Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns


Lincoln (et al.) in Czech

In my continuing education on all-things-Czech, I happened upon the 1918 Declaration of Czecho-Slovak Independence and was delightfully surprised to find an eloquent tribute to America's patrimony of modern democratic principles. Having declared "the Hapsburg dynasty unworthy of leading our nation," denying "all of their claims to rule in the Czecho-Slovak Land," and declaring "a free and independent people and nation," the Declaration continues:

We accept and shall adhere to the ideals of modern democracy, as they have been the ideals of our nation for centuries.  We accept the American principles as laid down by President Wilson; the principles of liberated mankind - of the actual equality of nations - and of governments deriving all their just power from the consent of the governed.

We, the nation of Comenius, cannot but accept these principles expressed in the American Declaration of Independence, the principles of Lincoln, and of the declaration of the rights of man and of the citizen.  For these principles our nation shed its blood in the memorable Hussite Wars 500 years ago; for these same principles, beside her allies, our nation is shedding its blood today in Russia, Italy, and France.

Categories > History


Could it be?

I simply offer this, without further comment.

Categories > Environment


Larry Summers, Call Your Harvard Office

Okay, at the risk of setting off Armageddon on NLT, I'm going to wade into this awful story out of Alabama yesterday about the biology professor who went postal over being denied tenure.  No doubt everyone who sits on tenure committees is a little more nervous today; negative tenure votes are one of the most un-fun parts of academia, and we might be better off without tenure entirely (though not for this reason).

I want to raise an issue that will likely not be mentioned in the MSM or by most academic commentators on this matter.  The new stories say the woman professor was "Harvard-trained." On the surface you'd think that would mean she was highly qualified, and an unlikely candidate to fail the tenure process at the University of Alabama.  Maybe--perhaps obviously some will say--she has "anger management issues."  Perhaps, but I also wonder if she wasn't passed through Harvard according to the gender version of affirmative action.  Maybe she wasn't that good, and the tenure decision was quite correct.  We all recall the Larry Summers fiasco over his comments on the short supply of females for advanced science.  And I know confidentially from some physicists at one of America's top science research universities that they are under a mandate from the administration to try to fill all science faculty openings first with women, because of the whole "discrimination against women in science" nonsense.

Ask yourself this question: why are there more stupid men than stupid women?  It can't be because of sexism.  Because, for probably evolutionary reasons that no one wants to think much about, the bell curve for IQ distribution is flatter for men than women, with larger tails at both ends for men than women.  More dumb men also means more smart men.  But since only the top one or two percent of the IQ distribution can truly master advanced math and science, the push to have equal numbers of men and women in the advanced sciences mean the system will be pushing less qualified and less able women into the fields, with predictably bad results.

That may not be the case here.  The crazy woman may be a top 1-percenter, but with some of the usual quirky personality traits (Aspergers) that come with that rarified IQ that turned her violent in a bad moment.  But it is certain the the refusal to talk candidly about the underlying cognitive issues Larry Summers raised means this problem is going to fester for a long time, with more controversies (but hopefully less violence) about tenure for women in the sciences.

UPDATE:  This story gets weirder and weirder.  Now it turns out the woman shot and killed her brother back in 1986, but the episode was ruled an "accident" and charges were never filed.  According to some news reports a local DA, now Congressman William Delahunt, intervened to have the charges dropped.  And there are additional reports that the woman is perhaps a radical lefty.  All of this needs to be taken with a large grain of salt, as early media reports get things badly wrong, but certainly there should be vigorous follow up by the media.

Back in December out in Seattle there was a rash of murders of police officers.  The culprit, when finally apprehended, turned out to be a fellow who had been passed out of the University of Washington under the usual academic "victims studies" programs that inflame grievances but impart little knowledge.  Wonder if we will find out something similar in this case, or whether, as was the case in the Seattle shooter, the media even bother to ask.
Categories > Education


The Complicated Conservative Populism

John Judis is a smart guy, but I think he goes partly wrong in his description of left and right working-class populism - at least when in the context of 2010 politics.  Judis describes left populism as resentment of speculators.  Fair enough maybe, but his description of right-wing working class populism as targeting primarily "out-groups" who are "seen as trying to deprive workers of their jobs and earning." falls short as a description of conservative working-class populism at the moment.

On the drive home, I sometimes listen to Howie Carr.  He is kinda the voice of conservative working-class populism in Eastern Massachusetts.  There are alot of digs against illegal immigrants, but not all, or even most of this populist resentment is directed downwards at "out" groups.  At least as much hostility is directed at Washington politicians, public employee unions, ideologically biased journalists at prestige outlets like the New York Times and the major broadcast networks, and businesses that stand to benefit from cap and trade.  The greatest targets of criticism are upper middle-class liberals - or as Carr constantly calls them, "the beautiful people".  They are portrayed as eager to remake society to their liking, but confident in their ability to escape whatever negative consequences their plans produce. 

There is alot to criticize in Carr's worldview, but he has found an audience.  The expansion of government has created an expanded governing class and ever more client and allied groups - many of them much more connected to power than your average working-class voter.  And they too are targets of current populist conservative resentment.


