Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Courtship in the 18th Century

From Mary Beth Norton’s Liberty’s Daughters, a young lady’s lament: "The only Beau within my reach is the serene Hugh of Huntingdon, and I am sure he is what the Philosophers have so long been in search of, a percfect Vaccuum."

"Into the Storm"

The HBO production, "Into the Storm" tonight at 9 p.m. Eastern. Brendan Gleeson plays Churchill.

"Following the Allies’ success, Britain went to the polls in 1945 to decide their post-war prime minister and ruling party, taking over a week to tally all the votes. Incumbent Prime Minister Churchill went on holiday to France with his wife and daughter to anxiously await the results. Using those 10 days as a framework for the story, INTO THE STORM follows Churchill as he awaits his fate, reminiscing about the war years and how he guided his beleaguered nation through that difficult and challenging time."

Omissions, exaggerations and misstatements

This article claims to illustrate “omissions, exaggerations and misstatements” in former VP Cheney’s recent speech. Frank Rich in a recent column argued that one purpose of Cheney’s recent public statements was to create the possibility of an “I told you so” moment. This is a risk that Obama is running. He should probably be pointing out that even during the Bush administration, even with all the extraordinary measures it was taking, the consensus view was that it was only a matter of time before another attack happened.

Shock-and-Awe Statism

Lots of Republicans are barking up the wrong trees. The truth is that Obama’s foreign policy is as good as a Democrat’s is going to be, and what’s going on the ground seems, for the most part, pretty competent.

The Court appointment just isn’t that important. I’m all for Republicans articulating the basic differences in constitutional interpretation and all that. But social reform, in the president’s view, isn’t going to come from judges overflowing with empathy. When the Court errs on "identity politics," after all, it does so by not declaring unconstitutional excesses originating from the more political parts of government. It, by itself, is not going to be going rogue in that area. And, of course, any Democratic appointee is not going to be about the business of revisiting ROE or going after the initiatives described below.

So all honor to George Will and especially Gov. Mitch Daniels for highlighting the fact that this is an especially unfortunate time for expanding the entitlement mentality. Policies of questionable constitutionality and, more importantly, undeniable stupidity are being adopted quickly and somewhat thoughtlessly. It’s not government’s job, for example, to seduce people into buying cars that are somewhat more fuel efficient but significantly less safe.


Robert Alt has a good piece in U.S. News on whether she can be impartial in judging, whether she can be a judge. He has also done a few interviews (CNN and Fox Business, on the right). While I don�t think her view that race and ethnicity may lead to "basic differences in logic and reasoning," will necessarily be enough to stop her confirmation, it will lead to a good conversation that could have lasting influence; and doubts will be sown. Even the front page Washington Post article admits the looming problem, as revealed by her summary order in Ricci v. DeStefano, and in which there is no constitutional basis for the decision. And then what if the Supreme Court overturnes it, with a constitutional argument? What then? The heart of her views on race and ethnicity and whether she thinks justice is possible will be very public, and not only on the Judiciary Committee. There is an outside chance...

PJ O’Rourke on the Death of the Detroit Automobile

Our changes in auto preferences reflect a more utilitarian, less romantic American soul--an analysis worthy of Tocqueville.


Give Me Whiskey or . . .

Ben Boychuk writes elegantly about the despotic impulses that so often characterize the environmentally earnest--to say nothing of the insincere advocates of their earnestness who see in it an opening for grabbing more taxes. Nancy Pelosi's recent comments in China, where she announced that: "Every aspect of our lives must be subjected to an inventory ... of how we are taking responsibility," are discussed. Also discussed is a recent exchange between our own Steve Hayward and David Shearman and Joseph Wayne Smith of the University of Adelaide in the most recent issue of The Claremont Review of Books.

But what may be most troubling, perhaps, to a good number of our readers is a trend developing in Merry Olde England. There, Britons are counseled by the the chief executive of the Committee on Climate Change, David Kennedy, that they need to change their diets in order to effectively combat carbon emissions. This is not, as you might suspect, an exhortation to eliminate the eating of beans so much as it is an effort to eliminate the production of foods and agricultural products that are deemed to produce too many greenhouse gases. Sheep are one of the culprits (along with cows) . . . but beware. Beer and Whiskey are also in the mix. Ben wonders whether there will also be a coming Whiskey Rebellion . . . If so, I think Washington would support this one!

Categories > Environment

"Mean Shoots"

My AEI colleague, the shrewd and usually prescient economist John Makin, takes aim at the happy talk that the economy is turning around ("green shoots" of spring, says Ben Bernanke) in his monthly Economic Outlook. There are some sobering indicators that we have a lot of rough weather still to get through. Samples:

During the forty years from 1967 to 2007, there were only four individual quarters during which current dollar retail receipts fell at more than a 5 percent annualized rate. Each of these episodes was isolated--five to ten years apart. Through the first quarter of 2009, there have been three consecutive quarters when retail receipts fell at more than a 5 percent annual rate, and the April retail sales data suggest that we are on track for a fourth consecutive quarter of extraordinarily weak retail spending. This makes year-on-year changes in retail spending by far the worst on record. . .

During the first quarter of 2009, year-over-year nominal GDP growth, a measure of the total dollar value of U.S. output, turned negative for the first time since 1957. Without a substantial recovery in growth during the second half of the year, year-over-year nominal GDP growth will remain negative, at least for the next several quarters. In that environment, a realistic estimate for earnings of the S&P 500 companies (based on conventional methods employed by equity analysts) would be about $40 a share, which, at a normal fifteen to seventeen index-earnings multiple, would produce an S&P 500 Index range of 600 to 680, as opposed to the mid-May figure of about 900. . . U.S. capacity utilization dropped to 69.1 percent in April--the lowest reading in the fifty-year history of the series.

Batten down the hatches, folks. It’s going to be a bumpy ride.

CIA and the language problem

This WaPo article in some ways is shocking, but it’s still only the tip of the iceberg. Another story on the theme.

Sonia’s Song?

"America," from West Side Story. Would Judge Sotomayor have empathy for an assertion that the New York Jets football team has a racist name? They’re obviously named after the white gang in West Side Story, not the aircraft.

Here’s video from the 1961 movie. The Judge, like Obama, seems to be singing the boys’ parts, not Rita Moreno and the girls’ parts.

Taliban, neo-Taliban, and ISI

Bahukutumbi Raman, a retired officer in the Indian intelligence service, asks: Why did the Taliban attack the ISI (Inter-Services Intelligence)? It gets complicated, doesn’t it? Also see this from the BBC.

Technology and our times

Is it worth pointing out that modern birth control is, in part, beneath the rise of both gay marriage and our current troubles with government debt? By separating marriage and having children, technology, as a practical matter, reduces the link that always existed between marriage and family. And by making it possible/easier to have fewer children, it also makes Social Security, Medicare, and the other retirement plans more like ponzi schemes.

Lincoln’s Public Philosophy

I just ordered this by Eric C. Sands, betting it will be worth the exorbitant price.

Multiple Empathies

That, according to David Brooks, is what good judges have. It’s no big news that calling judging dispassionate is too simple a view of the matter. But surely judicial review depends on a view of the Constitution that not merely a bundle of emotional perspectives. And in any case, reason must have a big role in determining what justice is in any particular case, in determining, for example, whether to what extent it’s really true that people act freely and responsibly and can be held accountable.

Mundanity word, although maybe not really a word. This budding expert thinks it’s one quality Sotomayor shares with Souter. She certainly doesn’t promise to be a lion, a firebrand, a liberal Scalia. So liberal activists have reason to be disappointed by the appointment. It might reflect the president’s conviction--reflected in his biography--that social change we can believe in shouldn’t be pursued through the courts. It might also reflect complacency, of course, with what the Courts have already done.

Good Books are Back

David Clemens teaches at a community college, and he may be a bit overly excited, yet an article in favor of great books in the The Chronicle that uses phrases like the "sclerotic academy" and "Old ideas become stale--perennial questions do not" means something. And suggesting things like a "certificate" in great books is not so silly in an academy that gives degrees is fashion design, hospitality, gerontology, etc. Do students like "perennial questions"? Or do they like the latest academic fad? They get quickly bored by the latter, while they fall in love--and stay in love--with the perennial questions, the great conversations, the great books. At a time when the higher education bubble may be bursting, maybe folks should start talking about giving people their money’s worth. I think students (and parents) are ready for it. A friend who comments on NLT (Tony Williams) recently said he was "swept away by Xenophon’s Persian Expedition." That’s what happens to all of us students when something fine is placed in front of us. You should see our freshmen getting swept up by Xenophon’s "Education of Cyrus" and the perennial questions raised by it. It’s a sight to behold, human souls enlivened. What is that worth?

Kass the Dissenting Scientist

But his is not exactly a Socratic turn.


There’s some evidence that those are the two bottom lines to Sotomayor’s understanding of judging. Properly understood, such "legal realism"--in my view--should generate humble restraint. If you don’t really KNOW what you’re doing, you shouldn’t do much. The other view, of course, is that if there are no REAL (or "objective") limits to what you might do, you should get real active in the service of your emotional attachment to your perspective. I agree with those who say that the Republicans lack the warrant and the votes to stop the confirmation, and so they should use this opportunity to develop their own, more popular (if properly articulated) view of judicial restraint--based on the proposition that the Constitution really is LAW that stands independently of anything judges feel they can make.

Men and Women

Men In Power!

This piece from today's Chicago Tribune dovetails nicely with my post the other day about the declining numbers and achievements of men at colleges and universities. In response to this problem, a student at the University of Chicago did exactly what members of his generation have been taught to do in response to any social "problem." He started an advocacy group and became a kind of "community organizer." Unfortunately for him, he is not finding that the action is garnering to himself the kind of kudos other student group leaders have been pleased to accept. His group, "Men in Power" began as a kind of tongue-in-cheek satire but provoked such a response that it now presents itself as a serious operation. The response from women's and minority groups has been exactly what one might expect but, unfortunately for them, they find themselves tongue-tied when asked to present a coherent and logical objection to the group. This is because there isn't one that does not also render the existence of these other identity-based interest groups suspect.

While I certainly sympathize with the problems "Men in Power" was created to address and while the group at least had the good sense to recruit some female members, I agree that there could be problems with a group like this. There would also be a problem with a "White Student Union" . . . but there is no problem with it (other than potential numbers) that is not also true of minority based groups. There are always problems and one ought to be suspicious of any group based on "identity" as a motivation and justification for seeking power. Enough of the victim card, already. If we're all victims, it doesn't mean anything anyway. Start a group called "Individuals Striving to be Worthy of Power" and you'll have me at GO.

Categories > Men and Women


One of the advantages of my Kindle is that Matthew Crawford’s book (published today) appeared on my Kindle this morning! So I am reading it. So far, terrific. I should also mention a few other things I am reading: David Hinton’s anthology of Chinese poetry. I am told that the translations are superb, and certainly his brief introduction is. A taste: In addressing the empty grammar and pictographic nature of the language, Hinton says poetry "is nothing less than a sacred medium". The word for poetry (shih) is made up of elements of "spoken word" and "temple". He describes how shih is written so that sound is coming out of the mouth is portrayed on the left, and on the right (meaning temple) a hand is portrayed touching a seedling sprouting from the ground. Hence: "words spoken at the earth altar." Not bad. The other book I’m reading is more prosaic, but fun (for prose): Andrew Wheatcroft’s he Enemy at the Gate: Habsburgs, Ottomans, and the Battle for Europe. This Scotsman says that in doing research for the book over many years he discovered what the Hungarians mean by the old Latin tag Hungariam non est vita, si est vita non est ita (there is no life outside of Hungary, and if there is, it’s not life)....and now you stop wondering why Chinese poetry seems difficult for the barbarians.


