiot’s bible

Alvaro Vargas Llosa disproves, with appropriate brevity, the major points in Galeano’s "Open Veins," the book Chaves gave to Obama at the recent Summit.

Against the Free Market and Big Government

That’s where Dr. Pat Deneen finds himself. And so he thinks of himself as equally opposed to our two major parties. But is it really possible to return to an earlier stage in "the division of labor," when making stuff was a bigger deal and techno-cleverness less of one? I certainly do agree that America has centralized in the names of both efficiency and (egalitarian) justice, and so it’s harder than ever to experience oneself as a responsible citizen sacrificing for the common good. (It’s also true that because so much of the mental labor is done for us all in undisclosed centralized locations, people in rural areas and really small towns are probably dumber than ever.) I also agree that we shouldn’t neglect completely the connection between economic libertarianism and creeping and creepy cultural libertarianism. Big government both erodes and fills the vacuum caused by declining personal responsibility. Still, in the mind of, say, Tocqueville, big government is the bigger problem, precisely because it can be so compatible with cultural libertarianism. And so it’s easy to see why so many countercultural Americans use libertarian means to pursue nonlibertarian ends (home schoolers, for example). Maybe Pat is right, though, that without stronger local communities and authentic "cultural transmission," we’re left with no real standard of personal dignity or significance higher than productivity.

THE SOLOIST one fine movie, according to ME. It’s all about the problem of the homeless, which has no real solution. It’s way too simple and very lacking in compassion to say that they choose to be homeless, but it’s often true enough that they lack what it takes to choose against it. We root for the brilliant musician locked up in himself to get over being a soloist, but he really doesn’t--except in a limited way with a friend. And we’re hugely impressed with the ambitious reporter who puts the time in--finally out of love--to be his friend. Jamie Foxx is eerily convincing as a mentally ill musician, and Robert Downey Jr. does well as a reporter who becomes more than a mere liberal. If you have even a slight tendency toward personal chaos, this movie will leave you more disoriented than is comfortable.

Shakespeare for Presidents

From New York Times a mere preface to the wonder behind it all. I would also add,

No matter where; of comfort no man speak:
Let’s talk of graves, of worms, and epitaphs;
Make dust our paper and with rainy eyes
Write sorrow on the bosom of the earth,
Let’s choose executors and talk of wills:
And yet not so, for what can we bequeath
Save our deposed bodies to the ground?....
For God’s sake, let us sit upon the ground
And tell sad stories of the death of kings;
How some have been deposed; some slain in war,
Some haunted by the ghosts they have deposed;
Some poison’d by their wives: some sleeping kill’d;
All murder’d: for within the hollow crown
That rounds the mortal temples of a king
Keeps Death his court and there the antic sits,
Scoffing his state and grinning at his pomp,....

Maybe Flannery will make something of it.

Evolution and the Active Intellect

In todays’s new York Times, an evolutionary explanation of the active intellect:

“On a very basic level, judging people by appearance means putting them quickly into impersonal categories, much like deciding whether an animal is a dog or a cat. ‘Stereotypes are seen as a necessary mechanism for making sense of information,’ said David Amodio, an assistant professor of psychology at New York University. ‘If we look at a chair, we can categorize it quickly even though there are many different kinds of chairs out there.’

Eons ago, this capability was of life-and-death importance, and humans developed the ability to gauge other people within seconds.”

This is the article in the NYT.

Why Conservatism IS Postmodern

...according to me.

The Candy (Universality) and the Spinach (Rationing)

That’s Krauthammer’s astute characterization of Obama’s projected two stages of health care reform. Charles is perfectly right that only real alternative would have a subsidized transition to portable private insurance, and we remember that McCain and the Republicans chose not to do battle over this issue during the campaign.

Literature, Poetry, and Books

Letter from London

April 24, 2009

Old Friend,

As I was telling the Customs lad the other day, who was more hungry for lunch than for literary history, America has in some ways shown Shakespeare more regard over the years than has the land of his birth and life and work and death, the land he immortalized, where I now sojourn:

This royal throne of kings, this scepter'd isle,
This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars,
This other Eden, demi-paradise,
This fortress built by Nature for herself
Against infection and the hand of war,
This happy breed of men, this little world,
This precious stone set in the silver sea,
Which serves it in the office of a wall,
Or as a moat defensive to a house,
Against the envy of less happier lands,
This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England,
This land of such dear souls, this dear dear land,
Dear for her reputation through the world...

As old dying Gaunt says in Richard II. And says so gloriously as to make generations of readers forget Gaunt's pitiful lament and condemnation of Richard, that this dear, dear land

Is now leased out, I die pronouncing it,
Like to a tenement or pelting farm:
England, bound in with the triumphant sea
Whose rocky shore beats back the envious siege
Of watery Neptune, is now bound in with shame,
With inky blots and rotten parchment bonds:
That England, that was wont to conquer others,
Hath made a shameful conquest of itself.
Ah, would the scandal vanish with my life,
How happy then were my ensuing death!

Speaking of which, I arrived in this dear land at the very moment when the Labour government seemed to be announcing that England was leasing itself--to the next generation or to world creditors, I'm not sure which--like to a tenement or pelting farm, taking on more debt than at any time since World War II. But as you know, such matters are beyond me, and I digress.

When you and I were here, "a lifetime ago" as you say, there was no Globe Theatre in London. That there is one now is due mainly to the efforts of that American I mentioned yesterday, Sam Wanamaker. And the story of his interest in such matters is an American story that Sam Clemens would have loved. It originated near your neck of the Heartland woods, in Chicago:

Hog Butcher for the World,
Tool Maker, Stacker of Wheat,
Player with Railroads and the Nation's Freight Handler;
Stormy, husky, brawling,
City of the Big Shoulders.

It was in the Chicago World's Fair of 1933 that the fifteen-year-old Wanamaker encountered the "first reconstruction of a Shakespearean 'Globe style' theatre" in America. He said "he was struck by 'the avoidance of the sort of hushed quality you had to have when you went to the theater'" (NYT, July 9, 1987). This boyhood experience awakened a dream in Wanamaker that he didn't begin to fulfill until the last couple of decades of his life, the dream of rebuilding Shakespeare's original Globe Theatre. And here's the part Sam Clemens would have loved:

Following the close of the Chicago fair, the complete 'Globe' theatre building was moved to Dallas, Texas, and in June 1936, as part of that state's official centennial celebrations, a quasi-religious ceremony 'consecrated' the newly re-erected stage for the citizens of the Southwest. Earlier that year the American vice consul to the UK and a party of local dignitaries in Stratford-upon-Avon had gathered to collect soil from the garden at Shakespeare's Birthplace and river water from the Avon, in preparation for the Dallas ceremony. The soil was placed in a box made from charred wood saved from the recently destroyed Stratford-upon-Avon theatre and the water secured in a pristine aluminium bottle, ready for shipping across the Atlantic by Cunard liner. On its arrival in New York, a member of the British consulate met the package prior to its final onward journey to Dallas.

The Dallas Morning News of 3 June 1936 reported the previous day's 'rites' of sprinkling the earth and water on the replica Globe stage before an audience of six hundred, transmitted via a live radio broadcast to the many listeners of station WFAA. With the stage symbolically consecrated the citizens of Texas were invited to the Globe to watch a Shakespeare play performed 'every hour on the hour' for the next 177 days.

What an orgy! Shakespeare, Texas style! Apparently, since the Chicago example, at least nine other Globe theatres popped up in America, while England continued to have none until 1997--and that one only because of the reverence and determination of Sam Wanamaker.

I know some of these things because of the book you called to my attention, Shakespeare and the American Nation (Cambridge, 2004), by Kim Sturgess, which is where all the quotations come from unless otherwise noted. It is an informative book, as books of that sort can be, concerning itself not with anything intrinsic to Shakespeare's plays or poetry but with a certain aspect of the reception of Shakespeare over the centuries. And it is also a typical academic book in that it can't help sneering at its subject gratuitously with a little intellectual contempt. Somehow the American "appropriation" of Shakespeare can only be explained by some kind of "nationalism" that seems to leave one's hands dirty to touch--the "establishment," for the usual unsavory variety of alleged or implied reasons, fearful of losing its advantages, conscripts the Bard to defend itself against foreign influences, etc. In any case, how déclassé for a country or a people to consider itself heroic or to consider a poet as something possibly even greater than a hero. But these sentiments are really unnecessary for Mr. Sturgess's book, and one feels reading it as if they are there because they are expected, almost required, by the Guild for which he labors. So one overlooks them. But I further digress...

