Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns


Connoisseurs of the Obvious Department

In an afterword to an old edition of Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury wrote of things that were so obviously banal it "wouldn't make a sub-moron's mouth twitch."  The headline writers at New York Times are doing their best this week to live up to Bradbury's sneer.

First on Wednesday, the Times informed us: "Biggest Obstacle to Global Climate Deal May Be How to Pay For It."  No?  You don't say?  What next: "Biggest Obstacle to Human Flight May Be Gravity."  "Biggest Obstacle to Redskins' Super Bowl Title May Be Other Teams."  

Then today (Saturday), the Times delivers another stop-the-presses headline: "$1.4 Trillion Deficit Complicates Stimulus Plans."  Wow.  I'm sure this will get a Pultizer Prize.  (Why not: they give away Nobel Peace Prizes these days just for general awesomeness.)

With this in mind, don't miss the Daily Show's takedown of the antediluvian character of the Times ("Like a walking Colonial Williamsburg. . .  Charming, but not profitable. . .  Why is aged news better than today's news?. . .   To editor Bill Keller: "What's black and white and red all over?"  Keller: "A newspaper."  DS reporter: "No.  Your balance sheet.")

I prefer the headlines of the New York Post, which contain more news value, such as their classic: "Headless Body in Topless Bar."  Now that's news you can use!
Categories > Journalism

Foreign Affairs

Podcast with David Tucker on the War

I had a forty-five minute conversation with David Tucker (prof of Defense Analysis, and director of the Center on Terrorism and Irregular Warfare, Naval Postgraduate School) on the current problem in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the war on terror, on what Tucker calls "this high drama".  We know that the president is in a tough place and decisions have to be made.  We might end up criticizing him for the decision, but that's another issue.  Tucker notes that each possible decision in front of him is charged with bad outcomes; no matter what we do it is possible that the outcome will be bad, and, we can't even talk about probabilities, according to David.  "This is what it means to be president," Tucker says.  How does anyone make this decision?  This is why presidents are prematurely gray, I say.  Questions we considered in this conversation: Should we get out of Afghanistan?  What is the relationship between Afghanistan and Pakistan, terrorists use of WMD's, and so on.  I think this is a very good conversation, Tucker knows much and is thoughtful and I thank him for doing it.  He has agreed to future conversations, and, because of the pace of events, I think these conversations will take place each week for the next few weeks.  You can listen to it by clicking here
Categories > Foreign Affairs

Foreign Affairs

Bringing Down Pakistan

This morning brings another attack in Pakistan.  This Jane Perlez article in today's New York Times is worth reading.  It is now clear that the Taliban, al Qaeda, and other groups are working closely--and effectively--to bring down the Pakistani state.  That would be a catastrophe, and not only for the region.  Now read this Dexter Filkins long piece in the NY Times Mag (in print Sunday) on Gen. McChrystal's plan, and why it is not a slight Iraq-Surge-like change of strategy, but rather "is a blueprint for an extensive American commitment to build a modern state in Afghanistan, where one has never existed, and to bring order to a place famous for the empires it has exhausted. Even under the best of circumstances, this effort would most likely last many more years, cost hundreds of billions of dollars and entail the deaths of many more American women and men. And that's if it succeeds."

Categories > Foreign Affairs

Foreign Affairs


The bad guys have killed about 40 people in Pakistan.  Note that the attacks are on the government, police stations, etc.  Not good. And note that Britain has decided to send 500 more troops to Afghanistan, as Sen. Feinstein comes out in support of another 40,000 U.S. troops to Afghanistan.

Categories > Foreign Affairs

Political Parties

Do the Wave--2010 Edition

George Will writes about Republican prospects in the 2010 election--particularly in the Senate and beginning with Delaware--and speculates that the potential consequences for Democrats help to explain Obama's seemingly mad dash to remake the world in less than a year.  Does he understand that the window of opportunity is closing?  Or is he in the impossible position of cranking the lever shut even as he wedges himself in the opening?  Will says to keep an eye on unemployment figures--the "most politically salient thing"--and a thing that (given Obama's policies) is unlikely to change.  
Categories > Political Parties

Foreign Affairs

Chinese Army

If looks could kill....or, this silent war of lilies and of roses....or, these boots are made for walking...or, beauty is a witch.

