Monday, May 31, 2004

The Coming Age of Hobbes

Paul Starobin in the Atlantic Monthly has a tantalizing little article called The Dawn of the Daddy State, where he argues that the coming years will be a debate (and should be) about "getting authoritarianism right." Considering the unique security dangers of the 21st century and the spectre of domestic terror, Americans, Europeans, and others are increasingly embracing and demanding more extreme government controls on individual freedoms. In fact, when the government does do something (like the Patriot Act), the majority not only favors it, it thinks the intrusions do not go far enough.

How interesting, this notion that we are entering an authoritarian age, when the prevailing rhetoric is all about liberal democracy, free markets, and constitutions. Starobin does not necessarily think this is a bad thing, unless we weakly give in to authoritarian abuses and fall into an ideology like fascism. The challenge is not to become Vladimir Putin, a leader he rightly mistrusts. Yet this challenge does not mean inevitable failure. Both order and liberty pose their greatest dangers on the extremes, and the task of the state has always been to efficiently balance both based on the tenor of the times. Some times need more order, other times need more liberty.

He takes Hobbes as his model, itself a minefield of safe ground and danger, but falls back on the Monster of Malmesbury's essential point (looking around with fearful eyes at what the English Civil War had wrought) that liberty depends upon the successful imposition of order. Order liberates, not constrains; it makes life possible, not inauthentic and impossible.

Seems like a tall order to fill in America, where the ruling elites and traditional political culture fears (at least in part) authority. Liberals fear the security state and boost the welfare state; conservatives fear the welfare state and boost the security state. Yet each is a half-hearted embrace, a partial endorsement of authority. One fears government in the bedroom, the other fears government in the wallet. Each is also half-hearted embrace of liberty. One endorses freedom in the bedroom, the other endorses freedom in filling up the wallet. I guess the question is, to follow Starobin's lead, which will get authoritarianism right?

Fascinating question. Discuss.

Saturday, May 29, 2004

I was going to post on Roger Scruton, but I see that Doc has beaten me to it. My only consolation is that I beat him to Buchan long ago. Of course, I only beat him to it, because my brother started reading Buchan's books long before me and has, so far as I can tell, pretty much read everything Buchan has written.

So strong is his devotion, in fact, that when in Scotland, we visited the John Buchan Centre in Broughton, Peebleshire, and I like Buchan well enough that I didn't mind a bit.

The Hannay novels are great , but my favorite Buchan novel so far remains John MacNab.
My wife and I have been taking long driving trips lately, mostly to New York, Ohio, and Indiana, and rather than listening to music or "books on tape," we've developed the habit of reading aloud. And when I say "we," I mean her since I normally do most of the driving. For past three months our driving book has been a collection of John Buchan, the Four Adventures of Richard Hannay.

Now I had read about Buchan before, and made mental note that during a free week or two, I'd try and track down his books and give them a good read. When shopping for a birthday gift for my wife this past March, I stumbled upon a Buchan collection and bought it. What a find. We now have read Thirty-Nine Steps (and watched the 1935 Hitchcock movie of the same, but the movie takes serious liberties), about Hannay's inadvertant stumbling upon a career in military intelligence and his futile attempts to stop the beginning of World War One. And then Greenmantle, about an attempt by Imperial Germany to stir up a jihad via its Ottoman Turk allies in 1915, and Hannay's thwarting of the same with a reliable cast of friends (the mysterious Orientalist Sandy, the American businessman Blenkiron, the crusty useful Boer Peter). Followed by Mr. Standfast, Hannay's pursuit of the diabolical man of mystery Ivery and his network of spies. Finally, we are now completing the Three Hostages, Hannay's 1920s battle with the hypnotic villain (quite literally) Medina.

These books are not only entertaining, they are finely written (if occasionally melodramtic -- Buchan's attempt at giving Hannay a romantic life reads like a soap opera) and richly descriptive, especially in relating details of geography. Few writers can paint a mental picture of Scotland, Turkey, or Norway like Buchan. And lately much attention has been given to his line about Islam at the beginning of Greenmantle: There is a dry wind blowing through the East, and the parched grasses wait the spark ... Islam is a fighting creed, and the mullah still stands in the pulpit with the Koran in one hand and a drawn sword in the other.