It is natural for people to puzzle, at least for a moment, over how America, who owes its existence and its essence to radical revolution against England, can with any consistency treasure England's greatest poet. But America, of course, never ceased cherishing or revering or respecting and being grateful for many things British. The essential thing we threw off was the tyrannical idea of feudal monarchy and aristocracy--that some men were born with saddles on their backs and others booted and spurred to ride them by the grace of God. Where did Shakespeare stand on this? Well, that's a long story about which Walt Whitman, among others, has some entertaining things to say, but John Adams, I believe as early as 1765, likened British tyranny to Lady Macbeth.

There are many examples of America's incorporation of--and dependence upon--good old things in its Novus Ordo Seclorum. For an example of America interweaving its newness with old English threads, consider the patriotic song, America, popularly known as My Country Tis of Thee.

My country, 'tis of thee,
Sweet land of liberty,
Of thee I sing;
Land where my fathers died,
Land of the pilgrims' pride,
From every mountainside
Let freedom ring!

My native country, thee,
Land of the noble free,
Thy name I love;
I love thy rocks and rills,
Thy woods and templed hills;
My heart with rapture thrills,
Like that above.

Let music swell the breeze,
And ring from all the trees
Sweet freedom's song;
Let mortal tongues awake;
Let all that breathe partake;
Let rocks their silence break,
The sound prolong.

Our father's God to Thee,
Author of liberty,
To Thee we sing.
Long may our land be bright,
With freedom's holy light,
Protect us by Thy might,
Great God our King.

Not exactly Shakespeare. But I've always loved it, including the melody, taken without blushing from the English national anthem, God Save the Queen: American words sung to British music. What could be more American! Shakespeare in America seems to me like English words set to American music. Al Pacino's Looking for Richard is an amusing, if unnecessarily foul-mouthed, short film on Americans trying to "do" Shakespeare.

Financial support for the Globe Theatre effort--and for many other similar efforts to preserve British culture--came mainly from Americans. "That," said Mr. Wanamaker [twenty-some years ago], "is in the nature of the American character. The British are much more cynical and regard the idea of a Globe reconstruction as an Elizabethan Disneyland. But the Americans have a real hunger for what they see as their history, their culture and their Shakespeare." (NYT July 9, 1987)

So Sam Wanamaker gets a memorial plaque next to the Shakespeare monument and window on the south side of the nave in Southwark Cathedral. I visited it yesterday, while waiting for a counter-tenor to sing Dryden lyrics to music by Purcell in honor of Shakespeare's 445th birthday and St. George's Day. "In Thanksgiving for Sam Wanamaker whose vision rebuilt Shakespeare's Globe Theatre in this parish," it says, while a full-size statue of Shakespeare reclines on its elbow just to the left of it. But what about such memorials and such monuments, what about the Globe itself, what about the Lincoln statue I have hardly begun to talk about? Do they remind one of Crito's touching concern about how Socrates will be buried, forgetting what Socrates had been telling him for so many years--that Socrates' foot is not Socrates?

They could. But I am inclined to think of them more as an important kind of secular sacrament: outward and visible signs of an inward and elusive beauty and truth.

So, more to follow, on Shakespeare, young hearts, Juliet and Shakespeare's younger brother, Southwark Cathedral (if I have not exhausted it), Walt Whitman (and Shakespeare's esoterics and exoterics), the Special Relationship, Lincoln in London, etc.



Conservative. Yet Postmodern

The POSTMODERN CONSERVATIVE blog has been revived at the FIRST THINGS site. There’s already lots of good stuff there, including Ralph Hancock’s reflections on watching the Miss USA Pageant (initially to humor the lovely Mrs. Hancock). Here are my reflections on why Tocqueville talks up the Puritans, which are meant to be in response to Jim Ceaser’s great talk at Berry College last night. The Puritans, at their best, were all about an aristocracy of everyone.

Letter from London

I got a note from Chris Flannery, who just arrived in London. I will post it as sent, and will post future ones as they come in (assuming the Muse honors him):

April 22, Heathrow International, Customs Desk:

"What is the purpose of your visit?" asked a sallow young man with a badge who had just glommed our passports. And he didn’t speak in contractions. I was prepared.

"My much better half and I," I said, "have come to stimulate the global economy and strengthen the Special Relationship. Tomorrow is Shakespeare’s birthday-his 445th-and it’s also the opening day of the new season (the twelfth, I think) at the Globe Theatre. Did you know that the man who is called in some of the literature the founder of the New Globe was an American? Uh, huh. Sam Wanamaker.

But he is just a recent example of a long line of Americans who have revered Shakespeare so much and done so much to preserve his memory that the Bard has become by his own kind of magic America’s greatest poet. This doesn’t mean, of course, that he can’t still be England’s greatest poet. Unlike cake, but like the truth, Shakespeare seems only to grow as you give him away. By the way, the theme of the Globe season this year is ’Young Hearts,’ and the first play will be Romeo and Juliet. Did you know that Shakespeare’s younger brother . . ."

"How long will you be staying?" he said. And he said it like someone whose lunch break was long overdue. So we took back our passports and made our way to Baggage Claim.


Judicial Arrogance in Iowa and the Tearing Down of Equality

Jennifer Roback Morse posts an informative discussion of the methods employed by advocates of same sex marriage (advocates from within and from without the courts, I’d add) to get Iowa’s laws about marriage overturned. One especially disturbing thing (which, I confess, I had naively not considered prior to reading this) is the behemoth sized financial and legal firepower same-sex advocates (especially Lambda Legal with a budget that vastly over-shadows that of the entire court system in Polk County, Iowa) brought to bear on this case. More telling, however, was the way in which the courts in Iowa (beginning with the trial court) simply refused to listen to the evidence provided by marriage defenders and, instead, declared the presentation of relevant facts as dictated by same-sex advocates to be "undisputed." When cries of objection were raised as the case proceeded to the Supreme Court, the Court simply remarked that the relevant facts would be reviewed by them and so the oversight in the lower court did not amount to a real concern. Yet, the "review" of the evidence in the Supreme Court (evidence that has been found to be persuasive in other states, including New York) amounted to its dismissal as consisting of nothing more than "stereotypes"--all of this without citation or supporting evidence, of course.

Roback Morse is insightful in noting: "The debate over marriage hinges in large part on what people think is the subject: Advocates of genderless marriage believe it is about fairness and equality. Advocates of conjugal marriage believe it is about the role of marriage. By dismissing testimony so obviously germane to the functions of marriage in society, the Iowa courts prejudged the case and tacitly declared equality to be the only issue." It seems to me that this is exactly what has happened in the Iowa case and, while it highlights exactly why same-sex and traditional marriage advocates seem to be talking past each other, this shift in the focus of the argument is an especially bad development. It is bad not only because it means that marriage is likely to be undermined in a growing number of states, but also because it means that we are getting ever more distant from an ability to think clearly about the meaning and importance of equality.

If equality before the law boils down to a demand that the law be required to accord equal respect and privileges to the innate desires of every human being and not simply that the law (because of our natural human dignity) should be applied with equality to all regardless of each person’s peculiar idiosyncrasies--then we are turning the foundation of our regime and the legal system born of its principles on its head. We are saying that differences justify the granting of additional privileges to some citizens. In other words, we are trying to argue that inequality is equality. Some citizens may chose a male or a female spouse as they prefer. It is neither here nor there that the "privilege" or "right" of same sex marriage must now be open to all citizens in theory, because the foundation of the thing comes from an argument about equality that is rooted in our differences rather than in our common nature. Intellectually, it opens the door to any number of arguments that could gradually chip away at the cornerstone of American civilization.

It really is not my intention to come across as an alarmist on this front. Personally, I do not harbor any ill will or anxiety about my homosexual friends and neighbors. I think they should live and be well--and enjoy the same rights and privileges as every other American. I wish them the best of luck and happiness in all of their endeavors and I am even open to legal arrangements that ensure their protection in most domestic arrangements--including, in some cases, adoption. But words mean things. Marriage, for example, means the coming together of opposites for a common and civilizing purpose. It’s how we come to accommodate (and, one hopes, appreciate) our important sexual differences. This can be tough work and, obviously, not everyone is cut out for it. It’s failure rate is a testament to that (and perhaps not unrelated to the push to change its terms). But equal treatment before the law does not mean that each individual can come before the law (or before the court of logic) and tweak it in order best to suit his own preferences--however hard-wired those preferences may be. If that is the case, then marriage means nothing because it can change with your preferences. Moreover, equality does not mean inequality. And the foundation for the respect of equality in the American regime is not to be found in what makes us different but, rather, it is to be found in what we all as human beings share in our common human nature. Human dignity requires equal treatment before the law, certainly. But human dignity cannot be respected if we shift our focus to individual differences rather than common nature.

Celebrating Shakespeare’s Birthday

NRO’s Shakespeare symposium contains some clever comments by contributors on their favorite plays--see Charlotte Allen, Rick Brookhiser, Joe Queenan, et al. No one mentioned Merchant of Venice, so let me propose that oddest of comedies. The often prescient George Anastaplo expressed his disgust at the play, but (following Brookhiser’s take on the boldness of The Winter’s Tale) that is one of its beauties, as it drags us in and out of the muck. The Merchant is in many ways a tale about America--commercial and diverse, with an underpinning of slavery.

