Courage is rightly esteemed the first of human qualities because it is the quality which guarantees all others.—Churchill

Monday, July 02, 2007

Libby Freed, Bush Administration Cooked

Previous objections to a Libby pardon here, along with objections to the objections.

Libby's motion to remain free on bail pending appeal was rejected today by a 3-judge panel that included a Reagan, a Bush41, and a Clinton appointee. Since I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby was therefore headed directly to jail (no passing Go, no $200), President Bush promptly commuted his sentence.

All that can be said at this point is that with a Libby pardon (technically a commutation) polling at 18%, all the administration has going for it is a bit of surprise, as the pundits didn't get in gear punditing on the prospect, and that July 4 falls on Wednesday this year, disrupting the 24/7 newscycle.

But I don't think we've heard the end of this by a long shot, and even if prosecutor Fitzgerald and the jury were wrong wrong wrong, it will be difficult to call this panel biased. I think today marks the end of the Bush Administration for all practical purposes. The lame duck just died, and the next 18 months will be spent on autopsies and cremations, if not barbecuing.

Looks yummy, and this is just too delicious for anyone to pass up what with the "rule of law," etc. at stake. With the 2008 primaries and general election coming up (and the question will be asked), the Democrats will dig in, although Mrs. Clinton has a few bones at the bottom of her own closet as a result of the closing days of her last co-presidency. And don't rule out the GOP turning into the Donner Party, either, although the undeclared candidate won't.

Friday, June 29, 2007

It Lives! No, Wait, It's Dead Again

Well, that didn't take long. While a few Democratic senators were pandering to their base about resuscitating the Fairness Doctrine to battle the mighty monster of conservative talk radio, the House just passed the Pence amendment, which hammers that one back into the crypt. (And with a hundred or so Democrat votes!)

The House jumped in because the Senate might have passed it, especially since they could have counted on Trent Lott's vote. Still, it would have been great fodder for discussion, and the Dems didn't want any discussion since the bias of the network news not to mention tax-supported NPR would have been highlighted.

Me, I'd love there to be more liberal radio. The problem is that Air America and many of the rest don't let conservative guests or callers on the air. The folks at RedState alone could clean their clocks every hour on the hour. I'd tune in for that, hell yeah. Ratings bonanza.

Good Show, Abbas

A commenter who signs Myron Pauli left this poignant, and pungent, ditty over at Ilana Mercer's blog. I thought we should afford it some space as well.

We love you Abbas .. oh yes we do
Though you hate every .. single Jew
You’re not in HAMAS .. that’s true
Oh Mahmoud, we love you

Deny the Holocaust .. who knew
When Fatah uses force .. boo hoo
We’ll pay your every cost .. what’s new
Oh Mahmoud, we love you

You teach your hatred .. in every school
But when you curse at us .. you do not drool
So now it’s our turn .. to play the fool
Oh Mahmoud, we love you

You wear a suit and tie .. you look so neat
And when you’re killing us .. you smile so sweet
And even should we face .. utter defeat
Oh Mahmoud, we love you

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Order, Not Faith

One of the more interesting subtexts of the 2008 presidential campaign has been Rudy Giuliani's popularity among religious conservatives. Given his stark pro-abortion views, his sympathy toward gay rights, and the "turbulence" of his private life, one might expect especially evangelicals to view his candidacy with skepticism.

Just to be clear, I've said before around here that under no circumstances would I vote for Giuliani given his very robust abortion rights stance. Others apparently disagree, at least as evidenced by the very warm reception he received at Pat Robertson's Regent College. Apparently, whatever other virtues Giuliani has outweigh in these folks' mind his clear disagreements with their putative claims. Of course, it's probably a mistake to expect some intellectual and moral consistency (not to mention integrity) from Pat Robertson, but if the polls are right, some significant portion of religious conservatives are willing to forbear on their movement's signature issues. Why?

