That’s like saying you should upgrade to disc brakes on your Model T because drum brakes strike most people as old-fashioned. Parliament could mandate that the Windsors drive flying cars, talk to each other over Star Trek-style communicators, and lead mankind’s fight against our robot overlords, and they’d still be “old-fashioned.” It’s a monarchy.
Yesterday, I wrote about what the “Ground Zero” mosque disaster reveals about the Republican Party. In short, it reveals that the Bush administration was a false dawn. Bush, for all his flaws, believed that the GOP should be a universalistic party based on traditional values, a big tent for “faith-based” conservatives of all races and creeds: Muslims, Hispanics, Mormons, African-Americans, whatever. Now it is clear that the post-Bush GOP is a far nastier creature: A party seething with hatred towards vulnerable religious and ethnic groups. Despite the pretense that the GOP’s anti-mosque crusade is based on what Imam Rauf and company believe, it has more to do with who they are. It’s telling that the people Republicans are turning to for their anti-mosque street cred are not “moderate, peace-loving” Muslims, since even Muslim Republicans are disgusted by their party’s actions. The GOP’s new heroes are former Muslims like Nonie Darwish and Ayaan Hirsi Ali. That’s one way to escape the new Republican bigotry. Maybe the folks the GOP wants to harass in Arizona should try becoming former Hispanics.
This a great example of two forms of liberal writings. First is the one that everyone who’s been to college will remember is the “People who disagree with me are bigots” genre. Second is the “Why aren’t conservatives today as cuddly as the reasonable conservatives of yore” genre. What’s impressive is that Beinhart a.) weaves these two together so well, and b.) has already lumped W. into the “cuddly conservatives of yore that today’s conservatives can’t live up to” category. That was fast.
But more importantly, Beinhart faults Republicans for siding with Ayaan Hirsi Ali against “vulnerable religious minorities.” When your definition of a “vulnerable minority” excludes a woman who’s had to flee two continents because of violent threats by religious fanatics but includes those fanatics’ coreligionists, methinks the moral compass is a bit off.
A couple of weeks ago, I was thinking to myself that we’d gone a little too long without a national Republican coming forward and admitting adultery. I thought about making a post on it, but then I realized that I’d invariably make semi-libelous guesses about who it would be.
In all honesty, the first guy who came to mind as a prime candidate was John Ensign. A guy who did not cross my mind was Mark Sanford. It’s sorta a shame, but always delightful to hear Democrats proclaim from on high that having an affair is, by itself, cause to resign.
“Republicans,” the platform says, “will attack wasteful Washington spending immediately,” even though they can’t. They can’t impose anything on anybody, either, but nevertheless “we will impose an immediate moratorium on the earmarking system.”
Powerlessness opens up a limitless future. It has the fierce urgency of not right now.
Could there be a more perfect phrase to describe such imperfection?
I think, in that one picture, is an explanation for why Russia and most of its satellite states are collapsing. A book, frequently someone’s life work, should be treated with more respect. Books that are well taken care of are a necessary but not sufficient sign of civilization.
Respect for books alone is not sufficient for civilization because it is also possible for books to be treated with too much respect, as it were, and this leads to the second thing that bothered me. In Holland, they’ve turned a 13th century Domincan monastery into a book store. From Jonathan Glancey’s article:
But the Maastricht bookshop is Merkx + Girod’s finest work. And its transformation is, I think, a lesson to us all. Yes, we need to think up new uses for old churches, but we must also consider ways of converting them without altering their venerable fabric. A church is a prayer set in stone, and even if we do not use them as they were intended, their very presence is reassuring and comforting, reminding us that there is more to life than getting and spending, trade and toil. The Dominican church in Maastricht strikes just the right note. Its architects deserve a blessing.
It is peculiarly fitting that this abandonded church is in Maastricht, where they signed the treaty that lead to the Euro and started the road towards Europe’s godless constitution. I seem to recall Christ chasing money-changers out of the temple; one wonders what he would make of chic espresso machines replacing the liturgy of the hours.