Categories > Conservatism

Political Philosophy

Lincoln v. Obama or Liberty and Justice v. "Fairness" and Power

Allen C. Guelzo writes a compelling essay today for First Things in which he examines Abraham Lincoln's own understanding of justice and what it means to be an American and then contrasts it to the understanding of these things now advanced by the current occupant of the White House--now veiled by the suggestion that he is, indeed, Lincolnian.  Guelzo, one of the country's most respected Lincoln scholars, finds no deep point of agreement between these two Presidents on these central questions. Indeed, Guelzo suggests that Obama's failure to see the difference between his own views and those of Lincoln gives those of us who do know Lincoln an "uneasy sense that Barack Obama has wrapped himself in some other man's coat."

Our president is fond on taking note of what he calls the "cynicism" of those who will not embrace or bend to his notions of "fairness."  On the occasion of the 200th anniversary of Lincoln's birth, Barack Obama elaborated upon his notions of justice and fairness by saying that it is the, "sense of shared sacrifice and responsibility for ourselves and one another," and, further, that this is "the very definition of being American."  As Guelzo notes, this may be "a" definition of American justice--but it is decidedly NOT Lincoln's. 

President Obama likes to suggest that those who stand in the way of his proposals to advance this particular variant of "fairness" (which, I have no doubt, are well-meaning and generous from his point of view) do so out of a kind of base attachment to power for power's sake.  They are opposing him, at best, out of stubborn adherence to an "outmoded" ideology or,  at worst, out of nefarious alliances with "special interests" whose greed feeds their power jones with campaign contributions and God-knows-what-all. 

Obama, on the other hand, is the opposite of cynical--at least to his own understanding.  He pushed for "Hope" and "Change" because politics had become what he considered to be a bastion of cynics where anyone with eyes could certainly see that progress demanded "fairness" but old habits left Washington without leaders who had the will or the force of personality to insist upon it . . . at least until Obama came to town.

But Guelzo wonders if every instance of "unfairness" is, thereby, also an incidence of injustice.  There are many things in life that are "unfair" but it does not always follow that they are "unjust."   To use an example that Guelzo does not cite, but may be said to apply, consider the following:  It may be "unfair" that a mind as fine as Lincoln's was born into poverty and, instead of having access to a first rate education with ample leisure to digest the knowledge that he had the capacity to master, was forced by his family's circumstances to turn his attentions to back-breaking and mind-numbing menial labor.  But was it unjust?  Lincoln did not appear to think so.  While he certainly desired to get himself out of that line (and, when given the opportunity, he did get out of it) the only thing he came close to describing as "unjust" about the experience was his resentment over his father's penchant to take from him the entirety of the fruit of his labors.  Justice demanded that this money should be put toward the cause of his own advancement . . . his own efforts to strive to be equal to his potential.  The taking of his earnings could be seen to be standing in the way of Lincoln's efforts to rise to that level of equality and, therefore, it could be called a form of injustice.

But even this injustice may not rise to the level of equality with the law--that is to say, it may not be worthy of redress by the law in every circumstance--perhaps especially not in a case where the "victim" is a minor who remains within the custody of and the responsibility of his parents.  The liberty of parents first would have to be taken into account.  And this is another crucial difference between Obama and Lincoln--respect for the power and majesty of law and its impartial application to all citizens, regardless of the "fairness" of the outcome. Laws can be altered, of course, but real respect for justice demands that such changes be guided by the principles of liberty born out of our undeniable equality and because of which so many have sacrificed their own comfort for the sake of protecting in our Republic.

As Guelzo puts it: 

Not every complaint about fairness is really a protest against injustice; and not every complaint about injustice can be satisfied without running some risk that its real motive is the will to power. "Inequality is certainly never to be embraced for its own sake," Lincoln admitted. But that was no sanction for "the pernicious principle . . . that no one shall have any, for fear all shall not have some." Two hundred and one years after Lincoln's birth, it might be well to remind ourselves that the real enemy of both fairness and justice is not weakness of will or an unwillingness to bear "shared sacrifice," but the seeping gas of power.


This Was a Man

Tomorrow, February 13, is the birthday of legendary Grambling football coach Eddie Robinson, who died in 2007.  The winningest Division One inspiration had coached 56 years at that historically black college, from 1941-1997.  More than 200 of his players went to the pros.  The Eddie G. Robinson Museum opens tomorrow.
Categories > Sports

Political Philosophy

Lincoln at 201

One way to celebrate Father Abraham's birthday is to memorize the Gettysburg Address.  This time first read the 90th Psalm (in the King James version) to appreciate the power of Lincoln's verses and to allow yourself to discover why Lincoln measured America's time in units of "scores."  Douglas Wilson gives a fine account of the different drafts of the speech.  Of course you need Harry Jaffa's books to appreciate all the details Wilson gives.


The Sweet Spot

When it comes to the Ryan Roadmap, I'm with Ramesh Ponnuru (but then thats where you can usually find me).  The Ryan Roadmap shouldn't be the GOP's economic platform for 2012.  The attack ads practically write themselves, "They'll tax away your employer-provided health insurance, and for when you are older, they'll cut your social security and medicare.  But at least they will get rid of the capital gains tax" 

Ponnuru is right that people will only swallow so much change.  They are also going to want some up-front show of competence from the people who want to reform middle-class entitlements.  How about moving the tax code in a more pro-child, pro-parent, pro-jobs, pro-growth direction or making incremental improvements in the health care market.  Either of those policies would be the biggest federal level conservative policy change since welfare reform.

