Friday, May 19, 2006


J.S. Mill's Birthday

Roger Scruton is right: we really do live in the world of John Stuart Mill. I'll admit to having mixed feelings about Mill. His defense of liberty and especially free speech is still better than most anything else out there, though its essential disconnect from Truth leaves it fatally vulnerable to those who would restrict both in the name of "progress." (Though Mill suggests in "On Liberty" that the protection of free speech will help move us toward Truth - which is, I think, true - it's not clear to me that Mill actually thinks we can ever arrive at said Truth - or that he thinks it would even be a good thing). He is, though, vastly preferable to the legions of students, faculty, and administrators on today's campuses who have no respect for liberty and see it, in fact, as merely a pretext for oppressive social constructs. (I was teaching Mill a few years ago and in our discussions of Mill's defense of free speech, I only had two students - out of seventy - defend free speech on campus. It was deeply depressing.)

So here's a cheer and a half for Mr. Mill.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Free Greatness: A Weekend Read.

GK Chesterton? On Tommy Aquinas? Who could resist?

See free offer below.

Gilbert Keith Chesterton, of course, we have canonized above. (Aquinas was canonized by a higher authority.) Besides being known as the author of the Father Brown Mysteries, Chesterton was one of the great commentators on his times, and on all times, and used to kick it around at London's original Reform Club with guys like Bernard Shaw, to the delight of all.

GK was religious as hell, a convert to Catholicism, and had a hand in turning the eventual and eventually famous Christian apologist CS Lewis' head away from his navel.

The splendid neo-retro-Catholic blogger The Anchoress recommended GK's wonderful book on Thomas, The Dumb Ox. I bought it and I love it, but wait: only a fool goes out and buys a book based on some silly blog recommendation!

And so, we're all in luck---I just found it online free, here. Such a deal. It's short and it's sweet, and worth a browse, if only on The Anchoress's authoritative say-so.

For example, in my own inelegant paraphrase:

Thomas thought that we, as humans, are essentially both body and soul. (This is what the theological concept of "resurrection of the body" is getting at.)

Many of us, me included, despite our Christian backgrounds (and Thomas [c. 1225 – 1274] is pre-Reformation, i.e., back before there were Protestants), are still disposed to think of body and spirit in a dualistic, a separate way. This was the Manichean heresy: they believed a pure spirit was imprisoned by the icky, dirty body. (That's why seeing things in terms of black and white is today called "Manichean.")

One day, in the middle of a formal dinner with his Italian relative Tomasso D'Aquino in attendance, the King of France Louis IX (and for whom St. Louis is named) said,

"Vanity should be avoided; but every man should dress well, in the manner of his rank, that his wife may the more easily love him."

The corpulent, celibate Thomas, wakened from his philosophical brooding at the feast, hit the table with his fist and shouted,

"And that will settle the Manichees!"

So of course, sex isn't dirty, nor could it be. It is an instrument of love, of divine love. Strangely enough, even after all my years of Catholic education, I'm just beginning to see the world, and us, and me, as Thomas saw them.

I think a lot of what bugs us all about Christianity isn't really there at all---it's just a hangover from the Manichees. GK and Thomas get to that.

But I mean to entice, not to distract: There are many more riches to be gathered from The Dumb Ox, and from GK himself. The book shows Thomas as a very real human being, whose concerns and great thoughts were for real human beings. See what you can find. Get to know him. Mebbe even make the full investment of a few pennies for ink and paper and print it out. I solemnly assure you, the gentle reader, that it will be very happy reading indeed.

"You call him a Dumb Ox; I tell you the Dumb Ox will bellow so loud his bellowing will fill the world."---Albertus Magnus

The Next Big Crisis: Public Pension Liabilities

An interesting article in USA Today paints a bleak picture of the looming employee benefit obligations many state and local governments have taken on in recent years:

Taxpayers will soon get a surprise bill that could exceed $1 trillion for the cost of paying future medical benefits for state and local workers who retire.

Retiree medical costs are the biggest long-term challenge that state and local governments face. By comparison, state and local pensions have an unfunded liability of about $500 billion.