There are, I think, two answers. First is the War on Terror. They think he'd be the best guy on that set of issues. More broadly, though, it suggests that at least some portion of what's termed the Christian Right is as much concerned about what we might call "social order" as it is about "social issues". Here's what I mean. Giuliani seems to me to be running essentially on two things: a promise to fight successfully against the Islamists and a promise to help "clean up" (my phrase, not his) the nation in the same way that he helped clean up NYC. Conservative Protestants were mobilized into politics in the 1970s much more by what they saw as threats to the moral and social order than by the specific issues of abortion and gay rights. (The SBC didn't affirm a pro-life view until, if I'm not mistaken, 1979, for example.) The disorder of the late 1960s and 1970s was unleashed by the sexual revolution and social permissiveness of the era and the "Christian Right" hoped to reverse those. (Hence the term "Moral Majority.") Giuliani appeals to them, I'm hypothesizing, on the grounds that he is promising "order," and at least some of them are buying.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Cameron the Moron

Well, now, it appears that Cameron Diaz, Hollywood airhead, or airhead even by Hollywood standards, showed up in Peru the other day with a handbad inscribed with a red star and the brilliant adage "Serve the People," served up awhile back by the brilliant mind of Mao. Tens of thousands of Peruvians, of course, were killed by the Shining Path Maoists during the 80s and 90s, and so Maoism is not high on the latest fashion trends in Lima. So our beloved Cameron has apologized for giving inadvertent offense, and blah blah blah.

Put aside the Shining Path; has Cameron never heard of the 100 million or so Chinese killed as a direct result of Mao's policies? Maybe she has, but those poor souls are gone, and so why not be trendy? Or maybe she has not; can she possibly be that much of a moron? Only her hairdresser knows for sure. Well, actually, so do we all. By the way, she is an expert as well on global climate models.

Obama on Christian Materialism

Since we major in the interface between political philosophy and religion around here, it seems proper to announce that I'm about sick of Barack Obama. That didn't take long.

If it is inevitable that our next president be a Democrat, I figgered we could do worse. The center of the party has largely collapsed anyway, so at least Obama was statesmanlike and came off like he wanted to be everybody's president including mine.

False alarm. He hit the Daily Double the other day, going into a church for political purposes and excoriating the opposition for doing the same. Make it a trifecta---he used the word "hijacked," as in, hmmm, who else has "hijacked" a religion for nefarious purposes...?

The message was the same old stuff, that Jesus preached charity for the poor, which to a lefty means more programs and higher taxes. He charged that the Christian Coalition made tax cuts its priority at one point (a legitimate criticism, I suppose, if true---is it?), but in doing so, proved that for collectivists, tax increases are good in their own right, a moral imperative.

Raise taxes, for what? To increase tax revenues? To give more to the poor? What if tax increases and indiscriminate charity are counterproductive?

Doesn't matter. Simply doesn't matter. Christianity's purpose is the same as the secular Enlightenment's and world leftism's and the Democratic Party's---the "relief of man's estate." Raising taxes is your way of showing your virtue.

And there was the usual noise about abortion and stuff, as if the GOP uses my religion to exploit me for my vote. But I don't need a church to tell me there's something morally questionable about disposing of human life out of convenience or using it for spare parts.

Christians heard the Beatitudes. Religious types give more to charity than more secular folks. Christians also heard Christ when He said that His Kingdom is not of this world. Democrats still ask us to vote as if that Kingdom doesn't exist, as if Jesus was all about the relief of man's estate. In fact, He was anything but. If Jesus was all about relieving man's estate, He would have sat there all day cranking out loaves and fishes.

By emphasizing material concerns to the exclusion of the other important things, Sen. Obama is just as dull as the rich men in the Bible. They just don't get it.

Truth, Sir, is a cow that will yield such people no more milk, and so they are gone to milk the bull.---Boswell: Life of Johnson


Sunday, June 24, 2007

Symbols have consequences

It is too easy to go after someone like Cameron Diaz, but not every post should be challenging, right? It seems that on a recent visit to Peru Ms. Diaz's accessories caused a bit of stir. Her handbag boasted a Red Chinese star and Mao's famous dictum written in Chinese, "Serve the People."

Apparently, the global-consciousness-raising star didn't know that the Maoist Shining Path terrorists wreaked havoc on the country not so long ago, killing tens of thousands. Pablo Rojas, a Peruvian human rights activist, aims for an understatement award when he says, "I don't think she should have used that bag where the followers of that ideology did so much damage."

Perhaps this is a rare instance where some sensitivity training could do some good . . .

UPDATE: Diaz has now apologized.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Scooter Libby: Ham Sandwich, Movable Feast

Everybody's learned from crime dramas that any prosecutor worth his salt can get a grand jury to indict a ham sandwich.

And if that ham sandwich happens to be a Republican in an unsympathetic city like Washington, DC, a conviction is just the mustard on a piece of cake. So it was with the hapless I. Lewis Libby, Jr., #2 man to Lil' Bush's #2 man Dick Cheney. Poor Scooter might as well had "Hormel" tattooed on his forehead.