Ralph Rossum compares Sotomayer with Souter: They’re both liberals, so what’s the big difference? She is younger by 16 years, and much more aggressive. But I think the real ideological disposition regarding race and ethnicity, as Stuart Taylor and George Will note, should be the major public issue discussed. Of course, it will not be a disqualifying issue, but that’s not the point. What the GOP should do is to use the identity politics issue to draw her out, or even better, her supporters (including Obama), and make a powerful and useful political argument against that position. That, combined with how the public will perceive the government takeover of GM, could become major campaign issues. Not only are the Democrats vulnerable on both, but even middlin’ Republicans ought to be able to make arguments on these two matters.

Principled Opposition

As it seems terribly unlikely that Republicans will block President’s Obama’s pick for the Supreme Court, would it make more sense for Republicans to focus on their principles, rather than the nominee?

Might it be wise to articulate and defend the conviction that the Senate ought, as a rule, to approve the President’s pick. Following up such comments, they could note the relatie confirmation numbers of Republican and Democratic nominees, and perhaps stress how terrible it was how Democrats treated Miguel Estrada, among others, and point to the extremism of Democratic tactics in recent years.

Beyond that, they could say, more in sorrow than anger, that they regret that President Obama seems to have nominated someone who will do nothing to overturn Kelo, or to protect the right of the people to make law on such important issues as marriage and abortion, etc. Kelo is not popular, even with liberals. Similarly, the vast majority of Americans would like to be able to regulate abortion much more than the Court now allows. There are many such cases that would be worth highlighting. In short, focus upon what the Court does, and how it should do it, rather than on the person involved.

But Enough About Me . . . What do YOU think of ME?

We all know people to whom that old joke can apply. And such people are amusing, entertaining, and sometimes even thoughtful or great teachers. But Bill Kristol rightly asks whether that quality of always being "self-referential" ought to be indulged in a President.

Obama is certainly not the first modern president to be overly-impressed with himself and his "journey." Bill Clinton famously peppered his speeches with a plethora of "me"s and "I"s--but his stories about himself were so self-serving (and sometimes, clearly, invented) that people tended to be more amused than moved by him. He could work a room like nobody’s business if it were filled with folks inclined to be unreflective . . . but after awhile, even the dullest wit had to concede that his stories had begun to grow stale and to fill the air with the powerful odor of BS. He now stands as a kind of cartoon monument to himself. Clinton always had ready acolytes who would rush to his defense, of course. But the more intelligent among them always knew what they were about and, in their better moments, exhibited some shame in it. They were selling out for the sake of their favored policy prescriptions and they were willing to deal with a minor little devil like Clinton for the sake of something they regarded as higher than themselves. What were a few sacrificial little interns and "trailer park" women to that? What of it if the guy liked to talk about himself and, in so doing, sent a spark of thrill up the legs of TV talking heads? It was part of the game of selling their wares and, for awhile, it seemed to work.

But Barack Obama is a different sort of narcissist. He isn’t of that cheap "trailer park" variety--the kind who gets so swept up in trying to please an adoring public that he tries to become the guy he’s invented . . . Barack Obama is much more clever. He is the thinking man’s narcissist--and he would much rather have you become the kind of public that he thinks he deserves than to bend himself to suit you. Obama can weave a tale so lofty that a mere recounting of his mother waking him up early as a child seems the whispering of prophecy from an angel at dawn near the shoulder of a future American redeemer. The personal relationship he describes himself as having with the Constitution and American principles seems to speak less of their greatness than of his potential. They are great, it seems, mainly because of what they have meant to him and what they have allowed him to become. It all begs the question, "What if he had failed?" Would their majesty have been diminished in that failure or would he, Barack Obama, have been the sole proprietor of it? As Kristol notes, he seems to imagine that he infuses the office of the presidency with some special power of bargaining and, even, rationality that the office itself cannot hope to possess. The power of the presidency does not seem to be vested in him--at least by his lights--but, rather, it exists because of him.

Whether sophisticated or bumbling and comedic, this level of self-regard when exhibited in the presidency is something that should not escape notice. It may be that the sophisticated version will be able to carry on unnoticed for a longer time and with less obvious tragic consequences. But pride really does seem to "goeth" before a fall. The tragedy of Bill Clinton--though suffered for a time by the nation--has receded comfortably into a kind of tragi-comedy and the effects it produced are felt most keenly, I think, by those who most deserve them. In Barack Obama’s case, if tragedy follows on the heels of this pride, I think it may be a deeper and more engaging kind of tragedy for the nation as a whole. For it is we who are bending toward his story and not his story that is bending toward us.

Who is a Man?

Here’s MY first in a series of reflections on the eduction of Leon Kass.

Justice Sotomayor?

Here’s the WaPo story. Beyond the fact that she’s a Yankees fan (reason enough to oppose her in my books), there’s the fact that she participated at the appellate level in the Ricci case.

For instant reactions, go to NR’s Bench Memos. I’m going to try to find some time to read some of her appellate opinions.

Does Obama Means to Succeed Where FDR Failed?

And if he does, will history be as kind to him as it has been to FDR? The question is prompted by Charles Kesler’s fine (and short) essay introducing the new issue of The Claremont Review of Books. In it, Kesler notes that:

FDR wanted to save capitalism from itself, and he exploited so masterfully all the ambiguities in that objective that thoughtful people can be found, even today, who think he succeeded. They tend to forget that he changed not only capitalism but constitutionalism, and the latter unambiguously for the worse. They tend to overlook, too, that the relatively benign reform era they like to celebrate, the New Deal of public works projects and Social Security, is the New Deal stripped of its more corporatist, or to put it less kindly, fascist elements like the National Industrial Recovery Act. It was the unreformed Supreme Court’s "horse-and-buggy" constitutionalism that saved the country from that ugly experiment, and thus allowed future generations to praise FDR’s moderation. (emphasis added)
In other words, FDR’s failures may have just as much to do with perceived success as do his outright victories. Had it not been for the effective buggy whip of the Supreme Court, the "New Deal" might be viewed today with much less rosy goggles. Will Obama’s new Supreme Court pick help in the short run and hurt him in the long run? Or are there enough "horse-and-buggy" constitutionalists left on today’s somewhat reformed Supreme Court to keep Obama in check?

Men and Women

Men and Boys in Today's University

This story from Inside Higher Ed reports on a conference held recently at the University of Pennsylvania--ostensibly for the purpose of addressing the question of decreasing male enrollment and achievement in higher education. It is a perfect example of what happens when otherwise intelligent human beings operate on ideological assumptions and to the exclusion of evidence that confirms older notions about human nature that they wish to keep discredited.

The trend has been noted for years and it is now impossible to deny the vast and growing gap between male and female achievement in higher education. Even professors who have been more inclined to emphasize the inequities for women have had admit the problem. What may be worse, however, is the vast over-representation of men among campus judicial offenders. I have no statistics suggesting that male offenders have not always outnumbered female offenders (and I doubt that one could find them if he tried) but the story seems to suggest an uptick in the number and intensity of the crimes. There seems to be more violence and, of course, more crimes of a sexual nature. Recognizing facts is one thing, however. Understanding reality is always another.

Predictably, this conference trotted out the usual refrains that now seem to me to represent something more of a "stereotype" than the old stereotypes used to do. Two "studies" (described as "qualitative") formed the basis of much of the discussion at this conference and most of the substance of this article. In these studies, men at public university on the east coast and men at a private university on the west coast were asked a series of questions about their feelings on being a man. As one of the researchers put it, "The men in both studies really described external pressures to perform hegemonic masculinity." In English, this means that these boys are finding it difficult to be both manly men and succeed in an academic environment. But instead of questioning whether these young men are getting any guidance about how to do that--whether there is anything about the college experience of today that gives positive outlet to a manly instinct--these geniuses are suggesting that what these guys need is more "women's studies" courses! They need to find ever more and clever ways to pound square pegs into round holes? Does it ever occur to university types that the the bad behavior and underachievement we're seeing on campus after campus across the country may be, precisely, in reaction to (largely successful) attempts to make college life less "manly" or masculine? Does it ever occur to any of them that all of their efforts to take aggression and competition out of the academic and extracurricular activities on campus have only succeeded in making them unattractive to a good number of students who ought to be among our best and brightest? So as colleges and universities have softened things, they have not (as they had hoped) succeeded in softening or rooting out these manly men. They have only succeeded in pushing them away and giving them an excuse to ignore alleged "authority" and wreak havoc in a completely undirected and unintelligent ways. Would it not have been wiser to have come to grips with the nature of these exuberant young men, accepted it, and allowed them productive outlets? But that would have required their professors (many of whom have a notable lack of thumos at their core) to admit the fact (and the salutary necessity) of it in others.

Categories > Men and Women

America’s Peronist Moment?

A note from an astute NLT reader: "Incidentally, the thought occurred to me recently that our current situation economically may be our Peronist moment. In other words, in the midst of an economic setback, the U.S. will now apply policies that will permanently shift the country leftward in a way that will ensure continued insolvency for as far as the eye can see. We are zigging at precisely the moment when we need to be zagging; piling on debt when we should be paying down. Of course, it’s never wise to bet against America; on the other hand, there’s nothing chiseled in stone which says America must always surge ever-upward economically."


New York Times reports that Sotomayor will be announced at 10:15 am as President Obama’s nominee to fill Justice Souter’s seat for next on the Supreme Court. Discuss. . .

Night at the Museum and Spongebob

Compare the box office hit depicting a battle of the Smithsonian with Mr. Smith Goes to Washington--Lincoln is the hero in both movies, aided by a tough woman.

And if you have a child who is obsessed with Spongebob, try this James Parker piece from The Atlantic. All three of these artistic creations proclaim the virtue of innocence, which requires serious protections.

Memorial Day

It seems to work out perfectly from year to year that over the Memorial Day weekend I can just ride and ride. Everything falls into place, the freedom and the soft weather, the smell of the flowers, the small flags in cemeteries (and other odd things), the easy moving people, who, if willing to talk, will only do so quietly. I’m in and out of small towns and smaller cemeteries. People are getting together, in public places and even in parades or at their homes, but somehow all is quiet, I never see any rowdies making fools of themselves. Maybe all this has to do with the reason for the holiday and its history maybe its just the knowledge and sense that we are remembering those men who die in battle, die too young, die before they should. A reflective and quiet and sacred day, filled with gratitude.

Muslim and American

From a Pew Charitable Trust poll 2007:

When asked about how they think of their personal identity, only about a quarter (28%) of all Muslim Americans say they identify themselves first as an American rather than as a Muslim. This number is strikingly similar to the percentage of white evangelicals (28%) and black Protestants (33%) who say they think of themselves first as American and only secondarily as Christian. In fact, a higher percentage of evangelicals (62%) and black Protestants (55%) identify themselves first by their faith than do Muslims (47%). (About one-fifth of Muslim Americans – 18% – say they think of themselves as both American and Muslim.)

