Friday, December 9, 2011

Old Fashioned Writing

     Many people become more conservative as they age. Part of this shift is surely the wisdom of experience, but it would be pointless to pretend the process is entirely rational. Some of the drift toward conservatism derives from the loss of the world we knew in youth. When young, we learn all about the world. We learn how to talk, dress, and behave appropriately in that world. Once that world begins to disappear, we feel mal-adapted, and it is no wonder we resist further change. Yet again, another part of the conservative drift has to do more with æsthetics than anything else. It is not so much that we feel mal-adapted to appreciate the music of the young, for instance, as it is that we feel the music of our youth was simply better. We feel this all the more keenly when the change in the world is not just a shift in taste but the effective demise of what we love. For instance, the rise of the keyboard, the mouse, and the touch screen has effectively killed the old fashioned art of penmanship.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Forget Them Not

     Three score and ten years ago—a lifetime, in fact—Americans were called by history to rise and answer a challenge greater than any we have faced since. For all the horror of the attacks on 9/11, there was no military peer behind them. There was no empire. In 1941, Americans understood they were threatened with the fall of the republic to an imperial aggressor. In 2001, Americans understood they were not. We, the grateful children and grandchildren of the generation that fought and won a total war, will not forget their patriotism. Nor, if we are wise, will we squander the liberty they secured for us.

USS Maryland alongside capsized USS Oklahoma, December 7, 1941.
Photo credit:  U.S. National Park Service


Saturday, December 3, 2011

Why Do Skeptics Not Believe In God?

     The estimable Mark English posed a question rather like this some time recently. It has been rolling around in my mind since then. In my case, to the extent I was aware of anything like religion before about age six I seem to have assumed that “God and Jesus” were givens. About that time there was a conversation with my father. I still remember two sentences of it clearly. I said to him, “But you have to admit that God and Jesus exist, right?” He said, “No.” From then on I do not remember thinking about religion much for many years. I went to church when visiting the religious members of our extended family. I liked the formality, the music, the sense of common bond. But I always knew I was an alien in the congregation. Sometimes, on these visits, I would be sent to Sunday school. Once, having run across some book on what was not yet called Wicca, it appeared a good idea to explain to the other teens in Sunday school that so-called witches didn’t really worship the Devil. They worshipped nature instead, so give them a break. I can’t remember whether there were any family conversations afterward, but it seems likely the Sunday school teacher would have spoken to my local relatives, who would likely have spoken to my parents, who apparently decided that I was even then free to make up my own mind about things.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Skeptical Gratitude

     The American holiday of Thanksgiving is an example of a useful tradition. Somehow, and perhaps more than with Christmas, the original purpose of the holiday seems to have survived. While many American children firmly believe the purpose of Christmas is solely to get presents (and too many American parents over-endorse that belief), one can still hear the ritualistic question every November, “What do you have to be thankful for?” If this impression is accurate, then the reason appears to be the differing religious content of the two holidays. The Santa Claus myth, transmuted by commercialism into a fully materialist celebration, has neatly replaced the older celebration of the birth of the Christian savior. Anti-Christian media have systematically endorsed this shift, funded as they are by advertising. Skeptical conservatives are no doubt ambivalent about it all, since whatever advance there may be in loosening the old theology is partly and disappointingly balanced by the new theology—materialist consumerism. As for Thanksgiving, though, the original feast (or at least the legend of the feast, which is what we commemorate) was about gratitude for a worldly bounty. After a 66-day sea voyage, a winter of sickness and death, the colonists finally managed a robust harvest in the fall of 1621. Worldly bounty fits rather well into the current paradigm of values. For that matter, the fact that Squanto knew more about how to survive in America than the colonists sounds a bell for multiculturalism as well. So, there is no real difficulty maintaining the forms of the original feast.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Another Leftist Judge Votes Against Liberty

     In a typically important piece published yesterday, agnostic conservative George Will draws our attention to a recent federal court decision on the president’s health care law:
Shortly before the Supreme Court agreed to rule on the constitutionality of Obamacare’s individual mandate, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit affirmed its constitutionality. Writing for the majority, Judge Laurence H. Silberman, a Reagan appointee, brusquely acknowledged that upholding the mandate means there is no limit to Congress’s powers under the Commerce Clause. Fortunately, Silberman’s stark assertion may strengthen the counterargument. Silberman forces the Supreme Court’s five conservatives to face the sobering implications of affirming the power asserted with the mandate.
     Will’s treatment of the issue is excellent. Will specifically addresses the interplay between the rights of citizens and the powers of government. He notes the distinction between economic rights and virtually all other rights of citizens by the Supreme Court during the past 75 years. It has been a jurisprudence of illogic, wherein the citizen’s immoral lifestyle choices are somehow sacrosanct—no matter the collateral damage they inflict on his neighbors—but his right to his own property is subject to majority toleration.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Plan B: Monarchy?