I dunno if he lied, but it seems he was guilty of fudging, anyway. But lying was the charge he was convicted of, because if fudging were illegal, every damn single one of us would be in jail. It turns out that the real culprit was

Colin Powell's own #2 man, who doesn't have Hormel on his forehead---in fact I think there's a U in a circle there---Dick Armitage. Armitage is downright kosher, because everybody loves Colin Powell, and so he remains a free man, and unindicted as well.

Because there's no such thing as a kosher ham sandwich.

But there's the problem of the rightosphere, especially the National Review, calling on President Bush to pardon poor scapepig Scooter. Now, I agree that this whole thing was a travesty and Christopher Hitchens has a good roundup of this panoply of slime and punishment here. Hitchens, whom I admire, also calls for a pardon, but like the Founders, I must defer to an even wiser man:

"Again, there is no liberty, if the power of judging be not separated from the legislative and executive powers. Were it joined with the legislative, the life and liberty of the subject would be exposed to arbitrary control, for the judge would then be the legislator. Were it joined to the executive power, the judge might behave with all the violence of an oppressor."---Montesquieu, The Spirit of the Laws (1748)

It must be noted also that as governor of Texas, Bush's record shows that he denied clemency to condemned criminals if the proper procedures had been followed, and pardoned himself from considerations of mercy or even justice, relying instead upon the rule of law. The rule of law, the same drumbeat heard throughout the Clinton impeachment debacle, we must add.

So must it be with I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby. He must go to jail. Now, as the court has ordered (altho Libby's motion for freedom pending his appeal seems quite justifiable). So sayeth Montesqieu, so sez me.

I'm OK if President Dubya wants to clear the decks at the close of his administration for the sake of his successor's: there's precedent for pardoning whatever miscreants made bad calls in pursuit of their duty as they saw it. Dubya himself was purposeful in wiping the Clinton slate clean and that was a good thing.

But for now, no pardon for Scooter. He got a raw deal, true, but as GOPers are fond of quoting JFK, life isn't always fair. Or even kosher, he might have added.


Wednesday, June 20, 2007

The Independent Illusion

I’m so heartbroken that Mayor Michael Bloomberg left the Republican Party. It must really be that the Party left him! Of course this lifelong liberal was only a Republican so he could run for mayor of NYC. Now the Mayor thinks he has what it takes to be President of the United States. Hubris is certainly a disease that the rich and powerful more easily succumb to, and Bloomberg has it in spades.

The illusion I refer to is two-fold. One is the illusion that to be devoid of ideology is some kind of virtue, as he implied in a recent statement: "Any successful elected executive knows that real results are more important than partisan battles and that good ideas should take precedence over rigid adherence to any particular political ideology." Of course this assumes that “partisan” is bad and that political ideology is incompatible with “good ideas.” This also assumes that “real results,” whatever that means, cannot come from partisan battles.

There is so much hogwash in this statement that it leaves one flabbergasted that such a smart person could be so stupid. Yet it is not so much stupidity, but disingenuousness. Bloomberg, a lifelong Democrat before his conversion of convenience in 2001, is also a lifelong liberal. When he denigrates partisanship and political ideology he is speaking about conservatives and Republicans. Independents or “moderates” almost always tilt toward the left side of the political spectrum.

The other illusion I speak of is that an independent can win the presidency. Ain’t gonna happen. It has never happened and most likely never will. What independents do when running for president is take votes from one or the other party’s candidates. Two recent examples are Perot in ’92, who took votes from the first President Bush which led to the Clinton presidency, and Ralph Nader in 2000 who took votes from Al Gore and likely gave the election to the current President Bush. Bloomburg would almost certainly take votes from the Democrat nominee.

He states that were he to run he would first have to decide that he could win; if he decides to run you will know that Michael Bloomberg is delusional.'s Reform Club

A hearty welcome to Los Angeles Times readers who've tracked down our Dr. Ben Zycher (his column linked here) and to American Spectatorites who caught my (TVD's) latest essay there.

Since every blog unapologetically loves new folks coming around, we hope you'll poke through this, our home page, because there's something here for everyone.

And we encourage comments from all comers and promise to keep all vampires off your neck if you agree to do the same; although everything starts with a monologue, dialogue is why we're all really here. Kick off yer shoes, mix up a nice toddy, and feel free to jump on in.---Ed.