Good Work

I’m on my bike the last two days and today and tomorrow riding to the borders of Ohio, thinking about lives worth choosing, reading my Kindle and smoking when I stop, hoping that I don’t have to make any repairs, but envying those who can. Here is Matthew B. Crawford in today’s NYT Magazine praising such work.

The Post-Modern Road to Serfdom?

When I teach the American Revolution, I try to teach my students the difference that property rights make. In feudal societies, men did not own their property outright. The King or the Lord could, in many circumstances, resume his title to your land and transfer it to someone else. On the vast majority of American farms, the King lacked that right. The Americans thought that taxation without representation was a step back toward feudal property.

The Kelo decision, and actions the government has taken lately in the current crisis, suggest that we, having forgotten what property rights are and are for, are moving away from that part of the American way. Technochracy does not like it when citizens’ rights get in the way of efficient planning.

Mark Steyn points us to this letter from a soon to be former Dodge dealer. If true, it’s worse than re-shuffling legal order for repaying the company’s debt holder.

On Thursday, May 14, 2009 I was notified that my Dodge franchise, that we purchased, will be taken away from my family on June 9, 2009 without compensation and given to another dealer at no cost to them. My new vehicle inventory consists of 125 vehicles with a financed balance of 3 million dollars. This inventory becomes impossible to sell with no factory incentives beyond June 9, 2009. Without the Dodge franchise we can no longer sell a new Dodge as "new," nor will we be able to do any warranty service work. Additionally, my Dodge parts inventory, (approximately $300,000.) is virtually worthless without the ability to perform warranty service. There is no offer from Chrysler to buy back the vehicles or parts inventory.

Our facility was recently totally renovated at Chrysler’s insistence, incurring a multi-million dollar debt in the form of a mortgage at Sun Trust Bank.

Walter Berns on executive prerogative

My teacher Walter Berns surveys terrain familiar to anyone who has been in his classroom. His conclusion:

Questions arise: Was the Constitution or, better, the nation actually in jeopardy after 9/11? Was Mr. Bush entitled to imprison the terrorists in Guantanamo? Were the interrogations justified? Were they more severe than necessary? Did they prove useful in protecting the nation and its citizens? These are the sorts of questions Locke may have had in mind in his chapter on the prerogative. Who, he then asked, shall be judge whether "this power is made right use of?" Initially, of course, the executive but, ultimately, the people.

The executive in our case, at least to begin with, is represented by the three Justice Department officials who wrote the memos that Mr. Graham and many members of the Obama administration have found offensive. They have been accused of justifying torture, but they have not yet been given the opportunity in an official setting or forum to defend what they did.

That forum could be a committee of Congress or a "truth commission" -- so long as, in addition to the assistance of counsel, they would be judged by "an impartial jury," have the right to call witnesses in their favor, to call for the release of evidence including the CIA memos showing the success of enhanced interrogations, and the right to "confront the witnesses" against them as the Constitution’s Fifth and Sixth Amendments provide. There is much to be said for a process that, among other things, would require Nancy Pelosi to testify under oath.

I have a hard time believing that the Democrats who control Congress will permit the kind of impartial inquiry Mr. Berns has in mind.

Shop Class as Soulcraft

I’m betting this book will be worth reading.

How Little Has Changed!

...Krauthammer observes. There’s a lot of continuity we can believe in when it comes to Obama’s policies as commander-in-chief. Our president knows the difference between his moralistic rhetoric (which seems to be serving its purpose) and what he actually has to do to preserve, protect, and defend. From this view, as Steve claims in the thread, Cheney’s manly and thoughtful defenses of Bush’s policies might actually serve as needed and often heeded advice to Obama. The Democratic members of Congress, intellectuals, talking heads and such are another matter entirely.

Leon Kass’s Socratic Turns

Leon Kass’s Jefferson Lecture for the National Endowment for the Humanities from last night. geLooking for an Honest Manf: Reflections of an Unlicensed Humanisth was largely autobiographical, describing his Socratic turns from science and conventional political and religious thought to a richer understanding of the human condition, to comprehending what a mensch is. Kass will likely be the only mensch ever to be honored by both the Thomas Jefferson Award and the Tocqueville Forum’s Father James V. Schall Teaching Award, honors named after a denouncer of priests and an eminent contemporary priest.

Statistics du jour

How the culture has changed:

But the nation’s intense focus on teenage childbearing has obscured a more fundamental problem in childbearing trends. Last week, the CDC reported that about 40% of American children were born out of wedlock in 2007, more than triple the 11% who were in 1970. This means that more than 1.7 million children were born outside of marriage in 2007. Moreover, the vast majority of these babies -- 60%, to be precise -- were born not to teenagers but to women in their 20s (only 23% of nonmarital births were to teens). Furthermore, the CDC reports that nonmarital childbearing has been rising much faster among adults than among teenagers.

None of this should come as a surprise, given that a 2003 Gallup Survey found that 64% of young adults age 18 to 29 thought that having a baby out of wedlock was "morally acceptable."

Bailout Nation

So yesterday over on the company blog I offered reflections on California’s fiscal catastrophe (where did they get that fat-face pic of me, by the way?), and predicting that the next step would be a federal bailout for the Golden State.

Didn’t have to wait long. Like clockwork, the New York Times steps up this morning calling for exactly that. It’s starting to look like this is going to be a long four years.

Humility, Doubt, and Complacency

Alan Jacobs is right to say that this is the trinity that animates the president’s Notre Dame speech. It’s sort of a caricature of Socratic nonfoundationalism: When it comes to abortion and such, we just don’t know enough about what’s just to do anything new or different that’s more just. That way of thinking, it goes without saying, Obama doesn’t apply to his many "Yes, we can" issues.

The speeches

On page five of his speech, Cheney says in effect that one has to agree with the Bush administration’s strategy or admit that you do not take 9-11 seriously. This is a false dichotomy. Accepting the serious ongoing character of the threat represented by 9-11, there were alternative and, I think, better ways to respond than the Bush administration chose. Cheney addresses the harsh interrogations as “recruitment tool” argument but in a way that confirms that he does not understand the character of the threat we face. For example, after raising this issue he immediately calls into question the patriotism of those who make the argument and then discusses the terrorists, ignoring completely what the argument is really about.

Obama appears to understand what the recruitment tool argument is about but believes that security and our values can never conflict “so long as we approach difficult questions with honesty and care and a dose of common sense.” This and some other passages come close to saying that adherence to principle is sufficient to secure. The quoted statement comes toward the end of the speech and the other statements toward its beginning. In the middle, there is an effort to explain how to apply principle to the problem of the detainees at Guantanamo without harming our security. The middle is better than the end or the beginning.

Taken together, the speeches suggest our problem. Those who better grasp the connection of principle and security do not understand the threat we confront, while those who understand the threat, do not understand the connection between principle and security or are beholden to a constituency that does not.

The Audacity of Obama

Speaking at the Archives and using our nation’s founding documents as props was far more appalling than that silly popping up in front of those Greek columns. The President is further alienating Americans from their roots in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.

We are an imperfect people. Every now and then, there are those who think that America’s safety and success requires us to walk away from the sacred principles enshrined in this building. We hear such voices today. But the American people have resisted that temptation. And though we have made our share of mistakes and course corrections, we have held fast to the principles that have been the source of our strength, and a beacon to the world.

Has Obama taken to heart the words of Abraham Lincoln, his favorite President, who asked:

"Is there, in all republics, this inherent, and fatal weakness?ff "Must a government, of necessity, be too strong for the liberties of its own people, or too weak to maintain its own existence?ff

Obama does play on an American concern that Bush and Cheney did not appreciate in their rhetoric: The need to be the good guys, and good guys never use terrible means to secure their ends. The latter part is of course naievete, yet it remains part of the American character and needs to be accommodated. (See David Tucker’s take on this below.)

But what must Obama think of this part of the Declaration of Independence?

He [the King of England] has plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.

He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.

He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.

He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.

Does this talk of "barbarous ages" and "merciless Indian Savages" reflect a "rigid ideology"? Is this not part of "our values [that] have been our best national security asset"? Might it not lead to "anything goes" conduct on the part of Americans? Who here is using national security as a "wedge that divides America"?

Noam Chomsky, revealing

I was killing a few minutes before an interview with a high school student, and came across this short Noam Chomsky piece, thinking it was on torture. Well, it sort of is on it, and is it. It is also a good peek into Chomsky’s wretched and tedious soul mind. I’m not dwelling in it, but if you haven’t read any of Chomsky’s deep political thinking--on his loves and hates--lately, this may be a good one to pass over lightly for it is both revealing and mercifully short.

Cheney and Bush Getting More Popular

Well, it’s true that they had nowhere to go but up, and a solid majority of Americans still don’t think well of them. Still, there’s increasing evidence that the former VP’s security concerns are being taken seriously. But as Peter noted below, Obama’s foreign policy may not be turning out to be as bad Cheney feared.

Obama vs Cheney

Here is President Obama�s speech, and then former vice-president Cheney�s talk at almost the same time, on the other side of town. I will have to study both impressive speeches, but, I must say that at first sight, Cheney�s is surprisingly thoughtful. It is possible that we will never have any clearer statements than these of the two possible ways of thinking about our security problem.

The Right to a Good Smoke

Each Year the Chez Francois, a fine eating establishment in Vermillion, Ohio, hosts "The Spring Cigar Smoker." Roger, Danielle, Chris Burkett and I joined a few hundred friends for drinks, a great meal, much wine, and many cigars. The weather, the canal, and the atmosphere combined to make for a perfect evening. The conversation was good and full of serious humor, inspired by this wisdom from George Burns on their menu: "Happiness? A good cigar, a good meal and a good woman --or a bad woman; it depends on how much happiness you can handle." Here is the fully articulated statement (found on the back of the menu) that the event stands for:

The Chez Cigar Club


When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of a good smoke. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new organization, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. We believe that in the right to smoke a Handmade Premium Cigar, sip Single Malt Scotch, enjoy a good Steak with a fine bottle of Red Wine, eat Foie Gras, have our French Fries cooked in trans fatty oils, to discharge firearms for recreational and or self defensive purposes, to invoke God’s name in the public sphere as an acknowledgement of our heritage, to defend our brothers and finally to honor America as the sole lynch pin holding Western civilization together! We support our Soldiers fighting terrorism throughout the world, our Police and Firefighters, Hudson Valley Foie Gras, Cigar Manufacturers, Square Groove Gold Irons, Citizens for a free Cuba, The Sopranos and Dancers for Democracy. We hold in esteem William Wilberforce, King Edward VII, Abraham Lincoln, Mark Twain, George Patton, Winston Churchill, Sigmund Freud, JFK, George Burns, Peter Falk and Ronald Reagan.

"Gentlemen You May Smoke"

We’re for Guns and Babies

The sensible liberal Galston notices that studies show a sharp turn in public opinion away from gun control and for life. He urges our president to give us a Court nominee who’s sensitive to our genuine cultural mainstream, which is a balance or compromise among opposing views and sentiments. He doesn’t explain how that can be done while still having no reservations about the conversation and compromise stopper that ROE (and subsequent opinions) is or at least means to be. We might urge the Republicans to be more sensitive and articulate when it comes to the cultural trends that are actually in their favor.

Obama as Commander in Chief

David Broder thinks that President Obama, even in abandoning positions he took during the campaign, "clearly has taken on the mind-set and priorities of a commander in chief -- and he is unlikely to revert back." Karl Rove agrees (domestic policy is another matter). Obama�s speech this morning, which White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said would cover "military commissions . . . photos, state secrets, transparency and protecting our national security," will be worth reading.