     Machiavelli believed that the institutions laid down in a republic at its birth are of little use later, when the people have become corrupt. For him, virtue and corruption had to do with the eagerness or reluctance of a people to hold liberty over any other value. Thus, Machiavelli would consider virtuous a proudly free population such as that which threw off the yoke of England in Eighteenth Century America. He would consider corrupt a population dedicated to self-indulgence and dependency, for which it was willing to trade much of its liberty. It is difficult to be clear-eyed about one’s own time, but there are certainly many indications that Twenty-First Century America is less attached to the rigors of liberty than to the charms of license. Defeatism is its own reward, and hereabouts the tenor is intended to be optimistic. However, it may be worthwhile on occasion to run some thought experiments about what to do if the U.S. eventually loses all its necessary virtue (in the Machiavellian sense). One plan, currently under discussion around the conservative blogosphere, is monarchy.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Moral Consensus

     This week’s revelations about the crimes and cover-up at Pennsylvania State University clarify that all too often our heroes, like the idol in Dante’s Inferno, have feet of clay. That the most successful college football coach of all should have kept quiet for nine years about ghastly crimes, having made a single report to the university authorities, has disillusioned everyone. Of course the perpetrator himself should be jailed for as long as the law allows; but the sting, the sense of outrage and disappointment, rightly includes Joe Paterno himself. Knowing what he knew, how could he not have done more to prevent the ongoing offenses? No doubt he reasoned himself into acquiescence, in which whatever benefit he thought Sandusky provided the football program somehow outweighed the crimes Sandusky continued to commit. This is how otherwise moral people depart from the larger consensus of conduct.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Eleven Eleven Eleven

USS Lexington.
Photo by the author.
World War I was to have been the war to end all wars. The original holiday celebrating the end of war, Armistice Day, necessarily became Veterans Day when, with World War II, it became clear that war is far from over. There could hardly be a better object lesson that human nature survives even the most enlightened experiments in government. That said, there may be some reason for optimism. Although war is far from being merely an artifact of archaeology, Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker believes he has found evidence that violence in all forms does seem to have declined as a factor in human experience. The singular insight of the skeptical conservative project is that human nature does not change much over time, and that therefore abandoning tradition wholesale is unwise. It would be a strong but welcome challenge to skeptical conservatism if it could be demonstrated that human nature is malleable enough that hope for paradise on earth is not just naïve utopianism. Time will tell. In the meantime, in advance of the eleventh day of the eleventh month of the eleventh year of this century, we salute the veterans whose patriotism has made and preserved liberty.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

The Vocabulary of Victory

     In his original address to Congress and the American people, after the attacks of September 11th, President George W. Bush stated, “Our ‘war on terror’ begins with al-Qaeda, but it does not end there. It will not end until every terrorist group of global reach has been found, stopped and defeated.” Bush exhorted Americans to find the best in themselves and rise to the challenge of their time. “Freedom and fear are at war. The advance of human freedom, the great achievement of our time and the great hope of every time, now depends on us. Our nation, this generation, will lift the dark threat of violence from our people and our future. We will rally the world to this cause by our efforts, by our courage. We will not tire, we will not falter and we will not fail.” Bush promised it would be a long war that would test our patience and determination. “It is my hope that in the months and years ahead life will return almost to normal. We’ll go back to our lives and routines and that is good. Even grief recedes with time and grace. But our resolve must not pass.” Essentially, the president challenged us Americans. With the announcement this week that our military withdrawal from Iraq will be virtually total, and our continuing commitment to withdraw from Afghanistan with the Taliban undefeated, it is not clear how well we have met that challenge.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Abortion Logic

     Herman Cain’s recent kerfuffle on whether abortion should be a matter of private conscience or government prohibition brings to light an interesting fact: The public dislikes abortion more and more. Almost alone among core conservative principles, the right-wing position on abortion seems to be making converts. Where agenda items like women in combat and special privileges for homosexuals are winning adherents, abortion is actually less popular than it used to be. At least in polling. At least in some polling. Still, there is some evidence that the absolute number of abortions in the United States is declining. In the context of the Leftist cultural hegemony, such equivocal statistics are a veritable benison for conservatives. The question naturally arises, to what do we owe such a blessing? For once, the answer may very well be logic.

