Monday, October 09, 2006

Happy Columbus Day!

Of course, this will always be an interesting anniversary for me. However, that is in the fading past, let us remember the daring and courage it took to cross the Atlantic 514 years ago and sparked the eventual spread of western civilization into the Americas that eventually resulted in the establishment of our republic. That achievement, though not Columbus's, would not have been possible without his voyage, and for that we should and do salute him.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Conspiracy Theories: Was 9/11 An “Inside Job” and Other Stories
By Alexander Marriott

I was recently forced to break off an amicable correspondence of several years because of 9/11 conspiracy theories and this person’s acceptance of them. Our conversations became nothing but this person trying to convince me that the terrorist attacks of 9/11 were an “inside job” and that for me to contend otherwise was to show my willingness to accept State lies and be a serf. This line of conversation and reasoning became tiring for me and all prior benefit of our correspondence was lost, so I broke off contact. I do not do this very often, mainly because I do not generally begin correspondences with the hopelessly irrational. But, unfortunately from time to time, it does happen that the previously rational become irrational for one reason or another. Before this instance it was because the correspondent lost someone close to them and turned, against my repeated pleas, to mysticism and altruism. So, as a way of expressing my disgust for conspiracy theories in general, and this one in particular, I write this article in dedication to all instances of broken correspondence I have personally gone through and heard about in similar cases from others over the years.

The conspiracy theory is the bastion of shadows and little or no evidence. It explains a famous or known event by appealing to the leftist dictum of “follow the money” or “look who benefits” as if actual evidence is irrelevant and personal ethics are just a farcical way for the rich and powerful to pull the wool over the eyes of everyone else. Whether it is the Kennedy assassination or the 9/11 attacks, conspiracy theories which pop up to counter the “official” tale of events share common characteristics.

As a historian, I come across conspiracy theories all the time. Progressive historians like Charles and Mary Beard made the conspiracy theory view of history a popular vogue for a while. They contended that the founders plotted the constitution as a way of aggrandizing their power and property at the expense of common folk, the evidence being that nearly all of the men at the convention were wealthy property owners and remained so afterwards, or became richer under the new system. Of course, this case is circumstantial at best and ignores the actual debates which occurred at the convention and afterwards on real political and philosophical issues.

Beard’s assertions inspired other historians to go into other historical episodes and see greedy conspiracies. The War of 1812 is a topic I study quite a bit and a topic with a historiography full of conspiracy theories, whether to steal Canada, Indian land, or whatever else, as opposed to the real issues of free trade and sailor’s rights which actually sparked the conflict. The conspiracy theory today is usually a way to cast the darkest aspersions upon the government in general and certain officers of the government in particular. I am no fan of the government in most of its actions. It is too big, too powerful, does a whole host of unconstitutional and immoral things, and is generally wasteful and inept. That does not mean I (or anyone else) should automatically buy into every conspiracy theory people come up with to explain events. I am not concerned here with delving into the specifics of these conspiracy theories to dispute their specific claims, there are experts and scholars already doing that in professional journals all over the country. I am more interested in the implications of conspiracy theories in general what one has to accept in order to buy one of these conspiracy theories.

To accept a conspiracy theory that the government or certain of its officers killed President Kennedy or carried out the 9/11 attacks, without overwhelming evidence (as in a criminal conspiracy case), requires the acceptance of certain other implausible facts. For instance, one would have to accept that scores of people in the government are able, at will, to plan secretly large scale attacks or plots and maintain operational security against leaks. This makes a good movie plot, but a rather alarming fact of reality if one accepts it. To accept this idea though, one has to ignore clear evidence that other plots and schemes by government officials including the “most powerful man on earth,” the President, have not succeeded and have been uncovered. The list of these is a long list of scandals from efforts to have the CIA kill Castro (a noble effort if ill-conceived) to Watergate, Whitewater, Travel Gate, the Iran-Contra scandal, Clinton’s efforts to cover up the Lewinsky affair and on and on. But for the person who accepts the conspiracy theory view of reality, the government is able to keep omniscient control of diabolical plots which are much more complex, require far more people, and involve the killing of perfectly innocent Americans.

Another point which the person who accepts these conspiracy theories much accept, at least implicitly, is that all people, particularly government officials, are evil incarnate. This may sound almost like common sense at first. How many of us don’t think the vast majority of officials and government employees are jerks at one point or another? But this belief is far more serious than frustration with the post office or genuine disgust with hated political foes. It means that you seriously believe that the vast majority of government officials are, on the whole, willing to kill anyone they have to in order to add to their own power or achieve certain goals, whether that means winning an election or, far more diabolical, toppling the republic to establish a despotism. As citizens we must always be wary and on guard against Catilines, men willing to scheme to overthrow the republic, but these men are rare (hence the name Catiline still rings down through history from ancient Rome). For one man to undo a political system and instate his own person rule is exceedingly difficult, the examples of it in all history are all too numerous but sufficiently small to make the threat real while rare. If we honestly believe that the majority or even a minority of our government is made up of genuine Catilines and Cromwells then we should give up on self-government altogether for it will prove nothing but a pipedream. We’ve had two large examples of purely evil governments in the 20th century, with hordes of evil henchmen, Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia. Those governments were not brought about by shadowy conspiracies, but by very public leaders and their followers, along with the surrender and impotence of their opposition.

People who believe 9/11 was an “inside job” say Bush wanted a rationale for war or a way to win the next election, etc. So aside from the first two points (the government is capable of keeping such a plot secret and government is run by men of pure evil) one must also accept that Bush is a diabolical genius. He had to formulate and execute a perfectly secure plan to attack his own country in nine months in order to gather a rationale to attack Afghanistan and Iraq and win re-election in 2004. Since every new development, from the foiled plot in England to the Israeli-Hezbollah conflict, can be added to the conspiracy, Bush’s tremendous mind and evil genius become magnified over and over again. He makes Lex Luther look retarded in the conspiracy theory universe. He sees things so far in advance he is almost prophetic. Of course, questions are being begged left and right. For instance, given that Bin Laden and Al Qaeda had already attacked the United States numerous times, why plot such an elaborate and traitorous scheme that, if discovered, would mean the utter contempt of people today and all posterity, not to mention sure death for treason? Also, Iraq was invaded under the auspices of the United Nations and their resolutions. Bush purposely and foolishly went out of his way to wrap all the rationale for the Iraq war in United Nations priorities and bromides, not 9/11. How did 9/11 help that? How did Bush know he could win in 2004, even with the terrorist attacks? His re-election was not automatic, and had the Democrats nominated someone competent they may well have won. Of course the conspiracy theory answers to these questions are predictable. Bush is evil; the attack created an environment to make the Iraq war acceptable; and Bush conspired to and stole the ’04 election. The evidence is that the event occurred and thus was in the interest of the subject of the conspiracy theory.

I will end this essay by creating my own conspiracy theory, using the conspiracy theory methods. Unfortunately it is all too easy.

George Washington, widely regarded as the father of his country and a great man, was in fact an evil genius bent on domination and tyranny. He callously egged on revolution and war with England and then purposely went out of his way to become commander of the continental army by shamelessly coming to the second continental congress in his uniform. When he relinquished his sword at the end of the war it was but a brilliant avaricious calculation for future power which worked perfectly as he chaired the constitutional convention and steered the proceedings to make the presidency powerful because he wanted to be the first one and knew the others would make him so. He also made sure Madison’s and the other delegates notes on the convention left his role of active manipulation out of the “official” record. When he became President he found the job not as powerful as he liked and wanted to quit which he did after two terms. As he was about to make his comeback as the commanding general of a huge army to, on paper, fend of French invasion (but really he was going to use it to kill President Adams and declare himself dictator), he caught pneumonia and died. Lucky for his country too, because he would have destroyed it as his whole malign career says he would.

These are all horrible lies about Washington’s great career designed to manipulate the various events of that career to fit an evil storyline. Because the events happened to his interest in this storyline it almost sounds plausible, but the evidence is very decidedly against all of it and historians are, on the whole, more than honest enough to tell it the way it was, not the way paranoid conspiracy theorists would have it. Bush is certainly no Washington, but with no evidence to the contrary, he is also no Stalin, Catiline, Cromwell, or Lex Luther.
Kasparov Playing Chess Without a Board
By Alexander Marriott

Gary Kasparov, the recently retired world chess champion, was perhaps the greatest chess player of all time. His reign at the top of the chess world was long and marked by great duels with other chess giants like Karpov and of course his matches against various versions of IBM supercomputers. It was a shock to the chess world, among others, when Kasparov announced his retirement to pursue a career in Russian politics, the principal aim of which is to see Putin and his cronies out of office. Kasparov is a liberal in the European sense, the classical sense of that term, he is a limited government pro-capitalism pro-freedom guy, the kind of guy a place like Russia needs many more of.