The key will be to put together a package of policies that are big enough to matter, but digestible enough not to scare people who know that things have to change, but have alot to lose.

Categories > Politics

Ashbrook Center

No Left Turns Mug Drawing for January

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

Rae Jeanne Cunningham
Josh Werner
James W. Eilert, Jr.
Kevin B. Barker
Robert Whitright

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 February's drawing.

Categories > Ashbrook Center


Don't mention the weather.

No doubt everyone reading this blog knows about the fun that conservatives have been having with the recent snowstorm and its implications for the climate change debate--note, for instance, the igloo constructed by Senator James Inhofe's family as a future home for Al Gore.  This is probably inevitable, given the sheer amount of snow that has fallen in recent months, and in such unusual places as Dallas and Baghdad.  But it's also unwise. Climate change alarmists are right in distinguishing between "weather" and "climate."  Moreover, turnabout is fair play; skeptics may be having their day now, but what happens if we get a few days of hot weather this summer?

If we want to have an intelligent conversation over global warming, we need to ask what it would take to falsify it; after all, what cannot be falsified cannot be properly termed science.  And while one can make a strong case that an increase in global temperatures can make snowstorms more likely, what are we to make of interpretations to the contrary?  Last year environmental lawyer Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. complained that, thanks to global warming, "Snow is so scarce today that most Virginia children probably don't own a sled."  A study done at Columbia in 2005 noted a marked reduction in snowfall over North America over the past 150 years.  The National Resources Defense Council points out that "[s]ince the early 1950s, snow accumulation has declined 60 percent and winter seasons have shortened in some areas of the Cascade Range in Oregon and Washington."  And while Great Britain is in the midst of the coldest winter in thirty years, the Daily Telegraph helpfully suggests that "the surprise with which we have greeted the extreme conditions only reinforces how our climate has changed over the years"; after all, during the 19th century "extreme weather" used to occur "every five years or so."

In other words, global warming produces more snowfall and snowstorms, except when it produces fewer of them.  Of course, the climate change establishment will respond that climate is highly complex, and not subject to such simplistic analyses.  I'm certain that it is, which is why I'm not building an igloo in my front yard.  But the American economy is complex, too, and I sure don't want to see it thrown into further confusion, and a deeper recession, on the basis of claims that are not apparently falsifiable--and not, therefore, science.

Categories > Environment


The Case Against Gays in the Military

The WaPo headline reads "At war, quiet support for openly gay troops," with a subhead "Tolerance rises with new generation of officers," and would seem to signal a story advocating an end to the ban.  In fact, the account, datelined Baghdad, presents argiuments quite to the contrary.  Mac and others (with update here) are right that the ban helps preserve military discipline.  The response is, we know of gay soldiers who are superb at their job. 

But this response, however truthful, does not answer the objection.  The WaPo story provides further evidence to the contrary.  What happens in the army with high-achieving gay soldiers is what happens with high achievers in any profession who have significant flaws:  People cover up for it or look the other way.  One officer whose "gaydar went off the screen" concerning one soldier under his command:  "I don't think his orientation became an issue, because he maintained a professional appearance and performed like any other soldier." 

A senior commander objected, "Are we all going to have to submit to annual gay sensitivity training?"  (A Russian emigre who underwent racial sensitivity training at a military base described it as like "life under the Soviet Union.")

Moreover, the WaPo story cites a 2006 Zogby poll concluding that only 26% of the military supported lifting the ban.

Finally, the sentiment about rights or being allowed to be yourself completely misses the key military discipline argument:  In the military, contrary to prevailing societal norms, service always comes before self (duty before rights).  That drab uniform is a symbol and a reality of conformity, anti-individualism, and professionalism.  That is why the Army retained that professional soldier, who was gay. 

Categories > Military


A Possible Right Turn in California?

George Will mulls the possibilities.  
Categories > Elections


The President's Deaf Ear for Small Business

Caroline Baum notes that in Washington there is broad agreement--or, rather, there is seeming broad agreement--for the notion that small business is the engine of the American economy.  After all, it is responsible for creating more than 60% of American jobs and generates at least 50% of our GDP.  When ordinary people look at statistics like that, they probably walk away with the sound opinion that folks who are capable of this sort of accomplishment probably know a thing or two about what makes for a sound business climate.  People who have the gumption to create a business, take the necessary risks and responsibilities of operating that business, manage to generate profits and sustain that business and, in the process, provide livings for countless numbers of Americans--those people probably have richly informed opinions about the economy that are worthy of the attention of policymakers and, certainly, of a man who happens to be President during a recession and claims to be doing what he can to reverse it.

Yet Baum's story notes the frustrations of small business owners who, not without good reason, believe that Washington and, in particular, the President is only paying them "lip-service," actually looks upon their ideas with derision and condescension and, instead, offers a litany of head-pats and unsatisfying pacifiers.  For example, the proposal from the Obama administration for a $5,000 tax credit for hiring new workers does not impress most small business owners.  As Baum, through chief economist for the National Federation for Independent Business, William Dunkelberg notes, "Employers aren't about to pay a new worker $40,000 to earn a $5,000 credit unless that worker generates $35,000 of revenue . . . That's Econ 101 (see 'marginal revenue product' or 'profit maximization'), a course most of our elected representatives seem to have missed."  Alternatively, consider it in another light, as I heard Rush Limbaugh do it yesterday, "These guys are smarter than you, Mr. President," he (rightly, in my view) opined.  What, Limbaugh asked, is to prevent a business owner from laying off workers for 60+ days, promising to keep them above water, and then re-hiring them in order to get these tax credits without actually creating any new jobs or creating any additional expense for themselves?  When you set up the playing field like a game of Candyland, it shouldn't surprise anyone if it's too easy for Washington to get played.