Idol Comments

Although it’s become beneath our NLT pay grade to talk about or even watch TV, I have to say that THE AMERICAN IDOL final show was quite entertaining. It featured CYNDI LAUPER, KISS, STEVE MARTIN, SANTANA, ROD STEWART (struggling charmingly to belt out his first hit Maggie May), and some other famous singers I don’t like that much. Steve Martin, Crunchies please note, played the banjo to a very pretty sort of mountain song he wrote himself. The idol top ten acquitted themselves well singing with these stars, and Adam, in particular, out-kissed Kiss. Kris and Adam, the two finalists, are both smart, classy, and musically inventive young men (that Danny, the number 3 guy, is too). But the result was an injustice. Kris may resonate more with the heartland, but Adam, however over-the-top in certain ways, must be the best Idol singer ever. As Simon says, it is, after all, a singing contest. Kris, quite the gentleman, said after after hearing the result something like: "I don’t know what to say, it feels good, but Adam deserved this." Consent and wisdom don’t always come together, despite Simon’s effort to direct the American verdict. But that’s not to say Kris didn’t earn his victory through brains and hard work: He sometimes soared above his relatively limited vocal ability with arrangements that highlighted the stories the songs actually tell--especially "The Way You Look Tonight." The weakness of Adam, sometimes, was subordinating the song to his amazing voice.

Churchill and the philosophy of failure, the creed of ignorance, and the gospel of envy

Good timing on this essay by Justin Lyons: "Winston Churchill’s Constitutionalism: A Critique of Socialism in America."
A very good read on a core element--and not often discussed--of Winston’s political thinking (and what that has to do with American constitutionalism). Worth a Romeo Y Julieta, and, as Winston might say, if you have two to choose from, pick the strongest and longest. Of course also have a whiskey and soda with the smoke, for it is a "good drink to draw a sword on."   

The Revolving Debt Door

Amid the discussions of the debt, we sometimes forget that the retirement of the Baby Boomers complicates things in part because it means that the "trust funds" will start selling, rather than buying T-bills, John Steele Gordon notes:

By far the biggest holder of federal treasury bonds is the United States Government itself ($4.2 trillion worth, as compared to $2.7 trillion held by foreigners). Most of this debt is owned by various trust funds, principally the Social Security Trust Fund. That makes the total national debt $10.5 trillion, not $6.3 trillion, 73 percent of GDP, not 40 percent.

The big problem here is that many of these trust funds will have to start dipping into their stockpiles of treasuries in order to pay their obligations in the near future. Medicare is already doing so. Social Security will begin in 2016 according to current projections, as the tide of retiring baby boomers swells.

When the trust funds need the money, they will take their treasury bonds to the Treasury and ask for it. The government will then have three means for raising the money: 1) It can make cuts in spending in other areas of the federal budget (but not to the ever-growing portion that will have to be allocated to interest on the debt, a constitutional obligation). 2) It can raise taxes substantially to bring in new revenue. Or 3) It can go into the bond market and sell still more bonds over and above the trillions of dollars’ worth it will be selling in order to finance the Obama deficits.

Is Sunstein Obama’s Best Choice?

This originalist says so. He’s an impressive scholar, a good guy, a "judicial minimalist," and is for cost-benefit analysis.

Leo Strauss Center Established

At the
University of Chicago

Caffeine and Contemporary Culture

Ceaser and ME reflect on the enduring merits of MAXWELL HOUSE, and Ivan the K adds some disturbng reflections on the disappearance of the communal coffee pot.

Obama at Notre Dame

I agree with Ken below that our president masterfully wowed the Catholic crowd, and his personal charm should be compared to Reagan’s. He talked about working together in service for the common good, and he spoked against selfishness, greed and zero sum games. He repeatedly invoked Cardinal Bernardin and by implication Bernardin’s seamless garment of life. There are many areas where we need to address the needs of the most weak and vulnerable among us, and abortion is only one of them. So we can affirm this president’s charitable, unifying work with only one irreconciliable difference. Just as he respects the good faith of our irreconciliable position, we must respect his. The only problem with this conclusion, of course, is that he only respects our position as a matter of private conscience. The Supreme Court has said that his view is the one, as a matter of liberty, that must inform public policy. And that view, our president suggested quickly, is one in accord with "sound science" and "the equality of women." The president spoke eloquently of the sacredness of every human life, but not of any reasonable public disagreement over who a human being is. The president called attention to the anniversary of BROWN and the fact that, as a result of BROWN, nobody recognizes the good faith of segregationists. He did not add that our Court, of course, has placed BROWN and ROE in the same category as super-precedents. A president who really recognized the good faith of his opponents on the abortion issue would extend them not only linguistic courtesy but the right for pro-life views to be included meaningfully in the political process.

Meeting the Challenge of Obama

Notre Dame address
shows once more how formidable a politician he is--even though he did not go with the draft I posted here a few days ago. Instead of talking about abortion, he referred to his conversion to Christianity. Anyone opposing Obama’s call for civil discussion (even though it ultimately means agreement with him or at least capitulation to his power) is marginalized.

UPDATE: C-SPAN’S coverage of the commencement, including the speech.

In rallying conservatives, especially following hound-dog Huntsman and bail-out Specter, moderation and prudence need to be kept in mind: Reagan remains a rallying point--even though few people under 40 have direct political memory of him. As a leftish student, prepared to mock the gubernatorial candidate, I was charmed by him instead. (A young left-wing student of mine said he was moved to tears when he heard a Reagan speech, despite his loathing for Reagan policies.) I reiterate that Reagan’s own personal background (divorced, Hollywood, California) restrained his opponents from treating him at least initially like, well, like Governor Palin.

The only prominent conservative political figure I know of who has such personal appeal across partisan lines is Justice Clarence Thomas, whose ability to speak out is limited.

One problem with Rush and other conservatives, especially when they defend free markets, is that they argue for Grover’s "leave us alone" coalition yet also want America to be Reagan’s city on a hill. Libertarians as such cannot love any country. Free markets are by definition not patriotic, let alone American.

We are reminded again of Lincoln’s admonition that successful politics requires the combination of
duty and self-interest
. See his Springfield speech, on Dred Scott, June 26, 1857, third paragraph from the end.

New Foundation

This New York Times article floats the idea that Obama (and/or his people) might want "new foundation" as his brand. This, might be perfect, given that his ideas seem so radical even to those who see themselves as New Dealers, for example (Great Society, or New Frontier are not even terms worth noting).

Obama, of course, never simply ignores the imperfect Founders’ foundation of the country, although the imperfections in it need not be stressed by him, that only a transvaluation of values (as Stanley Greenberg implies in the NYT piece) will do. What seems obvious to me is that the word "values" is used much more frequently--and more precisely--than in any other previous administration, and that the words "change" and the words "yes we can" and "audacity" are logically connected to what will become the "true genius of the American people." I remind you of Charles Kesler’s fine piece on Obama back in January.

The problem with Cheney et al.

The problem with Cheney is not that he is talking, it is what he is saying. The argument that torture saved lives is unlikely to stand up to scrutiny. Enhanced interrogation techniques might have made people say things they would not have otherwise said and that may have saved lives but how many people were inspired to attack Americans because of these techniques, Guantanamo, etc? The net count is what is important and when liberal democratic countries use torture or enhanced interrogation techniques and excessive force to counter terrorists or insurgents (e.g., Great Britain in Northern Ireland and France in Algeria), the liberal democracies either lose or suffer years of conflict and numerous casualties as a result. Every time torture has been used, the defense has been that it saved lives. In the short run maybe.

But let’s say that Cheney’s rhetoric works and people buy the short-term argument. The bigger problem is that Cheney’s rhetoric represents a misunderstanding of the kind of fight we are in. Force or killing won’t bring us victory. That’s the wrong strategy. Cheney like a lot of others does not seem to understand this. Ralph Peters published another blood and guts and no brains article on Afghanistan and Pakistan the other day. His solution is to kill more people more quickly, which is what he hopes the new commander in Afghanistan will do. The Wall Street journal praised the appointment of the new commander too, referring to his two “successes,” killing Zarqawi and capturing Saddam. Neither of these “successes” brought us any closer to our objectives in Iraq.

Until Republicans and conservatives give up their knee-jerk emphasis on force, in so far as fighting terrorism and insurgency are concerned, it is probably better to have Democrats in charge. Their prejudice against force is probably better suited to the terrorism problem we face.

Excerpts from Obama’s Notre Dame Address

Excerpts from an advance draft of Obama’s Notre Dame remarks:

This day reminds us about the basic meaning of Catholic.E Catholic with a small cEmeans broad, inclusive, universal. So it means above all generosity of spirit, warmth, and welcome. And that’s what you stand for. You are more catholic now than ever.

We see it in your campus. Notre Dame now contains women as well as men. People of all faiths, whose ancestors came from all over the world. This is the sort of campus where my mother and father could have met, romanced and married.

Notre Dame today is not exactly what we saw in that wonderful old movie, Knute Rockne: All American. We see in that classic film Notre Dame’s struggle for equal recognition with other schools. It is a moving story about Catholics becoming equal in an unequal society. It is an immigrant’s storyE

When I was in high school, the football teams I would root for would be the ones with black quarterbacks. One of the charms of the Knute Rockne movie for me was the black quarterback in Knute’s first sandlot scrimmage.

Nation-wide, all of this diversity leads up to this amazing situation: a black guy with a name weirder than Knute Rockne gets elected President. This is the only country in the world where this could happen. And it happened because, with all our wonderful diversity, we share a common faithE

America is more than having common enemies. As Lincoln implored the South, in his First Inaugural: “We must not be enemies, we must be friends.E Yet it is not enough for Americans to cease hating each other or even just competing with each otherE

What is at the heart of Catholic higher education, what is at the heart of America, is the chance to be better Americans in a more generous America. A black kid has no need to look for the team with the black quarterbackE

We can agree on this, even as some of us obviously don’t agree on others. We differ in our religious convictions, for example. You might be cradle Catholics; I came to my faith fairly late in my life. Yet we have had presidents of all sorts of religious convictions and they have managed to be presidents of all the people. What we can all have in common is something people of all faiths and even those without faith can share in, and that is hopeE

I was raised by a mother in a family that was not in any conventional sense religious. But they were all deeply spiritual people.

When I was conceived, my father and mother were not married. As you may know, he was a graduate student from Kenya, she an undergraduate of 17. They were not religious people, in any ordinary sense. In such instances abortion would be advised and taken as the easy choice. You might even know of people who faced such circumstances.

So I am thankful, and I have prayed every day of my life, once I learned the power of prayer, that my mother did not take the easy choice. She had the right to abort me, but, thank God, she did not exercise it. Because she had hope. She did not make her choice out of religious conviction but because she had hope.

And isn’t that the meaning of your school motto: Vita, Dulcedo, Spes; Life, Sweetness, Hope.

That’s how she lived her all too brief life: with sweetness and hope, and she gave to her son the audacity to hope great things for my life. She inspires me still to live my life in the hope of bringing sweetness to many others, for whom life has lost savorE

As Pope Benedict the 16th said in his encyclical on Hope: “In hope we were saved, says Saint Paul to the Romans, and likewise to usE Redemption is offered to us in the sense that we have been given hope, trustworthy hope, by virtue of which we can face our present”….