State and local governments have set aside $2.5 trillion to help pay pension benefits for 19 million civil servants and 7 million retirees. But they have set aside almost nothing to pay for retiree medical benefits.

"Taxpayers will revolt when they realize the enormous cost of this," Minnesota State Auditor Pat Anderson says. She says the financial burdens on local governments will be so great they will put pressure on the federal government to nationalize health care, which she opposes.

The overall problem may is much bigger than that. A report by the Yankee Institute, hyperbolically titled “America’s Second Civil War: The Public Employment Complex vs. Taxpayers,” says the root cause of many of today’s contentious policy debates is the trillions of dollars in future wages and benefits that have been pledged to government employees at all levels. Contrary to the USA Today article quoted here, the states have not "put aside" nearly enough money to fund employees' pension benefits: states such as Illinois have notoriously diverted pension money to cover budget deficits and have borrowed money ino order to meet current obligations. When the baby boomers begin retiring, the problems will be much worse.

It's a great lesson in public choice economics. Lawmakers across the nation have been using these benefits as a way to buy votes on the cheap (public-employee unions have proven very effective at getting out the vote and at donating huge amounts of money to favored politicans)—because the obligations don’t come due until long after the elections are over and the pols who voted for them are comfortably ensconced in think tanks, law offices, and visiting professorships. But those obligations are about to come due as baby boomers start to retire in large numbers, and taxpayers and bond-rating agencies will soon begin scrutinizing those perks: Next year federal rules will require state and local governments to estimate the cost of the medical benefits they have promised to civil servants when they retire.

At that point, of course, the big-government types will declare a crisis and insist that taxes be raised to solve the problem.

Rush Limbaugh and Our Alan Reynolds

Alan, were your ears burning a little after noon today? Rush Limbaugh spent, I kid you not, about 10-15 minutes discussing your column in which you referred to his immigration analysis as "patently absurd."

Reform Clubbers can get the Alan Reynolds column here at The gist of it is that Alan thinks Rush and other conservatives are pumping the numbers of future illegals way up with assumptions that mirror those of compound interest with money. Rush's response is:

a. It's realistic to think multiplication will occur as described.
b. If the numbers are too high, we are still talking about a ridiculously high number of illegal immigrants.

What interested me more than the debate itself was the amount of time Rush spent talking about Alan. Do you have any idea what an advertiser would have to pay for a quarter hour of Rush's national audience's undivided attention?!!! Alan, I have no idea what you get from Cato and, but influence-wise, you just became a millionaire.

There was also something provocative in Rush's treatment of Alan. As he went into the break, Rush suggested Alan was probably asked by someone to write the column. Rush, are you accusing our Alan of a Bandow-esque lapse? More important, are you suggesting our man Alan is doing the administration a solid?

If the answer is yes, then I want to get to know Alan better, because he's rubbing some premium elbows!

More seriously though, if Rush were to look a little deeper, he'd find Alan Reynolds has been writing about immigration for some time and that this latest column is a continuation of a pre-existing interest in the issue.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Small Comfort

When Patrick Kennedy was asked why he smashed up his car at 3 a.m. near the Capitol building a week ago Thursday, his answer was pat: “I do not ken.” It seems the Democrat from Rhode Island tried to stay on the road but wound up on the island. He claimed that he had consumed no alcohol, but a waitress at the Hawk & Dove said that story was Cock & Bull. Apparently his position is that he goes to that establishment not to drink but because he likes the Ambiens.

Kennedys are schooled in such things: they will bare any burden to avoid having to pay any price. Patrick confessed that he contends with alcoholism, substance abuse, addictive behavior and a touch of mental illness. Forget about his not committing a crime; it sounds like not committing him would be a crime. After making these arresting remarks, he hied himself off to the Mayo Clinic for their special spring package: detox, rehab and one free appearance on Oprah if you sign up before May 31.

Scoff if you will at the amnesia defense – in fiction class they taught us to eschew amnesia, identical twins and lottery winners as too implausible – but it worked. Only two weeks have passed, but the story is gone… and forgotten.