Hilaire Belloc once argued, “Europe will return to the Faith, or she will perish. The Faith is Europe. And Europe is the Faith.” In Russia, they desecrate books; in Holland, a bookstore desecrates a monastery. Something is perishing, and the out of place books are only a symptom.
Rod Dreher asks for the top 10 non-presidential Americans. High schoolers tended to choose Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks. Here are my idiosyncratic choices, in no particular order:
Benjamin Franklin. An American original, a tremendous polymath. When he left his post as ambassador to France, and Jefferson became the new ambassador, someone asked Jefferson if he was replacing Franklin. TJ replied, “I merely succeed him; nobody can replace him.”
Alexander Hamilton. No other founder understood finances at all, and Hamilton ensured that the country wouldn’t fall apart because the laws of supply and demand were ignored. As a principle author of The Federalist, he wrote what is still our most enduring work of political philosophy.
John Marshall. He wasn’t our first chief justice, but he was the one who ensured that the judiciary would act as a check against the excesses of democracy.
William T. Sherman. A great general (our greatest generals—Washington, Grant, and Eisenhower—all became presidents and are thus ineligible for this list) whose understanding of war was both terrible and profound. “The crueler war is, the sooner it is over.”
Mark Twain. A brilliant writer, and a proto-type of the national celebrity. He was, I would argue, the first great American writer who didn’t wish he was European. We forget that, amongst all the witty things he said, he was profoundly gracious; upon meeting Yiddish writer Sholom Aleichem, Twain gave a twist to a newspaper article comparing them and said, “I am honored to be the American Sholom Aleichem.”
Louis Armstrong. Jazz is one of America’s great contributions to art, and Armstrong remains a giant in the field.
Alfred Sloan. The genius behind General Motors. Henry Ford may have pioneered the assembly line, but Sloan invented corporate America almost singlehandedly.
Frank Capra. Movies and Hollywood are how America shows itself to the world. No movie director so celebrated America as did Capra.
Barry Goldwater. He was never president, but unlike most failed candidates, the movement he started reshaped America and the world. Without Goldwater, Reagan would never have gotten started.
William F. Buckley Jr. Other scholars may have written better books on traditionalism (like Russell Kirk’s The Conservative Mind) or on economics (Hayek’s The Fatal Conceit) or on strong foreign policy (like Burnham’s The Machiavellians) but only Buckley brought them all together, creating a movement that offers, in my view, the best guarantee of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
I try to repress my Scrooge tendencies around Christmas, although this year it’s been tougher than most. Some recurring health issues (personal but nothing major; for the sake of this blog post, I’ll call them “me troubles,” MT) came back to bother me for much of the past few weeks. I deal with MT semi-regularly, and I did what I usually do: take some over-the-counter medication and wait to feel better.
This time around, though, it took longer than the usual day or two for MT to go away. “I have places to go and people to see and things to do! This is no time for MT,” I kept thinking. Nobody likes being sick, of course, but I was in a hurry to get well. Unfortunately, we can’t make our bodies heal faster. Perhaps this is why St. Francis of Asissi called his body an ass.
So I spent much of the past few weeks waiting. I loathe waiting, but ’tis the season. I did my best to stay pleasant, but failed miserably. At one point last week, a co-worker dropped by with a question. On the phone, I said nothing to her, but glared and she slunk away. If I knew how to intentionally look so intimidating, then I’d probably glare like that more often to drive people away when feeling anti-social; it’s probably good for everyone around me that I can’t. That glare appears in trying times; one resolution for next year is to try not to glare like that even when tried; how long will that last, I wonder? Probably not long enough.
It looks like I’m not the only one feeling a bit down right now. Part of it is the Winter. Part of it is the enforced cheeriness of Christmas. Part of it is missing people we care about. It’ll be my first Christmas without Grandpa O., and even though he was cantankerous and eccentric, he also cared and did what he could to show it. So much of his last few years were spent waiting in hospitals and dialysis centers; he doesn’t have to wait in such places any more. Through the years we all will be together—if the fates allow. . .