Friday, October 14, 2011

The Occupation of Wall Street

     For almost a month now, a fluctuating group of demonstrators has been camping out in a park in New York. Calling themselves “Occupy Wall Street,” the group has made assorted demands, including free college and cancellation of debts. The group has been nonviolent, as far as has been reported, but the reportage has been predictably problematic. For instance, American media outlets have generally avoided mention of the more disreputable conduct of the occupiers, including an alleged act of public defecation on a police car. I say alleged, but the Daily Mail obtained a photograph. While overseas media seem to capture more of the facts, domestic outlets are playing true to form. Since the occupiers are evidently Left wing, American media have largely adopted them as perhaps misguided but worthy youth. In any event, the demonstrators’ behavior brings to mind the prescience of an insightful observer of the American Republic: Robert Bork.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Wanted: Climate Change Argument, Not Advocacy

Major Suspect in Global Warming Case Hides His Face.
Photo by the author.
     Global climate change seems to be of great interest to readers of RESPVBLICA. Not having studied meteorology or climate science, I cannot say much one way or the other about lots of what is presented on either side of the debate. Just when it seems clear that the rise in atmospheric carbon dioxide is probably responsible for rising global average temperature, another study purports to document a stronger link to sunspot activity. At first blush, either theory appears plausible to laymen like me. Moreover, knowing how people not trained in a specialty make basic errors—such as misunderstanding the burden of proof in a civil case—should make any specialist wary of hasty conclusions about matters outside his own expertise. This is especially so since we all tend to evaluate the global warming arguments as partisan positions. It is altogether too tempting to accept the arguments made by our side and reject the arguments made by the other side, whether or not we are really qualified to judge the science. But we laymen can do more than try to evaluate the science directly.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Citizen Awlaki

MQ-9 Reaper.
Photo  from U.S. Air Force.
     Our amended Constitution grants automatic citizenship to anyone born in the territory of the United States, apart from a few exceptions like children of diplomats. This was not an original provision of the Constitution, but came about after the Civil War to account for freed slaves. At the time, it was a necessary measure. Today, it is understood to make citizens of illegal aliens’ children born in the U.S., their parents’ status notwithstanding. Last week, Anwar al-Awlaki, the terrorist recruiter, was escorted off this mortal coil by a Hellfire missile fired from a remotely piloted aircraft—a drone. Awlaki’s parents were Yemeni, but his father was in the United States on a Fullbright scholarship when little Anwar was born. This made young Awlaki a citizen by birth in the United States. And his status as citizen has raised questions about the legality of President Obama’s decision to approve the strike. While that is an interesting question in its own right (see this link at the Originalism Blog for a good discussion), the strike also raises a question about the Constitution. What if we revised the Fourteenth Amendment and changed the criteria for citizenship?

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Global Warming Litmus Test

     Recently, over at The Atheist Conservative, the conversation turned to global warming. I have frankly avoided writing on climate change. This has not been from delicacy about controversy, as regular readers know. It has been instead from simple doubt. There seemed to be clarity on global warming some years ago. The basic effect of greenhouse gasses is indisputable, and carbon dioxide is demonstrably the culprit for why Venus is hotter than Mercury even though it is twice as far from the Sun. Human civilization clearly produces a lot of carbon dioxide, and there certainly seems to be an impressive correlation between recent (100 years or so) rises in carbon dioxide and average global temperature. I am not a climate scientist and do not pretend to be able to sort out what is going on with the weather. As in many other areas (medicine, astrophysics, plate tectonics), I was initially prepared to trust the experts. But...