A former colleague told this insightful joke: A man takes his mother to her first Shakespeare play, a performance of Hamlet. Afterward, she remarks on how much she enjoyed the play but hadn’t realized Shakespeare was so full of cliches.

On the Literal and Liberal Misuse of Literally

Please do yourself and your friends and family a favor and go read Tony Woodlief on one of the many abuses of the English language. It would be a small step to ending a very real (though not literal) torture if everyone absorbed this teaching. Moreover, if you really want to do yourself a favor, you should check in on Tony’s blog with regularity. He’s delightful. Literally . . .


Andy Busch on the election

I did a Podcast with Andy Busch about the election. His book, Epic Journey: The 2008 Elections and American Politics was just published (co-authored with James Ceasar and John Pitney). Good book, good conversation, probably should have been longer.   
Categories > Elections

Obama Punked Again

First Hugo Chavez uses him to promote some 10 year-old anti-American screed and now the Castro boys use him for a good old-fashioned game of dodgeball. How’s that meeting tyrants with no preconditions working out for you, Barack?


I know I’m really, really late to comment on this . . . but I never get to movies these days and almost always have to wait until things come out on DVD. I suspect many of you are floating in my boat, so here goes: Did anyone else think that Angelina Jolie’s movie Changeling (directed by Clint Eastwood and co-starring John Malkovich) was a perfect argument against big, intrusive, and especially "expert" driven government? Perhaps it did not intend to be that . . . but it was based on a true story and the truth will out, as they say. Anyway, I thought it was a terrific and gripping movie.


Happy Earth Day

It's that special day again. And Investors Business Daily takes note of my annual Index of Leading Environmental Indicators, now in its 14th edition (woo-hoo!).

This may be my favorite tidbit from this year's edition:

Elizabeth Rosenthal reported in the New York Times of a recent estimate from the Smithsonian Institution research in Central America suggesting that "for every acre of rain forest cut down each year, more than 50 acres of new forest are growing in the tropics on land that was once farmed, logged or ravaged by natural disaster. . . The new forests, the scientists argue, could blunt the effects of rain forest destruction by absorbing carbon dioxide, the leading heat-trapping gas linked to global warming, one crucial role that rain forests play. They could also, to a lesser extent, provide habitat for endangered species." The next sentence, however, has a drearily predictable beginning: "The idea has stirred outrage among environmentalists," not because it might be untrue, but because it might blunt support for "vigorous efforts to protect native rain forests."

Imagine that: Environmentalists outraged by potentially good news.

Stay tuned to this space: Late today I'm scheduled to testify to the House Energy and Commerce Committee's marathon hearings that I'm calling "climatepalooza."

Categories > Environment

Obama and Uribe

The Investor’s Business Daily praises Obama for getting it right with Columbia’s president Alvaro Uribe. Obama now supports the free trade agreement, and invited Uribe to Washington. "The media made much of Obama’s polite gestures to dictators, but he gave them nothing resembling what he gave to Uribe. Name one dictator Obama sat with for lunch. Which troublemaker got a White House invitation? Which tinhorn got a promise to visit?" I mention this not only because it is a good thing, but because in all the TV "news" about the Trinidad meeting (shaking hands with what’s his name, etc.), this serious policy change was never mentioned. This is the first I heard of it.

Universal Jurisdiction

The Washington Post reports that Europeans, under the doctrine of universal jurisdiction, are thinking of trying US officials for torture, a violation of international law, if these officials are not tried in the US for. According to the article, the release of memos by the Obama administration has made this easier to do and built political support for it.

I think this could be fun. If the Europeans go ahead, the US should indict every Spanish official in the chain of command for Spain’s extra-judicial program of killing ETA terrorists. We could go after the Germans for the Red Army terrorist shot on the train platform. Then there are all those French officials we could indict for the surreptitious sinking of the Green Peace ship in the 1980s, which unfortunately killed a Green Peace activist. And what about discrimination against Turks, North Africans, etc?

By the way, the New York Times reports that before the interrogation techniques that everyone now objects to were put to use, Nancy Pelosi was one of four Congressional leaders briefed on them. She says she can’t remember exactly what was in the brief.

The Etymology of American Happiness

Dennis Prager today writes an exceptional essay in which he accounts for the astonishing success of the English-speaking world by noting the use in our language of the word "earn”; as in "earn a living." Other languages do not have an exact translation. For example, if you want to speak of getting your wages in Spanish, you employ the verb "ganar" which means "to win." German uses a variation on the theme with "verdient" which means "to deserve,” and Hebrew draws on a verb that means "to profit." One needn’t reflect long on the moral implications suggested by these various conceptualizations of work and wages in order to consider how these different orientations might play out—not only with respect to economics but also with respect to morality and politics.

The moral outlook for a person who considers that he must “earn” a living, “earn” respect, “earn” love, and “earn” forgiveness is going to be considerably different from that of a person who judges that money, respect, love and forgiveness are his by dint of pure good fortune. Similarly, the person who strives for earning things is going to comport himself in ways that are vastly different from those of the soul who imagines that life’s riches should be his as a matter of entitlement or will (that is, if he can but cleverly manage the accounting).

Prager notes that America is in danger of forgetting this verbiage as well as the habits of mind and of heart that accompany it. We now talk freely (nay, proudly) of “unconditional love,” for example, and we demand it along with instant forgiveness for all of our faults. In school (and, sadly, very often at home) our children “earn” very little these days and are given a great deal more as a result. Trophies, accolades, admiration, affection—all these things are theirs for the mere price of breathing. And love? Well, we claim it as a birthright but—not being intellectual as well as moral idiots—we are very often disappointed in its quality. Perhaps there is little wonder in this. We bought our love from the clearance table after all.

A good friend of mine recently noted that Obama’s demand of his cabinet that they seek to trim the federal budget by $100 million will work for him as a conspicuous demonstration of republican virtue working to do him the Machiavellian service of covering up his otherwise imperial lavishness. I suppose he has a point. But I cannot help but take some comfort, anyway, in Obama’s feeling the necessity to use this particular fan for his obscene little dance. It’s fair to note his cynicism in it and to call it a cheap kind of stunt, but it’s also true that it does denote a kind of nascent republican virtue in the American soul. We still think—though we’ve done a poor job of demonstrating it in many respects—that people ought to “earn” a living. We still think that there is a mean between extravagance and stinginess. We still hold fast to the notion that it is wrong for a people to live beyond their means. And Obama still feels like he needs to (or at least he seems to need to pretend to) “earn” our forgiveness.

Critics will say that’s a thin reed to hang my hopes on. But I don’t yet think America is a nation of suckers and tyrants.


What Caused the Civil War? The Spring Offensive of the 44th

"The Civil War began 148 years ago this month with the assault on Fort Sumter...." Thus begins one of those painful WaPo overviews of what DC area kids is learning, in this case about what caused the Civil War. Supposedly the old lessons will take on new life, with our 44th President:

Ask Northerners the cause of the war, and the answer often is a single word: slavery. In many places in the South, the answers can vary: states' rights, freedom, political and economic power.

As students across the region begin springtime Civil War lessons, historians say the election of Barack Obama as the first African American president offers an unprecedented opportunity to break through stereotypes and view the era in broader ways....

There is little disagreement among professional historians that the South's effort to maintain the institution of slavery was the central reason that 11 Southern states seceded from the Union and civil war erupted. Today's textbooks have largely caught up with this view. But that doesn't necessarily translate to the classroom.

Even from this journalistic account, it seems pretty clear that the misleading equation of slavery with race or racism is behind the "stereotypes." It's also clear that no one seems to take seriously that slavery violates the central American founding principle of equality. Affirming human equality is the common cause behind a war to prevent secession that became a war to free the slaves. That was Lincoln's explanation, from the First Inaugural through his Second Inaugural. Equality is a principle of limited government, whose protection of liberty allows the fulfillment of human happiness. Ending slavery is the minimal condition for self-government.

While the journalist recounts a clever Simpsons episode, no where does she see fit to quote the 16th president of the United States in the year of the Bicentennial of his birth. But that can be a story for another time.

Categories > History

Marian Anderson, Genius

Alex Ross celebrates the life and music (and inevitably the symbol she became) of Marian Anderson, and

"the unfurling of her voice—that gently majestic instrument, vast in range and warm in tone. In her early years, Anderson was known as ’the colored contralto,’ but, by the late thirties, she was the contralto, the supreme representative of her voice category."   