But the thing that ought to concern Washington and the President more than anything else is the record pessimism coming from small business owners.  According to Baum, the NFIB index which tracks this pessimism has not been this low--and then, for only one quarter--since the back-to-back '80 and '82 recessions.  We're now at a record consecutive seven quarters of this pessimism.  Is it time to listen yet?

Anecdotal evidence from this story seems only to support the hard evidence that the answer from the President is, "no."

Pat Felder, who co-owns Felder's Collision Parts Inc. in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, went to the White House in October, along with members of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

"Obama came in, talked at us, shook a few hands and left," Felder says. "I was foolish enough to think small- business owners would have some sort of dialogue." [ed.--emphasis mine]

Categories > Economy


Bailout Nation

It seems to have become common to say that the government has bailed out Wall Street, but not main street.  Is that really true?  I was thinking about this as I was looking at house prices.  I was thinking about buying a few years ago, but I thought that prices were way too inflated.  I was waiting for prices to reach their natural level.   They have yet to do so. The problem is something like what businessmen and economists sometimes call "regulatory risk."  House prices have declined, and millions of homes are in or near foreclosure, and yet, things would be far, far worse had the government not thrown billions and billions of dollars at the banks.  

As a matter of scale, it's clearly very different to prop up the price of a $300,000 home than it is to keep big banks solvent.  But in effect, it's the same thing.  Countless people who used to work on Wall Street now can't find jobs there. The financial industry has shrunk.  We see the big banks that survived, and forget that several large institutions are no longer around.  The government clearly played a role in saving several of the banks that are still with us.  But the same is true of millions of homes. Without those very same bailouts, home prices probably would have declined much further, and even more people would have lost their homes.  (To be sure, home prices may fall further, but they have stabilized for now. The same is true for banks.  More of the major banks might yet fail). 

In short, we have met the enemy, and he is us.  Just as the government saved several big banks, so too has it helped countless home-owners stay in their homes.  Without the bailouts the decline of both would have been worse.  Personally, I think that would not have been all bad, and I suspect the cost of bailing out American home-owners will be slow economic growth, and an expanded American state for years to come.  But it's simply not true that the government bailed out banks but not home-owners. 

P.S.  I'm talking about TARP, and the other financial bills, for the most part. The stimulus bills of spring 2008 and winter 2009 are a different story.  The former gave a tax cut to many Americans, and the latter did the same, plus sent money to states to save unionized, government jobs, plus other things.

Categories > Economy


Immigrant Attitudes

I've written before on the gratitude immigrants especially should have toward America.  Priscilla at The Happy Mean expresses her own immigrant gratitude and presents a moving example of another successful immigrant.  Priscilla does reproach this success story for his failure to express appreciation for American generosity and practices.    Priscilla's website seeks to be a unique concoction of the ideals of classical political philosophy and practical suggestions on how to fight contemporary Islamic terrorism.  She knows something of this from her native Philippines.
Categories > Race

Health Care

The View is Breathtaking

Walter Russell Mead on restructuring health care. I'm not sure if things will work out the way Mead says, but we should try to structure the health care market so that these kinds of business model innovations can take place and win in the marketplace. On the other hand, any reform in that direction will have to be gradual enough so that people who basically like their employer-provided coverage (though not necessarily the rising premiums) don't feel like they are being thrown into the deep end. The two goals are in tension, but not, I think irreconcilable.

I think that in the short term, the Levin-Capretta plan is the best strategy, but the next step for market-based reformism will have to focus less on destroying employer-based coverage, than on creating the space for the creation of alternatives that work better for the consumer and thereby pull customers out of employer coverage.

Categories > Health Care

Hello All

Hi, I'm Pete Spiliakos, but folks who read the NLT comment threads know me as the longtime commenter Pete. John Moser and Peter Schramm were kind and generous enough to offer me a spot to blog on NLT, and I thank them very much. I won't forget that I'm blogging among people much more and better educated than myself.

I hope to contribute something of value, but I can only promise typos, lousy grammar and recycled Simpsons jokes.

Pop Culture

Say it ain't so, Cap.

Thanks to longtime commenter "Brutus" for alerting me to this gem about what's currently going on in the pages of Captain America.  As anyone who's heard my talk on this subject knows, Cap has long been my favorite superhero--mainly because I find him far more interesting than the run-of-the-mill crimefighters.  In the late 1960s he ceased to be a New Frontier-style Cold Warrior and became a defender of American ideals such as liberty and justice, even (or perhaps especially) when these ideals came under attack from the U.S. government.  I stopped reading Captain America sometime in the 1980s, but my understanding was that the character had remained about the same.  From what I'd heard about the "Civil War" arc, he stood up in opposition to a post-9/11 effort by the Federal Government to force all individuals with superpowers to register with the state.  Not exactly the old Nazi-fighting Cap (let alone his 1950s incarnation as Captain America: Commie Smasher), but still a character worth admiring.