(We also feature a Fred Thompson News Ticker on our sidebar>>>>>>>>>
Worth bookmarking for that alone!)


Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Opera Omnia

Over the weekend my husband and I were catching up on our knuckle-dragging right wing blog favorites, and this coy link from Jonah Goldberg introduced us to Paul Potts, a somewhat more-than-ordinary looking bloke from South Wales who mustered up the courage to bare his epiglottis to Simon Cowells and a couple of people I don't recognize, on audition for the British version of American Idol.

If you have not seen this clip yet (although as of this writing YouTube reports three million viewings, so I suppose it's unlikely), watch it before reading my comments below.

Followups on NRO from some readers and the resident cranky old Englishman/immigration scold/opera buff John Derbyshire filled out the story a bit. I particularly liked this bit of analysis from a reader to Goldberg:

The video came up and there’s this dumpy guy with bad teeth. Then he started to sing. Now, I’m not an overly emotional person, but halfway through I realized I was crying. Haven’t done anything like that in many, many years, and I wondered, as I dried my eyes, how in the world his singing could have caused such a strong reaction in me....His expression before he begins to sing is that of a man resigned to disappointment. Even when he smiles, his eyes convey a profound sadness. He has been a nobody all his life. He, and perhaps only he, knows he has greatness inside of him, but he is obviously a humble man, massively insecure, afraid of rejection, unsure of himself outside the cocoon of anonymity. But you get the feeling he also knows that this may be the one chance he gets to escape the cocoon, and as he begins to sing, you can see him fighting down his fear. I think that is the wellspring of the emotion that pervades his performance. He is fighting against a life of obscurity.

By the song’s end, what was an average Joe has stepped up, beaten back his fear, and broken through. In those few seconds, he put the void behind him, and his life will probably be changed forever because he called up the courage at that moment to show what he was really made of. We saw greatness, long denied, finally being born.

Well, I agree with all that. This performance is an iconic illustration of the most beloved of all stories, the peasant who turns into a prince, but I also think there's a little more to it. It's not just that he is singing with emotion, but that this particular song expresses everything Jonah's correspondent saw.

I am by no means an opera nerd, so I may be a little out of my depth here, but I believe this is one of the few times I have heard a tenor sing an aria and really mean it. There are undeniable, significant flaws in Paul Potts's performance (which is, by the way, a shortened version of the aria, I assume to accomodate time restraints) but it is equally undeniable that he is, for the sixty seconds he is singing, wholly in character.

The aria Paul sings, Nessun Dorma, is from Turandot, the Persian fairy-tale opera Giacomo Puccini left unfinished when he died in 1926. Turandot, a cold-hearted princess, has already executed several potential suitors when a mysterious and anonymous man accepts the usual challenge: solve her riddles and he gains her hand; fail and she gains his head. The stranger solves Turandot's riddles, but gives her a second chance: if she can discover his name before dawn, she may behead him.

"Nessun dorma" means "No one shall sleep" -- it is Turandot's command, on pain of death, that all her subjects shall strive all night to discover the stranger's name. The stranger takes up this phrase, now on a major chord: yes, no one will sleep,

Even you, o Princess,
In your cold room,
Watch the stars,
That tremble with love
And with hope.
But my secret is hidden within me;

My name no one shall know,
On your mouth I will speak it
When the light shines
And my kiss will dissolve the silence
That makes you mine.

And finally, the triumphant climax:

Dilegua, o notte!
Tramontate, stelle!
All'alba vincerò!

To be honest, the high B seems a hair beyond Paul's reach, but it doesn't matter. The slight crack is endearing, for he is declaring I shall conquer! And indeed he does. The audience, most of whom have never heard of Turandot and would have trouble distinguishing Puccini from Punchinello, are cheering him like Caruso at La Scala. The female judge is openly weeping, and even the snooty looking fellow, who raised his high-bred eyebrows in alarm when this lumpy nobody announced he was there "to sing opera" is won over.