Horse Overdose

A horse named Overdose, purchased for next to nothing in England, winning 12 straight races in Hungary, has become significant there, revealing something about the country, good and bad: "As times have gotten tougher here, the 4-year-old Overdose has become the Hungarian Seabiscuit, a symbol of hope for Americans during the Great Depression. He appears to remind Hungarians of themselves: undervalued and underestimated."
Categories > Sports

Political Philosophy

A Berry Big Event

James Ceaser will be speaking at Berry College (in or near Rome, GA) next Thursday, April 23 at 6:30 p.m. His topic will be something like why does Tocqueville talk up the Puritans but not the Declaration of Independence in DEMOCRACY IN AMERICA. Jim will be subjected to four outstanding friendly critics. They'll also be a panel on the recent election at 3:30--featuring distinguished experts such as Jecelyn Evans and Ivan the K--which will be in honor of Ceaser et al's incisive new book on said election. If that's not enough, they'll be two panels full of student presentations and commentary at 11:30 and 1:30. Please contact ME ([email protected]) for further information.

We're very sorry that we couldn't extend a more general invitation to our friends to attend. We have no money in these tough times, and some of our regular sources of funding weren't available this year. There's hope for more next year, though. This is a more student-run event than ever this year, and thanks to Jacque Smith, Laura Lieberman and our award-winning professor Eric Sands ([email protected]) for working so hard to keep hope alive this year.

Let me also thank IVAN the K for hosting a great conference on CHANTAL DELSOL. I'll say a bit more about what I learned in THE COUGAR CAPITAL OF THE WORLD later. But here's one exchange that links together the two conferences: SEAN SUTTON (a great guy and superb teacher) and I had a mild disagreement about how much the Declaration of Independence can be the foundation of judicial review. I talked up the importance of LEGISLATIVE COMPROMISE, saying that even the great Declaration was the product of legislative compromise. Sean exlaimed, correctly, that that made the Declaration better. And of course I agreed.

So my question to Jim might be whether our Puritan and Declaration foundings are as opposed as some say. Let me quote a few words from R.L. Bruckberger's IMAGES OF AMERICA (Bruckberger was French vistor to our country who's been called, with a little justice at least, the Tocqueville of the 1950s): "The greatest luck of all for the Declaration was precisely the divergence and the compromise between the Puritan tradition and what Jefferson wrote. Had the Declaration been written in the strictly Puritan tradition, it would probably not have managed to avoid an aftertaste of theocracy and religious fanaticism. Had it been written [simply] from the standpoint of the...philosophy of the day, it would be have been areligious, if not actually offensive to Christians." And so the Declaration of Jefferson, as changed by Congress, can't be simply explained or justified by "the philosophical context of its time; it must be viewed as a more profound accomplishment."

The Graying of the Industrial World

This is not change we can believe in, and it is the most fundamental cause of economic woes. Obama, of course, has no policy to provide the (erotic, familial) stimulus we need, and the inevitable failure of his reactionary Keynesianism might allow Republican statespersons to turn our attention to the genuinely foundational issues--issues neglected during the Republicans’ recent time in power. These issues might have considerable appeal to the young, who might reasonably rebel against the moral emptiness of the world they’ve inherited. This pathbreaking article is the self-outing of the legendary Spengler, who turns out to be one Mr. Goldman.

The long ride

Three not so young folk will travel from Beijing to London on a couple of "nice horses", says Megan Lewis, a former geography teacher in England (age 60). Another rider, Chinese-Russian Li Jing, greatly admires "Genghis Khan, whose spirit has been a big encouragement for me." The third rider is Peng Wenchao, a former cab driver from Beijing. They started yesterday. Here is another story, with better pictures. Of the many great things in the world surely among the best is a horse. This is a great way to spend four years.

Ross Douthat Batting For Bill Kristol

Ross Douthat
will be tne NY Times conservative columnist replacing Bill Kristol. A former Publius Fellow of the Claremont Institute, Ross displays his cleverness in a review of a new book on Billy Graham and civil rights. He astutely provides a conservative position on a liberal dogma, while at first giving every appearance of favoring it. From the last few paragraphs:

In one story, Sun Belt Republicanism was a coalition forged in cynicism and denial: it perpetuated real injustices while denying they existed and relied on the votes of bigots to achieve political dominance. In another telling, though, the majority that Nixon built managed to achieve something that seemed impossible at mid-century--using the rhetoric of Christianity and colorblindness to reconcile the white South to a legal and social revolution, and confining the once-ubiquitous support for segregation to a lunatic fringe.

Again, as with Graham, both of these stories are true....

I have confidence we will not be saying, Ross, it was nice knowing ya, and gee we might have had Ramesh or Yuval.


Save the First Amendment

Kill McCain-Feingold. Some recent developments:
The issue bandied about on Tuesday asked whether banning the broadcast of "Hillary: The Movie," 30 days before last year's Democratic primary, violated McCain-Feingold (a lower court said yes), and whether that application of McCain-Feingold violated the constitution.

Much of the intrigue arrived courtesy of Malcolm Stewart, the lawyer for the government. According to the NYT's take, Stewart largely argued that Congress has the sweeping power to ban political books, signs and videos, so long as they're paid for by corporations and disseminated not long before an election.

Stewart argued there was no difference in principle between the 90-minute documentary and a 30-second television advertisement, a position which Justice Kennedy seemed to find hard to stomach.

"If we think that the application of this to a 90-minute film is unconstitutional," Justice Kennedy said, "then the whole statute should fall under your view because there's no distinction between the two?"

It didn't sit well with other justices, either. According to the NYT's Adam Liptak: "by the end of an exceptionally lively argument at the Supreme Court on Tuesday, it seemed at least possible that five justices were prepared to overturn or significantly limit parts of the court's 2003 decision upholding the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law . . . ."

Categories > Congress

Greetings from Memphis

I’ve been attending the annual meeting of the Association for Core Texts and Courses, which remains one of my favorite conferences. Dan Cullen of Rhodes College has outdone himself as host and panel impresario, treating us to first-rate barbecue last night and putting together two most excellent panels on liberal education and civic education over the past two days.

I’ve also heard a lot of grumbling about assessment, but it remains an unavoidable feature of contemporary higher education. We do it all time--didn’t Socrates say that the unassessed life wasn’t worth living for a human being?--albeit not in the way that many accreditors would recognize and appreciate.

Next stop: Berry College, where I’ll be responding to James W. Ceaser.

Some Thoughts on Piracy

FPRI, which publishes Orbis, the journal I now edit, has sent out my short essay on piracy and what to do about itas an "e-note." It is reprinted on the Ashbrook site here. The essay is a more complete version of what I posted recently on NLT.

I am indebted to one of those who commented on my earlier post for reminding me of Locke’s agrument on behalf of the right of self defense.

I must make a correction to my piece. It was Decatur who set fire to the USS Philadelphia but the naval squadron that bombarded Tripoli was commanded by Commodore Edward Preble.

Absent Books

On the one hand, for Stephen Marche there are too many books and yet he uses the same-day death of Shakespeare and Cervantes to contemplate some possibilities for new ones. Wouldn’t it be fun to have another play from Sophocles (we have only seven of his one hundred and twenty), or to have the Bard�s "Cardenio," which the King�s Men performed twice in 1613 and was probably based on Don Quixote (Thomas Shelton�s translation was released in 1612)? I looked through my Kindle. Not there.

Mark Twain’s new book

Mark Twain has a new book coming out, Who is Mark Twain?, a collection of 24 previously unpublished stories and essays. In "Happy Memories of the Dental Chair," a piece in the new book, Twain describes his dentist: "He was gray and venerable, and humane of aspect; but he had the calm, possessed, surgical look of a man who could endure pain in another person." I’m going to hand one to my dentist the next time he goes into the "increased pressure phase" of his work when I’m in the chair.

Lincoln’s Death: Contemporary Reactions

NY Times
reprints contemporary reactions to Lincoln’s assassination. How can we recover the literacy and the obvious spiritual depth of people back then?


Obama at Georgetown

Father Schall and Mary Eberstadt offer their commentaries on the covering up of IHS at Georgetown. There is nothing more to add to this sad and pathetic demonstration from the White House. An apology, however, ought to attempted.
Categories > Presidency

Obama vindicates Bush?

Several commentators, includingJoe Klein (to cite a Lefty) are noting that the release of the "torture memos" is problematic: "There are real concerns in the intelligence community--and a potential rebellion in the clandestine service." Letting our enemies know what we will do to them when we catch them could prepare them to resist more effectively.

On the other hand, the President is probably correct that the memo had to be released, if only because of world opinion, and the opinion of America’s elite class too, I suppose. All kinds of rumors have spread all over the world about what, exactly, the US was doing. Judging by what I have seen so far, the memo suggests that the Bush Administration hardly wend medieval on our enemies. A sample:

The Bybee memorandum, which was written on August 1, 2002, described the CIA’s plans for using insects this way:

“You [the CIA] would like to place Zubaydah in a cramped confinement box with an insect. You have informed us [the Department of Justice] that he appears to have a fear of insects. In particular, you would like to tell Zubaydah that you intend to place a stinging insect into the box with him. You would, however, place a harmless insect in the box. You have orally informed us that you would in fact place a harmless insect such as a caterpillar in the box with him.”