There is a problem though. Kasparov, while fighting a good fight against a would-be tyrant like Putin and his aristocratical allies, is making many mistakes and ultimately hurting his own cause. His problems range from allying himself with all anti-Putin forces, including the National Bolsheviks, to calling for improper constitutional reforms, like turning the Russian constitution into an even more rank copy of the French constitution, which it already heavily draws upon. There is no doubt that common cause needs to be made with other political groups aside from liberals and that serious constitutional reform needs to take place, but their are rational limits to both that Kasparov should keep in mind if he wishes to achieve anything against Putin and for a free Russia.

That Putin needs to go in undeniable for those who care about economic and personal liberty. Putin's crackdown on his enemies, most notoriously against Mikhail Khodorkovsky, whose Yukos oil company has now been declared bankrupt and parcelled out to Putin's cronies at the state oil company. Combine that with Putin's consolidation of the infant free pree in Russia under state-run media, his romanticization of Soviet-era relics like the national anthem and the cult-of-personality around the leader (i.e. Putin), and his manipulation of all recent elections and you have the makings of a stunning reversal in Russian politics. Such a reversal has been in the offing almost from the beginning of the Federation, ever since the failure to pass any substantial free market reforms under Yeltsin. Private property is still rare and state property is the payola of Putin's cronyism. Capitalism still has never had a run in Russia and yet the Russian people seem to think that capitalism and a democratic process (i.e. elections) are synonymous. Capitalism takes the blame for the corruption and the stagnant economy that were and still are the hallmarks of Russian tyranny.

Enter Gary Kasparov. That Putin thinks Kasparov is a serious threat is undeniable. A Kasparov staffer was badly beaten several months before the recent G8 summit in Moscow and numerous staffers for the alternative freedom summit were arrested days before that event. Kasparov is a popular national hero and a very articulate man who clearly is a Russian patriot. That Kasparov is a liberal makes him one of the few on the freedom side of Putin with any real clout. This is why it is so disheartening to see Kasparov teaming up with the likes of Eduard Limonov, leader of the National Bolsheviks whose only objection to Putin can be that Putin is fixing the elections for Putin and not Limonov. No one, including Kasparov, can think Limonov would not reinstate the Soviet tyranny which would make Putin look like the two-bit KGB agent that he was/is. To team up with such a group and person can only tell the Russians who wish to save Russia from a slide toward tyranny that the possible alternative in a free election is something far worse than Putin, which plays right into Putin's hands. This does not mean Kasparov should take on Putin alone, but it does mean he should have some standards and limits about who he allies himself with. The enemy of my enemy is not necessarily my friend, a principle sadly illustrated by the Allied alliance with Stalin in World War II. Putin, liberal that he is, should and must realize this if he has any hope to succeed.

As for constitutional reform, this is the fundamental defect of the Russian political world. When the Soviet Union collapsed and the Russian Federation was born there was a chance for a revolutionary constitutional shift in Russia. Instead of a dramatic change, Russia was given a meek transformation from cheaply veiled despotism to officially sanctioned command state with elections. By adopting a French model (i.e. heavily empowered President with a weak parliament whose leadership is largely in the hands of the President) with few dramatic economic reforms the Russians guaranteed themselves a Putin (i.e. would-be tyrant who relies on the immense power of his office to corrupt the entire body politic). Kasparov has suggested moving more in the direction of the French model, as if that hasn't caused enough problems. His reasoning seems to rely on the misperception that the current Federation constitution is built on a British model, which is entirely incorrect. The British model is a limited monarchy constructed over a 1000 years of legal decisions and compacts, charters, and parliamentary compromises. The British model is one of legislative supremacy now, the executive power has gathered in Parliament over the last 150+ years. The Russian model is nothing close to this, executive and to a somewhat lesser extent legislative power reside in the President, as in France. Neither France nor England should be the model for constitutional reform. The United States or Swiss constitutions, modified of their various defects, would be excellent models for the Russian Federation and would take account of the various peoples which make up the country. Whatever constitutional reform plan is forwarded though, it won't work without guarantees of actual individual rights, including economic private property rights and the complete denationalization of all industries and non-essential state property in Russia.

Constitutional reform should be second to getting rid of Putin, but it should also be taken more seriously and require a further selectivity of one's allies. Kasparov has yet to learn this lesson for the former task and until he does, both goals are in peril of being crushed by Putin through the weight of fear of Bolshevism and indifference to Kasparov's compromised message. Right now, Kasparov's queen is in jeopardy.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Israel At War: Problems and Fallacies
By Alexander Marriott

Now that Hezbollah, Hamas, the Palestian people (who elected Hamas), the people of southern Lebanon (who sit idly by as a group of armed thugs turn their country into a base of operations), Syria, and Iran have showed their hands and begun a shooting war with Israel (that Israel is finally recognizing with a sizeable retaliation) all of us have been witness to the essence of what is wrong in the world today. The enemies we face are equivocation, relativism, context dropping, and all sorts of other inanities one can find in ivory tower settings where most of the leaders of the world, good and bad, were taught and where they still live, intellectually. The media, even the alleged administration lapdogs at FoxNews, have engaged in this to an alarming degree as well. The media and most world leaders speak in near unanimity, wringing their hands and desperately wondering when the violence will end (the assumption being that is should end immediately).

To cut through the whole morass which has descended upon us since hostilities commenced (which everyone, including me, is rather preposterously dating to when Israel started its campaign against Hezbollah, as opposed to years ago when Hezbollah began its campaign agaist Israel and the United States) would be an immense undertaking, but some of the most blatant problems in the approach of the media and world governments are easily identifiable and easily countered. For instance, the call for an immediate end to hostilities on both sides is an equivocation between offensive and illegal violence perpetrated by state-backed terrorist groups like Hezbollah and perfectly legitimate defensive measures taken by the Israelis.

Kofi Annon has joined the corus of much of the rest of the world by condemning the Israeli response as "excessive" or "disproportionate." People seem to have forgotten what war is. Sherman described war as hell, and he unleashed hell upon a rebellious, slave-holding south during the American Civil War. Sherman and countless other commentators on war were right to describe it as one of the worst things one could see or participate in. War is death and destruction. These are axiomatic truisms about war. Because war is so terrible does not mean we then submit ourselves to things worse that war, worse than death. Such things exist in the world. Such things as slavery, which would certainly come to any free country that refused to defend itself. A life with no hope of liberty and freedom is no life at all. Our country is dedicated to that premise. It took hundreds of thousands of lives to finally realize this goal. When a country is attacked and a state of war commences there is no such thing as proportional responses and measured retaliations. It is a risk of war, especially when one purposely engages a much stronger opponent, that the response could and probably will be harsh and respresentative of the maximum damage that opponent can inflict (Israel has not done this as their maximum damage is represented by nuclear weapons). To whine about this is only the cunning move of the terrorists and their backers to play on the downright gullibility of western leaders, including the Israelis who have pledged to avoid civilian casualties. All casualties in a war are ultimately the responsibility of the party who started the war. This is not a schoolyard fight we are talking about here where schools now hold both parties accountable. The party which attacks, crosses a border, embargoes, etc. first is the party which commences hostilities. The casualties, civilian or otherwise, are the responsibility of those who look to start wars, not those who respond. Once a war commences the attacked party is not obliged to keep a defensive posture, in fact, such a move is unwise, the offensive is how wars are fought if one wishes to win, and winning a war is the quickest way to end it.

Lebanon is not innocent. Lebanon cannot claim territory it does not control. If it does and the people who do control it (Hezbollah) begins a war then the Lebanese cannot be surprised when they are bombed, invaded, or whatever else happens to them. If they want to disassociate themselves from Hezbollah without destroying them, then all they can do is renounce their claims to all territory which Hezbollah controls and use their army to make sure Hezbollah does not take over the territory they do wish to control. The Lebanese government cannot have its cake and eat it as well. They cannot claim territory which Hezbollah controls and then say they have nothing to do with Hezbollah's acts of war against Israel, this is sophistry at its worst.