Categories > Foreign Affairs


Kindle Versus Printed Book

The NY Times presents a symposium on reading on a Kindle/computer versus reading a printed book.  Each participant offers something worthwhile considering.  (David Gelernter is the one identifiable conservative.)   My question, which the academics consider more or less, is whether students read any more.  At the beginning of a course I ask students to note books they have read that have influenced the way they think and act.  The list is thin--maybe someone will list the Bible or an Obama book.  You never see a book from political science.  Now, more than when Aristotle questioned whether the youth are fit to study politics, the inclination of the young to indulge their passions meets the least intellectual resistance.  Given our technology, books or rather reading (books are too long and require too much effort) becomes just another way to fulfil desires:  the ideal reading is the cookbook* (with lots of pictures).  It is a rare education that shows students another way of looking at books.

*There are variants on such how-to books, but this is a family-friendly site.

Categories > Education


Morbid World

In Poitiers, "in what police described as an organized attack, the band shattered store windows, damaged the facades of several banks and spray-painted anarchist slogans on government buildings. Aiming even at the historical heritage of this comfortable provincial town 200 miles southwest of Paris, they fractured a plaque commemorating Joan of Arc's interrogation here in 1429 and -- in Latin -- scrawled  'Everything belongs to everybody' on a stone baptistery that is one of the oldest monuments in Christendom."  The folks who did this--between 150 and 300-- ("we will destroy your morbid world" was spray-painted on a wall) are called ultra-leftists in the piece.
Categories > Politics

Pop Culture

Big Aspirations Shot Down by Small Thinking

This story is about some students from a high school in Pomona, California who--taking several cues from their President and mentors--produced, directed and were featured in a movie about what life is like for the "economically disadvantaged" during a bad economy.  It may demonstrate what happens to us when we find ourselves beyond any ability to grasp irony.  Note this part of the story:

Before being involved with the video Jennifer Gil's only goal was to get through high school, get a job and make money.

"I had no big plans, no big aspirations," Jennifer said. "Making the video, and seeing everything that's happened since then because of it, has changed me. Now more things matter to me."

Jennifer has a simple message for the symposium.

"If people want to make change they have to act," said Jennifer, who hopes to be the first Latin American president. "Gandhi said, `Be the change you want to see in the world.' That's how I want to live."

She also wants to address education.

"Everybody wants us to go to college, but with all the cuts, how are we supposed to do that?" Jennifer asked.  [Emphasis mine]

Who can refrain from applauding the self-starting sentiment Ms. Gil seems to advocate and the trajectory of her story seems to vindicate?  If you want big things in your life, make them.  Do them.  Find them.  Just so.  Bravo for her.   But doesn't the second part of her comments (i.e., the whiny part about budget cuts making college impossible) seem to undercut everything her experience and her noble philosophy ought to have taught her?

To be fair, Ms. Gil is a very young woman and this kind of intellectual inconsistency is not at all surprising in the young.  But it appears to be something that is encouraged by their mentors, those now offering them accolades (including the President) and by the very content of the film that they produced.  Another student involved in the production of the film told members of the California Assembly, "We are not the same. We want to do things that make a difference and we will not just sit by and watch while this whole economy thing gets worse."  No.  They won't sit by.  But why not, instead of agitating on behalf policies that will get other people to do something about the poverty they face, simply work and produce and strive (as, clearly they have demonstrated an amazing capacity to do).  Why not "be the change you want to see" in your own world?   I'm just sayin' . . .