So now my hero turns his attention not to Nazis, or communists, or terrorists, or the Red Skull, but to...tea partiers, who in Marvel's hands are portrayed as angry racists bent on overthrowing the government.  I'm glad I don't read comics any longer; if I had paid money for that issue I would've been livid.

A few weeks ago I gave my Captain America talk at a high school in Florida (and, in case anyone is interested, I'll be giving the talk yet again early next month at OSU-Mansfield), and I prefaced it by asking the students if they'd ever heard of the character.  I was surprised, and a bit disappointed, at how few hands went up.  Now I'm glad.  It's now fairly common knowledge that Marvel killed off the character in 2007, but like most such deaths this one was temporary--they brought him back last year.  I wish they hadn't.

Categories > Pop Culture


The Pope and Nancy Pelosi

Forgive me, I promise not to do this too often - but I thought I'd share this little gem:

The Pope and Nancy Pelosi are on stage in front of a huge crowd. The Pope leans towards Mrs. Pelosi and says, "Do you know that with one little wave of my hand, one flick of the wrist, I can make every person in this crowd go wild with joy? This joy will not be a momentary display, like that of your followers, but go deep into their hearts and they'll forever speak of this day and rejoice!"

Pelosi replied, "I seriously doubt that. With one little wave of your hand? Show me."

So the Pope slapped her.

Categories > Politics


Climate Gotterdammerung

National Review has a nice succinct editorial up about the end of climate mania that is worth a look because, um, well, I might have had a little something to do with it.
Categories > Environment


Europe's "Subprime Mortgage Syndrome"

Greece is about to be the recipient of a massive European "bailout." Upon converting its economy to the stable euro currency, Greece took advantage of its newly-padded credit rating (propped up by the reliability of northern neighbors such as Germany) in order to borrow heavily and spend freely. Of course, the economy seemed to flourish as Greece poured funds into the pit of an ever-widening, union-dominated public sector. But then the bills came due, and Greece was found to have spent a shocking 13% of its GDP - more galling still because the government released false financial statements to hide its soaring debt.

Even with a European bailout, Greece's long-term survival "involves painful structural reforms that may mean significant belt-tightening.... To that aim, Greece's new Socialist government is moving to increase the retirement age, cut competition for state workers and overhaul the broken tax system." However, as of today, Greek labor unions have begun to strike in protest of reforming the unsustainable status quo.

Anyone who doesn't see the parallels is not keeping their eye on the ball. Greece is both a subprime mortgage home-buyer and a union-bullied, overspent California. It has dolled out cash on projects it couldn't afford, and likely always expected that someone else would eventually foot the bill. The European nations are just beginning to learn the unpleasant lessons of single-state governance with irresponsible bedfellows - a reality shared by many red-state Americans. 

P.S. Europe's PIGS! Beppe Grillo's take on Greece and public debt mentions the derisive acronym "PIGS" being circulated in Europe as a reference to Portugal, Italy, Greece and Spain - the defaulting nations which are pulling down the rest of Europe.

Whether out of a sense of self-interest or self-preservation, some are calling for Greece's expulsion from the EU. I doubt that Germany and France would concede to such a financial risk and European embarrassment - but it is interesting that Europeans still see their union as open to disbarment.  

Categories > Economy

Men and Women

A Valentine's Primer on Foods

What foods produce aphrodisiac effects?  Presumably tongue-in-cheek, so to speak, the NY Times surveys the scientific literature.  Science (of a sort) casts doubt on traditional favorites but confirms other things we always knew.  One study claims it would take 25 pounds of chocolate to produce a euphoric mood in a woman.  Homer Simpson to the contrary, donuts won't arouse a man--unless combined with licorice.  "For women, first place for most arousing [odor] was a tie between baby powder and the combination of Good & Plenty candy with cucumber."  Grilled meat was a turn-off for women, but expect a lot of football season births from all that guacamole consumed during the Superbowl.  Anyone have a recipe for a raw oyster and fig appetizer?

For a serious meditation on the meaning of food, see The Hungry Soul, by scientist, MD, and professor of philosophy Leon Kass.

Categories > Men and Women

Men and Women

Marrying Down

Sometimes the NY Times is beyond parody.  This months "Life-form of the Month" in the Liberal "paper of record" are ciliates.  The article tells a fascinating story about these one-celled organisms.  That's not what caught my eye, however.

What stood out was how the Times chose to frame the story for its readers.  The paper focuses on sex.  Here's the lede paragraph:

When it comes to sex and reproduction, mammals are ultra-orthodox and, frankly, rather dull. Individuals are either male or female, no one changes sex and there are never more than two sexes in a species. No mammal reproduces asexually -- by budding off a small piece of itself, say, or by splitting down the middle and growing a new individual from each half. Nope: among mammals, offspring are always produced by sex. That is, an egg fuses with a sperm to produce a child that is genetically distinct from both parents.

By contrast with mammals, ciliates are more interesting.

Ciliate sex is peculiar in several ways. For one thing, reproduction and sex do not happen together. When a ciliate reproduces, it does so asexually, typically by splitting in half and growing a complete new individual from each piece. So: where there was one individual, there are now two.

In and of itself, asexual reproduction is not especially strange -- many organisms, from aphids to sea anemones, do it at least from time to time. The weird stuff happens when ciliates get sexual.