In addition, Buchan puts rather insightful remarks into the mouths of his characters. This came home to me while reading (or listening to, actually) a remark by a character in Mr. Standfast, the contrite ex-pacifist Lancelot Wake. Speaking with Hannay at a French cafe, Wake remarks: I hate more than I love. All we humanitarians and pacificists have hatred as our mainspring. Odd isn't it, for people who preach brotherly love? But it's the truth. We're full of hate towards everything that doesn't square in with our ideas. everything that jars on our ladylike nerves. Fellows like you are so in love with their cause that they've no time or inclination to detest what thwarts them. We've no cause -- only negatives, and that means hatred, and self-torture, and a beastly jaundice of soul. What a rich, concise description of ideology and dangers inherent in sentimental progressivism.

Put Buchan on your summer reading list, and check out the John Buchan Society. I'd say it is required reading for any aspiring Young Fogey.
Must run to the store and get a copy of Roger Scruton's new book on country life. If it is as good as the hunting book a few years ago, this should be a pleasure.

And I notice the idea of a Young Fogey draws attention again, cheers to that. I made note of the 1984 Harry Mount article on Fogeyism last September, discovering to my glee, that I had become one. The fine, fellow New England, and right-thinking blog Irish Elk makes note of fogeyism here, and points out a blogger by the same name: The Young Fogey's Agreeable World. Good stuff.

Thursday, May 27, 2004

More Day After Tomorrow

Nice Union Leader quotes, but the best I've heard on the topic comes from a colleague of mine:

"Mark Gordon, one of the producers of the film, hopes that the film will "raise consciousness about the environment," a statement akin to the producers of Peter Pan saying they hope that film will raise consciousness about air travel."

Been too busy to post recently -- a good succinct editorial in this morning's Union-Leader about the silly premise underneath the new eco-terror movie, "Day After Tomorrow." Turns out none of it can happen, but don't let that interfere with the message. Notes the paper, That’s like saying, “I know that, technically, alien life has not been proven to exist, but I think everyone should see ‘Independence Day’ and ‘Signs’ so we can think about how to prepare for an alien invasion.” It’s not much of an argument. But if you don’t have science on your side, you may as well enlist Hollywood. Spot on.

Tuesday, May 25, 2004

And how about Bill Cosby speaking in DC, as relates a column in the Washington Post: Cosby, contrasting the achievements of civil rights giants of the past with today’s generation, observed that a lot of “lower economic people are not holding up their end in this deal. These people are not parenting. They are buying things for kids — $500 sneakers for what? And won’t spend $200 for ‘Hooked on Phonics.’” And he said a lot more too.

The Union-Leader on the disgrace of politically-charged graduation addresses -- I hadn't heard about Ken Burns at Yale, finger-wagging about "facile judgments of good and evil." What is facile about Saddam's Iraq or North Korea? I don't see much sublety in the diabolical evil there.
Needless to say, as any consistent reader knows, Niall Ferguson is our favorite historian. Deliciously contrarian and thoughtful. He concisely reviews his ideas on the American Empire with the Atlantic here, and below are a few choice nuggets:

To [19th century British liberals], globalizing the British model was synonymous with globalizing liberalism. They looked around and said, Well, not many people have our combination of institutions. What we need to do is plant the seed of this system in as many places as we can and make the world suitably Anglicized. It's only a contradiction in terms if you define "liberal" in a rather early-twenty-first-century American way, meaning that you like to hug trees, or you have a fit if somebody fires a gun in anger. My sense of liberal is the classical sense. Liberalism stands for creating the institutions of political, economic, and social freedom. And it's very obvious that in a dozen or more countries in the world, there is absolutely no chance of those institutions developing autonomously. These countries are either so under tyranny, or so completely anarchic, that it's never going to happen.

A lovely little liberal distinction, no?

First, remember that people may kill one another even more in the absence of empire—see sub-Saharan Africa. Second, if we don't extend our civilization, an even worse empire may emerge—see the Cold War. It is the habitual fantasy of many Americans that if the U.S. would just stop intervening abroad everybody in the world would enact the lyrics of John Lennon's "Imagine." History suggests otherwise.