THE QUESTION THAT FASCINATES not only politically but personally is: how do the Democrats get away with such outrageous behavior? The glib answer is that they have a different deal with their constituents. Republicans promise their voters to represent them honorably. Democrats promise theirs to deliver the goodies and no questions asked. People expect different behavior from their attorney than they do from their collection agency.

Although that is part of it, this time we are seeing that it runs deeper. We have a familiarity of long standing with the Democrats’ rhetoric that they are guided by their concern for the ‘little guy’. They could choose to sit around and bask in their bigness, you see, but they are bigger than that. Larger. So they use this largesse to rescue us from our littleness.

There have always been flaws in this construct, not least the fact that when tax returns are compared, Republican candidates give more personal charity by a factor of 10 to 1. Ted Kennedy’s return, when he was in the Democrat Presidential Primary of 1980, showed almost zero donations and became an issue that hurt his chances. It was déjà vu two decades later, when we saw that Al Gore, in the year that Earth in the Balance was a best seller, gave a whopping 150 bucks in contributions.

But I believe that the encompassing analysis, the oversoul, is this: the Democrats are not the party of the ‘little guy’. They are the party of the ‘small guy’. They are wedded to smallness in all its forms. It’s best expressed in Yiddish: kleinkeppeldigkeit (small-headedness) and kleinshteteldigkeit (small-town-ness). It’s not exaggerated by much to say that they stand in opposition to all the faces of greatness.

The very notion that there is some inner core of greatness, some nobler ultimate purpose, both in the macrocosm of the world and the microcosm of the individual human being, is something they find perturbing. If you speak of a Creator Who has a plan for mankind, that is spooky and unsettling. To attribute some overarching wisdom to a revealed book – wisdom reflecting the insight of the watchmaker into the workings of His watch – is to introduce superstition, discomfiting those who seek to conduct civil discourse. And to assign it authority over defining morality is to invite a nasty old uncle to what should have been a nice party.

To suggest that there is a higher existence than our own to which one might strive is somehow offensive. As a corollary of this, all authority figures who symbolize the idea of answering to a higher code are viewed as creepy. How many books and movies have made military commanders into the bad guys? Tons. The same holds true for priests, for parents and for various ‘pillars of the community’. (Teachers have been granted an exemption as long as they promise not to promote morality.) Indeed the very notion of patriotism, the national flag or the national anthem, is deemed corny at best and ‘dangerous’ at worst.

Not the little guy but the small guy is the Democrat constituent. The less you believe, the less you limit yourself, the less you speak of honor, the less you work to project dignity, the more you are in the liberal comfort zone. All this throws a pall over people who revere the Constitution, to whom the law is a beacon of nobility. When I hear it said that the Kennedys are a dynasty, I cringe; they stand mostly for dismantling our institutions. Although one institution at least is safe: David Blaine failed to break the record for holding one’s breath underwater, leaving Senator Ted as uncontested champion.

The Passion of Barbra Streisand

Oops. I meant to say "compassion." Anyway, it seems that Babs and Mr. Streisand went to see MI:3 at the local Agoura Hills theatre (frighteningly, near my home), whereupon Mizz Streisand refused to pay for the two tickets, called over the teenager in charge of ticket-taking, and told him that "We asked especially for you. We haven't seen you in a while." And so he let them in for free; no report is available on whether Babs and Mr. Steisand were allowed to cut to the front of the concession line for free popcorn.

Can you believe it? Always so generous with Other People's Money---specifically, that of the taxpayers---in pursuit of social justice and blah blah blah, and yet... Babs's spokesprostitute explained that "It's a professional courtesy that many theatres extend to film stars."

I think that it's been awhile since Babs was a "film star," but never mind. And it's been a long, long time since, well, ever, that I have heard a story of genuine generosity of the part of Streisand, other than from Hollywood types and politicos who need her and her checkbook. As Mark Steyn once noted, "Politicians who need Barbra are the unluckiest people in the world."