In ciliate sex, two individuals arrive, and two individuals leave: no eggs are fertilized, no offspring are produced. But by the time the two individuals go their separate ways, a massive change will have come over both of them: they will both have acquired a new genetic identity.

Fascinating stuff in and of itself.  Let's leave aside whether it is proper to call it "sex" when we're talking about one-celled organisms.  The way the story is framed, both on the home page and in the story seems to suggest that we humans are missing out on something because, like all other mammals, we have only two sexes, and we reproduce in a routine way.  In other words, it's better to be a lower species than a higher one.  Writers and editors for the Times, it seems, are not comfortable being human. 

Today's lesson in societal decay.

Categories > Men and Women

Shameless Self-Promotion

Talk Radio, Without the Radio

I was recently interviewed by Steven Spierer on Talk Radio One, a web-only gab buffet.  You can listen to the discussion here.  In the course of the interview we discussed my forthcoming book, Never Enough: America's Limitless Welfare State.  Readers of this blog will be interested to know that Never Enough is a wall-to-wall NLT production, with a generous and lucid foreword by Steven Hayward.


The Necessity of Bowing to Political Realities, When They're the Right Kind of Realities

One of Megan McArdle's readers unearthed a 2005 New York Times editorial, "Social Security Follies."  It derides Pres. Bush for continuing his fight to make private savings accounts available within Social Security, rather than conceding that not even Republican congressional majorities could avert that plan's political defeat:

Congressional Republicans have begun talking with top White House aides about an exit strategy -- not from Iraq, but from the winless quagmire of President Bush's campaign to privatize Social Security. Mr. Bush has responded to this new political reality by, first, insisting that the American people do not yet understand the virtues of privatization, and second, blaming the failure of his deservedly unpopular plan on Congressional Democrats.

That's absurd.

After listening to Mr. Bush talk of little else during his second term, the American people understand quite well what he is proposing for Social Security, and by wide margins reject it. In fact, the polls show that the more they learn about privatization, the less they like it. And with good reason. The very real risks of privatization -- in terms of retirement security and the enormous budgetary cost to the country -- far outweigh the potential rewards.

So when Congressional Republican leaders tell the president that Social Security private accounts are a nonstarter, they are conveying the informed views of their constituents.

Mr. Bush has reacted by railing against Democrats for obstruction -- as if Democrats are duty-bound to breathe life into his agenda and, even sillier, as if opposing a plan that the people do not want is an illegitimate tactic for an opposition party. 

Here is the corresponding 2010 New York Times editorial, which you need not rush to your computer to read:

Congressional "Blue Dog" Democrats have begun talking with top White House aides about an exit strategy -- not from Afghanistan, but from the winless quagmire of President Obama's campaign for sweeping health care reform. Mr. Obama has responded to this new political reality by, first, insisting that the American people do not yet understand the virtues of health reform, and second, blaming the failure of his deservedly unpopular plan on Congressional Republicans.

That's absurd.

After listening to Mr. Obama talk of little else during his first year in office, the American people understand quite well what he is proposing for health care, and by wide margins reject it. In fact, the polls show that the more they learn about Obama's plan, the less they like it. And with good reason. The very real risks of the proposed comprehensive reforms -- in terms of the quality and availability of medical care, and the enormous budgetary cost to the country -- far outweigh the potential rewards.

So when Congressional Democrats tell the president that key elements of his plan are nonstarters, they are conveying the informed views of their constituents.

Mr. Obama has reacted by railing against Republicans for obstruction -- as if Republicans are duty-bound to breathe life into his agenda and, even sillier, as if opposing a plan that the people do not want is an illegitimate tactic for an opposition party.

Categories > Politics


Why NOT to Repeal Don't Ask, Don't Tell

In response to the volume of discussion (including a fair number of objections) to Mac Owens' Wall Street Journal op-ed on DADT from last week, Mac again takes up the question and answers the objections in an article we post today.  Again, Mac insists that repealing the DADT policy in the armed forces would be to work against unit cohesion and military effectiveness as it undermines phila by presenting the opportunity for it to be confused with eros but he also addresses those critics who would conflate this observation with simple-minded prejudice and refutes those who suggest that there is no evidence in support of his claims.
Categories > Military

Political Parties

Whigging Out?

Henry Olsen offers a thoughtful analysis of the political landscape now before us.  He sees a 25-30 year development of trends in our politics that suggest parallels between today and the collapse of the Whig party in the 1850s.  While Democrats are not without significant problems of their own as a result of these trends, Olsen suggests that Republicans may have more to lose as a result of them and that complacency in the face of these developments is something well beyond stupid and closer to the verge of self-destructive. 

In particular, Olsen notes:

". . . a growing distrust of conservative and liberal ideologies, a growing movement away from the two parties and toward political independence, increases in the racial-minority (which usually means Democratic-voting) share of the population, and a growing inability of the Republican party to bridge the gap between its populist and elite wings."
Categories > Political Parties

"Serving the Goals of Al-Qaeda"?

The president's top advisor for homeland security claims that at least some critics of the administration's anti-terrorism strategy "serve the goals of Al-Qaeda."  More evidence that "dissent is patriotic" only when a Republican is in the White House.


Miss Him Yet?

Thumbnail image for Miss Me Yet.jpgAlong I-35, near Wyoming, Minn., one finds a billboard of George W. Bush - and the question: "Miss me yet?"

Liberals are apparently steaming mad and on a witch-hunt to find the anonymous sponsor. Such a humorless lot, those liberals.