Categories > Pop Culture


Poetry and Artistry in Politics

Last week, our own Ken Thomas suggested that Obama was, at heart, an artist--albeit a "postmodern" sort of artist.  In the same vein, Jonah Goldberg today suggests that Obama is a kind of postmodern poet (which as he argues, is but another way of saying a "bad" poet).  This is to say that Obama's work is all about self-creation or self-invention.  His is not a work of discovery, explication and wonder.  It does not partake in the sort of humility that inspires wonder--let alone an ode.  It is more about his earnest and heartfelt feelings--the strength and sincerity (or, as they say, the "authenticity") of his own internal passions.  His art is not intended to smooth over the edges of the gaps between the known and the unknown in order to make the whole congeal in a meaningful and insightful way for our simple human brains.  Rather, it creates wholes altogether their own--complete and precise from top to bottom--with no room for fudging or fuzziness because, well, they are so sincere.  And how do you argue with a feeling unless you are, well, unfeeling?  It is, as Obama himself asserts, audacious.  Indeed.  And, perhaps, it is audacious for the sake of audacity itself. 

I would suggest, however, that if Obama is an artist and if his art sells, he will be the "last artist."  And this may explain both his audacity and his growing sense of urgency in the face of even half-hearted push-backs from Republicans.  If Obama succeeds there will be no room for any genuine poetry in politics because there will be no room for any genuine discovery or wonder.  There is already very little room for humility--leave alone citizenship.  Experts will be consulted and experts will testify.  Experts will then create the best regime and leave the cynics (and the citizens) who will not embrace their expertise behind.  His poetry will become our dogma because it will come from that source which is, above all others, beyond question in this post-modern world:  the heart.  It will be an affirmation and a testament to victory of passion over reason--even as it wears a mask that it calls "science."  The argument against any future competing art will be that it is heartless.  And, with that standard as the yardstick, the argument will be fair and opponents, speechless.  

On the other hand, the success of the last artist will unleash an age where everything is art and everyone imagines himself to be an artist.  Of course, when everything is art, the truth is that nothing is.  When everyone is an artist, no one is.  All "art" will be but pallid imitation--which, of course is what even the best of real art, ultimately, always is.  The difference will be in the degree of brilliancy that is the source of the art.  In this case, we will have but a copy of a copy . . . and, I'm afraid, a poor copy, at that.    
Categories > Politics


Is Political Science a Science?

Not according to Dr. No, aka Senator Tom Coburn, md, who seeks to kill National Science Foundation funding for the eclectic discipline.  Political scientists banged their begging bowls to save their fed funding.

The latest Nobel Economics Prize winner, political scientist Elinor Ostrom, might note the disappearance of a free rider:  No "tragedy of the commons" here, just the comedy of con-artists.  Ostrom, former President of the American Political Science Association, presented this paper on her approach to the study of politics, known as public or rational choice, a school of thought that often supports conservative policy objectives.  A President who earned her Nobel!

UPDATE:  I hadn't noticed that Ostrom's paper is supported, in part, by the National Science Foundation.  More on the limits of rat choice later.

Categories > Congress


More Random Observations

1. I appreciate Carl's observation in the thread below that spirited conservatives should direct their anger and contempt on the Nobel front not at the president but at the selection committee.  But in my opinion, the most magnanimous dissing is to show the committee is beneath contempt through silence.  I also agree that there shouldn't be a PEACE prize, but a LIBERTY prize, if only because studies show that attempts to keep the peace at the expense of liberty almost always fail.  Occasionally, those Nobel people pick someone who knows this well, such as Solzhenitsyn, but not in the appropriate category or for that reason.  The president, as some have said, can say what he wants in his acceptance speech, except:  It would be most undignified to say anything bad or apologetic about his country or President Bush or to say anything flattering about Europeans or even hint that he craves their love or respect.  It would be even classier to say as little as possible about being grateful or deserving the prize.

2.  From a review by Rob Jeffrey in the Fall INTERCOLLEGIATE REVIEW:  "Today's professor is often only 'tricky smart'; someday real smartness will come back into fashion."

3. From an article by David Schaefer in the same issue of the IR:  "Criticism of judicial activism on behalf of a supposedly 'living' constitution is necessary but not sufficient to remedy these [imperialistic] tendencies [of the Court].  We must also challenge the authority of 'moral theorists' in philosophy departments and law faculties who equip our judges with their sense of supreme righteousness."