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Michelle Malkin: Moron

I see that Mizz Malkin, who does not look as if she had any ancestors on the Mayflower, has continued her jihad against illegal immigrants by arguing that Senators opposed to replacing the Statue of Liberty with barbed wire as the enduring symbol of America are in favor of "open borders." Well, not quite. There is a serious argument to be made that those who come to America to work make the U.S. better off in the aggregate, although some groups lose; that is true for the importation of, say, inexpensive shoes as well. Clearly we cannot have unlimited immigration ("open borders"), and no one advocates it; this is just one of many of Malkin's dishonesties. But just as Malkin clearly wants to expel the estimated twelve million illegals---should we use cattle cars, Michelle?---without telling us precisely how that is to be done in ways both humane and consistent with the preservation of political support in the U.S., so has she failed to tell us how, politically, border security can be separated from a gradual legalization process for those here without discarding the latter. And so the approach of some House Republicans---"secure the border," whatever that means, and we'll worry about the other details later---is just as much a nonstarter as an open border proposal.

Apart from the potential terrorism problem, which conceptually is distinct from the immigration problem, the real issue is assimilation. We cannot have a welfare state, bilingual education, bilingual ballots, and all the other disincentives for assimilation in the context of massive migration from Mexico; it really is that simple, because multicultural societies do not work. The leftist approach---identity politics and multicultural separatism---yields ethnic strife and civil wars. (The bigotry of La Raza and similar groups is no accident.) Immigrants are and always have been hard-working, productive, and largely law-abiding; those are conditions necessary but not sufficient to allow large amounts of immigration. And so reform must begin with measures designed to force assimilation, an approach promoted in part by El Presidente W last evening.

For all the talk about how the immigration issue has split Republicans, it seems to me that the Democrats have their own fault lines on this issue: neither black workers nor the unions can be very happy about a large influx of lower-skilled workers. Since both parties are split, for different reasons, it is hard for me to see a bill emerging from Congress before the election this fall. More generally, it never hurts to ask "What would Reagan say?" And I am sure that he would refer yet again to that shining city on a hill, the view of which remains unobscured by a wall. More sensible policies---such as requiring work permits, allowing those holding them to go back and forth across the border, eliminating automatic citizenship for the children of illegals born here, etc.---would work wonders. More later as time permits.

Cultural Contrasts: Here and The Arab World

Recently a Kennedy Center spokesman said that the organization will stage a festival of Arab culture in 2009 to bring little-known artists onto the world stage and provide a counterpoint to the violence many Americans associate with the Middle East region.

Michael Kaiser, the center’s president, said: “We don’t know enough about what other people are about. We read government and politics. That doesn’t say anything about what they like, what they find beautiful. Also, the idea starts from my rather naïve belief that arts create peace.”

Ambassador Hussein Hassouna, the Arab League’s representative in Washington said, the festival “is very much needed at this time.”

Rochelle Davis, an anthropologist at Georgetown University, contends, “We have so many stereotypes – seeing people performing dances and songs breaks down our ideas about how they are all evil.”

This report from the Kennedy Center was printed at about the same time an Egyptian television series promoting anti-American hate propaganda aired in the Palestinian Authority and much of the Arab world. The popular series presents the U.S. as the leader of imperialist forces around the globe and as such, responsible for serious problems in Arab nations.

The series, produced by an Egyptian government owned and controlled company, reflects a critical component of propaganda in the Middle East, which is to blame the failings of Arab regimes on imperialist America and thereby deflect the anger of Arabs away from corrupt leaders and regimes.

The conclusion of the series is that resistance (read: terror) is justified in order to defeat the United States. After all, series’ talking heads note, U.S. behavior in “this region” is part of a pattern of oppression starting with American policy towards the Indians.

What should be apparent to even casual observers of the public scene is the contrast between well meaning, but naïve American cultural overtures and the cynical and propagandistic anti-American views circulating in the Arab world. Here we are using culture as a way to understand Arab societies and they are using culture to promote hate and violence against the United States.

It might well be asked: Why isn’t the Arab League funding American cultural festivals in their respective countries? It is the Arab nations that are most in need of cultural reform and it is the Arab people that are being systematically misled about American foreign policy intentions.

Since 9/11 the Arab publicity machinery has been working full time to convey the impression Israeli agents destroyed the World Trade Center. In fact, a popular Egyptian music video makes this claim quite directly. Such cultural nonsense begs the question of who attacked whom? Which nations need to learn about tolerance?