The flags in DC are at half-mast today, probably for Pearl Harbor, 1941. That lead to Grandpa O. and his family losing everything and going to the Jerome, Arkansas, internment camp until the war was over. That’s a long wait. He remembered many things: that the food made them sick (putting MT in perspective right now); that when they were let out to go shopping, Southern bus drivers treated the Japanese—interned as potential enemies—better than blacks; that he wouldn’t have finished high school if he hadn’t been sent to Jerome. He filled his waiting with education.
The sermon series during Advent is about waiting. Advent tends to get excised in the Christmas hoopla, rather like the children Want and Ignorance in Dickens’s A Christmas Carol. We don’t like waiting any more than we like the creepy figures that the Ghost of Christmas Present showed Scrooge. But something is lost when we bowdlerize Dickens and expand the Christmas season to labor day. Waiting prepares us for greater goodness. In want and ignorance, we try to rush through: get healthy, get rid of troubles, get open the presents. The fatherly cliche—that something bad is building character—sometimes does contain a nugget of truth.
More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that sufferingproduces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. —Romans 5:3-5
Is there such a thing as a propensity to damage yourself? I would like to read a proper scientific study of the subject. Writers are certainly liable, the outstanding example being Ernest Hemingway. Like old Thack’s, his big body was an awkward shape, but he hurt himself badly as a small child, falling with a stick in his mouth and gouging his tonsils. He also caught a fishhook in his back and hurt himself playing football and boxing. In 1918, beside being blown up in the war, he smashed his fist through a glass showcase. In 1920 he cut his feet walking on broken glass, and fell on a boat-cleat which caused internal bleeding. He burnt himself painfully while smashing up a water-heater (1922), tore a foot ligament (1925), and had the pupil of his good eye cut by his son (1927). In 1928, drunk, he mistook the skylight cord for the lavatory chain and pulled the heavy glass structure down on his hand. The result: concussion and nine stitches. The next year he tore his groin muscle, damaged an index finger, was hurt by a bolting horse, and broke his arm in a car accident. In 1935 he shot himself in the leg while drunk and trying to gaff a shark, broke his big toe kicking a locked gate, smashed his foot through a mirror and damaged the pupil of his bad eye (1938). In 1944 he was concussed twice. There was another bad car smash the next year, a clawing by a lion in 1949, a boat accident in 1950 and in 1953 a series of serious accidents in Africa, leading to a fractured skull, two cracked spinal discs, a ruptured liver, spleen and kidneys, and paralysed sphincter muscles. Bad falls, usually while drunk, continued till his suicide.
. . . the fifth of November, gunpowder, treason and plot. I see no reason why the gunpowder treason should ever be forgot.
It’s Guy Fawkes Day, which is a touch inimical to the usual ecumenicalism of Snarky Bastards. But since we’re defenders of tradition—and how could we pyromaniacs not like the bonfires?—we hope our British readers are enjoying the day.
Or, if you want another less historical but more funny bit of Puritan self-righteousness, try Lady Whiteadder:
Cold is God’s way of telling us to burn more Catholics!
I think that’s enough anti-Catholic stuff for the day. Perhaps we should pick a day for Protestant bashing. Any nominations?
Apollo has tossed out a challenge, possibly because he knows what kinds of things intensify my natural urge to kick cats. So he picks an article by an acolyte of Noam Chomsky and sits back to watch the fireworks. I’ve read enough Pinker that I usually skip over his articles, since I have a reasonably good idea what to expect from him. When I saw that he was talking about swearing, I expected emphasis on the grammatical and ignorance of the spiritual, which is precisely what I got.
Certain hallmarks of Pinker’s work—condescending schoolmarmishness while greasily tossing off as fact things that aren’t—are on display here. First, consider Pinker’s inner schoolmarm on Ose’s bill on indecency:
The first is the bone of contention in the Bono brouhaha: the syntactic classification of curse words. Ose’s grammatically illiterate bill not only misspelled c********r, m**********r, and a******, and misidentified them as “phrases,” it didn’t even close the loophole that it had targeted. The Clean Airwaves Act assumed that f****** is a participial adjective. But this is not correct. With a true adjective like lazy, you can alternate between Drown the lazy cat and Drown the cat which is lazy. But Drown the f******cat is certainly not interchangeable with Drown the cat which is f******.
