Monday, December 31, 2012

Loss of Innocents

     At year’s end, we cannot avoid some somber reflections on the Sandy Hook children. The actual deaths of the children and staff at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, were only the first notes in a cacophony of pain and despair. For the parents, it will be unending. We should expect the parents of the children to be beyond consolation for months; many of them will be barely functional in life for years; I cannot imagine any of them will ever fully heal. If I were among them, I would find unforgivable the fact that no one at the school was prepared to stop the shooter.

     Apparently, Principal Dawn Hochsprung did confront him. It was an act of unusual bravery. Of course, she was unarmed. Of course, she was also killed. Had she been armed and trained herself, some number of dead children might now be alive. This is the heart of the argument for the concealed carry permit. Concealed Carry saves lives.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Cosmos for Christmas

“Here is a chimera, a new and very odd species come shambling into our universe, a mix of Stone Age emotion, medieval self-image, and godlike technology. The combination makes the species unresponsive to the forces that count for its own long-term survival.”
—E. O. Wilson, The Creation

“We are a way for the Cosmos to know itself.”
—Carl Sagan, Cosmos

     Christmas is a time of exquisite music and beautiful sentiments, regardless of one’s religion. For those of us among the freethinking quintile of the population, whether atheist, agnostic, or deist, the holiday has a different bouquet. Like Christians, some of us savor the nostalgia of Christmases past. In some cases, because of the tradition of families coming together, we recall times when people we loved were still alive. Perhaps there is also the memory of a favorite carol, or a small tradition, or even a lost recipe. Still, the freethinker is always something of an outsider. The birth of a savior who will redeem all Man’s inhumanity to Man, through his own self-sacrifice, is at best attractive mythology. At worst, it calls to mind the moral ambiguity of a deity that requires sacrifices in the first place. Nonetheless, it has been said that the spirit of goodwill is more potent during the Christmas season than any other. To the extent this is true, the holiday remains an example of the good religion can do. There is, however, more in the ledger to complete the accounting.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

And the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath

Dangerous Reactionary Refusing to Abandon Wicked Tradition
     According to the Catechism of Political Correctness, all traditions are wicked, oppressive, and unhealthy. They must be thrown out. Not only that, they must not even be portrayed in literary or historical context without disclaimers. Better yet, just re-write the literature and re-paint the paintings so that innocent children are not fooled into thinking traditions are acceptable.

     Case in point: A certain busybody has decreed, on her own authority, that St. Nicholas has put away his tobacco pipe for good. He has given up smoking. The busybody has removed two lines from the Clement Moore poem “A Visit From St. Nicholas” and commissioned a new illustration of Santa without his signature “stump of a pipe.”

     It just never ends. The only thing I can think to do is light up a bowl of Rattray’s Old Gowrie and cherish one petty vice while it is still legal.  The clock is ticking.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Stoic Thanksgiving

     The Roman emperor and Stoic philosopher Marcus Aurelius counseled himself to be brave in misfortune. Indeed, even to give thanks:
“Oh, wretched I, to whom this mischance is happened! nay, happy I, to whom this thing being happened, I can continue without grief; neither wounded by that which is present, nor in fear of that which is to come. For as for this, it might have happened unto any man, but any man having such a thing befallen him, could not have continued without grief. Why then should that rather be an unhappiness, than this a happiness?”
     Though the trajectory of American civilization seems to have turned sharply downward, it is worth remembering how fortunate we still are. People of my generation have parents who grew up in the Great Depression and World War II. Very few Americans my age or younger have known comparable difficulties. Our problems are more subtle, more of decaying morality amid plenty than of existential military threat, more of obesity than of starvation. For a time at least, life can be rich in learning and friendship and service. For now, we have leisure to live the life of the mind. If we discern a need to prepare for worse times, at least we can be thankful for the chance to get ready. And then, like the Stoic emperor, we can be thankful again if we prove equal to the task that ultimately confronts us.