I don’t have any quarrel with American cultural commissars organizing a festival to display Arab culture. What I don’t understand is the lack of reciprocity. It seems that most of the Arab world is content to fight the Crusades on the cultural front, with the U.S. as the exemplar of the Christian invader and we are content in promoting sweetness and understanding. There is something fundamentally wrong with this picture.

Where is the Arab leader who tells the story of American scientific and medical break-throughs that have dramatically influenced life extension and the reduction of morbidity in the Arab world? Where are the Arab cultural figures who are prepared to explain American contributions to art and music? Why isn’t the Arab League doing in Alexandria and Damascus what the Kennedy Center is doing in Washington?

Of course, sensible people know the answers to these questions. The problem is that in a war of ideas sensible approaches are often a casualty of intimidation and fear. That is why culture has become a battleground for survival and, why, I might add, we are engaged in an uphill struggle.

Herbert London is president of Hudson Institute and professor emeritus of New York University. He is the author of Decade of Denial (Lanham, Maryland: Lexington Books, 2001). London maintains a website,

Bush, Borders, and Politics

Last night, I followed a long personal habit of not watching the president speak. One brought up on Reagan simply cannot digest the devolution into Bush II.

However, I have read about it and it sounds as though the president has not come out with any wonderfully direct solution to the problem of illegal immigration. I'm a little surprised because his pink lemonade speech comes at a time when politicians all over the country are getting religion over immigration. Why? Because it is a simple issue and regular Americans don't like illegal immigration in large numbers. Somehow, the controversy has reached its tipping point and public attention is more focused on immigration that any other matter.

Where this leaves us is in Ross Perot territory. Perot really got himself in the game in '92 by being the one person speaking seriously about the national debt. Illegal immigration has become a much bigger issue than the national debt was in the late '80's and early 90's. If the right politician were to make illegal immigration the centerpiece of a campaign, I think he/she would have a tremendous chance of winning all the cookies in 2008.

Am I wrong?

Monday, May 15, 2006

Alienation from Republicans—and the Antidote

Recent polls show support for Republicans is still declining, and President Bush's approval ratings are the lowest for any president other than Richard Nixon and Jimmy Carter in the past fifty years. The New York Times summed it up well last week:

Americans have a bleaker view of the country's direction than at any time in more than two decades, according to the latest New York Times/CBS News poll. Sharp disapproval of President Bush's handling of gasoline prices has combined with intensified unhappiness about Iraq to create a grim political environment for the White House and Congressional Republicans.

This decline is basically not a matter of PR or press bias but of policy, as I note in my Tech Central Station article of today, "The Crash of Big-Government Conservatism." Bush and the Republican Congress have had a difficult time selling themselves to the public because their policies have not been appealing. They have had a philosophy, big-government conservatism, that alienates nearly everyone. The War on Terror delayed this alienation for several years, but ultimately the Bush administration's errors and Congress's addiction to big spending, which was based on this big-government conservative philosophy, alienated both those outside the party, first, and then a great proportion of Republicans themselves.

Big-government conservatism has a few main aims: to preserve the welfare state while mitigating its ill effects, to preserve the sexual revolution while mitigating its ill effects, to preserve the present American culture while mitigating its bad effects, to preserve the present international order while mitigating its bad effects, and to preserve the present system of national politics while mitigating its bad effects.

The economic premise of the Republicans is that the welfare state benefits from free markets and is not in natural conflict with them. Their social premise relies on the same utilitarian calculus as that of their opponents on the Left, but the Republicans hold that antinomianism is not good for people but that nothing can really be done about it except to try to ease government restrictions on religion. The international affairs premise is that liberal democracy is the best thing for all nations and imposition of in on other nations is the solution when they become a threat to U.S. interests.

The Democrats, by contrast, say that the system of free markets and human welfare are in inevitable conflict, and the latter must always be the higher priority. They believe in expanding the sexual revolution. They believe that the moral problem with America is not antinomianism but the intractable intolerance of monotheists. And they believe that the real problem with the international order is that war is inevitable when people don't see residents of other nations as being of equal importance as oneself and one's family, neighborhood, and nation.