The character who sings this song, Calaf, is, like Paul, an apparent nobody. His father is the former king of Tartary, deposed by Turandot's father. Calaf himself lives in anonymity, fearful of discovery, yet he retains the heart of a prince. Is that why Paul Potts chose this aria? I have no idea. It took serious cojones in one sense, because he is almost demanding to be compared to Luciano Pavarotti. Not only has Pavarotti made it his signature piece for thirty years, his recording of it was used by the BBC as the theme for the 1990 World Cup, and it became a quirky hit in Great Britain. On the other hand, perhaps he knew a comparison would be in his favor. Here is Pavarotti:

It is technically as close to perfect as man's voice can be. But it is somehow cold. No frozen heart, certainly not Turandot's, could be melted by such singing. Compare this, Paul Pott's performance in the final competition. He has spruced up, and sings the entire aria.

He won, by the way.


Shameless Self-Promotion

My op-ed in today's Los Angeles Times, in opposition to the various proposals for disinvestment by public pension funds in firms doing business with the Iranian mullahs, can be found here. It was butchered a bit due to space constraints---in particular, the explanation of why sanctions against South Africa had the effect of strengthening apartheid was essentially dropped---but I think that the central argument still gets through. Comments welcome.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Wither the Episcopal Church?

Via Mark Steyn at NRO, an Episcopalian priest has decided she's also a Muslim.

[Rev. Ann Holmes] Redding's bishop, the Rt. Rev. Vincent Warner, says he accepts Redding as an Episcopal priest and a Muslim, and that he finds the interfaith possibilities exciting.

"Exciting" is one way to put it. Unknown at this time is how a Muslim can take Communion when there's wine involved, since Muslims don't do alcohol. But if the Catholics are correct and the wine is transubstantiated into the Blood of Christ, I guess it's not wine anymore, so that's cool. But head Protestant honcho Martin Luther thought that although it's the Blood of Christ, it's still also wine (consubstantiation). As near as I can tell, the Episcopalian Church is firmly on the fence. Looks like they might have to finally sort that one out after all these years, unless they just start using grape juice.

Then again, Muslims don't believe in the Eucharist at all, so when a Muslim Episcopal priest consecrates the Eucharist, well, I remember the nuns telling us that if a fake priest said Mass but you took Communion in good faith, it was still Communion.

At least I think that's what they said. I never thought about it much because there wasn't much likelihood of running into a fake priest. Until now...


Sunday, June 17, 2007

Stupid Little Leftists

As Christopher Hitchens sagely noted, denigrating President Bush's intelligence is the sort of thing that stupid people find funny. Comedy Central has a new show for such folks.

It's predictably infantile enough, based on the clip I saw. It takes place while Bush 41 is president, and Lil' (sic) Bush and Lil' (sic) Cheney, et lil' al. won the softball game for Team Halliburton by getting revved up on crack. 41 says that cheating is fine if it wins back the trophy (apparently a reference to the 2000 election), and a knowing evil laugh is had by all. Dubya is portrayed as diabolical, but still an ignoramus, natch.

The correct contraction for "little" is li'l, of course, not lil'. This incorrectly punctuated graphic passed before literally hundreds of people at Comedy Central who apparently find the show funny.

Not a single one of them caught it. Irony knows no measure these days.


Thursday, June 14, 2007

The Bigotry of the Journalists... and the UN

Well, there's quite a party going on in Gaza, don't you think? Fatah thrown off buildings here, shot in the head there, people cowering around the corner. Quite a show. Of course, were it the Israelis wreaking such havoc upon Fatah terrorists, the mainstream press and the UN bureaucrats would be having a field day: front-page denunciations, resolutions, calls for sanctions and boycotts. The possibilities are familiar and endless.

But because it is one group of Arab terrorists killing another, well, what do you expect from such people anyway? They are simply incapable of adhering to civilized standards of conduct, obviously, and so why waste precious ink and time on it? From the news bureaus to Turtle Bay: Let's go have a drink.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

What is the South?

There are a lot of ways of distinguishing our cultural differences and especially of what has been that most distinct of areas, the South. Here is one take, dividing things up by the availability of sweet tea. Pretty cool.

(HT: Evangelical Outpost)

"a wonderful young lady..."

Apparently, out in La-La land, they have a pretty wide view of what counts as wonderful . Even if the young woman in question didn't murder her newborn child, anyone leaving a baby in a dumpster is far from "wonderful."

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Strict Constructionists, The Bible, Democracy and the Natural Law

When Rudy Giuliani says his appointees will be like Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, as if they're peas in a pod, I don't think he has any idea of what he's talking about. True, they often arrive at the same place, but it's by completely different paths, as we shall see.