If that’s an illegal interrogation technique, there’s a problem with the law, not the technique.

If the techniques were, as a rule, closer to that than not, and if only three people were waterboarded, and if such methods were only used on people who were carefully selected, as seems to have been the case (for the most part), it suggests that by releasing the memo, President Obama has shown that the Left was rather misguided in its understanding of things. It was the mistrust of Bush, combined with the (not unreasonable) concern with secrecy, that snowballed into a conspiracy theory. There is a trade-off between security and public information. Legitimate concerns about security might have led the Bush administration to go too far. No doubt, as one report notes, there are concerns about "a potential rebellion in the clandestine service" over this. On the other hand, the CIA, like any other bureaucratic organization needs to be reminded who is boss sometimes. The trouble is that the CIA has a history of taking its pound of flesh from Presidents who do things it doesn’t like.

Update. Here’s a bit more info:

Prisoners could be kept shackled in a standing position for as many as 180 hours. The documents also noted that more than a dozen CIA prisoners had been deprived of sleep for at least 48 hours, three for more than 96 and one for the nearly eight-day maximum allowed. Another document seemed to endorse sleep deprivation for 11 days.

In some cases, the memos address specific interrogation plans. When the CIA proposed putting an Al Qaeda suspect in a small box with an insect, the Justice Department endorsed the idea but added conditions it said were necessary to keep the agency from violating the international convention against torture.

"If you do so . . . you must inform him that the insects will not have a sting that would produce death or severe pain," said a 2002 memo sent to the CIA’s acting general counsel. A footnote clarified that the CIA never carried out the insect interrogation plan.

Anyone else surprised by just how lawyered up this stuff seems to have been? (There’s a reason why the old "Mission Impossible" began with tapes concluding, "should you or any of your team be apprehended, the secretary and I will deny any knowledge of its existence." That reflected an understanding, which used to be more common, that certain acts by govermment must be off the books) There also seem to have been relatively few involved.

Don’t let a crisis go to waste

For the moment, it seems that the markets are stabilizing. If that is indeed the case, it suggests that the reason might have something to do with the policies enacted, largely by bi-partisan consensus, starting in late 2008, and continuing through 2009 that address the finance and money markets. It’s too early for the stimulus package, and the other stuff, to have made much of a difference.

A Good Morning Bombast

Having glanced at Instapundit this morning I came across this Nick Gillespie rant against Obama, mass transit, and the implications of gifted Portugese water dogs. Better than caffeine.


Forever in Blue Jeans?

Some months ago, I noted on these pages the expected and coming "demise"--pronounced, of course, by the fashionistas on high--of that time-honored fashion article known as "the dress." Almost a year later--in no small part because of Michelle Obama, I'd add--I am happy to report that this looming danger seems to have escaped us. Americans are justly proud of Mrs. Obama's good sense and good taste in dressing--and I am glad that this American woman appeared in Europe even to show up the French Sarkozy's supermodel. In part because of her, the dress appears to be cool again and looking glamorous has taken on a refreshed kind of respect. Even Old Navy is promoting a line of dresses for the summer. True, they are a rather sack-like sort of thing--vaguely reminiscent of the flower-child peasant dresses of the 60s--but, still, they are a welcome relief from the low-riding (and ill-fitting) blue jeans that sprout muffin-tops on most young women.

Having said that, George Will in today's Washington Post, still sees enough cause to take aim at what remains America's favorite fashion article: blue jeans. Will is spurred on by a very clever column from Daniel Akst in the Wall Street Journal last month. Both Akst and Will see a kind of demonic leveling instinct at work in our obsession with denim. For the open-minded and not easily swayed, I think Will and Akst offer a much-needed corrective with their none-too-gentle opinions about blue jeans.

On the other hand, the point that they have (and this is especially true about Will) is taken to an extreme that demonstrates the weakness of their point. They go too far in condemning Americans for their iconic fabric. After all, the original reason for the popularity of blue jeans is something uniquely and wonderfully American. They were born of the practical necessity of creating an attire that suited the grubby and difficult work of pulling riches from our soil. Levi-Strauss--an industrious and ingenious American if ever there was one--made those pants to fill a need for miners and struck his own gold in the process. Indeed, the actual gold of the 49ers might be said to fade in comparison to the luster of the gold Strauss created out of cotton, indigo, and copper rivets. From miners to cowboys, jeans became the uniform of America's eternally youthful and optimistic striving. If, at first, denim was the uniform of hard-work and striving, it is also no wonder that it made a turn with James Dean to become the symbol of America's youthful rebellion against bourgeois conformity. And it is equally revealing, of course, that this rebellion against bourgeois conformity led full-circle right into itself in another form. Instead of despairing it, Will and Akst might do better to be bemused by it. Will and Akst both despair, that everyone (and most especially the American bourgeois) wears jeans today. The real rebels of today, it seems, would do better to wear bow ties. And perhaps they do.

But maybe that's the point of Will's article--though the tone of his rhetoric seems to work against him if persuasion is his intention. Does he have no love and sympathy for jeans wearing, rock-and-roll loving Americans? If he has, he does not betray it in this piece. He posits Fred Astaire and Grace Kelly as the sartorial models for American men and women. But really?! Grace Kelly was a fine woman and one could do a lot worse than to aspire to her charms . . . but it is ridiculous to think of her as a balanced American model. After all, she left America and became a monarch! And that seemed to suit her. Far too delicate a flower, if you ask me. And Fred Astaire? Again, very charming . . . and I, like most women, love to watch him dance and imagine myself spinning across the floor with him. But one would get rather dizzy after too much of that, I should think. And then, what is all that dancing and finery going to do about the looming injustice and tyranny of this world? A friend of mine noted, in passing along this article to me, that the one thing Europe still has over America is that they still know how to dress. Maybe that is so. But at what price? I guess they will be able to boast that they all looked good as their civilization deteriorated and their numbers dwindled. Mark Steyn might wryly note that they should enjoy their finery while they can . . . for a much less stylish wardrobe item is lurking in their future.

It bears mentioning that Akst made a point of noting in his article that the elements of fashion which always take on the widest appeal are those associated with heavy work and the martial spirit. Well . . . there's a reason for that. There is need for those tough men and their hard work and we do right to honor it by attempting to emulate it--in whatever poor way we can.

Of course, we can over-do both kinds of dress. A life entirely devoted to finery or to grubbiness is incomplete. And if we have a predominant vice, it is that we have become too slovenly and disrespectful in our jeans-wearing indifference to time and place. Our youthful (and American) disregard for the hoity-toity putting on of airs that repulsed us from our motherlands and into the unknown vastness and remote possibilities of America can sometimes lead us directly into another version of self-importance--as the jeans wearing rebellion against conformity led to a new conformity. There is snobbery abounding in every crowd of enthusiasts. Better to develop a measured kind of respect for both types of dress, regulated more by what suits the occasion than by what suits our taste. A good American woman, perhaps like Michelle Obama, knows when (or, in some cases, whether) to don blue jeans and when to don a stylish evening gown. She is not caught up in either extreme--she adapts, she bends, she does what is required by the circumstances and within the bounds of sensible good taste. She is neither a pig nor a fop. And it goes without saying, of course, that the same is true of a good American man.

Categories > Presidency

The Poet Trumps the Historians: Archaeologists May Prove

Reports from two years ago suggesting that Cleopatra’s reputation as an irresistible beauty had been greatly exaggerated by the likes of Shakespeare (to say nothing of Elizabeth Taylor) now appear to be refuted. Good. It is cheering to know that sometimes that which ought to be true turns out actually to be true--not only in the highest sense but also in the earthly sense of things. Poetry sometimes ought to slap the debunkers among the historians and it is doubly amusing to see the scientists facilitating the hit. Let Cleopatra forever remain as Enobarbus described her:

I will tell you.

The barge she sat in, like a burnish’d throne,

Burn’d on the water: the poop was beaten gold;

Purple the sails, and so perfumed that

The winds were love-sick with them; the oars were silver,

Which to the tune of flutes kept stroke, and made

The water which they beat to follow faster,

As amorous of their strokes. For her own person,

It beggar’d all description: she did lie

In her pavilion--cloth-of-gold of tissue--

O’er-picturing that Venus where we see

The fancy outwork nature: on each side her

Stood pretty dimpled boys, like smiling Cupids,

With divers-colour’d fans, whose wind did seem

To glow the delicate cheeks which they did cool,

And what they undid did.

Anti-War, or Anti-Bush?

Justin Raimondo notes that the antiwar movement has pretty much fallen apart since Obama became president, even though fighting continues in Iraq and Afghanistan. In fact, some of the most outspoken peaceniks are starting to sound hawkish now that there’s a Democrat in the White House.