The Democrats have a definite philosophy that creates a vivid picture of a good world, and that is appealing. The Republicans' present philosophy is simply a watered-down version of the Democrats'. For a party in power, that is disastrous, as it lets the opposition set the agenda and measure success.

The solution for the Republicans is to embrace classical liberalism, not forgetting its crucial components of individual rights, personal responsibility, the belief that human life in general and every human life in particular has meaning, and respect for the reality of nationality.

Such a vision provides a truly comprehensible, consistent, and sensible view of the world and the nation. In this worldview, the nation is a society of free individuals brought together by a common heritage, living under laws that free people to achieve the best that they can and prevent them from unfairly exploiting one another, that respects the need for personal morality regardless of one's religious background. Classical liberalism provides a way to find clear answers in all policy matters by asking the following question: Which policy approach will create the greatest amount of both individual liberty and social order?

Such a vision is by no means a theocracy; it is in fact based largely on utilitarianism. However, it also includes a respect for religion because the latter is part of mankind's perpetual search for truth and meaning and because it encourages personal morality and social charity and gives great comfort and purpose to individuals in times both good and bad. In its great and abiding respect for the good things religion brings, however, classical liberalism never allows the two kingdoms (in Martin Luther's great distinction), the City of God and the City of Man, to be conflated or confused with each other. Classical liberalism holds that the Christian religion is good for society because it encourages the intellectual foundations for an orderly society of free individuals. Whether a particular religion's claims are true or not is a matter for the Church to decide, as Luther pointed out, not the state; and whether a particular policy or political philosophy is good is a matter to be decided by an emprical calculus, not religious laws developed for a very different group of people six thousand years ago. Encouragement of religion, yes; imposition of religious-based laws, no.

This philosophy is much more likely to appeal to Republicans and others on the Right than the watered-down postmodernism now offered by the Republicans. The one positive element for Republicans at this point is that they are learning today, almost six months before the coming elections, that their philosophy has run its course. There is time for them to change. Whether they will in fact do so is another question entirely, but one thing is certain. They have nothing to lose, and their hold on Congress and state legislatures and executive mansions to retain.

Oooops! Yum!

Backed up my GMC/NASCAR/GOP half-ton on some little squirrels. Not one, but two squirrels. Arrgh. Such cute little fellas. But what were the odds of getting such premium roadkill in my very own driveway? Zero is the answer. But there they were, dead. Or mostly, until I drove over 'em again, just to make sure.

Waste not, want not. Children starving in Swahilistan and all that, so I decided our cute little fellas' deaths should not be in vain. They would not have wanted it to go down like that, of this I am sure. Squirrels are Republicans too in their squirrelly way: they hoard all their nuts, do not share with 0thers, breed like religious freaks or rabbits, and exploit the hard work of others, like trees and people. They neither spin nor toil nor sow nor whatever, but they do want their bodies eaten by the masses. You could look it up. Republicans are like that. Abraham Lincoln.

So, we (Eddie, Jim & yr humble truck backer-upper) experimented around a little in our culinary science laboratory (Eddie's mother's kitchen) and came up with this. Peel before eating, like shrimp:

2 dead squirrels
½ bag Fritos® (crushed)
7½ oz. Kraft NASCAR® Barbecue Sauce
1 jar Cheese Whiz®
½ tsp coriander
1 quart Tabasco®
1 sprig parsley

Stir, set a tire on fire and cook it all 'til it's a golden black. Top with Cheez-Its®.

Salt and pepper to taste.

Oh, man. I'm proud to be an American, and dang wasn't that an unexpected feast. Providence, the Founding Fathers used to call it, before they all died. We are the new Promised People and God was smiling at my back tires before they accidentally crushed the heads of those tasty varmints, I can tell you that much for sure. Felt sorry about the squirrels and their heads and all, but hey, we're all just spokes on the Great Mandala. Some of us eat, some of us just taste good. And if I may say, especially with this recipe.

Bon Appétit, as I'd say in France if I were there (which I'm not, thank God), and Jeff Gordon better get his pit crew's ass in gear or he's gonna miss out on The Chase. Bush too.