Civilians are not sacrosanct in war. This goes for American citizens, myself included, as much as any other civilian. War is death and destruction, of civilians especially. Terrorism is a tactic of people at war. The Islamic fundamentalists and the states that they control have chosen terrorism, almost exclusively against civilians, as their main tactic because they are militarily so much weaker than their opponents it's really their only option with the plausable deniability necessary to avoid immediate response. It is also a tactic, when aimed at civilians in democratic governments, that assures a weakening of the resolve of the the people, which may lead to some change of governmental policy that terrorists don't like. It may also lead, much like Spain, to the total abdication of self-defense. In World War II, both sides targeted cities and civilians as a way of assuring that their opponents capacity for making war deteriorated and to weaken the resolve of their opponents. These were perfectly legitimate methods of trying to win a war, and they still are. They were and are terribly destructive of human life and infrastructure. That's the whole point. If war is not so costly as to force one side to quit then war could conceivably go on ad infinitum, ala the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

It matters why a country or group is at war. To lose the context and just see Israel and Hezbollah as two butting rams, both the same, is to do a grave injustice. Hezbollah fights to destroy a free people and wipe a country away. Israel fights to make sure their people can live without being kidnapped, blown up with rockets, blown up by suicide bombers, or totally annihilated. One of these goals is heinous and unjust, the other is perfectly legal and common sensical. If Israel wished to gain territory they could have easily invaded and conquered Lebanon (not to mention they could have chosen to stay in Gaza and the West Bank and consolidate their positions), that is obviously not their goal. Israel is the victim and is engaged in a war. The only rules of war concern chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons and prisoners. These rules are in place, among the general agreement of most nations, to avoid complete bloodbaths, the destruction of large swaths of the planet, and the needless destruction of honorably surrendered and captured soldiers. No paper charters will prevent the violation of any and all of these rules in a war that becomes serious enough, a fact everyone should be mindful of. War is hell, but dropping context, equivocation and putting justice on par with its opposite is sure death.
Bush Veto Correct but for wrong and irrational reasons
By Alexander Marriott

President Bush issued the first veto of his presidency this week in order to prevent federal money from funding embryonic stem cell research. His rationale was that because this research is based on the alleged death of a life (the unimplanted embryo) it could not go forth under federal auspices. The immediate reaction of anyone who relies on reason and not mystical revelations in dealing with the world might be outrage. It should be if we are speaking strictly of Bush's reasons for the veto. He is using an irrational and mystical luddite philosophy that, if accepted, would stymie all scientific progress (just as it would be stymied if irrational environmentalists had their way) and cause untold harm to humanity. But, while his reasoning is horrendous, the decision was the right one regardless. If any of us ever want the great benefits this research may promise us then we must make sure federal money, or any government money at all, stay out of it.

Embryonic stem cell research is the province of private drug companies and research labs, universities, etc. The federal government has no authority to interfere in such research (which Bush has not done, unless we mean to say he is interfering by preventing federal dollars from pouring in) and nor should we desire such interference either by preventing it altogether or by flooding it with subsidization. Government subsidization never has had results tied to it. The goal of people being subsidized by the government is to extend the subsidization. The private sector, on the other hand, must produce some sort of result in order to make profits, it is not the goal of a drug company to research on end without producing some marketable product. To ruin this incentive process with federal subsidization will mean that results will either be needlessly prolonged or indefinitely delayed.

Bush's reasoning (or lack thereof) should be decried and combatted. The principle of keeping the government out of the economy and scientific research should not be sacrificed in combatting Bush's mysticism. Bush made the right call in spite of himself (since he has no objections to economic interference, without his irrational mysticism he would surely have signed the bill). That does not mean we let his justification escape the condemnation it so richly deserves. Luckily, it also means that embryonic stem cell research can proceed forwith, under private auspices, without unneccessary intereference from the federal government, for now.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Asking the Founders for Help: A Review of Richard Brookhiser’s What Would the Founders Do?
By Alexander Marriott

What would George Washington have to say about terrorism and preemptive war? What did Jefferson think of the death penalty? Would the founders fight a war on drugs? Were the founders pacifists? Did they object to women participating in the political process? These are just some of the many questions historian and journalist Richard Brookhiser poses to the whole panoply founding fathers in his new book What Would the Founders Do? The book is a valuable compilation and explanation of various positions and opinions the founders held (sometimes in contradiction to each other) on various problems of their day, the fundamentals of which are still relevant to problems confronting us today. Why look back to these figures, the last of whom died in 1836 (Madison), for guidance today? Brookhiser answers that question quite succinctly: “They built the country, they wrote the user manuals—Declaration, Constitution, Federalist Papers—and they ran it while it could still be returned to the manufacturer. We assume that if anyone knows how the U.S.A. should work, it must be them. In that spirit, we ask WWFD—What Would the Founders Do?” (Pg. 6) The book itself is not the end of the story; the founders are answering more questions online, in the blogosphere. A whole host of FounderBlogs have been created for the likes of Washington, Franklin, Adams, Hamilton, Jefferson, and Madison to offer their wit and wisdom on more issues of the day.

With this premise dictating his direction, Brookhiser rakes his own immense knowledge of the founding fathers and uses their positions and opinions to answer numerous question under broad topics such as “God and Man,” “Money and Business,” and “Education and Media.” The book bears the hallmarks of Brookhiser’s previous historical interests. George Washington, John Adams and Alexander Hamilton would have had to be heavily involved in the book anyway, but Gouverneur Morris, a largely forgotten but incredibly fascinating founder from New York (who largely became marginalized due to his radical Federalism and the fact that Jeffersonians ruled the government for 24 years), is consulted more in this book than would have been the case if any other historian had written it. Brookhiser’s previous (and current) penchant for Federalists perhaps colors his views on their opponents, the Jeffersonians (whom he rather undeservedly connects to the modern Democratic Party, but that is a question for another day), but not to extent detrimental to this book.

The main recommendation this book has is the incredibly even handed and sober way in which Brookhiser treats his material. It would be easy for a partisan to go through the writings of the founders and pick out of context positions and opinions that validate current political opinions, but he does not stoop to such a level. The answers for whether the founders would fight a war on drugs, teach intelligent design, and permit assisted suicide are very measured and accurate expositions of the thoughts of the founders on the fundamentals underlying these issues.

Of course the easiest critique to level against this book or any work like it is the fact that the founders were men of a different era and are all deceased. In fact, Brookhiser devotes an entire chapter in the early going to this very question. Without their living in the present age it is impossible to tell what they would think about saving social security, drilling in ANWR, or school vouchers. This is superficially true, but such an attitude would invalidate all knowledge, particularly all history as we know it. Aristotle has been dead for over two thousand years and yet he can still teach us a great deal about the world (properly corrected where he was in error). The same can be said about John Locke, Francis Bacon, Isaac Newton, George Washington, and James Madison.

The real problem with the premise of Brookhiser’s latest effort is that the founders were not infallible authorities to consult on political or ethical concerns. Their inability to deal with metaphysics, which Brookhiser points out, was a serious flaw, because they ended up stating their political breakthroughs as self-evident truths, when they were and are not. Though Brookhiser and the rest of us may want to go back to the founders and get the wisdom we seem to have lost, their advice is limited not only by time, but by their own deficiencies. In their age they could say radical liberty and individual rights were self-evident truths because few would dispute the point, but today’s post-modern world where people dispute the existence of reality, objectivity, truth, reason, and knowledge (the beginnings of which had only begun when the founders were achieving their greatest triumphs) requires something more. In the context of their own time the founders were heroic visionaries, men of ideas and action. Whether they could fight the philosophical quagmire of the present which threatens all their efforts to secure freedom and liberty to their posterity is far from certain. That being said, Mr. Brookhiser’s efforts to bring the founders intelligently and understandably to as many Americans as possible (not just scholars) are to be commended and encouraged. The seriousness and probity which the founders brought to all the issues they grappled with comes through clearly in this book and is something we should all strive to emulate.

Monday, May 08, 2006

The Da Vinci Code

Dan Brown's novel of Catholic Church intrique and Christian mystery has been turned into a major hollywood production starring Tom Hanks among others set for release this month.