Life Imitates Art

Snakes on a Plane, for real. (Hat tip: Derb.)

Now, if anyone spots snacks on a plane--that would be remarkable these days.


Federalism and firearms

An interesting case:
Montana's staunchly pro-Second Amendment Governor, Democrat Brian Schweitzer, has signed Montana HB 246, the Montana Firearms Freedom Act. The bill declares that a firearm which is manufactured in Montana, and never leaves the State of Montana, "is not subject to federal law or federal regulation, including registration, under the authority of congress to regulate interstate commerce. It is declared by the legislature that those items have not traveled in interstate commerce."
Presumably Wickard v. Filburn, or something like it, will be made to apply. Our courts don't like it when elected officials get uppity, and try to challenge their right to be the sole and final arbiters of the meaning of the constitution. Even so, it is interesting to see the people, acting through their representatives, questioning what the limits of federal jurisdiction are.
Categories > Courts

Shameless Self-Promotion

Hayward on Reagan

Here is Steve Hayward's Bradley lecture, "The Reagan Revolution and Its Discontents." Good, and relatively short, for Steve.  

Your Tax Dollars at Work

Since 9-11, the U.S. government has poured millions and millions of dollars into research on terrorism and political violence. Most of it has gone to major research universities where major social scientists work. What they have produced so far is either what was already known or trivial. As an example of both, consider the recent report from
(National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism). This pathbreaking work reveals “a violent history of fatal attacks against law enforcement officers in the United States by individuals who adhere to far-right ideology.” Far right ideology consists of “principles such as fierce nationalism, anti-globalization, suspicions of centralized Federal authority, support for conspiracy theories, and reverence for individual liberties (including gun ownership ).”
Addendum: Here is the link.

The Young Love Liberty

Here’s some (selective) evidence that the country is going libertarian. The young hate big government and moralistic regulations, but they love the technology that empowers them to be self-sufficient individuals with personally programmed iPhones, iPods, and other iThings. It’s true enough, I have to say, that they were completely tonedeaf to the music of the honorable McCain, may not suffer that much from the moral anxiety that animated preacher Huckabee, and with some justice think Rush and Hannity (and even Newt) are ridiculous old white guys. I wish I could say I thought the young were principled opponents of big government, but my studies show that they, like most of us, like both governmental minimizing of economic anxiety AND lower taxes. I also wish I could say I thought they were rebelling strongly against the "hook up" culture and thinking strongly in terms of love, marriage, and making babies. For the most part, I’m not so sure that the libertarian impetus among the young is change I can believe in, but it is an impetus that has to be shaped by Republican statesmanship if Obama is not to realign us.

Bringing Down Cuba?

So Obama is going to start lifting some of our restrictions and embargoes against Cuba. Probably about time. William Rusher used to argue that we should at least lift the embargo on Cuban cigars on the view that if we can’t bomb their cities we should at least be able to burn their crops. To which I added, if imports of western blue jeans helped bring down the Soviet Union, think of what Spandex could do to Castro.

More seriously, though, every time in the past when the U.S. started trying to thaw relations, Fidel would provoke some deliberate outrage to stop it cold in its tracks, whether instigating the Mariel boatlift in 1980, or shooting down light planes in international waters under Clinton. The embargo suited his purposes for a long time, and may still serve the interests of the political class. Increased trade and exchange with the U.S. and the Cuban community in Florida has to give the rulers nightmares. Keep watch on this; we’ll see if Raoul Castro is cut from different cloth from his brother.

Are (Very) Old People a Threat to Society?

That’s the view of Daniel Callahan, who urges us to make no special effort to keep them alive beyond their "natural" lifespan. The view of ME, which is part of the linked SOCIETY symposium, is that such a pro-death policy is both contrary to our culture of rights and an offense against human dignity and human love. (The older I get, the more convinced I am of this view.) Even the Bible is in favor of people living a very long time, if they can figure out how to do it. The culture of life includes both an openness to the possibility of extreme prolongevity and acting on the awareness that the point of human life is not merely staying alive. Here’s the title of my contribution: "Stuck with Virtue in Our Pro-Life Future."

Who Rules America?

Not our elected representatives, much of the time:

HUD officials said that because the Dollar Homes program was mandated by Congress, it does not receive the same type of attention and follow-up as programs created by HUD itself.

Our bureaucrats like policies they create, judge, and enforce. They don’t like it when that pesky legislature gets in the way.

Scholars on the Sidelines, Indeed

Joseph Nye has a useful op-ed in today’s WaPo on the self-marginalization of political scientists. Money quote:

Scholars are paying less attention to questions about how their work relates to the policy world, and in many departments a focus on policy can hurt one’s career. Advancement comes faster for those who develop mathematical models, new methodologies or theories expressed in jargon that is unintelligible to policymakers. A survey of articles published over the lifetime of the American Political Science Review found that about one in five dealt with policy prescription or criticism in the first half of the century, while only a handful did so after 1967. Editor Lee Sigelman observed in the journal’s centennial issue that "if ’speaking truth to power’ and contributing directly to public dialogue about the merits and demerits of various courses of action were still numbered among the functions of the profession, one would not have known it from leafing through its leading journal."

I think it was E.J. Dionne who some years ago took the program book of an APSA annual meeting being held in Washington and showed it to Capitol Hill staffers and political operators in DC to see if there was anything they might find useful or interesting in the program. Nope.

My own contribution to this debunking is to take an APSR article at random, put the basic equation of an article on the blackboard, and ask students if they can suggest modifications to the equation that would solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This usually gets the point across quite effectively.

Captain freed

After a lovely Easter meal I came to this WaPo report that Cpt. Richard Phillips was freed by the Navy. Three pirates dead, one injured and captured, Navy Seals, snipers, the whole package. Nicely done by the guys on the scene and President Obama for giving them authority to do it. Now I’ll listen to a few Clarence Frogman Henry songs and light up a stogie, while sucking up some coffee.


Here is the promised piece by Mac Owens in today’s WSJ regarding lawful and unlawful combatants. John Keegan thinks that the pirates cannot be negotiated with, rather, "They needed to be hunted to extinction – and the time to start the hunt is now." But, the news from the Horn is not good, see this report in the London Times about how the US Navy missed a chance to free the hostage. Also, an Italian tug-boat with 16 people aboard has been seized. In the meantime, the Washington Post reports that the "Obama team" (once a team always a team, I guess) is mulling over its options. AQnd the New York Times is reporting that negotiations with the pirates have broken down.

Darwinian Larry and His Friendly Critics

Arnhart talks up a second edition of his DARWINIAN CONSERVATISM, one that includes various critical responses. There’s one by ME, called "All Larry Needs is Love (and Death)." Larry was not impressed by my criticism, thinking that mentioning love and awareness of death as evolved human qualities is enough to account for them. But my point, I thought, was that he doesn’t describe uman behavior as actually profoundly altered by our species-specific EROS and THANATOS. Larry’s extreme prejudice against anything that might smack of existentialism (or, for that matter, real personal freedom) causes him to distort what we can actually see with our own eyes. The concluding chapter by Ken Blanchard is really good--better than Larry, I think--in bringing Darwin and Aristotle as close as they can be. It reminds me that that there really are similiarities between the Aristotelian and Darwinian views of the fundamental impersonality of natural reality. Richard Sherlock’s contribution is quite an incisive appreciation and criticism from the perspective of a genuine believer. All in all, this book is well worth buying.

Chantal Delsol Comes to Rochester Thursday to open a two-day conference on her thought, featuring Paul Seaton, Carl Scott, Dan Mahoney, and ME. Thanks to Ivan the K for putting this great event together. AND the next issue of what is, according to Brad Watson, America’s best journal of political science--PERSPECTIVES ON POLITICAL SCIENCE--features a symposium on Delsol’s thought, edited by Paul and including an article by ME.

Thanks also to all those who responded for call for NEW IDEAS for articles and symposia for PPS. In additon to a good number of fine individual submissions, we’ve lined up symposia on WHAT IS POLITICAL PHILOSOPHY?, Lincoln, David Walsh, and Sam Huntington. What other journal can say that?

The Reasoned Case Against Cockeyed Hawkeye Gay Marriage

Matt Franck
, visiting this year at Princeton, who combines separation of powers arguments with the logic and sense of the American political tradition.


For some reason, a friend (who wishes to preserve his or her anonymity) can’t post this comment in response to Mac’s post below on how to respond to pirates, so I’m doing it for him here (having twice tried on his behalf to post it below).

Since Mac brings up the U.S.’s nineteenth-century policies on pirates, I think it’s worth considering these two federal laws about piracy: this from 1790 and this from 1819.