Categories > Politics


Quote of the Day

"The fact that the prophets knew less about physics than we do does not imply that we know more than the prophets about the meaning of existence and the nature of man."  Abraham Joshua Heschel, 1956
Categories > Religion

Pop Culture

Fascism in the Funnies

"Pearls Before Swine" (Oct. 11) channels Mussolini, through an odd source, which I guess may lead some to argue that Family Circus's Dolly is a Straussian.
Categories > Pop Culture

Ashbrook Center

No Left Turns Mug Drawing for September

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

Jeffrey Valladolid
Michael Wallace
Amy Marie Taylor
Charles Hanks
Susan Banton

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

Categories > Ashbrook Center


Nobel Prize in Economics

Samuel Gregg has a good short note over at NRO on Elinor Ostrom and Oliver Williamson, the recipients of the Nobel in economics, and their achievements. They "have deepened our understanding of economic governance. More specifically, Ostrom and Williamson have shown how it is possible for firms and other communities to facilitate economic efficiency from 'within.' In this sense, they follow in the footsteps of another Nobel laureate, Ronald Coase, whose groundbreaking 1937 article, 'The Nature of the Firm,' did so much to establish the idea that businesses reduce transaction costs."

Categories > Economy


The High Costs of Modern Day Human Reproduction

The New York Times brings us a disturbing story today about the high costs--they emphasize the financial and emotional costs, but much could also be said about the high moral costs--of our modern (or is it post-modern?) ways of making babies.  I will leave it to you to wonder whether there is much in this story to make the effort sound appealing to you and yours . . . but I do rather wish that more couples with baby lust and considering the supposed wonders of IVF and other such procedures had girded themselves first with the facts presented in this piece.  There may be nothing more precious and worthy of esteem than the love and affection between parents and children.  But I do think it is legitimate to wonder whether the gift of a child ought to be so actively and fiercely solicited when it is not freely given.  And I also wonder whether, when it is so solicited and demanded, it is possible to remember that the result is still a gift.  The potential consequences of forcing nature in this way ought to give more people than it seems to do a reason for pause and reflection.  And it makes one wonder, too, if more ought not to be said about the many virtues and the pleasures of  the amazing gift of adoption.
Categories > Bioethics


Obama in Oslo--Strength Abroad and Clarity at Home

Picking up on Peter Schramm's post below, it seems to me that Peggy Noonan's instincts as a Presidential speechwriter always have some merit.  In fairness to Obama, however, the speech he delivered on Friday seemed to be coming from someplace close to the vicinity Noonan recommended.  Though I do not, of course, heartily endorse every line of Obama's speech (nor do I applaud the general policy direction in which the movement of the thing would have us go), there is something noble and right thinking about the way he deflected attention to himself and instead suggested that attention is (and always was) due to America.  If he understood the award, as he certainly should have understood it, as a kind of play by European elites to pat him on the back for being "their kind of American" (i.e., not like George W. Bush) Obama also took the opportunity to remind them that for all that, "don't make the mistake of forgetting that I'm still an American." 

That is to say, he affirmed America's role as a beacon and an example to the world.    In terms different from those I would use but, nevertheless, still certain of our place in the world he made it clear that America will not--even as it moves closer to a form of democracy and a series of policy proposals that a European socialist might find palatable--readily relinquish the role as leader of the free world.  We are not a nation to be trifled with by those who think we have already seen our best days.  Obama does not appear to believe that America is, or that it ought to be (in some sort of  cosmic "fairness" to the rest of the world), entering upon its twilight. 

This is good for America on the international scene.  It is a kind of stepping up to the plate with an "I dare you," look on our face.  For as long as we seem to be backing up the look with an effective swing, they will not dare. 