While the plot of the story, that the catholic church covered up the bloodline of Jesus and Mary Magdalene and is attempting to prevent the discovery of this fact through the use of nefarious Opus Dei albino monks, is entertaining, it is not, as commonly alleged, anti-Christian at all. The whole premise, that Mary could have traveled to France and that anyone would have cared a wit at the time plays right into the Christian myth that Jesus was anything other than an insignificant Jewish peasant who, like many others during that period, claimed to be the much heralded messiah of the Jews. Also, the book does not portray the whole notion of Christ's bloodline having legitimate monarchical rights or any descendents of that line (Sofia) being some sort of mystical descendents of a demi-god as ridiculous or evil, instead the Catholic church is the villain for usurping the legitimate claimant to the power of Christ.

Added to this is the ridiculous notion that the "Priori of Scion" an organization of which relatively little is known but which claims as members Da Vinci and Isaac Newton, was responsible for protecting the Jesus-Mary bloodline. On top of that duty the Priori engages in sexual rites to commemorate the consummation of the Jesus-Mary relationship. Now while it is not hard to imagine the libertine Da Vinci engaged in such activity, the idea of Newton playing the role of Jesus in a primitive sexual rite is absurdist in the extreme. The historical pitfalls aside, the fact remains that the book, and movie, challenge nothing about Christianity at all. The underlying premise acknowledges that he was, indeed, the messiah (since the messiah is supposed to be descended from David, and thus the King of the Jews) and therefore was not a wackjob carpenter.

So while Catholics will no doubt be distraught over the notion that their church usurped from the children of Jesus the official mantle of Christendom, they should relax. The book is an affirmation of everything of any import to Christianity. It does not question Christian ethics, divinity, origins, death, etc., etc., etc. Also, goofy organizations like Opus Dei deserve ridicule even if they don't send out psychotic albinos to perpetuate elaborate coverups. Certainly this is not a moment for Atheists and friends of reason to rejoice, not for this book and movie.

At some level, even if Brown's theories within the novel, which have been published in other books of non-fiction, were true it's irrelevant. Religious people are not at their core concerned with evidence. People who buy into religions believe (depending on the variety) that dead people can come back to life, that the dead will be reborn (perhaps as a different species), that one man can carry an unmovable boulder a hundred miles, that a person can leave their body if they empty their heads for long enough, that they are eating human flesh and drinking human blood but not cannibals, that forgiving those who injure them makes them superior, that mutilating male genitalia is a sign of a compact with an invisible menace in the sky, that worshipping dead relatives will have an impact on the present, that every object has a spirit, that one can effect reality through wishes and hopes alone, etc. etc. The point here is that if evidence and reason actually meant anything fundamental to those who belong to religions there would not be any religions to plague mankind's existence.

The Da Vinci Code is an entertaining book more for its puzzles and plot twists than the dopey back story and pulp history. At it's core it is unoffensive to religion while carrying the guise of being a challenge to religion, a perfect formula for a bestseller among the faithful anf the skeptical.

Thursday, May 04, 2006


OK, so my posting has been very spotty for a while and on some strange topics at times. Now that my second semester of graduate school is winding down I will be making more frequent and, hopefully, more coherent posts. There are many depressingly interesting things going on right now, i.e. immigration debate, gas price hysteria, Iranian nuclear weapons procurement, etc, etc, etc.

I will do my best to offer any insights I can into these issues in the coming weeks and months. I am shifting all of my history related postings onto a new blog, "The Blog of the Early Republic," which is linked on the sidebar of this blog if you're interested in what I am doing on that front.

I don't plan to do any extended writing with this post, but I'll throw a few predictions out there (which I promise to come back to when that which they address is decided) for those of you reading to mull over and possibly dispute. 1) the Republicans will lose control of at least one of the houses of congress in the November elections, I am inclined to the Senate given the heavy gerrymandering of house districts, but I can see both possibly switching if things continue as they are. 2) should any legislation against price "gouging" or fixing prices, etc. towards gas and oil companies go into effect the price of gas will go higher almost immediately. 3) Hugo Chavez will not reliquish power voluntarily and will assume a formal dictatorship (or its equivalent) at some point as he is quickly becoming the hero of marxists and fellow travelers all over Latin America as well as the world. 4) this is a long way away, but I am pretty confident that there will be a Democrat in the White House as the 44th President in 2009 unless (and this is very unlikely) a moderate or liberal Republican emerges as the nominee and (much more likely) the Republicans lose at least partial control of the congress, the Democrats could mess this dynamic up is they nominate a real wackjob, but I anticipate that whoever makes it out of their nominating process will not be such a person, for what that's worth.

Anyway, when or if any of these things comes to pass, or does not, I will pull the prediction back up and explain my reasoning and how brilliant I was to anticipate such a result or (unlikely) why I turned out to be wrong.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

From small to big forebodings

This morning I heard that President Bush should not fire Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld because when one member of the cabinet goes there is a "blood in the water" effect in Washington that will demand that more heads role. This is not a reason for keeping Rumsfeld in his position. You cannot base your evaluations of performance of one individual on the possibility that other people may want others fired should you decide to fire the original person. This would be like the factory manager who refused to fire an incompetent boob because then his competitors might want him to fire other employees regardless of their quality.

Should the President fire Rumsfeld? So long as President Bush's war strategy is fundamentally flawed, which the prolonged Iraq battle is merely a symptom (as is the Iranian march into the nuclear age), I don't see how shifting the players beneath the President is going to make any difference.

According to (, American casualities currently amount to 2,377 killed, 17, 549 wounded. These numbers have amassed over a period from March, 2003 to the present day. American war casualties are never something to be looked upon with joy or even optimistically (at least for Americans) but in comparison to the bloodbaths of the last century and a half of warfare the numbers for the Iraq War are comparatively very low (we lost over 100,000 men dead in our very brief involvement at the end of World War I), particularly when one looks at the amount of time involved in the conflict. The problem with war casualties arises when the benefit to us does not make such a loss justifiable. In the case of Iraq, there has yet to be any benefit.

Conspiracy theorists ridiculously claimed the war war for oil, yet there has been no oil boon for anyone as a result of the war, due mainly to sabotage by terrorists inside the country. But there would have been no boon to American companies anyway as the nationalization of the oil industry effected by the Ba'ath Party so many decades ago was reaffirmed by the United States when it became an occupying authority. No privatization of the oil industry has been provided for in any of the drafts of Iraqi constitutions which have so far appeared and is unlikely unless an incipient capitalist movement is bubbling under the surface of Baghdad, or Washington for that matter.

The reasons for the war originally, the potential of Iraq to arm terrorists with weapons of mass destruction always fit other regional enemies much better (Iran and Syria) or that Saddam Hussein ran a terror regime which supported terrorists (which was true, but Iran makes Saddam look like a little bully in a candy shop), have been either unsubstantiated or made to look foolish by the fact that Iran is now doing whatever it wants after decades of unpunished terrorist action. The reasoning offered concurrently, but emphasized after it was clear the WMDs might not have existed, was to bring liberty to the Iraqis. I love liberty, I wish the whole world lived in liberty, but I do not think it the responsibility of the United States of America to correct the mistakes or tragedies of others. If we choose to do so, I expect to benefit from it and for the likelihood of success to be very good. Iraq did not meet these requirements, as we are so painfully seeing. With a rich history of republicanism to draw upon, not to mention plenty of examples of successful revolutions (and many more failed ones), there is no reason why the free countries of the world should go about freeing people, the benefits to us do not outweigh the costs. I maintain that the United States or any other free country has a right to do such a thing. Dictatorships and tyrannies abandon their right to rule when they abridge the individual rights of men. However, this is a separate question from whether we, or anyone else, should put our own citizens on the line for the enslaved peoples of the world.

As one who was ready, willing, and able to drop out of my freshman year of college on September 12, 2001 and go to war (the reason I did not do this has to do with a conversation with my father), and who supported whole-heartedly war in Afghanistan and even Iraq (though with the proviso that we not nation-build and that Iraq was not the primary or even main enemy of the United States), I am supremely disappointed in the current course of events. Ultimately, President Bush is responsible for this state of affairs, he has been dealt one of the most difficult hands any POTUS was ever dealt and he has unfortunately lost more hands than he has won. Difficulty does not excuse failure. America was not attacked by terrorism, which is a tactic of combatants, it was attacked by men with ideas, beliefs, financing, allegiances, and a cause. We must articulate what their cause is, identify its adherents, state-sponsors, and more importantly, articulate our own cause. Are we fighting, as we have in Afghanistan and Iraq, to spread Islamic theocracy and command economies around the middle east where such systems already exist in abundance? If so then we should pack it in and wait for the end, such a strategy has no hope of winning, just as trying to become Fortress America, preventing innocent immigrants from coming here, erecting trade barriers, etc. has no hope of making us safer or more prosperous. As both parties are so close on nearly all major issues, or when they may be right they end up being wrong (Democrats: right on abortion, then go on to try to subsidize it for poor people in this country and around the world, Republicans: right on trade, then go on to raise steel tariffs instead of repealing them outright), our hopes for actual security (while still holding onto those pesky civil liberties) are looking depressingly slim.