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Illegal Texans Get No College Subsidies

     There is a political tempest blowing about a Texas law that allows certain illegal aliens to qualify for in-state tuition rates at Texas universities. Whatever the merits of the law as immigration policy, one criticism simply falls flat. Some pundits have characterized the law as requiring the taxpayers of Texas to subsidize the children of illegal aliens in state universities. However, this characterization misses the fact that Texas has no income tax. State funds for higher education come from the general appropriations, which are fueled by the state sales tax. Anyone living in the state for three years, the uniform requirement to qualify for in-state tuition, will have paid into the state education coffers. Thus, the children of illegal aliens—whose parents pay sales tax every time they go to the gas station or the hardware store—are no more freeloaders than the children of Daughters of the Republic of Texas. For both sets of parents, in-state tuition is available because both have paid their taxes.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The Loyal Opposition

     Earlier this month, it came to light that a group in Massachusetts wants to ban the Pledge of Allegiance from the Brookline Public Schools. The group’s argument is that the Pledge is “literally and psychologically a loyalty oath, reminiscent of McCarthyism or some horrific totalitarian regimes.” This argument spectacularly confuses loyalty to the country with loyalty to the people in power.

     Oaths of loyalty to a particular government or military official were a feature of the Roman Republic. The legionaries swore to follow their generals wherever they might lead. In the end, these oaths proved fatal to liberty, as Cæsar’s soldiers followed their general across the Rubicon. So the Brookline agitators would be perfectly correct to object to the Pledge of Allegiance if it were a Pledge of Allegiance to (for example) President Obama. However, that is not the case.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

The Road Less Traveled

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

     These famous lines from American poet Robert Frost originally had nothing to do with government spending.  Upon reflection, perhaps they gently point a way out of the financial forest in which we now are lost.  Senator Tom Coburn has stated that the average age of modern republics is 207 years, and among republics that have failed the shared cause was fiscal irresponsibility.  The paradigm case of Weimar Germany should alert us to the consequences of failing to live within our national means.  We must, in Coburn’s words, “cheat history” if we are to escape that fate.  We must, at the risk of abusing Frost’s words, take the road “less traveled by.”  It is a minimalist path, in which government does much less in order for us to do much more—and that would make all the difference.

Friday, July 8, 2011

The Fourth of July in Britain

A British acquaintance has explained it. When discussing the nature of the holiday celebrated in the United States on the fourth day of July, he noted that in the United Kingdom that date is celebrated as a holiday as well. The difference is the name. In the UK, the Fourth of July is apparently called Thanksgiving.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Krauthammer’s Mistake

     It is with some relief that your author has finally found a point of disagreement with the esteemed Charles Krauthammer. The danger in reading such a brilliant commentator is that one begins to doubt the independence of one’s own opinions. Hence, the discovery of a point of disagreement is cause for a minor bit of relief.

     The point in question has to do with the War Powers Act, which Krauthammer correctly reads, in a piece with today’s date, as requiring the president to obtain congressional consent to military action in Libya. The engagement—or whatever we are to call it—has now gone on well past the 90 days allotted by the War Powers Act, and the required consultation with Congress has yet to materialize. Where Krauthammer goes wrong is at this point: “The power to declare war has become, through no fault of anyone, archaic and obsolete. Taken literally, it is as useless as granting Congress the right to regulate horse-and-buggies.”

Monday, May 2, 2011

Nine-and-a-half Years

     The old cliché about actions speaking louder than words is certainly true in foreign policy. Lieutenants of al-Qaida around the world must now be examining their positions with a new sense of insecurity. Yesterday’s splendid raid on the bin Laden compound in Pakistan will have spoken clearly enough to put a little dread in the adversaries of liberty. More than a little. In fact, if the world’s most elusive mass-murderer cannot escape U.S. vengeance, after nine-and-a-half years of hiding, who among them is safe? There certainly is much public rhetoric about martyrdom among the fanatics. Still, in the silent calculus of individual power, influence, and survival, it pays little to take up the leadership of a cause when doing so ends in a burial at sea.

     Even so, there will probably be a counter-punch. How hard will it be? We will not know until after it lands—if it lands—but it is vital to make clear to the enemy which horse is the stronger after all (to use bin Laden’s own metaphor). Now we must pursue the leads from the intelligence cache seized during the raid. Now is not the time to let up, to relax, to lower our guard. Nonetheless, it is a day to celebrate.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Whew! Thank Goodness the US is Not Hedonistic

     Somewhat in reply to T. Paine’s comment on the last post, it occurred to us that we Americans are not hedonists, and here is the proof. Thank goodness...