About the Kids

     The passage in Maryland and Maine of new laws allowing same-sex marriage (SSM) provides the latest data point in the long, predictable erosion of marriage as a socially useful institution.  This process will continue, along with drug legalization and similar efforts, as long as the Left owns the schools, universities, movies, and the courts.  Another data point, perhaps more alarming, is the erosion of opposition even among religious people.  The following comment appeared at Thinking Christian:

Phil's comment is depressing enough, but worse than that is the level of support he finds on a Christian blog. As a secularist, I had hoped to find more nuanced thinking about SSM among Christians than among my fellow secularists. Sadly, even here the rhetoric of the relativists has made converts.
Tom's original post is beautifully done. The point that easy rhetoric does not always equate to sensible thinking is valid. Having started as a Left-liberal myself, I have arrived at conservative and traditionalist values after a lifetime of experience and reflection. Not that instrumental evaluations are dispositive, but I have seen too many of my contemporaries, whose lives were devoted to free love of all kinds, wind up miserable. The path from noble-sounding endorsements of freedom to hedonistic narcissism is short.
Society’s institutions must take stock of human nature. Usually that means some portion of the population will feel disadvantaged. SSM, which has no precedents in western history, redefines marriage. Under SSM, the new marriage is now wholly about the satisfaction of the partners. (Here I imagine many readers will say, “Of course!”) But, marriage historically has served many more purposes than that. While mutual satisfaction is part of the reason for marriage, far more important is the utility to society of a traditional marriage in raising children. We have taken “pursuit of happiness” to extremes, and now many of us cannot imagine that concepts like obligation or duty have moral value.
Still too long for a bumper sticker: “Marriage--it's about the kids.”

So long as a majority in the country believes in radical individualism, the social fabric will continue to unravel. Thomas Jefferson was, by his own assessment, an Epicurean. When he summed up the trinity of natural rights as “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” he surely understood the distinction Epicurus had made between a thoughtful happiness and mere hedonism. If his contemporaries ever shared that understanding, too many Americans now have lost it entirely. But hedonism is the child of peace and prosperity. It unfits a people for adversity. Ineluctably, adversity is coming, enormous adversity, and it remains to be seen whether we have sufficient dormant Stoicism to encounter it successfully.  Turning over one more institution, the wheezing, dying institution of marriage, to unenlightened self-interest just makes the Stoic argument all the harder at the very point we need it most.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

The Long Campaign

As posted over at The Heathen Republican:

You're an honest man, Heathen. I was as optimistic as you and I'm probably equally disappointed. On the other hand, look how tough the job was for Romney: A career moderate, he tried to run as a conservative at a time when conservative values are in decline among the population. Conservatives will continue losing elections until we change the culture. If we move to the middle to attract more votes, we will become second-rate Leftists. The growing Leftist consensus in the country will always pick the real thing over a Republican moderate. Rather than move ourselves to the center (which has shifted Left), we have to move the center back to us. To do that, we have to take back the education establishment and the entertainment industry. We have to help the Leftist news organs along the way to obsolescence. We have to neuter the unions. Eventually, once we regain the power to do so, we will have to take back the judiciary. Such a campaign will take probably two generations to accomplish. Time to begin.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

The Way Ahead

     Charles Krauthammer just commented on Fox News that the Republicans do not have a structural problem, that the Obama victory was because of a few tactical blunders by the Romney campaign in the last few weeks. I can only disagree. If he were right, the Republicans would have gained seats in the Senate instead of losing them. Also, the presidential race would not have been close at all. The Republicans really do face a crisis, and the way they choose to resolve it will profoundly affect the future of the United States.

     The basic problem for Republicans is that most of the country is no longer in any meaningful way conservative. Throughout the past fifty years the country has moved consistently Leftward, with only two short opposite swings of the pendulum in the early 1980s and the early 2000s. Neither swing did much more than stall the overall movement for a short time. In dress, speech, and manners; in music and morals; and most spectacularly in religion, the country has shifted so far to the Left that today’s liberals routinely repudiate positions taken by their counterparts just two decades ago. A few traditionalists remain, but they hardly speak for the modern, fiscal conservative.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

All Lines are Busy. Please Call Back Later.

Those who remember the 2008 Democrat Primary will remember this advertisement from the Clinton campaign:



At 3:00 a.m. on September 12th, 2012, there must have been some trouble at the switchboard for the State Department. Ironically, the same trouble appears to have affected the White House.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

A Vote for Obama?

     With good reason, many principled conservatives are now warming up to Mr. Romney. However, significant numbers remain who view his record, and the circumstances of his nomination, and cannot embrace his candidacy with enthusiasm. They are presented with what is for them a choice between two evils, and they are reluctantly preparing to vote for the lesser evil. Bill Whittle at PJTV has spoken on this point. Whittle encourages such principled conservatives to go ahead and vote for Romney—to embrace the lesser evil. He asserts that a vote for any third party candidate is, in reality, a vote for Barack Obama. While the assertion has some merit in Florida, or Ohio, or any other close state, it is rather obviously untrue for conservatives in California, New York, or Texas. In California, even if every conservative in the state voted for Mitt Romney, the president would still take all of California’s 55 electoral votes. Likewise, even if a great many Texan conservatives voted for third party candidates, Mr. Romney would still take all 38 electoral votes at stake. On this issue, Mr. Whittle’s usually excellent logic does not hold in all places. Principled conservatives in any safely blue or red state really are free to support third party candidates. A conservative in a safe state has the luxury of voting his or her conscience and need not feel wedged into a partisan straitjacket.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Truth in Advertising