Faith, hope, and love—these are the values we live by, the values that make us live and sacrifice. They make us strive beyond mere lifeE

You know well this date: November 26, 1842. In that same month and year that Fr. Sorin founded Notre Dame, Abe Lincoln married his wife.

Think about the hopes that young couple must have had. (The more I read about that marriage, the more I’m glad I’m married to Michelle.) Consider all the good Lincoln did this nation. It would not have been possible without that hope.

Abraham Lincoln gave hope for a new birth of freedom that brought us out of the Civil WarE

Confronted by the challenge of the Depression, Franklin Roosevelt gave hope to a demoralized nationE

Confronted by malaise and drift, the Gipper, Ronald Reagan, gave hope to a nation buffeted by domestic and foreign perils.

So let us give our future mothers, fathers, citizens, and people of the world hope that their lives will be sweet ones. Hope in the goodness of life. Hope that His justice and mercy will prevail, the whole wide world aroundE

Classic Kindle

I recently got a Kindle. For my purposes, the best feature of it is that one can download many of the classics that Liberty Fund makes available as an e-book PDF, and convert them to the Kindle. I now have The Federalist on mine. Now if I can just figure out the clipboard feature, I can do real work on it.

P.S. Unfortunately, Kindle can’t seem to convert PDFs downloaded from JSTOR. They are still working with the different PDF formats, apparently.

Star Trek Conservatives?

In light of the new Star Trek movie, I thought post the following two lists:

1. James T. Kirk, Jean-Luc Picard, and William T. Riker.

2. Russell Kirk, Max Picard, and William H. Riker.


Advice Sought

We’re putting together a SIXTH EDITION of AMERICAN POLITICAL RHETORIC, which is a collection of classic American political writing for use in American government courses. The rationale or rationalization for a new edition is UPDATING. So do any of you have any suggestions about to include from the last five or six years or so? PLUS we’d like to add a section of EUROPEAN (or, better, FOREIGN) relatively friendly critics of our country--such as Tocqueville, (maybe) Bryce, Solzhenitsyn, Bruckberger, Chesterton, and Havel. Any other ideas--perhaps something from Churchill or De Gaulle or some non-European? Let me know on the thread or through [email protected]. Thanks, as always.

More Americans Now Pro-Life Than Pro-Choice

...according to Gallup.
And by a comfortable margin. There’s been a significant shift over the last year. Movement has occurred among moderates, conservatives, men, and the young. Whether this new climate of opinion benefits the Republicans depends, of course, on leadership. Obama’s Court nomination will give our guys another chance to explain what ROE etc. actually say and why they were wrongly decided. The truth is they haven’t been so good at that so far. It also presents another chance to explain why if Republicanism becomes libertarianism or even Specterism it will not only lose its soul, but lose elections. (Thanks to Ivan the K.)

Pelosi vs CIA

Things are heating up, and perhaps not the way some intended. Even Dan Balz understands that Speaker Pelosi has raised the stakes, and may regret it. Charles Krauthammer (a two minute video) is more straightforward. Worth watching.

Hayward on the environment

Steve Hayward on the environment. He says perfectly sensible things, of course, but, darn it, you have to see him in order to hear him! Oh well, it may be worth it. And it is better than seeing Al Gore talk.

Where Does AP find its Writers?

I’m sorry. I can’t help but laugh at this story from the AP. I’m not laughing at the substance of it . . . two idiots taking a leak inside of Old Faithful could only be funny if you’ve never actually been to Yellowstone. So I don’t even have comic sympathy for them . . . theirs is the kind of environmental crime I’m wholeheartedly in favor of punishing. Though we could talk about ways to improve their management through competition and some serious (though regulated) privatization, I love the National Parks. We visited Yellowstone last summer and I was genuinely horrified at the stupidity that led people over the years to throw things into the geysers and pools and diminish their beauty.

Still, when I first read of the exploits of the guys discussed in the story above I knew they were idiots but it didn’t occur to me that an idiot of that sort was automatically a contender for the Darwin award. Even so, the AP saw a need to remove all doubt by including this helpful little line: "The geyser was not erupting at the time."

Last Essay on Civil War Campaign

Ben has just posted my last essay on Civil War campaigns here. It covers Sherman’s march to the sea and then through the Carolinas and Hood’s counteroffensive into Tennessee.

Princeton Protest

I have spent a lot of time with our students over the last month, over exams, theses defenses, and watching them speak at public events and meetings. Rather impressive. Not exactly the indifferent children of the earth, as the Poet might say. Then I spot these Princeton students, brought to my attention by Maggie Gallagher. Oh well, back to reading The Elementary Particles.


Methinks They All Doth Protest Too Much . . . About Cheney

And Victor Davis Hanson appears to agree. The uproar on the left over his recent interviews is a tell, in my view. People on our side seem to forget (though the smart ones on the the left seem to remember) how admired Cheney was in the 2000 campaign and even--to some extent--in the 2004 campaign. Before the sustained and wild attacks from the left that (largely because they went unanswered) gained some wider acceptance in the popular imagination, people considered that Dick Cheney was a straight-shooter--even when they disagreed with him. He was described as bringing "gravitas" to the ticket and was considered a kind of "grown-up" presence in a (then-young) Bush administration. Now that the real responsibility for helping to maintain American security is off of his shoulders, he is free to speak for himself and to answer the wild attacks. It appears that he means to do it. As Hanson wisely notes at the end of his comments: watch how they distance themselves from Pelosi. In that there is another big tell.
Categories > Politics

Foreign Affairs

Secular-Socialist Societies Suck Out Your Soul

Dennis Prager writes another compelling essay today arguing that the secular socialism of most European nations is responsible, not only for the much discussed declining church attendance, birth rates and economies of Europe; it is also responsible for the general lack of creative vitality coming from Europe. Outside of politics (and other vulgar arts like entertainment) who are the great European minds or souls? What developments in literature, art, medicine, technology are emerging from Europe? If one can stretch his mind enough to name a few, this only heightens the point. Just a few generations ago, most--if not all--masters of the worlds of music, literature, science, philosophy, and other arts hailed from Europe. But, as Prager argues:
What has happened is that Europe, with a few exceptions, has lost its creativity, intellectual excitement, industrial innovation, and risk taking. Europe's creative energy has been sapped. There are many lovely Europeans; but there aren't many creative, dynamic, or entrepreneurial ones.

The issues that preoccupy most Europeans are overwhelmingly material ones: How many hours per week will I have to work? How much annual vacation time will I have? How many social benefits can I preserve (or increase)? How can my country avoid fighting against anyone or for anyone?

The intellectual war against perceived "bourgeois conformity" in Christianity and the perceived "materialist ethic" of capitalism appears now in the afterglow to have produced, what? I guess the answer is, not much. But the irony may be that the thing it has been particularly good at producing is another (and a much less interesting) kind of materialism and conformity. If there is no God to discover (or to defy) then where does one find the creative impulse within himself necessary to mount the effort for great things? Why bother to do anything other than simply exist . . . and, indeed, why bother with that except that it would require too much effort to cease existing? If history can be our guide, I suppose there will be other societies--those with more zeal animating their spirits--and they will be happy to step in the breach. And if European secular-socialists cannot then manage to see a quantitative and a qualitative difference between the zeal of that society and the zeal that once animated their ancestors, they are quite likely to discover a whole new kind of life-sucking conformity.
Categories > Foreign Affairs

Literature, Poetry, and Books

Thoughts on the American Master

Ceaser, made famous by the legendary "Andrew," tells us about his ten minutes alone with Hopper's NIGHTHAWKS. For a fine reproduction of this (literally) wonderful painting, you can buy a copy of the cover of my HOMELESS AND AT HOME IN AMERICA for a very low price. A lot of words will be thrown in for free.

Political Philosophy

Is Tocqueville a Metaphysical or Darwinian Conservative?

Or, in other words, does Tocqueville understand religion to be more than merely civil theology? Not surprisingly, Larry and I disagree.


Lazy Journalists Flunk Again

One cannot help but be amused by this story about a 22 year-old student in Dublin who fooled the world's media outlets by posting a phony quote on Wikipedia allegedly from a recently deceased French composer. Although Wikipedia passed the test with flying colors--removing the unattributed quote within hours of its posting--lazy journalists from around the world re-printed the manufactured quote verbatim and with flourish. Only the UK's Guardian has bothered to retract it with a heartfelt apology for their sloppy work. Many papers continue to print it. The quote was lovely and, in a Thucydidean way, I suppose it ought to have been authentic. But the fact that it was not exposes a starker and more important (if not deeper) truth than any artistic truth can hope to demonstrate: one can't trust today's journalists in the way that most folks are still, unfortunately, inclined to do. Yes, we do need them. But the fact remains that one has to learn to think and investigate things for himself. Are we teaching students today with all the world's information seemingly at his fingertips to do this? Or have we become increasingly lazy as things appear to have become easier to research? Shane Fitzgerald seems to have learned this lesson thoroughly and he seems determined to teach it to the world. Good for him.
Categories > Journalism

Political Parties

Meghan McCain and Republican Rebranding

Here's what the Republicans need, some say, a young and beautiful female McCain. It may be true enough that a conservative majority coalition has to include young people who are for limited government, concerned with body image, pro-life, "pro-sex," and okay with gay marriage. Someone might even add that dad and daughter never really disagreed on any of these issues. But the fact remains that a lot is lost in the generational transition.
Categories > Political Parties



I am not surprised by the moves that Ford is making. Good for them. Two people I talked to in the last few days have bought new Ford's; they have never owned Fords in their lives, they said. But since Ford is not taking govt money, they wanted to show their support. I'm not surprised and this goodwill will continue and Ford will recover and thrive.
Categories > Economy


New General for Afghanistan

Here is the Washington Post story on the firing of Gen. McKiernan. He is replaced by Lt. Gen. Stanley McChrystal. This is the New York Times story on the same. As far as I can tell, this seems reasonable. Clearly, a crisis point has been reached in Afghanistan/Pakistan and a risk-averse all-too-conventional-thinking general is not who I would want in charge. I would want someone who is both aggressive and prudent, and quiet; and who is fully trusted by his men, especially on the most sensitive missions. Here is a brief Time mag profile of the new man in charge. Also related , is this long Dexter Filkins review of Ricks' The Gamble.
Categories > Military

Shameless Self-Promotion

Now Showing on NRO-TV

Me, talking about the environment. Enjoy!


The End of the Civil War in Virginia

The penultimate essay in my Civil War campaigns series has now been posted here. It covers the siege of Petersburg, operations in the Shenandoah Valley, and the race west after Richmond and Petersburg fell.

The final essay covers Sherman's march to the sea after Atlanta, Hood's failed attempt to get Sherman to follow him west after Atlanta by threatening Nashville, and Sherman's final campaign in the Carolinas.

Categories > History


A Consistent Ethic of Judicial Restraint?

According to Dionne, the proper battle that should animate the next Court confirmation process is the danger of right-wing judicial activism. I agree that some of our libertarian friends have pushed for the Court to do too much, but to say the least that danger is fading now. I can even agree that declaring the Voting Rights Act unconstitutional seems like judicial activism. But shouldn't we challenge E.J. to add that left-wing judicial activism (which we, beginning with ROE, have discussed on NLT often) is at least at bad, and the new danger is it will now get much worse?
Categories > Courts

Political Philosophy

Blogito, Ergo Sum

That's the title of Jim Ceaser's triumphant return to the world of postmodern, yet conservative, blogging.