...we are so thrifty that practically everyone could manage three months of unemployment;

...hardly anyone is overextended on credit cards;

...we didn’t recently bid up housing prices with easy credit, resulting in a foreclosure frenzy;

...the bankruptcy rate is falling like water, not rising like smoke from a bonfire;

...we never demand more from our government than the government can afford;


Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Shot Heard Round the World

Battle of Lexington, by Nicholas Ponce.
Picture credit:  Library of Congress.
     Today is the 236th anniversary of the Battle of Lexington and Concord.  It was the inception of what would become a free republic, modeled and improved on those of antiquity.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Creating Wealth

Wealth of Nations.  Photo by the author.
     Knowing anything at all about human nature should be enough to make clear that if people do not have to pay for something they desperately want, they will use it up quickly. This point is not much of an insight, but it seems to elude everyone who is arguing against structural changes to Medicaid and Medicare. Like the British National Health Service, these programs promise far more than any nation can ultimately deliver. Access to health care must be limited, whether freely by price or deliberately by rationing and waiting lists. Once more the conservative position is the responsible one. However, not all of the conservative rhetoric has been accurate. This is normal for both political tribes, but in the context of the budget debate one claim is particularly common and particularly wild: “Government cannot create wealth; it can only redistribute wealth.” Just a moment’s reflection shows the confusion behind this claim.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

All Sail and No Anchor

     All the current budget talk has brought to mind a bit of history. Our fellow Skeptical Conservative, Sub Specie Æternitatis, has an interest in the British historian Thomas Babington Macaulay. Years ago, we ran across a couple of letters by Lord Macaulay on American institutions. The letters had been published in Harper’s magazine in the 19th century, and they pointed to the signal danger of any pure democracy. In every society there are always comparatively few people with great wealth, but in a pure democracy those people are the natural prey of the comparatively less well-off majority. Macaulay referred to the danger of “spoliation.”

Monday, April 11, 2011

Measuring Victory

     Now that the deal is done, some are lamenting that the Speaker of the House may have got less than he should. They argue that by stating his early opposition to a government shutdown he gave away his final bargaining chip. For perspective, imagine that you go into a car dealership and announce that you aren’t leaving without buying a new car. All the salesman has to do then is stick to his price until closing time.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

One-Half of One-Half

     All around the media these days we are hearing—especially from apologists for compromising with the fiscal irresponsibility crowd—the formula, “after all, we only control one-half of one-third of the government.” Of course, of the three branches of government, only two are involved in legislation. True, activist judges routinely make law as they supposedly interpret it, but the courts have no part of the process of passing a bill. It might be better to say, “after all, we only control one-half of one-half of the government.” Fair enough, only a fifth grade fractions teacher would appreciate the difference between one-sixth and one-quarter, but it’s nonetheless irritating to see a strictly inaccurate comment gain so much momentum.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Nonessential Nonsense

     This morning on CNN there was a federal employee being interviewed who said that if the government shuts down she won’t have money to buy food for her daughter. At first, one thought shame on CNN for exploiting a human tragedy to advance a liberal agenda. But then the lightning struck. People working in the private sector live with the possibility of layoffs every day of their lives. They know they have to keep three months’ income in the bank to cover emergencies. By contrast, this public sector employee had apparently not planned for any disruption in pay, any furlough or layoff or even just reduction in hours. Why not?

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Best April Fool’s Joke

Ancient Mariner and Mercury.  Photo credit:  NASA.
     When NASA released the picture above last Friday, not a few astronomy bloggers and web sites were briefly taken in. The original story was that Messenger, NASA’s new probe to the planet Mercury, had captured this image of the old Mariner 10 probe zooming past Mercury, 36 years after NASA’s last communication with the spacecraft. The claim was that Mariner 10, which surveyed Mercury in 1974 and 1975, had fallen into a “resonant” orbit around the sun that put it near Mercury once every Earth year…on April 1st. Apart from the dimly visible difference in the dark backgrounds, showing where two images were playfully stitched together, there were other clues from NASA that should have alerted the blogosphere. (Your author was saved from falling for the prank by spending a weekend without web access.) In any case, those punsters at NASA called Mariner 10 the “Ancient Mariner.” Their press release was also replete with quotations from the Coleridge poem, “Rime of the Ancient Mariner.” With all the rough developments in the news lately, at least someone is keeping a bit of literary-science levity.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Commander-in-Chief

     Over at the Originalism Blog, Mike Ramsey has turned in a couple of excellent posts on the power of the Commander-in-Chief to initiate military action without support of Congress.  The first post is here, the second here.