But Obama's speech was also useful as a kind of clarifying moment for our present partisan struggles.  Americans ought to remind themselves that when it comes to the question of America's greatness, the best of liberals and the best of conservatives really do not and really have not disagreed.  As I said in a previous post . . . nevermind the idiots (whether conservative or liberal). In the last century, we fought side by side in two major world conflicts.  Together (though not always in harmony) we defeated an evil empire and we ended a long cold war that threatened to eclipse us.   Together, we built a nation that was capable of all of these achievements and, as Noonan pointed out in her article, a country that has blessed the world with its innovation and freedom-loving spirit.  We all ought to believe that America is great.  We all ought to believe that it should continue to be great.  And we should praise our political adversaries and trust in their good faith when they show themselves to be open to at least that much of the argument. 

And yet, we cannot and we should not lull ourselves into believing that a broad and basic agreement on ends represents anything other than what it is--it is a starting point for conversation not its conclusion.  All Americans, not just those who take an oath to the Constitution, have a duty to see that its principles and its purposes are upheld in public life.  If we all want America to be great this, of course, is something to be lauded.  But how best to accomplish this greatness will ever be a matter of vigorous dispute.  Disagreements about the efficacy of particular policies and general political dispositions toward the Constitution are serious matters that require a full and open and honest public airing.  These are also, as it happens, political questions.  Which means that they can only be be answered (and even here only temporarily) in the court of public opinion.  Too often,  the shouting (to say nothing of the clever subterfuges and uncharitable mis-characterizations) surrounding this process obfuscate rather than draw out our differences.  

Taken with charity, Obama's speech on Friday ought to yield much fodder for a civil, intelligent and clarifying debate about America's purposes--both abroad and at home.  May the best argument win.  
Categories > Presidency

Pop Culture


This James McManus essay, "What Poker Can teach Us," is worth a read.  Maybe we should also look at his book, out next month.  Hard to resist.

Categories > Pop Culture


More on the Unearned Accolade

Ross Douthat elegantly explains why President Obama should have turned down Nobel Peace Prize.  In some ways the most perplexing thing about all this is that there was no one in the White House who could see this exactly ten minutes after they learned of the announcement and then be able to persuade Obama. But Peggy Noonan has an idea on how to redeem this "wicked and ignorant award":

"How to redeem this? That is a hard question, but here is one idea. The president will deliver a big speech in Oslo Dec. 10: white tie and tails, a formal, bound statement. The world, as they say, will be watching. He should deflect the limelight. (Can he?) He should make his subject bigger than himself. (Is there a subject bigger than himself?) He has been accused of traveling through the world on an extended apology tour. That isn't fair, but the tag is there. How about an unapologetic address, a speech, with the world's elites leaning forward and listening, about the meaning of America? A speech that shows a grounded and sophisticated love for his country and its great traditions and history. Not a nationalistic speech, not a prideful one, but a loving one."

Categories > Presidency

Pop Culture

A Better Peace Prize Idea

Ben of Ben's Chili Bowl, major DC eatery, RIP.   A great American story about a provider of great American food.
Categories > Pop Culture


The Tide Is Turning

I've been predicting for a while now that in the fullness of time--meaning 15 or 20 years down the road from now--climate change would come to resemble the population bomb of the late 1960s: a real phenomenon whose extent was vastly overestimated, and whose proposed coercive political remedies were completely wrongheaded and disproportionate to the matter.  One signpost along the way is that the media would grow bored with the subject.  When was the last time you saw a "population bomb" cover on one of the major news magazines?  Probably about the time of Michael Jackson's last hit record.  

That's what makes this BBC story, "What Happened to Global Warming?", an important signpost of the turn I expect will become more pronounced (especially if more baseball playoff games keep getting snowed out).  This story is significant because the BBC has been more in the bag for climate alarmism than practically any other media organization (though the competition for that is fierce, I admit).  Eventually I expect the media will grow increasingly bored with climate alarmism, and start passing up the breathy press releases from the climate campaigners.  In political terms, there is now a race on to see whether our global political class can gain a stranglehold over the energy sector before the already minimal public support for this policy nonsense collapses completely.
Categories > Environment