Spontaneous peace as contrary to the record of history -- what a shocking revelation, Dr. Ferguson. And how awful is it to think that too many Americans (and American leaders) believe in a foreign policy remarkably similar to a Lennon song? "You may say I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one." Lords knows that's true, and that's what worries me. Turn off the radio and go the library.

American overstretch, to use Paul Kennedy's term, is not about external imperial adventures. It's about domestic programs, Medicare in particular. The operation itself—conquest of Iraq—is cheap. The defense budget is still going to come in comfortably under its Cold War average this year. I think a lot of Americans don't quite see that—they assume this is costing a huge amount of money. In truth, the real financial problems lie at home ... The reality of the Bush Administration's fiscal policy is that it has actually significantly increased expenditure on a number of things that could be thought of as social policy. If you look at the items of federal expenditure that have gone up since 2000, obviously the military and terrorism-related expenditures are number one. But actually expenditure on what might be thought of as domestic programs has gone up too. And that's not starving the beast. It seems to me that there are elements of this administration that are more like the old Nixonian republicanism, which said you spend what you have to spend to make sure you win the election. That, I think, is much more what's driving policy.

Confirms what I have said now for a couple of years, that we are witnessing another Nixon Administration, particularly in domestic policy. Talking like Reagan and Goldwater, acting like Nixon and Rockefeller.

In a way, if you are the imperial power you have to accept that people are going to hate you however you go about spreading your influence. One of the problems Americans have is this desire to be loved. Legitimacy isn't necessarily based on affection. It's based on credibility. And I think what we're seeing in Iraq is just the latest in a series of tests of American resolve and credibility. It's not the hatred one should worry about, it's the contempt. The legitimacy that the United States will achieve if it makes a success of Iraq will outweigh the inevitable resentment. You need to be respected. And the United States has a long way to go before it attains that respect, most obviously in the Middle East.

Exactly. How often do I hear the annoying line, "we are losing the hearts and minds." So what? What is it with this continuous need to be loved? Who we are, how we live, and how we use our power will always create envy, jealousy, and hatred. Those are givens. But if we see them as obstacles, we will never achieve the respect (read: fear) upon which success is built. If Iraq ever builds a successful liberal state, it will not be because they love Americans, it will be because they (1.) want it, and (2.) fear American power if they refuse to defend it. Hearts and minds that love America seem entirely beside the point.

Monday, May 24, 2004

On this date in 1861, Colonel Elmer Ellsworth of New York noticed that atop the Marshall Hotel in Alexandria, Virginia flew the recently unveiled Confederate flag. The indignant Ellsworth entered the hotel, ascended to the roof, and took down the flag. While descending the stairs, he was confronted by the hotelier James Jackson and shot dead. Ellsworth's troops retaliated and shot Jackson down.

The incident became a sensation (mirroring the reactions to Preston Brooks' beating of Senator Charles Sumner in 1856), with Northerners lionizing Ellsworth for defending Union and Flag from the upstart traitor Jackson, and Southerers honoring Jackson for defending his property and loyalties from the invading trooper Ellsworth.
Take note how these two articles on the bombing of the supposed wedding party differ. The Knight-Ridder story gives the US military reports of fake ID machines, medical facilities, bombing-making equipment, terrorist manuals, and firearms, all used for the purpose of slipping foreign fighters unnoticed into Iraq. To the question of why they were having a party, the American general answered smartly, "Bad people have parties too," that despite the fact that Army found little evidence of a big party.

Then a video is released, showing party-goers first, then some of the party-goers dead after the strike. So what? The BBC reports on the video but mentions nothing of the above evidence and captured materials. Their only assertion is that the video "clouds US denials." Apparently the fact there was a party is more important than the fact that the so-called party-goers were likely responsible for untold numbers of Iraqi and Coalition dead, to say nothing of the deaths these men could have caused.

Sunday, May 23, 2004

A nice expose on Michael Moore in the UK Observer: What I think, after my short time in his company, is that Moore is a man you would not want as an opponent, but also one you'd think twice about calling a friend. Though a talented film-maker and a clever showman, a populist who knows how to play the maverick, he is too often both big-headed and small-minded. In his desire to be seen as the decent man telling truth to power, he is too ready to blame those less powerful than himself for his shortcomings.