I suppose we’re to be impressed that he knows his English grammar so well (a grammar he has derided in his other works, most notably The Language Instinct) but it’s tough to notice because he gets some other facts howlingly wrong in the previous paragraph:
The episode highlights one of the many paradoxes that surround swearing. When it comes to political speech, we are living in a free-speech utopia. Late-night comedians can say rude things about their nation’s leaders that, in previous centuries, would have led to their tongues being cut out or worse.
Apparently Pinker is unfamiliar with the vast, horrid tangle of campaign finance law. A quick example:
In February 2006, Norm Feck learned that the city of Parker, Colorado was thinking about annexing his neighborhood, Parker North. Feck attended a meeting on the annexation, realized that it would mean more bureaucracy, and concluded that it wouldn’t be in Parker North residents’ interest. Together with five other Parker North locals, he wrote letters to the editor, handed out information sheets, formed an Internet discussion group, and printed up anti-annexation yard signs, which soon began sprouting throughout the neighborhood.
That’s when annexation supporters took action—not with their own public campaign, but with a legal complaint against Feck and his friends for violating Colorado’s campaign finance laws. The suit also threatened anyone who had contacted Feck’s group about the annexation, or put up one of their yard signs, with “investigation, scrutinization, and sanctions for Campaign Finance violations.” Apparently the anti-annexation activists hadn’t registered with the state, or filled out the required paperwork disclosing their expenditures on time. Steep fines, increasing on a daily basis, were possible. The case remains in litigation.
Citizens who make signs protesting what happens to their neighborhoods are in danger of fines running into thousands of dollars, but as long as Jon Stewart can say saucy things about Bush, all is right with the world of political speech—it’s a utopia, of course.
Eventually, Pinker comes around to common sense, only to dismiss it:
Sexual language has become far more common since the early ’60s, but so has illegitimacy, sexually transmitted disease, rape, and the fallout of sexual competition like anorexia in girls and swagger-culture in boys. Though no one can pin down cause and effect, the changes are of a piece with the weakening of the fear and awe that used to surround thoughts about sex and that charged sexual language with taboo.
Those are some of the reasons to think twice about giving carte blanche to swearing. But there is another reason. If an overuse of taboo words, whether by design or laziness, blunts their emotional edge, it will have deprived us of a linguistic instrument that we sometimes sorely need. And this brings me to the arguments on the pro-swearing side.
To begin with, it’s a fact of life that people swear.
It’s a fact of life that people do all sorts of horrid things. This doesn’t mean that we should be neutral. When we’re neutral to the bully who kicks cats, we’re paving the way for a thug to knock off people. To be human is to have foul urges—to swear, to murder, to sin—but most important is to overcome these dark instincts. Civility leads to civilization. Pinker’s defense of swearing is that we’re going to do it anyway (this author included) so why be upset about it? He talks about the ancients in his article, but doesn’t pick perhaps the most important passage in the Bible on the topic.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
God speaks: the world is created. We speak: we imitate God: our words are a sub-creation.
Pinker touches on the connection between words and action—how could he not?—but doesn’t really take it far enough. A secular thinker, George Orwell, did better:
Now, it is clear that the decline of a language must ultimately have political and economic causes: it is not due simply to the bad influence of this or that individual writer. But an effect can become a cause, reinforcing the original cause and producing the same effect in an intensified form, and so on indefinitely. A man may take to drink because he feels himself to be a failure, and then fail all the more completely because he drinks. It is rather the same thing that is happening to the English language. It becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts.
Thoughts and words lead to actions, and the ugliness of our language makes it easier to do evil. To paraphrase C.S. Lewis, we rap about rape and murder, and are shocked to find rapists and murderers in our midst. We mock decency with irony, and are shocked that teenagers are indecent without irony.
It is particularly galling that a wordsmith like Bono can’t think of something better to say than “F****** brilliant!” when on live television. Doug Ose may not have been as grammatically perfect as Pinker (a defender of ghetto vernacular) may have liked, but Ose understood the power of language, which Pinker, despite his books and degrees, does not—and perhaps never will.