Pop Culture

Happy Mother's Day?

Some people think this is funny. The German word for it is ordinaer.
Categories > Pop Culture


Pelosi got the brief on harsh interrogations

Behind a log-in barrier, the Congressional Quarterly reports that "CIA records provided to Congress by the nation's spy chief contradict House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's claim that she was never briefed on the use of harsh interrogation methods."
Categories > Politics


Will a Friend of Justice Clarence Thomas Join the Court?

The WaPo article says much more about Justice Thomas than it does about Obama's possible nominee, Georgia Supreme Court Chief Justice Leah Ward Sears. Thomas has played a low-key role in helping black judicial nominees, including Democrats.

Other facts about her: She is an army brat, attended Cornell and Emory law, with an LL.M from UVA, appointed by Zell Miller, and is married to a former Deputy Mayor of NY, under Ed Koch.

For pros and cons on other possibilities, note this Jan Crawford Greenburg co-authored piece. From all of this, Gov. Granholm looks more likely, at least on paper. Or is there no such thing as too many Chicagoans?

Categories > Courts


BOYCOTT: Refuse to Buy ANY Vehicles To Be Manufactured By Fiat/Chrysler/UAW/U.S. Treasury

They'll throw you in prison if you decline to pay the taxes that support the new union- and government-owned Chrysler. The president will publicly berate you, and his officials privately threaten you, if your insistence on your legal rights as a creditor complicates their plans to use taxpayer money to buy an automobile company for their union allies. But for the moment, at least, the government cannot force you to buy the products that roll off the assembly line of its experiment in central planning.

Boycotting the entire product line to be offered by the new Chrysler is a happy occasion where duty and self-interest coincide. You can be a good patriot and a smart shopper at the same time. Refusing to reward the United Auto Workers and the government that bestowed Chrysler upon them will uphold the rule of law and the principles of private enterprise. (One of the "concessions" the UAW made to Chrysler - that is, to itself - is that overtime will, henceforth, be paid only to employees who work more than 40 hours a week. Huh? Under the old contract, the one that turned Chrysler and GM into vegetables, workers started drawing overtime as soon as they met production targets, even if it was after they had worked 35, 30 or even 25 hours in a week.)

"Chrysler by Fiat" is the perfect name for America's first eminent domain manufacturing concern, one being created by arbitrary government actions that jettison law when it is inconvenient for policy goals and political coalitions. As The Economist says, "In effect Chrysler and the government have overridden the legal pecking order to put workers' health-care benefits above more senior creditors' claims, and then successfully argued in court that the alternative would be so much worse for creditors that it cannot be seriously considered. . . . The collapse of Detroit's giants is a tragedy, affecting tens of thousands of current and former workers. But the best way to offer them support is directly, not by gerrymandering the rules. The investors in these firms are easily portrayed as vultures, but many are entrusted with the savings of ordinary people, and in any case all have a legal claim that entitles them to due process. In a crisis it is easy to put politics first, but if lenders fear their rights will be abused, other firms will find it more expensive to borrow, especially if they have unionized workforces that are seen to be friendly with the government. It may be too late for Chrysler's secured creditors and if GM's lenders cannot reach a voluntary agreement, they may face a similar fate. That would establish a terrible precedent. Bankruptcy exists to sort legal claims on assets. If it becomes a tool of social policy, who will then lend to struggling firms in which the government has a political interest?"

Thankfully, refusing to buy any new Chryslers means that you will be depriving yourself of the chance to ride the next iteration of the worst cars on the road, at least on those intermittent occasions when they can be coaxed out of the garage and on to the road. Consumer Reports does not recommend a single vehicle manufactured by any Chrysler brand. A company so fouled up that it could not be salvaged by Mercedes-Benz is not likely to be transformed by the combined expertise of Fiat, union officials and government experts.

The sooner Chrysler by Fiat is driven into a bankruptcy from which it cannot be bailed out, the sooner will we repudiate the lousy products and lawless processes of thugocratic capitalism.

Categories > Economy


Justice Scalia at the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast

In his remarks this morning at the 6th annual National Catholic Prayer Breakfast, Justice Antonin Scalia contrasted the Jefferson who abridged the gospels to produce a humanist (and thoroughly uninteresting) Jesus with Thomas More, who defied Henry VIII and was eventually beheaded. But the comparison of one of Jefferson's silly moments with St. Thomas Morefs martyrdom is inapt. And unfortunately it feeds a prejudice many religious Americans have, that their faith is at odds with their patriotism, that they must ultimately live as aliens in America. Of course, the prevailing political and social trends bolster this feeling.

But denigrating, even implicitly, Jeffersonfs highest achievements (especially by contrast with a Saint) would further undermine Catholic self-understanding as well as patriotism. Preeminent among those achievements was the Declaration of Independence, with its radical statement of human equality, an assessment of the human condition that transformed the relationship of man to his government and the understanding of the relationship between man and the cosmos. Catholics, as well as those of other faiths and religious skeptics and scoffers, need the natural theology of the Declaration to ground our political and social conduct. They need the founding documentfs reason or natural law to establish their political principles. Philosophic reason paves the way for theology.

Justice Scaliafs remarks are not available, but Archbishop Burkefs powerful keynote address is here. Go, Notre Dame was not a leading theme.

Categories > Courts

Political Parties

The Republican Invisible Primary

...has begun. And Sabato says a few choice words about each of the candidates. He's right to say the field is underwhelming. Clearly none of those guys could have beaten Obama last time. New blood and longshots are needed now more than ever. (Link now fixed, thanks to Matt.)
Categories > Political Parties


Why Isn't Murtha in Prison?

This is the kind of thing for which Murtha ought to be in the federal pen. But as Michael Kinsley sagely remarked a long time ago, the amazing thing about Washington is what's legal.
Categories > Congress

Political Parties

Time for a Reagan Smackdown

I've got a long rant up over at NRO's Corner about the folks complaining about Reagan nostalgia. Since it is long, I won't cross-post it here: click the link, and comment here if you want to.
Categories > Political Parties


Jimmah Grab Another Prize

The late great Pat Moynihan used to say that anyone who won the Lenin Prize deserved it. That quip came back to mind this morning with the news that Jimmy and Rosalyn Carter have won the Mahatma Gandhi Global Nonviolence Award. He also deserves it.
Categories > Politics

The Civil War & Lincoln

Civil War Series: The Atlanta Campaign

My most recent Civil War essay is here. The subject is the Atlanta Campaign. The fall of Atlanta was of critical importance. Had it not fallen when it did, Lincoln may not have been reelected. Had McClellan become president, it is possible that a negotiated peace would have followed.

Of course, some folks think this would have been a good outcome, but it is likely that a Confederate nation would have continued to fight against the United States for control of the western territories. In other words, a negotiated peace would not have led to peace. Besides, the slave empire would have turned its attention south to Mexico and the Caribbean.

By the way, aren't the names of those rivers in Georgia cool? Oostanaula, Etowah, and of course, Chattahoochee, brought to the attention of non-Georgians by Alan Jackson. Cherokee names, no?


The Young Are Becoming De-Churched

...according to Putnam. Robert thinks that's because they've identified religion with the vices of the "far right." This trend isn't good for social capital and citizen participation. Putnam's hope is for religious innovation that will address the needs of the young. I do think there's been a fairly rapid increase in religious indifference and disbelief, although one that's not unprecedented in our country's history. I also think that social or cultural libertarianism is becoming more pronounced among many or most of the young, and the spiritual reaction against the excesses associated with the Sixties seems, in general, to be ebbing. Still, the study doesn't pick up the fact that the young who remain religious are often more serious about it than their parents, and unsatisfied relational and spiritual longings remain. Not only that, the young remain more pro-life than their parents. The always good advice is to detach religion from the political agenda of both the left and the right, but that's hard to do in a time where everything seems politicized. The idea that the problem the churches face with the young could be solved by becoming more politically progressive and culturally permissive is as ridiculous as ever. If the problem the churches are having with the young has any connection with similar problems the Republicans are having, it would be along the lines of quality of leadership and moral and intellectual self-discipline.
Categories > Religion


Oil Tanker to the Rescue!

This report from the BBC tells the story of some eco-sailors on a mission from merry old England to Greenland to promote global-warming awareness aboard a zero-emissions vessel. Unfortunately for them, the boat hit high winds and capsized three times before they were rescued on May 1 by the crew of the Overseas Yellowstone . . . an oil tanker. To their credit, the eco-sailors expressed deep and heartfelt thanks for their rescue. Still . . . you can't make this stuff up.
Categories > Environment


Kindle DX

The new Kindle DX may be pre-ordered now.
Categories > Technology

Literature, Poetry, and Books

Letter from London

May 5, 2009

Old Friend,

I write from the British Library, which, like the Globe theatre, also didn't exist in those old days when you and I rubbed elbows with the Indian Hindus, and Pakistani Muslims, and Persian princesses, and easily-offended Irishmen at the International Students House at 10 York Terrace East. Remember the excruciating embarrassment watching the evening news with fellow students in the common room as James Earl "Jimmy" Carter became the Democratic front runner in the presidential elections. As I recall there was nothing partisan about it, just the shame that such a small-souled sanctimonious squirt of a man could conceivably be president of the United States. I like to remember that our Pakistani friends, especially keen on questions of honor, would politely change the subject--"let's watch Starsky and Hutch!" Fortunately we got out of town before our future president confessed the lust in his heart--to Playboy!

But I do not mean to talk politics, even old politics. The British Library was conceived before our York Terrace East days, but gestated slowly and came into being only in 1998. It's just a few stone throws from where we would have hung our hat if we could have afforded one between us--near St. Pancras Station on Euston Road. If it had been around back then, we would have spent many of our days here. It combines, along with other important collections, what had been the library holdings of the British Museum, which--to give an idea of scope--Lenin said held a better collection of Russian books than he could find in St. Petersburg or Moscow. It's very easy to get a reader's card, and there's free wi-fi for whoever wants to stroll through the front doors. The manuscripts on display are splendid--some of your students would like to trace with their eyes the straight lines of Jane Austen's hand-written pages, resting on her personal writing desk. There's a well stocked café, tables all over the place to sit and read or eat or have coffee and talk. And for those who know, there are secret balconies where one can sit and enjoy a Henry Clay--or, on a quest like mine, a Romeo y Julieta--if one is so disposed, and still have wi-fi.

But you don't have to be here to enjoy some of the library's wonders. Following the Shakespeare trail, while sipping a white Americano among throngs of happy and lively folks also sipping various brews and speaking countless languages at the dozens of sprawling tables or reading books or tapping away at their laptops, I wander on my free wi-fi to a wonderful feature online. Here can be found "the British Library's 93 copies of the 21 plays by William Shakespeare printed in quarto before the theatres were closed in 1642." The page I link to compares the first page of the first quarto of 1597 with the first page of the fifth quarto, 1637, of Romeo and Juliet. Flip through the pages, zoom in, and marvel.

I, for one, am inclined on occasion to stand astride History and say--"Well done!"




Marion Barry Joins the Catholic Church

That is, against same-sex marriage in the District of Columbia. The former Mayor and current Councilman suggests a "civil war" may break out.

After the [DC Council] vote, enraged African American ministers stormed the hallway outside the council chambers and vowed that they will work to oust the members who supported the bill.... They caused such an uproar that security officers and D.C. police were called in to clear the hallway....