Yet it may be a relevant question, given that Obama has just hit the lowest approval rating of his presidency. (44% approval, 47% disapproval, with crucial independents breaking heavily against him by 29%-57%).

The answer, by the way, is 44% of Americans say "yes."

Categories > Presidency

Men and Women

Only Abstinence-Only

A University of Pennsylvania study of sexual behavior published in The Archives of Pediatric Adolescent Medicine has caused quite a stir by concluding that abstinence-only education is the most effective means of delaying teen sexual activity, preventing unwanted pregnancy and avoiding STDs. Even long-time critics of abstinence-only education are conceding that that extensive study (shockingly, the first of its kind) is "game-changing" and provides thorough, scientific evidence that skepticism of abstinence-only education was misguided.

The four educational approaches studied, and the percentage of participants who began having sex within the next two years, are listed as:

Abstinence only education: 33%
Abstinence / safe-sex comprehensive education: 42%
Healthy lifestyle education (i.e., eating well and exercising): 47%
Safe-sex (condom-use) education: 52%

So, the more young people hear the message of abstinence, the more likely they are to choose a healthy, moral lifestyle - and an abstinence-only message reaps dramatically superior results. Even talking about health food and exercise (i.e., not teaching kids about sex at all) proved more efficient than teaching a safe-sex / condoms-use approach. The "comprehensive" and safe-sex message, promoted with disastrous results over the past few decades, is a sexually permissive approach which merely has the effect of portraying sexual activity as entirely innocuous and granting a license to sexual promiscuity so long as condoms are plentifully employed.

The more radical leftist groups are circling the wagons in protest. They have no evidence on their side, but they see abstinence as conservative, religious conduct in opposition to progressive, sexual liberation, and hence oppose such programs out of ideological prejudice - regardless of the collateral harm caused by their recklessness. To wit, Obama has defunded abstinence programs of $170 million, routing the money to "safe-sex" programs. Whether new evidence alters the administration's decision will be another indicator of Obama's alleged commitment to science over ideology.

Categories > Men and Women

Men and Women

A Century of Scouts' Honor

The Boy Scouts of America are celebrating 100 years. The Scouts have always struck me as a sure standard by which to measure the character, decency and sanity of other elements in society. That is, if you don't like the wholesome, upstanding, impeachably-square Boy Scouts - well, it's probably you, not them.

Despite constant attacks by politically-correct liberal groups (the Boy Scouts don't admit girls or atheists, nor gays in leadership roles), they've stuck true to their foundations through thick and thin. They are a shining example of patriotism and faith working in perfect harmony toward personal and social good.

So, here's to the boys for a job well done! And in case you aren't as savvy as you'd like on all things Scout, here's a primer for a good and decent upbringing:

Scout Oath:

On my honor, I will do my best
To do my duty to God and my country;
To obey the Scout Law;
To help other people at all times;
To keep myself physically strong, mentally awake and morally straight.

Scout Law:

A Scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent.

Categories > Men and Women

Political Philosophy

Snow State of Nature in DC?

If you clear snow for a parking space at your apartment complex, do you have a right to it?  Even in socialistic DC, residents seem to demand Lockean justice:  labor creates a title to ownership--but for how long?  And what about the obligation to clear streets in front of a shop?  In front of your house, where you have been holed up for days?  Does Tocquevillean self-interest properly understood help us here? 

In the California gold rush, such common-sense rules prevailed on staking claims.  I am not a "spontaneous order" libertarian, but human nature does point us in a certain direction.  Perhaps the snows may teach the Obama Administration a lesson:  it's the pitchfork attempting to drive out nature, even more than the peasants with the pitchforks, whose lesson they should heed.


The Sage of Mt. Airy

That's right, from a farm in Mt. Airy, North Carolina (aka, Andy Griffith's Mayberry):  Read his posts on Governor Palin and his reflections on how the Federalist-Anti-Federalist debate enlightens the consensus celebration of Ronald Reagan's 99th birthday.  The author was a 20-year flier in the Air Force (F-4s), a Ph.D. in medieval political philosophy, and long a professor at the U.S. Air Force Academy.  If the idea of a blogger as a contemporary Christian knight and a native of the small-town South appeals to you, you will want to visit the Sage of Mt. Airy regularly.
Categories > Conservatism


More Evidence That It's So Over for the Greens

What's more over than Mark Sanford's marriage or John Edwards' reputation?  The environmental movement, that's what.  In case you are sharing a cave with bin Laden and missed the Super Bowl, then you might have missed the Audi "Green Police" ad. It's getting a lot of attention today.  Is it mocking environmentalism?  Um. . . yeah.  Your moral authority is pretty thin when a major advertiser finds it safe to take this approach.  Think anyone would ever try something like this about the civil rights movement?  Or the feminist movement? 