My contempt for The New Republic grows with every day they don’t admit the lies they willingly printed from Scott Beauchamp. That said, Steven Pinker is a modern renaissance man and short of buying a copy of Pravda, I’d read him anywhere. This lengthy article on cursing is exceptionally interesting, and I’d like to hear what our in-house prude, Hubbard, has to say on it. The best bits are his discussion of why sexual language is still (or at least should still be) jarring:
Consider two consenting adults who have just had sex. Has everyone had fun? Not necessarily. One partner might see the act as the beginning of a lifelong relationship, the other as a one-night-stand. One may be infecting the other with a disease. A baby may have been conceived, whose welfare was not planned for in the heat of passion. If the couple is related, the baby may inherit two copies of a deleterious recessive gene and be susceptible to a genetic defect. There may be romantic rivals in the wings who would be enraged with jealousy if they found out, or a cuckolded husband in danger of raising another man’s child, or a two-timed wife in danger of losing support for her own children. Parents may have marriage plans for one of the participants, involving large sums of money or an important alliance with another clan. And, on other occasions, the participants may not both be adults, or may not both be consenting.
Sex has high stakes, including exploitation, disease, illegitimacy, incest, jealousy, spousal abuse, cuckoldry, desertion, feuding, child abuse, and rape. These hazards have been around for a long time and have left their mark on our customs and our emotions. Thoughts about sex are likely to be fraught, and not entertained lightly. Words for sex can be even more touchy, because they not only evoke the charged thoughts but implicate a sharing of those thoughts between two people. The thoughts, moreover, are shared “on the record,” each party knowing that the other knows that he or she has been thinking about the sex under discussion. This lack of plausible deniability embroils the dialogue in an extra layer of intrigue.
And on the weakening of a taboo:
Also deserving of reflection is why previous generations of speakers bequeathed us a language that treats certain topics with circumspection and restraint. The lexical libertines of the 1960s believed that taboos on sexual language were pointless and even harmful. They argued that removing the stigma from sexuality would eliminate shame and ignorance and thereby reduce venereal disease, illegitimate births, and other hazards of sex. But this turned out to be mistaken. Sexual language has become far more common since the early ’60s, but so has illegitimacy, sexually transmitted disease, rape, and the fallout of sexual competition like anorexia in girls and swagger-culture in boys. Though no one can pin down cause and effect, the changes are of a piece with the weakening of the fear and awe that used to surround thoughts about sex and that charged sexual language with taboo.
Not surprising that the most sane post from The Dish lately comes from a guest blogger:
It’s always been my observation that the key reason why this is an issue at all is because it involves the word “marriage.” In my opinion, the state’s only interest in this matter involves its general interest in the law of partnerships, which is a subset of the law of contract. In principle, there is no difference between a man and woman getting married and choosing to share their economic resources and any two people starting a business and doing the same.
The question of “marriage” is purely a religious one, as I see it. It’s between you and your church. If your church does not recognize your union, then you can either try to change its mind or find a new church. As far as the government is concerned, there is no reason for it to care whether your relationship is called a “marriage” or a civil union.
This has been my opinion for some time now. Under the law there is no functional difference between a marriage of heterosexuals or homosexuals. Many arguments have been put forward to explain to me why they are (children being the primary one.) But in a modern world where childless couples and single parent families are more and more common many of those arguments simply do not apply.
Lost in the recent violent lurch of conservatism towards evangelical populism is good ole fashioned elitist conservatism. Country Club – you’re not Ivy League enough for us conservatism – the kind of conservatism that gave us great thinkers like George Will or Bill Buckley at THE National Review (you’re welcome, Tom).
A very high percentage of the U.S. electorate isn’t very well qualified to vote, if by “qualified” you mean having a basic understanding of our government, its functions and its challenges. Almost half of the American public doesn’t know that each state gets two senators. More than two thirds can’t explain the gist of what the Food and Drug Administration does.