Scalia is certainly not the ideologue he's made out to be. He believes in a natural law and believes he can discern it, but his position is that the Court (since Erie RR v. Tompkins [304 US 64, 78 (1938)]) is not free to use its own determination of natural law to override legislation. His judicial philosophy is that we have no choice but to achieve a provisional morality (or truth, I imagine) by consensus.

This rides on a kinda Rawlsian acknowledgement of what Aquinas, et al., admitted—-that there is a natural law, but interpretations will vary. Natural law, in all their views, of course must guide legislation. Unless one believes that questions of right and wrong are not germane to how a society orders itself.

These things get abstract to the point of nonsense in a hurry, because some believe the language of "rights" or tradition supersedes right and wrong. Justice Thomas disagrees, in that he would never subordinate his moral conscience to novel but reasonable legal theories or even to stare decisis. This is why John Locke wanted to drum the Catholics out of public life, as their allegience is to something higher than man's law. Scalia, however, would be quite acceptable to Locke, as he appears to have become a "reasonable" man, and stare comes with the performance of his duties.

Surely, using the Bible as “proof” to someone who rejects it is foolish if not tautological. It certainly stands to reason to use the language of the Other while trying to sway him to your position. Natural law was rehabilitated by Catholics in the past century as a lingua franca, and is achieving increasing acceptance by other philosophically-minded Christians as well.

But on the other hand, sometimes a “reasonable” theory of law is inadequate to the task, or the locutor is. That’s why Justice Thomas boldly holds to the asserting natural law, as simple as the statement “slavery is wrong.” Many reasonable men tried to make the reasonable case against slavery over the centuries, but with only a non-foundational view of human rights (i.e., absent the endowed by their Creator part), it was a tough go.

And so, because we are all citizen-rulers in this here democracy, sometimes, joining that Rawlsian consensus that x is wrong is all that remains, regardless of whether the minority thinks the way the judgment was reached is “reasonable.” This is Scalia’s pro-democracy, non-ideological view of law. However, since the Constitution, as a social contract, permitted slavery, Scalia's legal philosophy would be powerless to overturn something like Dred Scott.

Dang. Such are the limits are reason and of law.

To illustrate, we as a society have decided that cruelty to animals is wrong, and have codified that sentiment into law. The abstract “neutral” theories of law that have been bandied about of late cannot reasonably accomodate that sentiment. A bland, neutral reading of property rights yields that animals are property that we can dispose of as we see fit and nobody can say boo.

But that is not society, it is not the law, it is not “rights,” and it’s not reality. Cruelty to animals is wrong because it’s wrong. Sometimes we cannot transcend such tautologies; words and abstractions fail us, yet we ban it anyway. And if Peter Singer and PETA can convince a sufficient number of Americans that meat is murder, so shall it be.

It is often proposed that the Bible must be left at the door when we decide how we should legislate. But it must be noted here that Christians believe revelation is real. If the Constitution is truly neutral on religion, it must be agnostic, not atheistic. If one votes in this here democracy that x is wrong because God said so, that will have to do. Agnosticism must leave the room to answer, maybe He did.

On this, Scalia and Thomas would agree, but for very different reasons. They are not pod people. I find Rudy to be a thorough Lockean; he should adore Scalia, but Thomas should scare the bejesus out of him. Once you get into questions of right or wrong, the sky's the limit.


Saturday, June 09, 2007

Eat the Rich

I don't pretend that the observation I'm about to make is particularly original, nor do I have a great deal of wonky social science data to back me up (there are others here more qualified than I to speak of that). But within the last few years I've noticed a significant divide in how certain people approach the problem of poverty and the oft-heard and decried increasing gap between rich and poor.

I suppose it was the Sojourners forum on June 4th that really got me thinking about this, though it's something I've also noticed in my corner of the academy (political theory, law, politics etc.). The observation is as follows.

On the one hand you have people concerned with poverty as such, that is, making sure that as many people as possible have enough to eat, clean water to drink, and a roof over their head. For these people inequality is a problem to the extent that some people are so poor that they do not enjoy a basic standard of living (for how this might apply to the American situation and the "poverty line", see here). These people may disagree as to the best means with which to address the truly disadvantaged, but they agree that the real problem is something tangible as are the solutions (more calories, rooftops, innoculations, etc.).

On the other hand are folks who think inequality as such is unjust and something to be remedied. To be sure, these people are also concerned about the sort of poverty mentioned in the previous paragraph, but these folks would not be satisfied with raising everyone to a basic level of economic prosperity. Even if everyone had enough to eat and a roof over their heads, and we can throw in even health care and cable television, these folks would still think that there is a serious injustice in any inequality, as if the creation and maintenance of wealth is a zero-sum game.