Proposal: Let us discontinue the use of the term “mainstream media.” They are hardly that. It seems far more fair and accurate to call them what they really are: the Leftist media. Surely they are not mainstream any longer, if they ever were.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

2016: D’Souza’s Obama

     Yesterday I saw 2016:  Obama’s America at the local multiplex. The audience was small at the matinee and significantly older than what I’ve seen for other films at the same theater. Nonetheless, there were 22 movies on offer, most of which had three or four screenings a day. 2016 was among only four movies scheduled for five daily screenings. The amount of play the theater is giving the film seems to correlate with the amount of recent buzz in the alternative media.

     Given that buzz, it is likely that even those who have not seen the documentary will be generally aware of its thesis: President Obama’s childhood and education germinated in him a lifelong grudge against the European colonial powers. His resentment toward Europe, and Britain in particular, has spread like a psychological inkblot to stain his views of America as well. Thus, his otherwise inexplicable actions as Commander in Chief—the film cites running up a ruinous debt, running away from our allies, and running down our nuclear stockpile—are fully explained as the rational moves of a man stoking a mid-20th century African anti-colonialist zeal. Whether you find such a thesis tenable will probably depend more on what opinions you take to the film than on the content of the film itself.

     Many Americans on the Left remain emotionally invested in the president, or at least in the agenda of which they believe he remains the champion. For them, 2016 will be absolutely maddening. In offering anti-colonialism as the real motive for Obama’s political ambition, filmmaker Dinesh D’Souza has presented Leftists with a possibility that will play on their malaise. Many of them are disappointed in the president’s first term, and for them D’Souza’s thesis will be hauntingly plausible. Why else would Obama have slighted their agenda? The more dissatisfied they are with the president, the more privately susceptible they will be to D’Souza. They will try to ignore the film, but as box office receipts climb, they will have to excoriate it as biased, or full of lies, or what have you—all the while fearing in their hearts that D’Souza may be right, and that they are betrayed. The anticipated howls of rage and pain are already to be heard.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Epilogue: Returning The Hunger Games

     So, there was no problem returning The Hunger Games at our local Target. The clerk asked, with a note of surprise, “You’re returning The Hunger Games?”

     “Yes,” I said. “The movie is not just about kids killing kids. It actually shows kids killing kids. And it’s PG-13.”

     “PG-13? Wow,” she said, with a start. “That’s definitely the wrong rating.”

     And that was that.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Hunger for the Games

In the morning men are thrown to the lions and the bears, at noon they are thrown to their spectators. The spectators call for the slayer to be thrown to those who in turn will slay him, and they detain the victor for another butchering…and when the show stops for intermission, “Let’s have men killed meanwhile! Let’s not have nothing going on!”
—Lucius Annæus Seneca, Epistles, vii, 3-5.

Are you not entertained?
—Maximus Decimus Meridius, Gladiator

     This past weekend, the DVD of The Hunger Games went on sale. Having missed the film in theaters, I watched it on Saturday. The film on one level celebrates self-sacrifice, family loyalty, compassion, self-reliance, and a host of other virtues. It also condemns oppression and staging violence for the sake of entertainment. These are strong messages in the film, which is well made in a technical sense. And yet.

     And yet the film depicts murder after murder of children. There are several scenes of this, and some of them are handled obliquely—but not all. Arguably, the most wrenching scene is the most casual. It is done on camera, in full view, with an older boy walking straight up to a younger one and breaking his neck. We’ve been approaching this point for decades, with, for instance, images like the ten-year-old son of Maximus hanging dead in Gladiator, or, in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, the magical murder of an older teen (played by an actor in his twenties). But now we’ve seen the unseeable. We’ve broken the last taboo. If filmmakers can show a child snapping the neck of another child, in a film rated PG-13, they can show anything.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