Now, the point isn’t to say that the American people are stupid, which is the typical knee-jerk reaction of self-absorbed political junkies. Rather, it’s that millions of Americans just don’t care about politics, much the same way that I don’t care about cricket: They think it’s boring. Ask me how cricket works and I’m likely to respond with the same blank, uncomprehending stare my old basset hound used to give me when I asked him to chase a Frisbee. Ask the typical American to explain, say, what a cloture vote is, and you’ll get the same.
And yet, to suggest that maybe some people just shouldn’t vote is considered the height of un-Americanism. As economist Bryan Caplan notes in his bracing new book, The Myth of the Rational Voter, there are few subjects on which Americans are more dogmatic and ideological.
So, maybe, just maybe, we have our priorities wrong. Perhaps cheapening the vote by requiring little more than an active pulse (Chicago famously waives this rule) has turned it into something many people don’t value. Maybe the emphasis on getting more people to vote has dumbed down our democracy by pushing participation onto people uninterested in such things. Maybe our society would be healthier if politicians aimed higher than the lowest common denominator. Maybe the people who don’t know the first thing about how our system works aren’t the folks who should be driving our politics, just as people who don’t know how to drive shouldn’t have a driver’s license.
Instead of making it easier to vote, maybe we should be making it harder. Why not test people on the basic functions of government? Immigrants have to pass a test to vote; why not all citizens?
A voting test would point the arrow of civic engagement up instead of down, sending the signal that becoming an informed citizen is a valued accomplishment. And if that’s not a good enough reason, maybe this is: If you threaten to take the vote away from the certifiably uninformed, voter turnout will almost certainly get a boost.
It has long been my belief that the chief problem with American politics is not the large amounts of special interest money flooding the system but the relatively poor understanding of politics of the average voter. Special interest money is just a symptom of the larger problem of political naivety. When people have no idea what is going on it allows for demagoguery backed by special interest money to take over the system.
Populists and leftists will scream that this is “unfair” and “disenfranchises minorities” but since when does requiring a basic understanding of the system disenfranchise anyone other than those unable to make decisions on weighty issues.
The cure for the problems of democracy is not more democracy but rather better informed and interested voters.
Note to Jonah: Cricket rules – if you’d like me to sit down and watch a few games with you I’d be more than happy to introduce you to my albeit poor understanding of the game (my dad would be much more helpful). Its much more interesting than the snorefest that is baseball.
UPDATE: As predicted liberals are hyperventilating. HuffPost says that Goldberg wants to bring back Jim Crow Laws. However, since all people in this country have access to public education regardless of race, creed or gender then a basic civics test, applied to all who register to vote, would not be racially discriminatory.
It begs the question though I am forced to ask – Why do liberals want uninformed voters? Perhaps because the more morons that vote the better their chances?
A bit of classic rememberance today, Andy Ferguson on Jerry Garcia:
Many interesting things were said following the death of Jerry Garcia, the tubby, ninefingered, and now actually dead lead guitarist of the Grateful Dead. They rose to various pitches of extravagance. My favorite came from the very top. President Clinton, who seems compelled to reflect aloud on every headline, took to MTV to wag his chins solemnly over “the demons that [Jerry] dealt with.” These days nameless demons are always called in to account for drug addiction; they sound much more important than the real cause, which is an irresistible urge to get high. The President then shuffled off the psychologist’s lab smock and donned the rock critic’s tie-dyed T-shirt. “He was just a great talent,” the President said. “He was a genius.”
He was a genius. We all know that Bill Clinton is prepared to say virtually anything to anyone at any given moment, but this remark was more than a desperate pander to yet another constituency he feels slipping from his grasp.
It may even have been sincere. It is a comment to treasure in any case, for it so well exemplifies the uncontrolled nature of rock ‘n’ roll utterance. Whenever two or more rock fans are gathered together, hyperbole is the preferred idiom. Without much effort I can think of a dozen rockers who have been certified as geniuses by critics or fans or both: Bob Dylan, for example, and Eric Clapton, Pete Townshend, Stevie Won&r, David’ Byrne, all the Beatles—except Ringo, of course. Hyperbole has its limits.