Each law, coming from a less tender-footed era in our history, does indeed establish the death penalty for piracy (FYI, these days, U.S. law gives pirates life in prison). But both of these old capital laws require judicial process -- i.e., the suspects’ being taken to a federal district or circuit court, tried, and found guilty -- before dispatching them (likewise, their vessels have to be condemned in a U.S. court). So no summary execution of the bastards (although the old laws allow actions of self-defense -- no further details provided -- by the threatened ship).

Mac, in your reference to "hanging" pirates, were you implying that summary execution was the policy? If that was a fact, how did it square with the trial requirements in the laws?

And -- most important of all -- how does this grim discussion affect our affection for Mark Twain?

Shameless Self-Promotion

Shameless Self-Promotion

I am told that an op-ed of mine will run in the Wall Street Journal tomorrow. My argument is that the Obama administration's new rhetorical regime (no more "unlawful enemy combatant," no more "war on terror") masks substantive changes that will hamr US national security.


Western Civ in Texas

This bill (read the text here), sponsored by this Texas state legislator, would transform this Center into the "School of Ethics, Western Civilization, and American Traditions."

Our friends are divided about this, as this article makes clear.

I am inclined to side with one set of friends against the other, in large part because I am reluctant to see state legislators descending to that level of detail in establishing degree requirements. It is one thing, for example, to say that every graduate of a state university must have had a course in state history and/or state government (though this is usually done by the regents or sthe state board of higher education), quite another to become as prescriptive as this bill is in setting core curriculum and major requirements:

The school shall develop and offer students an interdisciplinary course of study in Western civilization and American institutions and practices designed to foster the thoughtful development of ethical character and civic responsibility, including a sequence of six three-hour courses, each covering one of the following topics: (1) ancient philosophy and literature; (2) ideas from the Bible; (3) great works from the Middle Ages; (4) classics of the Renaissance and the Age of Enlightenment; (5) the development of Western science and technology; and (6) classics of the American founding and development of the American Republic.

(b) A student who completes the sequence of courses described by Subsection (a) shall be considered by the university to have satisfied 18 hours of core curriculum course work in the following areas: (1) three hours of communications; (2) three hours of additional natural science; (3) three hours of humanities; (4) three hours of government; (5) three hours of visual and performing arts; and (6) three hours of any institutionally designated optional or seminar course.

(c) A student who completes the sequence of courses described by Subsection (a) in addition to 18 hours of upper-division course work in the Western civilization (WCV) field of study at the university shall be considered by the university to have completed an undergraduate major in Western Ethics and American Tradition for a bachelor of arts degree in the university's College of Liberal Arts.

I would not object to a faculty establishing something like such a program on its own accord, but I do object to its being imposed politically. And yes, I recognize that all too many faculties would be loathe to institute such programs, but I would at the same time hate to concede to state legislators of any stripe the authority to decide what constitutes an appropriate desgree program at a university. Imagine how such a power could be abused! And consider what one would have to concede to grant to the legislature such authority--that political power can, of its own accord, without any inherent claim to wisdom or expertise, declare what an appropriate program of study is. Knowledge isn't power. Power is knowledge. In some important respects, this is the fantasy of the postmodern academic Left.

Lovers of genuine higher education, and conservatives of almost any stripe, ought to be able to make common cause against such an ill-conceived idea.

Categories > Education

Ashbrook Center

No Left Turns Mug Drawing for March

Congratulations to this month's winners of a No Left Turns mug! The winners are as follows:

Jerry Short
Jennifer Williams
Lauren Griffith
Thomas Dousa
Alfreda Holloway

Thanks to all who entered. An email has been sent to the winners. If you are listed as a winner and did not receive an email, contact Ben Kunkel. If you didn't win this month, enter April's drawing.

Categories > Ashbrook Center

What to Do About Pirates

Over at The Corner on National Review Online, they have been asking folks about piracy. I was asked for my take and here is what I said:

Our problem with pirates is the same as the one with al Qaeda et al. We have extended legal rights to people who do not deserve them. We need to return to an important distinction first made by the Romans and subsequently incorporated into international law by way of medieval and early modern European jurisprudence, e.g. Grotius and Vattel. The Romans distinguished between bellum, war against legitimus hostis, a legitimate enemy, and guerra, war against latrunculi — pirates, robbers, brigands, and outlaws — "the common enemies of mankind."

The former, bellum, became the standard for interstate conflict, and it is here that the Geneva Conventions and other legal protections were meant to apply. They do not apply to the latter, guerra — indeed, punishment for latrunculi traditionally has been summary execution. Until recently, no international code has extended legal protection to pirates.

So first, we should revive that distinction. When pirates are caught, they should be hanged. Second, I’m not the first to suggest that we should use force to wipe out the pirate lairs. Under the old understanding of international law, a sovereign state has the right to strike the territory of another if that state is not able to curtail the activities of latrunculi.

Americans recognized this principle from the outset. Here’s something I wrote for the Winter issue of Orbis:

The Early Republic faced many threats, including a continuing European presence in North America-Great Britain in Canada and Spain in Florida and Texas-and what we would today call "non-state actors:" marauding Indians and pirates, ready to raid lightly defended areas on the frontier. These threats were exacerbated by the weakness of what John Quincy Adams called "derelict" provinces, which provided an excuse for further European intervention in the Americas, and sanctuary for hostile non-state actors. In 1818, Florida provided an occasion to address such threats.

After Creeks, Seminoles, and escaped slaves launched a series of attacks on Americans from sanctuaries in Spanish Florida, General Andrew Jackson, acting on the basis of questionable authority, invaded Florida, not only attacking and burning Seminole villages but also capturing a Spanish fort at St. Marks. He also executed two British citizens whom he accused of aiding the marauders.

Most of President James Monroe’s cabinet, especially Secretary of War John Calhoun, wanted Jackson’s head, but Adams came to Jackson’s defense. He contended that the United States should not apologize for Jackson’s preemptive expedition but insist that Spain either garrison Florida with enough forces to prevent marauders from entering the United States or "cede to the United States a province.which is in fact a derelict, open to the occupancy of every enemy, civilized or savage, of the United States, and serving no other earthly purpose than as a post of annoyance to them." As Adams had written earlier, it was his opinion "that the marauding parties ought to be broken up immediately." As John Gaddis has observed, Adams believed that the United States "could no more entrust [its] security to the cooperation of enfeebled neighboring states than to the restraint of agents controlled, as a result, by no state."

We’ve Disconnected Parenthood from Marriage

Forty percent of babies are being born to women who aren’t married. And unwed motherhood has certainly become a routine, middle-class phenomenon. The upsides and downsides of this development all have to do with thinking of people more consistently as free individuals. I’m told in the thread that this development is not Lockean, in the sense that Locke says people who have babies should stay married as long as they’re raising kids, and he says nothing good about single parenthood. But if I were a feminist or a libertarian I might say that Locke wrote in the context of the division of labor necessary in a low-tech society, and there are limits to what he could say in his time to promote the liberation of women to be free individuals (although he actually does say a lot). Certainly he does say that we should regard as parent whoever is raising the kids, and so absent fathers have no status based on biology. And if we can invent our way out of any apparently natural limitation, he’s certainly all for it. In any case, the increasing detachment of parenthood from marriage (and marriage from parenthood--more married people than ever aren’t having kids) strengthens the case that same-sex marriage is a right that has emerged in our high-tech, unprecedently individualistic time. (Thanks to Carl Scott.)

Conservatives Should Stop Saying Obama is Beholden to Socialism

It’s actually much worse than that. As Steven Malanga argues, Obama is really beholden to social science and enraptured by the supposed capacities of "experts" to perfect the defects and injustices of capitalism (which is just another way to say that Obama and Co. believe that science can improve humanity). Malanga’s bracing column argues that we are slouching back toward an old-fashioned kind of 19th century corporatism--updated, of course, with a cool makeover for the 21st century--but still, for all the talk of freshness, it remains an idea that’s older than dirt. Its being old does not make it wrong, of course. But it has been tried; many times. So we can get a pretty good idea from history about how this is likely to go down.

Corporatism, says Malanga, "seeks to substitute the wisdom of the few for the hundreds of millions of individual actions and transactions of the many that set the direction of the economy from the bottom up." It’s heavy on the declaring, in other words, and light on the independence. Individuals have to be prodded along to make the right decisions because, as we know from Obama’s own lips, most people are too flawed--clinging as they are to their false choices (not to mention their guns and God)--to make wise choices for themselves. Even if Smith and Jones might make tolerably good choices about how best to provide their families with health coverage, to take one example, surely there is someone among Obama’s smart friends who is wiser and can choose better than those two rubes.

Another notion of corporatism, according to Malanga, is that "elite groups of individuals molded together into committees or public-private boards can guide society and coordinate the economy from the top [d]own and manage change by evolution, not revolution." (emphasis added) So as our independence is eroded, it will be managed in a way calculated to keep us insulated from the uncomfortable pressures of what might otherwise be a revolution and--though unspoken, one must surely see it--the temptation to overthrow the overseers or reinvigorate the principles of our original Revolution. But I say that if Malanga is right, it’s time to ring the bells. The Social Scientists are coming!