The Politics of Substance

     Although the plan of this project has always been to avoid overtly partisan positions, perhaps some observations on strategy will not be out of bounds. The choice by Mr. Romney of Congressman Paul Ryan as his vice-presidential running mate will prove vastly reassuring to fiscal conservatives. For those who see our basket of fiscal problems as the greatest present danger to the republic, Ryan is the cure. It is instructive that the Democrats are chuckling with glee over the choice. They seem genuinely unaware of our impending fiscal disaster (or is theirs the willful blindness of partisans?). Their excitement comes from an inability to see the need of the country as a whole; rather, they view all policy through the windowpane of political group expediency. Through that glass, the choice of Ryan looks inexpressibly stupid. He might bring a certain number of Catholic voters, but Catholics are often more loyal to party than to faith. He might bring Wisconsin, but Florida is far more important in the Electoral College calculus. Most of all, his budget plan is rich in disentitling specifics. It appears to curtail the benefits of almost every political group, every special interest, all of whom will join against their common opponent and vote for the Democrats. Or so predicts the Democrats’ political analysis.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Definition

Bluegrass: country and western music that is politically acceptable to Leftists.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Barack

One of the questions children seem to ask with mingled wonder and pity is, “What did people do before the Internet?” Well, some of them drank. People still do, of course, but there used to be a fairly elaborate culture of mixed drinks. I have recently received a 1957 paperback guide to mixing “nearly 400 drinks.” Some of the names I knew, or at least recognized. I couldn’t have told you that a Gibson was five parts dry gin and one part French vermouth, but I knew it was a type of martini. But I had never heard of a No Comment (one part rum, one part Swedish punch, one part applejack), a Sidecar (three parts cognac, two parts Cointreau, one part lemon juice), or a Pallas Athena (one jigger Ouzo, one pony Metaxa brandy, and two splashes cold water). (What’s a pony?) The little book also defines types of liqueur made from fruit, such as the Norman hard cider called Calvados. Then there is this one: “Barack. A colorless, fragrant spirit distilled from apricots and crushed apricot kernels. A favorite in Central Europe, Hungary, and the Balkans. A Czechoslovak brand is available in the American market.”

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

The Lesser Evil

To carry the topic from last time a little further, I note that a friend recently invoked the tragedy of the commons to justify government action. Without government action, he suggested, all sorts of worthy projects would not get done. When no one is responsible for solving a problem, the problem goes neglected. But private charitable and benevolent societies have existed throughout the history of our republic. They have often done a better job of targeting aid, because they have often been closer to the point of need. No one could argue with a straight face that such private organizations ever eliminated poverty or need, but then again the government hasn’t been able to do so either. All things considered, when setting the tragedy of the neglect of the commons against the tragedy of soft despotism, it seems the former is the lesser evil.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Unspoken Assumptions

     Much public debate occurs on a platform whose shape and dimensions are understood intuitively by all the advocates for each side. In the debate on contraception, for instance, it is well understood that no one may legitimately disapprove of anyone else’s sexual lifestyle. It is an unspoken assumption that how often consenting adults consent is none of our business. The debate turns instead on who should pay for enabling their lifestyle. Questions about whether promiscuity itself is blameworthy—for instance, because it is risky behavior with a high chance of collateral consequences for society—arise beyond the edge of the debate platform. In the matter of the Affordable Care Act, which the Supreme Court has taken up this week, the unspoken assumption is that “we” must “do” something about the alleged problem of however many people there are without health insurance. Those on the Right argue that the ACA overreaches with its individual mandate (they are right), and that we should do something else. Those on the Left argue that the noble goal of universal coverage justifies the means (they are wrong). Neither side, however, seems to doubt that the government (“we”) must take action.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Modern Worship

For those who think style matters at least a little, here is an excellent parody of modern "contemporary" services.  Thanks to the Presbyterian Curmudgeon for posting the link.


Thursday, March 8, 2012

O Ye of Little Faith

     It was news today that evangelist television personality Pat Robertson has decided the so-called War on Drugs has failed and that therefore marijuana should be legalized and controlled like alcohol. What does this prove? If nothing else, it clearly establishes that whatever strength religious convictions can give to moral positions is not always very great. If even Pat Robertson has embraced marijuana legalization, then reliance on religion as a bulwark for morality is misplaced. But of course this conclusion really is not news. Many (perhaps most?) religious people seem to hold their moral convictions lightly. Think of the number of divorced Christians you know. Meditate on the Christian denominations that now ordain homosexuals. Cogitate on the number of Christian women who violate their own Bible’s prohibition against immodest clothing. It’s one thing not to be a Christian and then reject the teachings of the Bible. It’s another thing entirely to claim Christian faith—and then reject the teachings of the Bible. At least for some people who assert Christianity, secular hedonism and political correctness are more powerful than faith.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Combatting Violence

Last month, the Pentagon announced that the military services would allow women to serve even closer to combat than they have heretofore. Also last month, the Senate judiciary committee voted to reauthorize the 1994 Violence Against Women Act. Res ipsa loquitur.