     The gist of Ramsey’s argument is that while the President retains power to defend the country from attack without Congressional approval, he must seek a declaration of war before attacking another country. The military powers of the Congress and the President make sense if they are understood as a split between the authority to declare whom to fight and the authority to decide how to fight. The President (as Commander-in-Chief) is the one to command the military forces (“how to fight”), but he may exercise this power only after Congress has declared war (“whom to fight”).

     In support of Ramsey’s argument it remains to be said that the Founding Fathers of the United States were thoroughly educated in the classics. In writing the Constitution, they naturally adhered to the examples of the free republics of antiquity, most especially the Roman Republic. Under the Roman Constitution—before Julius Cæsar destroyed it—the Senate declared war, and the Consuls then went forth with the army to conduct operations. Congress is our analog to the Senate, while the Presidency is our analog to the Consulate.

     At present, the War Powers Resolution has finessed the Constitutional question by expressly granting the President power to conduct military operations for sixty days before obtaining Congressional approval. Given that context, the current operation in Libya is within the law.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Desert Bluff

     The United Nations’ military action against Libya has halted a vicious terrorist-dictator. For now, Muammar Gaddafi’s forces have lost the momentum—and command of the air—in the weeks-old conflict with Libyan rebels. While we hope this is the start of the final movement in Gaddafi’s discordant symphony, we also note it may be the beginning of a new respect for the Obama administration in foreign policy. The initial moves of the administration did not appear in the best light, and we wrote last month to encourage an interventionist policy in Libya. Now, however, the administration has turned the initial delay into a foreign policy success. Whether the matter will remain so is unclear, but there are some reasons for hope.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Viral Absurdity

     Last Thursday, a very wise man chastised his alma mater from the high position of the opinion page of the Wall Street Journal. Scholar and critic Jacques Barzun (who at 104 is more alert than 99 out of 100 30-year-olds) took Columbia University in New York to task. Barzun graduated from Columbia in 1927, was a professor of history there for many years, and eventually became provost of the university. Now retired to San Antonio, Barzun wrote about a recent petition circulated by members of the Columbia faculty. The signatories to the petition were calling for the continuation of Columbia’s ban on the U.S. military’s Reserve Officer Training Corps. Originally banished in 1969, ROTC has been kept off campus in recent years because of the now-ended military policy against openly homosexual service members. What is the justification for keeping ROTC away? According to the petitioners on the faculty, the military remains a “discriminatory institution” because of it excludes some people from military service on the basis of “many reasons from physical disability to age.”

     This is a stunningly transparent lie. The petitioners are apparently so tone deaf they cannot hear their own mendacity. The military is discriminatory because it won’t hire blind pilots? Or septuagenarian riflemen? This argument simply cannot be the true reason for the faculty to oppose ROTC. It is too absurd an objection for even the most disconnected of ivory tower denizens. Surely the real reason is far simpler: anti-military bias. Had the petitioners based their petition on the honest grounds of loathing for all things military, they could at least claim whatever virtue clings to candor. But to ground their objections on the “discriminatory” policy of excluding the disabled and the aged from military service is to reveal an animus so sharp that it distorts basic reason. Obviously, theirs is a clumsy ploy, a puerile argument unworthy of the weakest minds. Except…


Friday, March 11, 2011

Requiem for a Network

     Monday’s release of the devastating tape of Ron Schiller, former chief fundraiser for National Public Radio, has permanently discredited any claim that the network pursues a neutral, balanced approach to journalism. It will probably also kill future federal funding. Although the scandal has not directly touched the Public Broadcasting Service, PBS is likely to be unplugged from the federal money grid along with NPR. This seems a shame, because of the two, PBS retains more of the old excellence than NPR.

     Tune in to NPR now and you’re likely to hear a piece about prisoners making “art” from trash. This is the victory of political correctness over æsthetics. You are equally likely to hear a piece about the plight of someone or other. The ultimate moral high ground for the NPR Leftist now seems to be victim status. As for the old high culture, it is now abandoned. You are not likely to hear about a classical music event unless there is a way of tying it to “diversity.” After all, that music was all produced by white men from Europe.


Friday, March 4, 2011

A Necessary Evil

     Over at The Atheist Conservative, the estimable staff have begun a dialogue about capital punishment. The following is slightly expanded from your author’s comments:

     Nobody is really happy about capital punishment, but for crying out loud, it’s a necessary evil. One fault of the Left is to ignore human nature. The truth of human nature is that some small numbers of people will be deterred from committing murder only by the certainty of execution. Another group of people will only be deterred from lynching murderers by...the certainty of execution. Social order demands the state deter both groups with a robust program of capital punishment. It’s too bad that’s how people are, but that’s how they are.