Add to all this the troubling rise of mysticism, in this country embodied in evagelical religious types as diverse as Jimmy Carter and Al Gore, to Pat Robertson and George W. Bush, and around the world embodied as Islamic fanatics trying to bring down the Western world, and you have a sad picture. As if this could not get any worse, the warriors assembled against these people, to avenge the secular Western world, consist of crazy loons (Ward Churchill) or people with virtually no ideas, concepts, or ability to think long term (or at all). Those who don't have their heads up their asses are so few and far between that transformation at this late stage is nearly the equivalent of the hail mary pass. But just like the nearly lost football game, you have to throw the ball, on the chance, however slim that you will come down with it in the endzone. The difference here is that if your receiver misses the ball or it is badly thrown, the worst that can result is a lost football game, in the world of today, a failed hail mary means doom, and not pie-in-the-sky religious doom, but actual collapse.

Friday, April 07, 2006


One's family can be one of the greatest sources of joy and love in life, but it can also prove to be an unshakeable albatross if one does not check one's premises. Like all relationships with other adults (children are a different case) only justice can be the foundation of comity and friendship, and even love. When one is born the character and worthliness of love of one's parents, siblings, and extended family is not up to the new entrant. The unfortunate fact of reality is that one has no choice as to whom constitutes the earliest familial relations, those choices were made long before the birth of a new child. This, while possibly inconvenient, is the way it is, but it does not change the ultimate basis of all relationships: justice.

When a child becomes an adult, i.e. has full control of his reasoning faculties and can deal with the world accordingly (whether he decides to use them, or uses them for good or ill is another set of matters), then he can properly evaluate whether or not his familial relations are validated by the existence of justice or not. For clarity, I have added below the definition of justice which I believe is validated by the facts of reality and the strictures of logic. This definition is the basis upon which I have based these thoughts upon the nature of familial relations.

"Justice is the recognition of the fact that you cannot fake the character of men as you cannot fake the character of nature, that you must judge all men as conscientuously as you judge inanimate objects, with the same respect for truth, with the same incorruptible vision, by as pure and as rational a process of identification--that every man must be judged for what he is and treated accordingly, that just as you do not pay a higher price for a rusty chunk of scrap than for a piece of shining metal, so you do not value a rotter above a hero--that your moral appraisal is the coin paying men for their virtues and vices, and this payment demands of you as scrupulous and honor as you bring to financial transactions--that to withhold you contempt for men's vices is an act of moral counterfeiting, and to withhold your admiration from their virtues is an act of moral embezzlement--that to place any other concern higher than justice is to devaluate your moral currency and defraud the good in favor of the evil, since only the good can lose by a default of justice and only the evil can profit--and that the bottom of the pit at the end of that road, the act of moral bankruptcy, is to punish men for their virtues and reward them for their vices, that that is the collapse to full depravity, the Black Mass of the worship of death, the dedication of your consciousness to the destruction of existence." - Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged (New York: Plume Books, 1957), 1019-20.

Certain problems arise out of family relationships, due to the fact that children grow up and spend their formative years under the care (hopefully) and tutelage of parents, which can complicate the picture of judging them on their individual merits later on. But because such judgement may be difficult and emotionally complicated does not mean that such judgement and evaluation should be abandoned, one cannot allow oneself to be inextricably tied to undesirable persons based on nothing more than blood connection (which is entirely out of one's hands), that is the morality of the savage tribe, not the thinking individual.

Now I will present two scenarios in which a person could find themself in adulthood when they should (and I would argue, must) judge the characters of their parents and extended family as regards the fundamental principle of justice, just as they would judge strangers before becoming friends.

Scenario A
A person grows up in an environment of warmth and affection, their wants are fulfilled, and they are highly valued by their parents. When this person is 14 there is a knock on the door and they go to answer it. When the door opens a policeman steps in and asks to speak with the Mr. and Mrs. which this young person runs off and fetches. The parents exchange knowing glances upon hearing the news and tell the child to go to their room, which the child does. As the child ascends the stairs the words, "I am Detective Peterson of the police department, have either of you heard of the Mutual Savings & Loan of .....," could be heard before the child closed the door of their room. Several minutes later the man now known as Detective Peterson enters the room of the child and informs this child of the unfortunate news that mommy and daddy will be going to the police station and that Ms. Jackson of the Department of Child Protection will be taking the child to her department headquarters. The news is received poorly, the child does not understand what is happening or why. The child protests; crying and screaming and refusing to leave the room, but is eventually subdued by officers and escorted to the DCP van waiting outside.

The explanation is this; while they are loving, these parents "provided" for themselves and child by robbing banks, which they would do twice a year. The child does not know how to process this information, he has been taught that stealing is wrong and immoral, yet the knowledge that his parents have engaged in this activity for years and have stolen hundreds of thousands of dollars has radically damaged his conception of them. The child still loves his parents, but he understands that what they have done is wrong. The child is too young to make an objective evaluation of his parents, but he senses that his happy childhood is over and was in some sense a fraud. How should the child proceed when he is able to judge the situation?

The proper evaluation of such parents is rather simple, but complicated by their superficial love for the child, which will be difficult for the child to set aside. The parents are theives and as such immoral and unethical, they have lived by the code that the property of others was legitimately theirs. Such people are fundamentally dishonest and cannot be trusted. Trust is the basis of any rational relationship with anyone, parents included. That the parents argued at the trial that their motivation for the robberies was to provide a comfortable life for their child is irrelevant. Noble ends do not justify ignoble means, their is no justice in attempting to provide for one's child by stealing the property of other people. If you are unable to support a family except through theft then you should not attempt to have a family. While these parents profess to love their child, this is a farce. How could they really love the child if they were willing to risk their long-term imprisonment and leave the child without their parents? Also, there are innumerable examples of loving parents, whom the child can easily observe, who provide for their children honestly. The child must come, if the child wishes to stay in touch with reality, to the conclusion that his parents were common criminals, living by an unethical and immoral code. The child, now an adult, would never associate with such persons voluntarily and considers it an affornt to himself that those pretending to be loving parents should force such an association upon him as an unknowing child. He would and should sever his relations with his parents unless they served out the time justice demanded of them and then attempted to legitimately and honestly apologize to their child for their actions and the effects those actions had on his childhood. But the onus for reconciliation is entirely upon them, he owes them nothing and if he so chooses to have nothing to do with his parents, it is entirely the fault of the parents.

Scenario B
Two parents and eight children. One parent (Parent A) is abusive of the children and the other parent, mentally, physically and even sexually. The other parent (Parent B) responds to the abuse by doing nothing, neither protecting the children from Parent A or going to the authorities. When one of the children is able to break free of this predicament and shine the light of the law upon the situation, Parent B and the other children, some near adulthood and others still children, remain silent. The word of one person will not be enough for justice to be done and the case fails. The child who broke away is crushed by the cowardice of the other abused relatives. Eventually, while not dealing with Parent A, the brave child keeps relationships with the cowardly fellow victims, including Parent B who bears chief blame for the cowardly silence which allowed Parent A to remain free. Parent B eventually shows the character traits that would have made the match with Parent A possible to begin with; treachery, theivery, and dishonesty. The victims of Parent B include the brave child as well as some of the other children. The brave child treacheroulsy robbed by Parent B. No apology or reparations are ever made or ever attempted. The brave child is outraged and refuses to deal with Parent B again. This justified outrage is attacked by the other children, their cowardice now firmly entrenched and reinforced by irrational religious dogmas which demand unjust forgiveness. Their cowardice also prevents and stymies any ability they may have had to judge others, they were compromised by their cowardice in the trial against Parent A, they are culpable for the abuse which followed and on some level they are aware of this. Eventually, Parent B becomes gravely ill. The cowardly and immoral children rally round Parent B, their guilty partner in their treachery. They begin making demands on the most ill-used of their siblings, the brave child, for money and support for Parent B. What should be done?