Pirates attack the wrong ship

Somali pirates attacked an American ship with a crew of 20. I think this may have been the first American ship attacked and boarded by pirates. The Americans fought--the report says with "brute force"--back and won. But, the pirates chased for five hours, caught up, and boarded again; and were fought back again. The details are sketchy, but this is worth paying attention to. Americans fighting back. This will have consequences. I like it. 

Addendum: Here is FOX News coverage and the BBC’s. Apparently, the American captain is still being held hostage.

Naughty by nature?

Would xenophobia be natural in the same way that homosexuality is?

Taylorism in Health Care

What we have to look forward to as health care gets more nationalized and more bureaucratized:

A colleague who works in an ICU in a medical center in our state told us how his care of the critically ill is closely monitored. If his patients have blood sugars that rise above the metric, he must attend what he calls "re-education sessions" where he is pointedly lectured on the need to adhere to the rule. If he does not strictly comply, his hospital will be downgraded on its quality rating and risks financial loss. His status on the faculty is also at risk should he be seen as delivering low-quality care.

But this coercive approach was turned on its head last month when the New England Journal of Medicine published a randomized study, by the Australian and New Zealand Intensive Care Society Clinical Trials Group and the Canadian Critical Care Trials Group, of more than 6,000 critically ill patients in the ICU. Half of the patients received insulin to tightly maintain their sugar in the normal range, and the other half were on a more flexible protocol, allowing higher sugar levels. More patients died in the tightly regulated group than those cared for with the flexible protocol.

Read the whole thing.

A comment: The problem is, in part, a bureaucracy can only monitor a large system if the parts are standardized. It can only do that by taking discretion away from doctors. That’s where we’ve been headed for quite some time. Health regulations helped to push the US toward HMOs, and now are pushing us toward government-paid health care. Perhaps the multi-culturalists will say such standardization and bureaucratization happens in the US because American culture tends to work that way. Whatever the reason, I find it terribly unlikely that this trend will not continue, unless we start to re-empower patients. The only effective way to do that, however, is to give them more say over how their health care money is spent. That’s not the direction we’re going.

Weinberger Writes from Suli, Kurdistan, Iraq

Jerry just got to town to teach at the American university there. Suli is a law-abiding place, where people are bursting with pride in their freedom and their city. The city works because the people rely on themselves when they need to get something done. Even the chickens are gallant.


My Kindle

I finally decided to get a Kindle. Been playing with the idea for a while, but hesitated out of love and prejudice. Love to handle my books, like their smell and touch, don't mind falling asleep with one on my chest. And I am possessive, my copy of Yeats is mine, and if someone gives me another, I can't find anything. You know the problem. And yet, I can have all of Shakespeare, Aristotle, Lincoln, and the Bible for about ten bucks total (!) forever at my beck and call (never mind subscribing to newspapers, buying new books for circa ten bucks apiece). Anyway, got it yesterday, played with all evening and I like it. Read the WaPo and the WSJ in Clarence this morning while smoking. One of the first things I read on the Kindle (which you can dog-ear) is Yeats' For Anne Gregory.
Categories > Technology

Same-sex marriage on the march in April

Last week, the Iowa Supreme Court affirmed a state constitutional right to same-sex marriage. Our friend Matt Franck takes the ruling apart here. There are so many good arguments in Matt’s piece that I can’t decide on which one to quote, so I’ll just tell you to read the whole thing.

And then today, for the first time, same-sex marriage was established legislatively, with Vermont’s legislature overriding a gubernatorial veto. The decisive vote came from a state legislator who switched his vote based on moral reasoning that consisted in toting up constituent contacts for and against. But for want of a few phone calls and emails, traditional marriage "might could" have been saved.

David Brooks on the Latest Evolutionary Studies

They show we’re more social than competitive beings. That makes sense, of course, if we are, by nature, more about the species than ourselves. They also show that moral judgments originate in the emotions, although that’s not the big breakthrough or challenge to traditional conceptions that David thinks. They still have trouble, Brooks adds, in explaining the moral challenge we’ve all been given to live responsibly in light of what we can’t help but know about what we’ve been given. They don’t explain what we do or say in response to personal love and personal death. They also can’t explain, I would add, even the technological dimension of human freedom. (Thanks to Ivan the K.)

Free Market Faith in God

The faith of Americans is alive, vibrant and well according to this piece from the Wall Street Journal. Despite headlines and sensationalized stories from wishful thinkers of a less religious bent (stories and headlines that are as old as the Republic) religion continues to thrive in America--in no small part--because of our very open approach to the subject. The Pew survey that made headlines announcing the rise of atheism in America some weeks ago is notably taken to task in this story. Apparently, one-fifth of the self-reported "atheists" in their survey also said that they believed in God. The authors of this piece hilariously dub this, "a semantic confusion rich in meaning." Indeed.

Of course, acknowledging what I choose to call America’s religious "vibrancy" (and others will call its chaos) is bound to make some conservatives of a more orthodox bent wince. Without dismissing their concerns and while acknowledging the theological challenges this "vibrancy" presents for them, I still would have to say that this Catholic prefers the small "c" catholicism of our regime to the big "C" Catholicism of more homogeneous countries. It is a kind of chaos, yes. And chaos has its very real sort of problems that require diligence. But on the whole, it inspires a people with more mental agility, more hard-earned and deeply serious faith, and, I think--also, more sympathy for the unconverted. It makes us more mindful that everyone is a potential friend in Christ--if we can persuade him. It is a religiosity that is worthy of our natural freedom and our human potential.

Thanks to Kate for passing along this article.


Segway vehicle

This is cute. Could carry a few around in my Hummer in case I go to a big city.
Categories > Technology

The New Old Money

Given that the very rich in America tended to support Obama for President, should we be surprised that he’s giving them what they most want: reduced competition. The more the government regulates salaries, banks, and corporations, the harder it is for new money to rise up to challenge the latest batch of billionaires.

Ich bin kein Oesterreicher

When JFK announced to the world that he was a German pastry (to convey his intended meaning, he should have said "Ich bin Berliner," not "Ich bin ein Berliner") people got what he meant, even if those in the know might have snickered a bit.

Now along comes Barack Obama, who apparently believes that Austria has its own language. If George W. Bush or Sarah Palin had said such a thing, Bill Maher and Stephen Colbert would be laughing about it on late-night television. But in this case, schoolchildren may well come to believe that Austrians speak Austrian. If Obama says it, it must be true, no?

Well, we Austrian-Americans ("I [pronounced with a long "e"] bin a Oesterreicher") might have to demand more cultural sensitivity on the part of our President, especially since our Heimatsland extends respect to Islam, even if the respect isn’t always reciprocated.

Norrell on Booker T. Washington

Robert Norrell (History, University of Tennessee) did a Colloquium Friday on his book, Up from History: The Life of Booker T. Washington. The book has been given rave reviews from National Review to Fortune to the Washington Post. Norrell was excellent. Mr. B.T. is on his way up again as a result of this book, and that is good. You should listen to it.   

Liberal Consensus reached, as Crunchy Con Mr. Dreher explains, by redefining every human institution with the discourse of rights. So consensus, by definition, excludes every traditional or even social consideration. Consensus also excludes any public recognition of the natural fact that people are more than beings with rights. The "consensus model"--which depends on letting Locke completely out of the Locke box--leads to progressivist judicial, bureaucratic, and professorial activism. The "conflict model"--preferred, say, by President Bush’s Council on Bioethics--leads citizens to moral deliberation about who we are, deliberation about tough questions that don’t have easy answers.

President Obama Follows President Reagan

Calling for the complete eradication of nuclear weapons.

Is It Illogical to Fear Death?

...especiallly if death is nothing is nothing more or less than personal annihilation. That’s what they’re discussing on the FIRST THINGS blog, with special reference to Dawkins. If we’re completely undogmatic or agnostic about death in a Socratic fashion, it seems to me, then fear or some such aversion to death and the strong likelihood of personal nonbeing is not altgother unreasonable. We do know that life is good, I hope, and a certain good is the foundation of fear of what’s, at best, an uncertain alternative. Socrates’s agnosticism, it seems to me, serves the conclusion that there are things worse than death, and so courage and the other risky virtues are not altogether unreasonable. The neo-Darwinians in general, including even Darwinian Larry, aim to explain away the strange behavior--such as high technology and religion--characteristic of members of our species alone, the behavior some say flows from our singular awareness of and capabilitity of being moved by personal biological mortality. And genuine Socratic agnosticsm--as opposed to neo-Darwinian atheistic scientism--may have room for the possibililty that personal existence is more than biological.

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