"All hell is going to break lose," Barry said. "We may have a civil war. The black community is just adamant against this."

At least some of this rage is racial--blacks who feel that (white) gay activists exploit civil rights for the sake of their personal satisfaction.

And speaking of Catholics and politics: It just occurred to me that Joe Biden is the first Catholic Vice President. Surely his faith was a factor in favor as the VP selection. But will the temptation to appoint a (likely Catholic) Latina to replace Justice Souter meet the challenge of having six Catholics on the high court?

This is not to endorse ethnic/racial/religious/sex quotas. But the Court has become a highly politicized body, subject to many of the representational assumptions of elected bodies, universities, and corporations. How do we unscramble this egg? The bootless Republican strategy has been to appoint appeals court judges.

My only good political predictions have been of Supreme Court picks, so let my prudence expose itself as luck: Given Obama's opportunities and expresssion on behalf of "empathy," I might have predicted Governor Granholm of Michigan, because she is a pro-abortion Catholic. Homeland Security chief Janet Napolitano (Methodist) may have survived the swine flu scare to secure the nomination. Solicitor Elena Kagan for down the road, though the "fierce urgency of now" may get her the nomination this time.

Granholm has a more interesting story, but I know nothing of Michigan politics. Any ethics problems (other than having appeared on "The Dating Game")? But in the end he may go with one of his Chicago friends . No need to rush this, as he did with some Cabinet nominations.

UPDATE: The astute Jan Crawford Greenburg coauthors this piece on pros and cons of the most frequently mentioned possibilities. Example of a con: the black female Chief Justice of Georgia is a "Longtime friend of Justice Clarence Thomas."

Categories > Religion


The Unbearable Lightness of Being Arlen Specter

Ross Douthat makes some sensible arguments in yesterday's NYTimes about why the exit of Arlen Specter from the Republican stage is not especially lamentable. Yes, we'll sometimes miss his vote. But his vote was hardly a reliable one and, I'm sure, the Dems will find him an equally unreliable ally. The trouble with Specter is not that he is less conservative than one would have liked or more liberal than one might have preferred . . . it is that he is less principled than anyone ought to be. Douthat says this very well:
Political debates are often framed in binaries: Middle-of-the-roaders versus hard-liners, moderates versus ideologues. But American politics is more complicated than that. There are multiple rights and lefts, and multiple middles as well. So-called extremists can serve the country well. And self-conscious moderates can be intellectually bankrupt.
The problem with Specter then, is not even that he is just a kind of sleazy opportunist. Sometimes (e.g., NOW) it's fair to say that he is walking that line. But this latest exploit, unbecoming as it is, does not begin adequately to define him. Bill Clinton was this kind of politician, and Arlen Specter is no Bill Clinton. If you wanted to say that Clinton was unprincipled, you wouldn't have been crazy . . . but you would have been slightly off. Clinton's principle was (is?) himself. There was no honor in that, of course, but at least it was something that one could understand. And, in any event, there was a certain amount of American hucksterism in it that elicited a chuckle and a bit of awe at the real and not imaginary audacity of it. It was no good thing . . . but it was certainly a thing.

Arlen Specter, by contrast, is utterly uninteresting. There is no understanding Arlen Specter. He is a moving target . . . moving sometimes according to his own political and personal interests, other times according to his fancy, and occasionally in accordance with some transient thought now stuck in his dull intellectual teeth. What do you do with that? How do you speak to it? Reason with it? Make deals with it? You don't. You can't. You might as well have a monkey throwing darts at a board and count his throws as votes as count on Arlen Specter's vote. And now the Democrats have all the pleasure.

Jonah Goldberg also has some thoughts on Specter and the Republicans. He concludes, brutally, by noting: "Arlen Specter, even if he spends 40 more years in government, will be remembered for nothing at all." To which I'd say, except for this. But he will be remembered for this only because the Democrats and the media are so ardently allowing their wish to become their thought about what this is going to be and about what it means about the GOP. But it is going to amount to but a "specter" of their hopes. This is Specter's high water mark . . . the pinnacle of his power and influence. He will stand there, gaze down upon what he has wrought and not have the slightest beginnings of a coherent clue of what to do about it.

I fully understand that the future of the GOP will and must include the influence of people who are less "conservative" than me. It will and must include the influence of people who are more "conservative" than me. It will and must include (if only because we can do nothing to rid the human condition of such people) hucksters whose only principle is themselves. But I really hope we can manage to ignore the influence of people whose only ambition is to climb the mountain and then, when they do it, just stand there and look down with a stupid and confused countenance. Let them all be Democrats.

Categories > Politics

Political Parties

Republicans Love Westerns

So says David Brooks. It really is true that professors love to say profound and subtle things about the films of John Ford, which often appear in PERSPECTIVES ON POLITICAL SCIENCE. These films, according to David, are all about taming the impulses of rugged individualism with order, community, religion, family, and civic bonds. Today's Republicans should learn from them to be less libertarian and more civilized. That makes some sense, as long as we don't, as the Democrats and Europeans often do, confuse civilization with a herd of apathetic dependents absorbed in trivial pursuits and shepherded by meddlesome schoolmarms. (Thanks to Ivan the K.)
Categories > Political Parties


Happy Cuatro de Cinco

I heard the President misspeak again this morning and noted to myself that the CNN talking head laughed it off, so I looked up from Catherine Zuckert's fat book on Plato and found myself slightly irritated that CNN was not irritated the way they were when Bush screwed up. So I agree with Mary Katherine Ham: "I like to note these little incidents when they happen, not because I think it makes Obama an idiot because he occasionally stumbles over his words, but because his somewhat overblown reputation as the most cerebral, eloquent, utterly erudite president of all time could really use a pricking every now and then. Also, because if Bush had made such a blunder, it would have been the basis of a four-part MSNBC investigative series on the malapropism's deleterious effects on the Republican Party's attempts to woo Hispanic voters, Mexican-American relations, and our 'place in the world.'"
Categories > Presidency

Pop Culture

The Onion Strikes Again

The Onion offers this genius takedown of the new Star Trek movie.

Warning: Don't have a mouthful of coffee when you watch this, or you'll need a new keyboard.

Categories > Pop Culture

The Civil War & Lincoln

Series on Civil War Campaigns

In preparation for teaching two courses in the Ashland MAHG program this summer (America at War, 1845-1865 with John Waghelstein, my colleague at the Naval War College; and the Civil War and Reconstruction with Lucas Morel), I have resumed writing my commentaries on Civil War campaigns. My hope is that when when completed, they can be supplmented with maps and published as a short primer on the strategy and operations of the war.

The idea is to keep it simple while at the same time trying to show how campaigns were planned and executed to achieve strategic and political goals. For far too long, Civil War military history has focused on individual battles without providing the necessary context.

The most recent essay is here. It covers the Virginia Overland Campaign of spring and summer 1864. Next week, Ben will post the essay on the Petersburg siege and Appomattox.

I have two more to complete: The Atlanta Campaign and then one that looks at Sherman's march to the sea and the Carolinas Campaign and also Hood's attempted counteroffensive into Tennessee, culminating in the destruction of his army at Nashville.

I hope folks read these, but the fact is I just enjoy writing them.

Foreign Affairs

Le plus ca change . . .

Video of anti-Israel thugs removing all products from Israel on the shelves of a store in France. The return of Vichy?
Categories > Foreign Affairs



Steven Levy writes a very interesting article on the possibility of seeing invisible nuance, the CIA, a work of art, a few codes, and an artist. It is wonderful.
Categories > Technology


Good Riddance and Bring It On!

I agree with Julie below that we would be better served by a top-notch liberal appointee from Obama. It clarifies things. Souter has always sent me into a near-rage, not so much for his liberalism as his mediocrity--and the incompetence of Bush-pere in naming him to the Court in the first place. Can anyone name one opinion or dissent of his that was significant or memorable? (Several are notable for their stupidity; he never seemed to have much influence with his fellow liberals on the Court.) Taney will always hold the crown for the worst Justice in the history of the Court, but Souter might have the second spot nailed down. Good riddance.
Categories > Courts

Literature, Poetry, and Books

Letter from London

London May 4, 2009 Old Friend,

I begin with a digression: I have visited the Wallace Collection yesterday and today in Marylebone, just north of Mayfair--an astonishing, and most amusing, personal 19th century collection of 17th and 18th century European art (you can get some sense of it on line). Even you, no lover of museums, would enjoy it. But that's because it's not a museum. It's a rich personal collection displayed in the great town house in which it was originally displayed. Besides they serve breakfast, lunch, dinner, and drinks in a beautiful courtyard. Stop in, have a bite, smile with the "Laughing Cavalier," laugh at the lady in The Swing, and compare her with The Lace Maker--the one with a whimsical slipper in the air, the other with two domestic shoes on the floor.

Now, a little more on Stratford-upon-Avon and how Yankee enterprise helped our English cousins develop reverence for their greatest poet.

Shakespeare's birthplace in Stratford, visited by Jefferson and Adams in 1786, was sold with the attached buildings in 1805 for a mere 210 English pounds. In the announcement of the sale, no mention was made of any association with Shakespeare. In 1809 The Times of London reported perfunctorily that Shakespeare's birthplace had become a butcher's shop. There was no English lamentation or outrage. It seems the Brits did not feel an urgency to cherish the home of their greatest poet until . . . the Americans threatened to take it to America! (For these and the following facts I'm indebted mostly to that Sturgess book you suggested, which I carry with me here.)

Here's how the great American Shakespeare heist almost happened. Many Americans, following in the footsteps of Adams and Jefferson, continued to make what Washington Irving called the "poetical pilgrimage" to Stratford, even though all they found there was a butcher's shop with a room in it designated as Shakespeare's birthplace, and a tomb, with no name on it, in the nearby church. They seemed to share James Fenimore Cooper's sentiment, that Shakespeare was "the Great author of America." It was not an easy journey before the railroads, which nowadays get you there from London in a little over ninety minutes. Irving visited Stratford a few times and wrote a "Sketch Book" which became a "quasi-official guidebook" for later American visitors. Henry Clay visited in 1815, Martin van Buren some years later, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Hawthorne, etc. It was common for them to join Irving in calling it a literary "pilgrimage."

OK. In 1844, P.T. Barnum--yes, THE P.T. Barnum--comes to Stratford-upon-Avon. He asks a native for guidance to the local scene. To his surprise, he is handed a pamphlet written--not by some British authority--but by his countryman Washington Irving. Not a man known for missing an opportunity, Barnum grasps immediately that the Yanks are more interested than the Brits in making the Shakespeare pilgrimage. He records in his autobiography what he does next: He "obtained verbally through a friend the refusal of the house in which Shakspeare was born, designing to remove it in sections to my museum in New York." He was going to buy Shakespeare's house, tear it down, ship the parts to America, put it back together in New York, and let Americans--and the rest of the world--make their Shakespeare pilgrimage to the Big Apple!

This awakened the sleeping bulldog. As Barnum records, word of his plans "leaped out. British pride was touched." A movement arose in the British popular press and in social and literary circles to save the great Bard's home from these foreign predators. Queen Victoria's husband, Prince Albert, got involved, and made a substantial donation, as did other gentlemen of mark, and an English Shakespeare association bought the home for the highly inflated price of 3000 pounds. Ownership was transferred to the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust. The home of Shakespeare was safe from the reverence of P.T. Barnum. As Mark Twain wrote a generation later, "from that day to this every relic of Shakespeare in Stratford has been sacred, and zealously cared for . . . ."