The answer to this scenario is quite simple, though as always, complicated by the nature of familial relations. None of the people in this scenario, except for the brave child, is of any worth at all. Parent A is a monster deserving only of the justice denied by the cowardice of Parent B and the other children. Parent B is no more a parent than Parent A, for the simple reason that Parent B did nothing to stop Parent A from abusing Parent B or the children. While some leeway can be given for the victim status of Parent B, this is not endless leeway, something should have been done, particularly when the abuse became sexual. At that point all leeway ends. Options included going to the authorities or if that was impossible for some reason, i.e. fear for one's life, then crippling violence or even deadly violence was justified. No action was ever taken until the brave child stepped forward and did what Parent B should have done years earlier, that is if Parent B wanted to be any kind of parent at all. The subsequent moral failure of Parent B and the other children in condemning Parent A and ending the abuse, instead making the brave child look like a liar and feeling abandoned, was perhaps as great a wrong as Parent A's actions.

When Parent B, despite the undeserved comity offered by the brave child, spits upon the offered friendship instead robbing the brave child, Parent B effectively surrenders whatever worthiness for friendliness Parent B had left, if any. The fact that, when the brave child reacts with perfect justice and outrage at the theft perpetrated by Parent B, the other children condemn not Parent B but the brave child is unsurprising. Forever compromised by their cowardice and moral failing in the trial against Parent A, the other children will look for any chance to appear superior to the brave child, which they can justify in this case by appealing to Christian notions of forgiveness. Christian notions of forgiveness are completely irrational (forgiving those who abuse you) and have nothing to do with justice. Any country founded upon such a precept as turning the other cheek would be invaded immediately, knowing that the invaded country would (instead of defending itself) offer up more territory. Their attempt at righteousness is chimerical at best, they know they are compromised moral cowards, and are grasping at whatever straws offer themselves.

The brave child should disassociate themself from Parents A & B unconditionally, they have committed heinous wrongs and are unforgivable by any just standard. The fact that the brave child does not (and ought not) have to give any money to help Parent B is predicated on the severing of the ties of comity which Parent B committed, twice. One would not give money to save a gravely ill stranger and Parent B is morally much worse than a stanger in regards to the brave child.

As for the siblings of the brave child. They would first have to unconditionally admit fault for their actions against the brave child in the trial against Parent A and their false and hollow righteousness concerning the robbery of the brave child by Parent B, then and only then could they beg forgiveness of the brave child and hope that they will be so favored and absolved. The fact remains that they are not worthy of such moral toleration and they are aware of it.

The point here is that the only arbiter in all human relationships, of love, friendship, or the lack of those postive emotional responses (indifference, hatred, etc.), must be justice if they are to be rational and, if positive in nature, fulfilling. One is under no obligations to deal with anyone they do not wish to deal with. The fact that people are related to you does not give them carte blanche to do whatever they want to you or to others and still retain your respect, affections, and moral toleration.

No one can pick their relations when they are born. You are handicapped in this respect if the ones you are born with turn out of be morally bankrupt. If that proves to be the case then the only recourse becomes exactly the same as in all other relations with non-related individuals. A rational person avoids relationships with liars, criminals, child abusers, moral cowards, etc. in the course of their lives when they encounter such undesirable characters. The only difference with family relatives is that one is forced, until adulthood, to deal with such persons (if you are unlucky enough to be related to them). Though it will most often prove much more painful to sever connection with unworthy relatives than vaguely known strangers, such severence must still occur and for the same reasons.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Hague Justice

Slobodan Milosevic expired sometime this morning in his prison cell at the "International Court of Justice" in The Hague, Netherlands, in the fourth year of his genocide and crimes against humanity trial, which could only have culminated in a life sentence, if he was found guilty. This farce makes one wish for the Nuremberg trials again, the precedent setting waste of time upon which this whole monstrosity is built, where one at least knew the "trial" was going to be short, the outcome assured, and the penalty, in most cases, death. Whether one is dealing with the "Butcher of the Balkans," Saddam Hussein, Ceausescu, or Mussolini, everyone knows that these dictators are guilty of mass murder and the wholesale destruction of individual rights and lives. They are deserving only of death and the undying contempt of history. Anything else, particularly the years long spectacle of a trial where there is at least the theoretical possibility of their being set free and declared "innocent" is a horrific joke and slap in the face of those who suffered under tyranny and oppression. The Hague, instead of embodying the principle of enlightened justice, is representing the barbaric worship of forms, criminals, irrationality, and injustice in the extreme. The "International Court of Justice" should be disbanded immediately, as Milosevic's demise of ill-health/old age while waiting for an end of his trial, a verdict, and a sentence was the exact same if the court had just immediately declared him guilty, and that is unacceptable by any rational standard of justice.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Notes from the Bizarro World

You would think that a state that regularly elects a man who killed a woman, after drunkenly driving her into the water while dragging himself to shore and then going to sleep, would have no qualms about sexist discrimination or male/female differences. Not so. Ted Kennedy may have been able to get a pass from the voters and political leaders of Massachusetts for killing Mary Jo Kopechne, but what really creates a ruckus around these parts is something so vile, so heinous, so utterly contemptible that I have struggled and wrestled for several hours over whether I should share it with the rest of the world, though I hardly see how keeping it local will be possible considering the horrendous nature of this injustice. Below I have pasted the first three paragraphs of the news story in the Worcester Telegram & Gazette:


Female police cadets have failed a state-required physical test at a much higher rate than men, triggering concerns among Boston and Worcester police leaders. They have called for a review of parts of the exam, saying it could be discriminatory. The statistics come at a time when police chiefs across the state are pushing for greater female representation in their departments, and some have questioned whether the design of an obstacle course as part of the physical exam indirectly discriminates against women. Boston Police Commissioner Kathleen M. O'Toole has expressed concern, and Worcester Police Chief Gary J. Gemme said the test has excluded candidates who otherwise are well-qualified to be police officers.

Clearly, the situation here is dire. That females would generally perform behind men on a police obstacle course could only shock and disturb a selection of humanity that has been so blind to reality for such an extended period of time that the term "bizarro world" is scarcely adequate to describe it. Normally, I would include some sort of explanation of rational and irrational discrimination, i.e. discriminating against a qualified person based on ethnicity is irrational as it does not pertain at all to performance, whereas discriminating against those unable to pass a physical test for an extremely demanding physical job would seem to make eminent sense, but such an explanation hardly seems worth my while.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Listening to the Stars

I will preface this post by saying that anyone who listens to celebrities without any discrimination to that celebrity's ability to reason, but just because they are famous and rich (thus they must be doing something right and ingenious), deserves to be led astray.

That being said, sometimes celebrities use their media position to inform the rest of us of their often idiotic insights about the world. A perfect example occurred at the very beginning of the Academy Awards when George Clooney, after winning for best supporting actor, informed everyone that he liked "being out of touch" with the rest of Hollywood (itself a dubious concept) because it was this state of being out of touch that achieved the successes of the civil rights movement (here I was thinking that anything good that came out of that morally corrupted movement was the work of grassroots civil disobedience by those who were actually having their rights violated, and not because of any agitation from the likes of Harry Belafonte, Carl Reiner, etc.) and any other perceived reform movement since Cecil B. DeMille left New York City. Clooney is an idiot, one who has parlayed his boyish charms and liberal politics into a career (which is fortunate for him as nearly all of his movies are box office poison).