In the many graduate seminars I've sat in, the truly disreputable thing to do was not to hold a religious or pro-life position (though those were not necessarily welcomed), but to question this second premise about inequality and the sacrosanct role of government to redistribute wealth.

This brings to mind a few things. First, the first concern about inequality is one that can realistically be addressed and real gains can be made whereas the second approach to inequality will never succeed. This is because the second sort of concern, let's call it the concern of the levellers, finds an enduring harm in a psychological principle that feeds off the thought, "They have more than I do."

Second, this psychology is precisely the one JJ Rousseau diagnosed brilliantly (I'm afraid his solutions were not so brilliant) as being infected with amour-propre, the condition in which when I think of others I think only of myself, and when I consider my own value I frame it entirely with regard to others. Or as Pierre Manent has put it, "Man lives for the gaze of others, whom he hates."

Third, the solution to amour-propre as put forth by the levellers is, well, to level, as opposed to encouraging people not to define success entirely in terms of material prosperity ("entirely" is a key word there, as the truly poor would have to be saints to flourish in abject poverty).

Finally, this distinction helps us, or at least has helped me, understand some of the politics of poverty and the proposals put forth to approach it. People in both groups can agree on policies, both governmental and market-based, to help the truly poor. What people in the first group don't often realize is that some (most?) policies are tailor-made not merely to lift up folks at the very bottom but bring down a lot of folks at the top.

And while I'm not the most economics-savvy person on the planet, this seems to lead not only to bringing folks down at the top, but keeping a lot of folks dependent and strapped at the bottom.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

The Scum of the Scum of the Earth

I noted awhile back in a post that Colin Powell and Richard Armitage, then respectively Secretary and Deputy Secretary of State, had allowed Scooter Libby to twist in the wind even as they knew perfectly well that it was Armitage who had leaked the (trivial) details of Valerie Plame's CIA career. And they did so as part of an everyday manifestation of Beltway insider hardball over the Bush Iraq policy.

It turns out, as detailed in Paul Wolfowitz' letter to Judge Walton urging sentencing leniency for Libby, that Libby, while an attorney in private practice, had "helped a public official defend himself successfully against libelous accusations, something that is extremely difficult to do for anyone in public office. The official in question was Richard Armitage..."

So: Is there anyone out there prepared to defend the proposition that Armitage is not the scum of the scum of the earth? In the words of Ben Stein in Ferris Bueller's Day Off: "Anyone? Anyone?"

Through the Night with the Light from Above?

According to DRUDGE, O'Reilly got more viewers than the Republican debate, and a Fred Thompson interview an hour later on Hannity & Colmes got nearly as many.

And when RudyG was asked about the criticism of his pro-choice position from Catholic bishops, a lighting bolt momentarily cut off his response.

I dunno what, but something's going on...


Monday, June 04, 2007

Just Among Friends

The recent to-do around here about definitions got me thinking about "social justice." If Wade Connerly were to use the term, I'd know he was advocating a color-blind society. When a lefty uses it, I check my wallet.

The great humanist Hugo Chavez is currently distributing some social justice in Venezuela, initiating yet another round of Latin American land reform. He's also building socially just housing:

Bella Vista is one of 12 “communal towns” that Mr. Chávez plans to build this year. It has neat rows of identical three-bedroom homes for 83 families, a reading room, a radio station, a building with free high-speed Internet service, a school and a plaza with a bust of Simón Bolívar, Venezuela’s national hero.

With financing from state banks, the cooperative plants crops like manioc, corn and beans, which officials in Caracas say are better suited to soils here than sugar cane. By burning the cane during land seizures, the squatters prepare the land for other crops and give owners less incentive to fight for control. The state and federal government holds Bella Vista as an example of the ideological fervor Mr. Chávez is trying to instill in the countryside.

Lisbeth Colmenares, 22, was radiant as she showed a visitor her new home here, where she and her family live rent-free.

“Before Chávez, the government would have been happy to let us starve,” said Ms. Colmenares, holding her 6-month-old daughter, Luzelis. “We’ll never let what we have now be taken from us.”

Until those without such pretty houses come knocking at your door demanding their social justice. So it goes, Señora Colmenares, round and round. Why should you have two shoes when I have none?