Kindle Rivals

This "Publishers Nurture Rivals to Kindle" article in today's WSJ is worth a quick read if only because it shows how quickly the market moves when there are real interests at stake, e.g., no advertising on Kindle, want to make it feel more like a newspaper, etc. Platic Logic might be worth paying attention to; see this demonstration on YouTube.

Addition: This YouTube demo may be even better, as it is more clear about the point that the transistors are in the plastic; quite amazing actually.

Addition Two: Amazon will unveil its "big screen" Kindle this Wednesday.

Categories > Technology


An Obama Judicial Nominee

I have been thinking (thanks to those who have commented below) about what might be the best thing we can hope for in an Obama nominee given the current political situation and what might be the best policy of conservatives in the Senate. Here's my preliminary conclusion: I hope Obama picks the absolute best proponent and the most articulate, well-spoken, and (above all) the best writer he can find for his understanding of the Constitution. It goes without saying that I believe his understanding of the Constitution to be completely off--but this does not mean that there is not a good case to be made for it. I want someone who will make the case with force and with clarity and with very little willingness (or, perhaps, capacity) to cover it with the veil that makes it politically palatable. I want a good and an honest liberal--one who will be a worthy opponent for Thomas, especially. And I say let them duke it out in print. At least then the opinions of the court will be entertaining and enlightening reading. It is even possible that in this stirring up things will begin to settle into a better kind of clarity than we have at the moment. Senators should question with intensity and probity . . . but more for the sake of exposing what the nominee is than for the sake of any ill-conceived effort to stop it. But an effort to demonize the nominee is also ill-advised. Just move toward clarity and, in the end, trust the judgment of the people. To the winner goes the spoils, and all that . . . This winner is banking on continued lack of clarity. That's where we should put a hold on his account.
Categories > Courts


Jack Kemp, RIP

The Wall Street Journal runs a few quotes from the late Jack Kemp. It gives you a pretty good flavor of the way the guy's mind worked. His mind was much better than the average politician. While not perfect, the main thing about Kemp is that he was almost always trying to think about things. He read and studied and asked questions. Because he was student of the art of politics doesn't mean that he did everything perfectly, it just means that he was much better than the average guy who gets into politics because he thinks he knows everything, and then stops studying. Kemp was never one of those. And, the GOP should have had the courage to think through--as Kemp wanted from his early years on--the party's relationship with blacks and other minorities and go after their support. Kemp always had more courage than his party. RIP.
Categories > Politics

Political Philosophy

There (DARWINIAN) Larry Goes Again

...calling ME a Gnostic Heideggerian existentialist dualist. (Larry sees no difference between St. Augustine and Heidegger!) I actually agree with Larry that the nature/freedom dualism characteristic of Cartesians (including Locke) is unreasonable. But I encourage him to read some RAT CHOICE THEORY (of Bendedict XVI) on the distinction between the impersonal logos of the Aristotelians and the personal logos of (some of the) early Christians. Larry and I disagree on WHO we are by nature. There are other options besides Darwin explains it all and Gnosticism.

Pop Culture

Should You (or ME) Own a TV?

Mark Shiffman says no. TV won't make you happy; it'll increase you're self-enclosure and alienation; there's always something better you could be doing. Reflections like these, at first, make me feel guilty, but finally I'm just annoyed. "You think you're better than me," I think, "just because you don't have a TV." How much of this reactionary crunchy complacency can one person take? My pedagogical reason for watching is in the hopes of having a minimalist common culture with my students, friends, and neighbors. That's why I sample AMERICAN IDOL, that wonderfully American mixture of wisdom (Simon) and consent (the 40 million who call in). Not only that, many experts think quite highly of the HBO series and miniseries, claiming they are as good or better than many an award-winning movie. Certainly there's a lot to think about on BIG LOVE, THE SOPRANOS, DEADWOOD, and even ENTOURAGE and CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM (just to name a few). It's also fun to make fun of the pretentious MAD MEN. And there's something to be said for both THE BIG BANG THEORY and FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS, although HOUSE and IN TREATMENT are, in fact, alienating. Not only that, you can watch movies on your TV, and only the priggiest prig is too good for good movies. But maybe I'm just a restless American in the midst of prosperity, envious of those content without electronic stimulation. Discuss among yourselves.
Categories > Pop Culture


An interesting question . . .

From Ann Althouse: "Am I the only one who thinks a big wedding is inappropriate for two people who have been living together"?
Categories > Religion

Literature, Poetry, and Books

Letter from Stratford-upon-Avon


May 1, 2009

Old Friend,

If you've visited Jefferson's Monticello lately, you might see displayed there a small chip of wood, with this humorous note from Jefferson:

A chip cut from an armed chair in the chimney corner in Shakespeare's house at Stratford on Avon said to be the identical chair in which he usually sat. If true like the relics of the saints it must miraculously reproduce itself.
That TJ--no monkish superstition or irrational pieties for him. His little note contains the essential ingredients of countless Mark Twain gags. As the "Shakespeare and the Presidents" NYT piece you sent me mentions (thanks for that), Jefferson visited Stratford-upon-Avon with John Adams in the spring of 1786, while their countrymen back home were heading toward constitutional crisis. The only contemporary record he left of the visit was hardly sentimental: he jotted down the price of admission to Shakespeare's birthplace and tomb! But Abigail Adams many years later adds color to the picture. In an 1815 letter, she writes that when Jefferson got to Stratford, he kissed the ground. (I don't have access to the letter here.) I fall innocently a little in love with Abigail for that charming gesture, even more so if she is just teasing. As a young bride, remember, she used to quote Shakespeare quite a bit in her letters to John as he was off putting his life on the line for the Revolution. At some point, in those dangerous days, she took to signing herself Portia, making it hard not to fall a little more in love with her. She was just seventeen to John's twenty-six when they began courting--speaking of young hearts. Adams left a more engaging account of the Stratford visit in his diary. I quote it below for three of its attractions: it invites you to dwell on the magic of the English names and the thought of traveling those dirt roads in a carriage pulled by horses; it shows you what a crusty freedom fighter Adams was (Worcester was the site of Cromwell's victory in the last battle of the English Civil War); and it describes the Stratford visit, including some wood-chipping.
Mr. Jefferson and myself, went in a Post Chaise to Woburn Farm, Caversham, Wotton, Stowe, Edghill, Stratford upon Avon, Birmingham, the Leasowes, Hagley, Stourbridge, Worcester, Woodstock, Blenheim, Oxford, High Wycomb, and back to Grosvenor Square.

Edgehill and Worcester were curious and interesting to us, as [scenes] where Freemen had fought for their Rights. The People in the Neighbourhood, appeared so ignorant and careless at Worcester that I was provoked and asked, "And do Englishmen so soon forget the Ground where Liberty was fought for? Tell your Neighbours and your Children that this is holy Ground, much holier than that on which your Churches stand. All England should come in Pilgrimage to this Hill, once a Year." This animated them, and they seemed . . . much pleased with it. . . .

Stratford upon Avon is interesting as it is the [scene] of the Birth, Death and Sepulture of Shakespear. Three Doors from the Inn, is the House where he was born, as small and mean, as you can conceive. They shew Us an old Wooden Chair in the Chimney Corner, where He sat. We cutt off a Chip according to the Custom. A Mulberry Tree that he planted has been cutt down, and is carefully preserved for Sale. The House where he died has been taken down and the Spot is now only Yard or Garden. . . . There is nothing preserved of this great Genius which is worth knowing -- nothing which might inform Us what Education, what Company, what Accident turned his Mind to Letters and the Drama. His name is not even on his Grave Stone. An ill sculptured Head is sett up by his Wife, by the Side of his Grave in the Church. But paintings and Sculpture would be thrown away upon his Fame. His Wit, and Fancy, his Taste and Judgment, His Knowledge of Nature, of Life and Character, are immortal.

You can read Adams's diary (and see the images of his written manuscript) at the electronic archive: Adams Electronic Archive




Public Opinion and the Courts

I'm grateful for Ken's post below, with the link to Matt Franck's good advice. I really agree that Republican senators should raise the choice not to filibuster to higher principle. I also agree that they should ask tough questions about controversial decisions. I never thought nominees had the right not to give their opinion on whether ROE was rightly decided (and why etc.) or whether same-sex marriage is a constitutional right, for example. I have to add that I believe that JUDICIAL RESTRAINT is a real issue: Nominees should be asked whether the agree with the mystery clause in PLANNED PARENTHOOD or the claim in LAWRENCE v. TEXAS that the word "liberty" in the Fourteenth Amendment is nothing more than a weapon to be used to expand the realm of freedom for every generation of Americans--led by the Court. I agree that the Constitution is too important to be left to lawyers, but I have to add that justices are nothing more than really good lawyers--and not philosophers, and they are interpreting a written Constitution as a law, even if a fundamental law. As the example of the C+ existentialism in PLANNED PARENTHOOD reminds us, the justices are led most astray when they think of themselves as a lot more than lawyers. JUDICIAL RESTRAINT properly understood means recognizing that a lot of the troubles of our time come from the fact that the Court has gotten too involved in "regime change." The absence of JUDICIAL RESTRAINT has become, in certain ways, a real threat to SELF-GOVERNMENT. The Constitution is not only too important to be left to lawyers. It's too important to be left to the Court (as Mr. Lincoln said with singular eloquence).
Categories > Courts

Political Philosophy

If You Love Leo Strauss

...YOU are going to want to join in the discussion on Ralph Hancock's thoughts on the final pages of THOUGHTS ON MACHIAVELLI. You have to scroll down just a bit to get to Ralph's post.


How to Argue About the Supreme Court

Generally, Republicans and conservative activists do a poor job of advocating their sensible and constitutionally necessary position. Matt Franck does outline a coherent strategy designed to change public opinion.

Unfortunately, those on the right tend to argue like lawyers, while Obama had (probably justified) contempt for his law school education (see his autobiography)--hence his emphasis on "empathy" as a judicial credential, which has attracted the ire of conservatives. If the right took to heart the Constitution's basis in the Declaration of Independence, they would sing a different song and interrupt the leftist appeal to the passions.

The Supreme Court is too important to be left to the lawyers--something Bush probably realized in his unfortunate initial pick of Harriet Miers. But he didn't have the skill (or the proper weapon) to make his point. The language of "judicial restraint" has no political cache and in fact is a secondary point. We want jurists who are zealous in their defense of the Constitution, while realizing the moderation essential to their office.

Categories > Courts


The Ohio Exodus

An Ohio businessman reflects on why people are leaving Ohio in large numbers. Answer: bad government.
Categories > Economy


Marriage in America

An interesting discussion:

The average age of American men marrying for the first time is now 28. That's up five full years since 1970 and the oldest average since the Census Bureau started keeping track. If men weren't pulling women along with them on this upward swing, I wouldn't be complaining. But women are now taking that first plunge into matrimony at an older age as well. The age gap between spouses is narrowing: Marrying men and women were separated by an average of more than four years in 1890 and about 2.5 years in 1960. Now that figure stands at less than two years. . . .

Interesting reflections follow. Read the whole thing.  
Categories > Religion

Political Parties


It look as if John Kasich will run for governor of Ohio next year.
Categories > Political Parties