Today's post was not motivated by Clooney however, but by two twits in the country music world who decided to enlighten us all on how the governments response to hurricane Katrina demonstrated the utter bankruptcy of modern America. This case could possibly be made along the lines of altruism utterly infecting both parties and extending to all levels of government, thus creating this situation where people affected sit around and wait for the government to do something instead of rebuilding their lives by themselves and/or with their friends and families. Or how respect for property in America is so corroded that the immediate reaction of large numbers of people to such a catastrophe was to loot and pillage their fellow citizens simply because their were no police around (or because the looters were in some instances police). I might not agree with such a critique, but were these the arguments proferred by Faith Hill and Tim McGraw, I would find them intellectually stimulating and at least cogent. Instead these dynamic duo of country and half-wits everywhere posited these gems upon us:

"When you have people dying because they're poor and black or poor and white, or because of whatever they are -- if that's a number on a political scale -- then that is the most wrong thing. That erases everything that's great about our country." - Tim McGraw

"I fear for our country if we can't handle our people [during] a natural disaster. And I can't stand to see it. It doesn't take a brain surgeon to figure out point A to point B. . . . And they can't even skip from point A to point B." - Faith Hill

Faith Hill added that the response of the government was "embarrassing" and "humiliating," not because it has consisted of mass expropriation of wealth from the rest of the country for a disaster that was no more the fault of the rest of us as it was those affected by it, but because it wasn't fast enough an expropriation. The fact that the federal government has given itself the immoral, unconstitutional, and illogical task of responding to natural disasters and terrorist attacks with mass payouts to the victims and their families is indicative of whats wrong with the country. The fact that poor people suffer worse during disasters and economic downturns and attacks than rich is not what is wrong with this country or any other. It's what's wrong with being poor and so long as the poor are not prevented from getting out of that condition through hardwork, frugality, and self-discipline (by some sort of caste, aristocratic society of status setup, i.e. enactments and laws of the state) then those who remain poor are largely responsible for their condition. For those who are truly poor through absolutely no fault of their own it does not then follow that its the fault of the rest of us that they are poor. Social mobility still exists and has numerous proofs in the ranks of the rich and famous, not to mention the great mass of people who, while not rich, are certainly not living in poverty.

If anything, the tragedy of modern America is that nincompoops like Tim and Faith, not to mention Bill Gates, are those who rise to great fame and wealth, and go on to preach and dictate to the rest of us.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Democrats Going Crazy

Going through the partisan blogosphere (on either side of the third party system) is sometimes amusing, but usually just pathetic. Wandering into the democratic contribution today I stumbled upon one of the goofiest things I've ever discovered on the web. It is a page promoting a children's book called "Why Mommy is a Democrat" and it has sample pages. This book shows the utter bankruptcy of Democrats in terms of ideas, their conception of keeping people safe it protect them from elephant monsters (Republicans), their conception of economic policy equates to kids sharing their toys (as if this in any way relates to the hard earned fortunes of individuals in the economy at large, not to mention you typically don't pull a gun on a kid to get him to share his "toys"). Both parties are running short of any ideas at all, and this book in only illustrative of the general trend.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Book Recommendation
Today I am recommending David M. Potter's seminal study of the crises and conflicts which prefaced the years before the Civil War, The Impending Crisis. The reason I think other, non-historians, would benefit from this book is very simple. Potter is perhaps one of the most gifted historians I have come across in terms of boiling down incredibly complex political actions and conflicts to their essentials, without losing their messiness. On top of that Potter writes in a very readable, logical, and clear style that will be very refreshing to all historians and non-historians alike. If you ever wanted to know the real deal about the end of the Mexican-American War, the election of Zachary Taylor, the crisis over organizing the Mexican cession, the Compromise of 1850, the demise of the Whig party, the Kansas-Nebraska Act, the formation of the Republican party, the Dred-Scott case, John Brown and Harper's Ferry, the inefficacy of James Buchanan, and the election of Abraham Lincoln and the events of the secession winter (1860-1861) which led to the attack by Confederate South Carolinians on Fort Sumter, April 12, 1861, then this is the best one-volume book on this whole period that has yet been written.

Friday, February 17, 2006

So Much For Good Wars

As you may have heard, the student leaders at the University of Washington have refused to authorize the building of a memorial for deceased alumnus Colonel Gregory "Pappy" Boyington, one of the top American fighter aces of World War II. It has oft been said by all sorts of people, from liberal newsman Tom Brokaw to liberal historians like Steven Ambrose, that World War II was a good war fought by the alleged "greatest" generation of Americans. Not so to those currently in charge of memorials at the University of Washington, for them there is no such thing as a good war, to them Boyington's heroics boil down to him being just some guy who killed a lot of people (he had 26 confirmed kills).

The students attempted to justify this injustice in any number of ways, one claiming that a member of the marine corps was not what the University of Washington was looking to produce. Yet another claimed the University of Washington had already erected enough monuments to "rich white men." Even those not ultimately hostile to a Boyington monument wanted him recognized for his "sacrifice" and "service" as opposed to his positive achievement of destroying a great number of enemy planes, earning the Congressional Medal of Honor, or enduring the final 20 months of the war as a prisoner of the Japanese. Even the ultimate "good" war, turns out to be just as bad as every war, because people were killed. This context dropping and disintegrated thinking is alarming and sad. The Japanese attacked us, Hitler declared war on us, we defended ourselves and in the process individuals distiguished themselves heroically defending their country against some of the gravest totalitarians of the 20th century.

The pantheon of these heroes makes for a long list, just some of the names on that list include, Audie Murphy, Chuck Yeager, Jimmy Stewart, Joe Kennedy Jr., Chester Nimitz, George Patton, Douglas MacArthur, and Pappy Boyington. We celebrate these heroes, not just because they excelled at killing enemy soldiers and out-maneuvering enemy generals (though they did this), but because without their heoric efforts our country may not have prevailed. Thus we come to the actual reason for refusing a monument to one of these heroes. They don't want American to win. They don't want America to prevail. To them America is perhaps the biggest mistake in the world. It is America that is responsible for 1) Indian holocaust, 2) racism and slavery, 3) Puritanism, 4) worker exploitation, 5) environmental rape, 6) the mass extinction of animals, 7) global warming, 8) dropping two atom bombs, 9) invading countries for oil, 10) stealing the southwest from Mexico, 11) using "free trade" to expropriate the wealth of developing countries, 12) oppressing women, 13) oppessing chickens, 14) having too big a gap between richest and poorest, 15) not taxing rich people enough, 16) taxing poor people too much, 17) not nationalizing companies, 18) paying companies too many subsidies, 19) supporting the world bank and IMF and making loans to poor countries, 20) requiring poor countries to pay back loans, 21) giving money to autocratic governments in Africa, 22) not giving enough money to autocratic governments in Africa for AIDS, this list could go on forever. Clearly America is, as one enemy has deemed, "the Great Satan." Honoring anyone who allowed such a country to go on existing would be perverse.

The students at the University of Washington are hopeless, mired in so much PC mental garbage that any of them climbing out of it will be a truly heroic act. But I wouldn't count on it. I suspect Boyington would prefer no monument until the students understand and appreciate why they are building it and why Boyington risked his life in the skies over the Pacific.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Hooray for Mocking Religion

With the entire muslim world in an uproar over some goofy drawings of Muhammed, threatening to kill those responsible for the cartoons as well as some ill-defined retaliation against the governments who "let" such atrocities occur, now is as good a time as ever to cheer on those who mock religions and their adherents. Given that the big three religions (Judaeism, Chrisitianity, Islam, not to mention the hilarious religions of the rest of the world) posit ridiculous moral codes upon their adherents and demand that they believe, respectively, that an old geiser climbed a mountain and was given stone tablets from a god that only he could see, that an insiginificant Jewish peasant walked on water and came back to life after death in non-zombie form, and that a tribal conquerer hefted a humongous boulder (which no one is allowed to see) from Medina to Mecca single-handedly, the only amazing thing is that they are not made fun of more often and in much more cutting fashion than these rather lame drawings.

Thomas Jefferson once called the absurdity of the virgin birth of Jesus a fable of "the generation of Minerva in the brain of Jupiter" and he was being kind since the Greco-Roman myths are far more valuable and entertaining when read without any mystical attachment, unlike their Judeo-Christian-Islamic successors. Religions have two main parts; a ridiculous mythology which serves to provide examples of the other part, a mystical/revelation/altruism philosophy. Despite the efforts of those, like Jefferson, to get rid of the insupportable baggage of the first part in favor of just appreciating the second, the two are inextricably intertwined. There is no more rational support for the idiotic and ridiculous utterances of Jesus ("Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth," "Give unto Caesar that which is Caesar's, Give unto God that which is God's") than there is for his turning water into wine or popping out of a virgin womb (Who was Mary's PR person?). Christianity holds no monopoly on mystical irrationality. Islam, like any other religion, is built on it. Turning a conqueror like Muhammed into a prophet of some god is as great an achievement as turning a complete loser like Jesus into one, except we would have remembered Muhammed as a conqueror, religion or no religion, whereas Jesus would have been forgotten with every other crazy Jewish peasant in Judea in the time of Augustus and Tiberius.