     One good point about not being Christian is that we unbelievers are free to reject Christ’s command to “turn the other cheek.” Whatever we do to dilute the strength of the twin message of deterrence and just vengeance endangers public order (which is another way of saying, endangers the lives of the innocent). By contrast, whatever we do to strengthen the twin message is helpful. For this reason, we should reconsider public executions of convicted murderers.

     The sole caution about capital punishment should be the fear of a mistaken conviction. There is probably nothing more horrible in individual cases than the state killing an innocent man. That danger is why we should continue to grant heightened procedural safeguards in capital cases. Still, on balance, capital punishment remains essential to a society of human beings, as opposed to a society of the idealized, humanlike creatures of Leftist fantasy.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Target of Opportunity

B-2 Stealth Bomber.
Photo credit: U.S. Air Force
     One test of the vision of a leader is whether he can see when the world turns over. In case any leaders have missed it, the world is turning over. As should have been clear after about the first two weeks of demonstrations in Cairo, there is a wind sweeping the Middle East like a Saharan sirocco. It reaches from Tunisia to Iran, from ancient Carthage to ancient Persia. The stakes are enormous. If we act now, we might encourage just enough of the right people to resist the impending Islamist push and avoid losing the entire region to theocracy, terror, and a long, medieval dark. If we do anything less than just enough, and certainly if we do nothing but talk, we stand to lose the region, yes, but also we stand to lose whatever moral authority the world’s most powerful democracy still has in the eyes of nascent democracies worldwide. Of course, the region is not ours to lose. It is not ours at all. There is probably little we can do to bend the wind to our purposes, nor should we be approaching the problem as if we could. We must look toward this newer world order with hope and humility, accepting that we can no more rewrite the destinies of a dozen sovereign countries than we can get Wisconsin senators back on the job. But, the U.S. simply cannot sit idle while a dozen movements that describe themselves as “democratic” face the tanks and bullets of tyranny.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

DOMA in Danger

     In an excellent piece on Wednesday, Heritage Foundation writer Chuck Donovan makes the basic case for marriage:
The consequences of failure are staggering, and the contemporary United States, like so many other Western nations, is seeing those consequences firsthand. The effects of broken families are statistically significant across category after category – youth crime, child poverty, educational attainment, and adult mental health in the next generation. For taxpayers, the costs of family dissolution and, increasingly, the failure of families to form are distressingly high and growing. It would be irrational not to privilege marriage for the sake of these concerns.
     It is hard to decide which is more alarming, the latest danger to the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) or the fact that we need it even more now than we did when President Clinton signed it into law in 1996. The challenges to traditional marriage tend to assume we run no risk by re-making what has been a core institution of society. Moreover, the further decay of the family is apparently the goal of some of the Left. For them, the state is (or at least should be) ready to take on the roles of mother and father. When the family is no longer needed to raise children, who are better off as government wards anyhow, then we can play around with marriage to suit the fashion of the day. Personal expression, being true to oneself, being authentic—these are the code words of a lifestyle that places shallow hedonism ahead of all duty.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Eureka

     After some persistence, the Assistant Editor & Web Lackey was finally able to re-load the old posts with all the original comments.  Interestingly, immediately after re-launching the blog, there appeared some spam advertisements as new comments.  Consistent with policy, the staff has deleted them.

     A little more reconstruction remains to be done, primarily with the Issues page.  Soon enough the staff can get back to writing.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Housekeeping

     The Assistant Editor & Web Lackey has now finished re-loading all the posts from 2010.  Unfortunately, he lacks the skill to upload the comments as comments proper.  They do appear as text within each appropriate post, which is the best form of recovery possible with current technology.  And expertise.  New comments should track properly.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Despite the Best Intentions

     So, events have made a liar of your author.  The intent was to discontinue RESPVBLICA to make room for a new job.  But as events in Egypt show, the history we are all living continues to unfold in a fashion that demands discussion.  The great public discourse of the day neglects the historical perspective.  The Left continues to deny human nature, while the Right remains enthralled by superstition. There still seems room for this project.

     Postings will be less frequent than before.  But I find I cannot pull the plug just yet.