Tip for Republicans: Whatever you do in the way of a Contract with America this fall, I'm guessing a winner will be a repeal of the forthcoming ban on incandescent lightbulbs.  I know I'm running out of space stocking up on them for 2012 or whenever the ban goes into effect.
Categories > Environment

Literature, Poetry, and Books

Grit and Mother Wit and the Rest of It

Stanley Crouch talks about Ralph Ellison's just published Three Days Before the Shooting: The Unfinished Second Novel (edited by Callahan and Bradley), a compilation of Ellison's efforts toward his never-finished second novel, published in part as Juneteenth, also compiled by Calahan.  Crouch considers why Ellison was unable to write another novel.  In doing so, he covers much ground, most of it good and true.  Some of his formulations are very good.  Take these two paragraphs:

"That sense of the importance of improvisation beyond measure was written into the founding documents and appeared over and over in the national life and the national response to need or threat. If the chaos is sufficiently epic, so must the improvisations be if anything close to an actual "solution" is to be achieved. That is the fundamental tension at the center of the national life, and Ellison's fundamental sense of American life.

Ellison's basic idea was that human frailty determined what happened far more often than human idealism, but that idealism continued to live because--whenever it actually came through!--the results were so monumental that a naive optimism grew. The speed with which clarity is obscured or misinterpreted is Ralph Ellison's favorite blues because it is so old that it remains forever new."

I would have said it a little differently, maybe something to do with how "precious" and "sacred" (also, "the original script" and "ground of assumptions upon which our social values rest") the Declaration and the Constitution are in Ellison's thinking (maybe even more on "the moral imperatives in American life" that are implicit in them).  Indeed, Ellison calls the Constitution a "mysterious binding force" and maybe Crouch should say more on that and on what that has to do with "culture" (not race) and "individuality" and with "a tragicomic attitude toward the universe"  that seems both a necessity and a good and what that has to do with improvisation.  Still not bad, and of course Three Days Before the Shooting  will have to be read.

The Family

Pornography and a Misplaced Morality

Family Research Council has published a report on the effects of pornography upon individuals, marriage, family and community. (PDF here)

Along with drug use (recreational drugs) and sex trafficking (prostitution), pornography is often labeled a "victimless crimes." Of course, this assumes that, if the perpetrator and victim are the same person (or family unit), there is actually no victim. Such thinking is a natural consequence of the substitution of an actual morality ("you shall love your neighbor as yourself") with a useful, but limited axiom ("you shouldn't hurt other people"). When self-harm (which will invariably also harm all those who love the "victim") is not seen as an evil, half of morality has already been ceded - and the remaining ground is left defenseless.

FRC's report is good reading for the oft-overlooked consequences of a particular "victimless crime," but its greater worth is in reminding us of the damage caused by well-intended but flawed moral reckoning. One cannot love another until they have loved themselves, and personal degradation will find expression well beyond the privacy of one's own dehumanization.

Categories > The Family


The Superbowl and the Supremes

The President demagogued the Supreme Court's campaign finance decision, asserting that the floodgates would be open for massive corporate influence in elections.  Here's an account of how much money was spent on tv advertising for the Superbowl.  (And don't believe what some people have been saying about this ad until you've seen it yourself.)  The Obama presidential campaign raised and spent record amounts.  But given Superbowl ad revenues in excess of $200 million for one day is even $1 billion spent on a presidential campaign an outrageous amount?  How candidates need to raise it is the problem, and this Justice had the right idea about taking the ax to even more of the campaign finance law.
Categories > Elections

Foreign Affairs

Is Obama Continuing the Bush Policy on Detainees?

The Obama Administration now argues that its treating war criminals like 7-11 robbers is a continuation of the Bush policy.  After all, the argument goes, the Bush Administration tried "20th hijacker" Zacarias Moussaoui in federal court in Alexandria, Virginia, a few miles from the Pentagon.  But the Bush Administration realized its mistake, when the court returned only a life sentence and not the death penalty.  They had banked on a conservative jury doing full justice.  Evidently the Obama Administration does not see what a blunder the Bush policy was.  The Bush people grasped it, just as they gradually figured out what to do in Iraq.  One despairs of the Obamans ever getting it.
Categories > Foreign Affairs

Snowmaggeon 2010 Videoblog

Okay, I'm finally dug out, got the power back on, the coffee ground and brewed, so I can get round to posting my two-minute videoblog of Snowmaggeon 2010 here in McLean, VA.  Extra credit if you can identify the obscure soundtrack (no fair using one of those iPhone music ID apps, either).


Sins of Emissions

If, as the EPA recently declared, greenhouse gasses may be regulated under the Clean Air Act, and if methane is a greenhouse gas, then may the EPA regulate our diets?  May it tell us not to eat beans and sauerkraut?

I am speaking, partly, tongue in cheek, but I don't see where the flaw in the logic is.  Once the principle is established, by statutary construction and not by statute, that the EPA may regulate greenhouse gasses, the right to regulate all activities that produce greenhouse gasses necessarily follows.  As Churchill said, we're just haggling over price.

In the recent "Citizens United" case, the Supreme Court threw out a good deal of campaign finance regulation because, in partt, it was impossible to decide who is, and who is not a media organization. Everyone agrees that it would be bad to regulate the ability of news organizations to comment on ongoing political campaigns.  The trouble is, that exemption was not, in the language of statute,a matter of right. It was an exemption written into the statute. Once again, it was a matter of haggling over price.  Once it is established that the government may tell companies that they may not comment on campaigns, there's no way, in practice, to exempt media organizations, other than the government's arbitrary say so.  Hence that part of the statute fell.

Ultimately, I am reminded of Hayek's comment in The Road to Serfdom suggesting that "the democratic statesman who sets out to plan economic life will soon be confronted with the alternative of either assuming dictatorial powers or abandoning his plans."

Categories > Politics