So some people in Denmark had the guts to draw some funny pictures of Muhammed? Good for them. Instead of at the very least, being neutral with respect to the taste or lack thereof of these drawings, the United States government has sided with the religious nutjobs out there in saying the cartoons are offensive. The reasoning cited for this move of striking brilliance is that America was founded by religious dissidents who wanted to worship freely. How can those in charge of the government be so ignorant of that government's history?

One colony, the Massachusetts Bay Colony, was founded by dissenters, a group of Puritans so radical that the English Puritans wanted nothing to do with them. They set up a society in which they, and only they, could worship "freely." If anyone dissented, they were kicked out, hence Rhode Island was setup by a dissident of the dissidents, Roger Williams. Add to that the fact that anyone accused of being a witch by any group of teenage brats would be hung unless they admitted that they were indeed a minion of Satan, or somehow proved their innocence (the only way to do that seemingly was to be married to the Governor of the colony). Pennsylvania was established by tolerant Quakers, while Maryland was a haven of those hated religionists of the colonial and early republic years, Roman Catholics. Virginia established the church of england, which stayed established into the early years of the republic (thanks to Patrick Henry, not one of his better moments), but was under assault from those who actually founded the United States, i.e. Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, among others. No one, including me, is saying or could say reasonably, that religion had no effect or role among the founders, but more important to them (as I would hope for us as well) was eliminating religion from the government as one of the principal sources of strife, warfare, and hostility among the peoples of Europe and America for hundreds of years.

This is true today of the Western world, where Israel stands out as having a state religion, but not true of the muslim world. It should be instructive that the West is defined by a geographical direction as opposed to a religion whereas what might be called the East (or more optimistically part of the West) is defined by a religious faith. All governments in the muslim world swear fealty to Islam as some source of their laws and legitimacy (the constitution of Saudi Arabia is the Koran, but don't let that fool you, the house of Saud rules by its own whim). If and unless that changes, what should be the pastime of all rational folk around the world, ridiculing the religious and mocking their crazy stories and idols, will be met (in the case of Islam) with crazy people in the streets threatening to kill others for their ideas and drawings as opposed to just turning to the next page in a newspaper or not reading it at all.

By the way, we should all be proud that among the governments in the muslim world complaining of this "outrage" is Iraq. That is turning out just swell.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

The Ultimate Achievement: Kissing Bono's Ass

That great cultural hero, U2 lead singer "Bono" [Bah - no], author of such classic and poetic passages like the following from "Mysterious Ways,"

Johnny toke a walk/With your sister the moon/Let her pale light in/To fill up your room/You’ve been living underground/Eating from a can/You’ve been running away/From what you don’t understand/She’s slippy/Your’re sliding down/She’ll be there/When you hit the ground/It’s’s’s alright/She moves in mysterious ways/It’s’s’s alright/She moves in mysterious ways,

and of course what might possibly be the greatest thing ever written from the song "If God Will Send His Angels,"

Nobody else here baby/No one here to blame/No one to point the finger/It’s just you and me and the rain/Nobody made you do it/No one put words in your mouth/Nobody here taking orders/When love took a train heading south/It’s the blind leading the blond/It’s the stuff, it’s the stuff of country songs/Hey if God will send his angels/And if God will send a sign/And if God will send his angels/Would everything be alright/God has got his phone off the hook, babe/Would he even pick up if he could/It’s been a while since we saw that child/Hanging ’round this neighbourhood/You see his mother dealing in a doorway/See father christmas with a begging bowl/Jesus sister’s eyes are a blister/The high street never looked so low/It’s the blind leading the blond/It’s the cops collecting for the cons/So where is the hope and where is the faith/And the love...what’s that you say to me/Does love...light up your christmas tree/The next minute you’re blowing a fuse/And the cartoon network turns into the news/If God will send his angels/And if God will send a sign/And if God will send his angels/Where do we go/Where do we go/Jesus never let me down/You know jesus used to show me the score/Then they put jesus in show business/Now it’s hard to get in the door/It’s the stuff, it’s the stuff of country songs/But I guess it was something to go on

is a surprisingly effective and modernly irritating "do-gooder."

It should be quite obvious to everyone why "Bono" is the darling of world leaders and able to brow-beat governments around the world to relieve the debts of corrupt African governments and to fork over money for aids drugs, and the patents to those drugs so that they can be produced without those pesky property rights getting in the way. I mean, when you are dealing with an artistic mind that could produce the above passages, among numerous others, it is easy to understand why everyone would be intimidated.

Seriously though, Bono's continued presence on the scene beyond his extremely limited musical capacity is perhaps one of the most annoying and aggravating developments in recent times. It's no mystery why, he meets so many requirements for media attention. 1) He's already famous, 2) He's a big-time altruist, 3) He's a politically correct, mentally vacuous liberal and 4) He's more vocal than bandmate "The Edge" [the crackerjack box where these idiots picked up their names has got to be worth a fortune]. So when he turned up this morning at the equally dubious cold war relic and mystically inspired "National Prayer Breakfast," with numerous senators, congressmen, and the President I was, to say the least, disgusted. At times like this I begin to lose my last vestiges of hope.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

The False Hope of Democracy

It has been the sincerely felt desire of President George W. Bush that "democracy" take root in the Middle East. The hope is that once the method of choosing their leaders/oppressors changes that liberty and freedom will somehow, inexorably and self-evidently, take over. Everyone has heard the President and others in the administration tout the elections of Afghanistan, Iraq, and (until 25 January 2006) the Palestinian territories as victories in the on-going war on terrorism. Bush such naivete and false hope was dashed when the terrorist group Hamas won a fair and convincing victory in the January 25 Palestinian parliamentary election. Said election can now join its rightful place in the history of democracy's greatest and most appalling failures, along with Athens in the forced suicide of Socrates, Athens in the Peleponnesian War and the fall of the Weimar Republic in Germany in 1932-33.

I once wrote on the difference between republican and democratic government and in that essay I came to the crucial flaw of democracy, i.e. unlimited majority rule, with the following passage:

"What legitimacy is gained from getting a majority of voters to pass anything? If 70% of voters vote to ban gay marriage, does that make it right? If 51% of voters vote to ban smoking, does that make it right? If 99.99% vote to redistribute property, does that make it right? The answer to all of these is "NO!" absolutely not. Truth isn't determined by how many adherents one can get to go along with you."

Democracy is nothing more than rule by majority, whatever majority can be cobbled together for any cause, whether it be property redistribution or property protection. There can be no rights in a democracy because provisions against the state are barriers against majorities, a contradiction for any true democracy as one preacher of democracy, Rousseau, reminds us of repeatedly in his Social Contract. The Palestinians have merely confirmed this for the world. If President Bush and his team ignore this blatantly obvious message then they imperil their own legacies, and much more importantly American lives and interests abroad and at home.

This is an unneccesary question imposed by President Bush's misguided strategy to rebuild the societies of the countries whose governments we destroy in order to eliminate terrorist supporting regimes. It is not our responsibility to do any such thing. If the residents of Iraq, Afghanistan and the Palestinian territories cannot look at the obvious historical record and move to establish free secular republics when given the opportunity by our destruction of the previous tyranny then they obviously aren't ready for the demands of such societies. Trying to build such a society (which isn't what we are doing, we are building semi-free, quasi-religious parliamentary republics) is like constructing a house upon a bed of quicksand, doomed to sink into oblivion. The only reason some sort of success was achieved in Germany and Japan, the example upon which Bush is basing his strategy, is because those countries were utterly destroyed and already westernized, thus making the transition relatively easy. These conditions do not exist in any way and even if they did it would still not be our job to engage in such activities.

The interesting thing in this situation is that before people castigated Israel for attacking Palestinian terrorists because "innocent" Palestinians were killed in the crossfire. Now all Palestinians are indicted as never before by having a terrorist state as a duly elected edifice above them. Israel and the United States would be perfectly justified in eliminating such a state and its supporters as they were justified in eliminating Hamas when it was "just" a terrorist group and not a ruling party in a government. What would be a tragic farce indeed would be the spectacle of the free world contributing money to the Palestinians ruled by an openly terrorist regime. It would be even more tragic than the free world contributing money to the slightly covert terrorist regime of Fatah under Arafat and Abbas. It will be a long time indeed, if ever, before the Palestinian people regain any credibility as serious and rational proponents for anything, let alone peace.