Saturday, May 22, 2004

You go away for a week and the world goes batty.

I see from Enoch Soames that Evelyn Waugh's Brideshead Revisited is being remade (gulp). Now the BBC's 1982 made-for-TV version was darn good and pretty faithful to the book. In fact, I watched the TV version first (marathon fashion, over two days) and then read the book.

Yet now I see that the remake will actually take out the Catholic bits, and make religious faith the problem rather than Waugh's intention of making it the inexorable attraction, the everlasting thing never to be escaped. Remember Lady Marchmain reading Chesterton's Father Brown mysteries, especially that magnificent quote about God tugging on the thread? Remember Lord Marchmain dying, fighting faith all the way, finally giving in to the inevitable and making the Sign of the Cross?

Then I knew that the sign I had asked for was not a little thing, not a passing nod of recognition, and a phrase came back to me from my childhood of the veil of the temple being rent from top to bottom.

Good Lord, how can you take God out of Brideshead and still call it by that name? That is like saying, "but for Napolean and all those boats, Patrick O'Brian books are ok." What is Waugh without God?

CHARLES: I suppose they try and make you believe an awful lot of nonsense?

SEBASTIAN: Is it nonsense? I wish it were. It sometimes sounds terribly sensible to me.

CHARLES: But, dear Sebastian, you can't seriously believe it all.


CHARLES: I mean about Christmas and the star and the three kings and the ox and the ass.

SEBASTIAN: Oh yes, I believe that. It's a lovely idea.

CHARLES: But you can't believe things because they're a lovely idea.

SEBASTIAN: But I do. That's how I believe.

And yet, and yet. Can we perhaps be the optimist here? It is hard. Can the movie bring a remnant few to the original book (much like myself several years back), to read those concluding lines when Charles returns to the Marchmain chapel, to see the small red flame -- a beaten-copper lamp of deplorable design, relit before the beaten-copper doors of the tabernacle; the flame which the old knights saw from their tombs, which they saw put out; that flame burns again for other soldiers, far from home, farther, in heart, than Acre or Jerusalem. It could not have been lit but for the builders and the tragedians, and there I found it this morning, burning anew among the old stones.

Perhaps that's all we can ask.

I have returned, back after a long trip to the Midwest.

John Leo penned a thoughtful and balanced essay on Catholic politicians and the Church here. He concludes, in part, The bottom line is that the bishops are stuck with a Catholic governing class uninterested in the tenets of its own religion. Even the language of Catholic moral discussion has mostly disappeared among Catholic pols. They increasingly speak in the language of the abortion-rights movement. There is nothing much the bishops can do quickly about this. It may sound weak, but the bishops probably should raise their voices a bit and just keep trying to persuade Catholic pols, present and future, to take their religion seriously.

Was there actually a place called Troy? Some think so. Call me a stick in the mud, but I always thought Hector the more appealing character.

Good article on the mind-bendingly-dumb American history curriculum in many schools: But the worst offense is a tone of cheerful, sanitized neutrality so overwhelming that it actually renders the prose ahistorical. Thus in a section on “Life Behind the Iron Curtain,” middle-schoolers are taught both that “Communist governments in Eastern Europe granted their people few freedoms,” and that “in some ways, Communist governments did take care of their citizens. Food prices were low. Health care was free,” as if all prices really were low and health care really was free in economic systems that depended upon bribery and connections. Thus in a unit on the Industrial Revolution, students are asked how they would react if forced to become child laborers — “Would you join a union, go to school, or run away?” — as if there actually were unions, universal education and places for children to run to in early-19th century Britain. Thus in a chapter on Africa, the word “tribe” is carefully avoided. Good teachers can and do overcome bad textbooks, but they clearly have an uphill battle.

And I love how posts "Odds and Ends" every day, with crazy news stories from around the world. Here is the best from today:

A German man invents a toilet that berates men if they leave the seat down. Yes, it actually yells at them, saying "Hello, what are you up to then? Put the seat back down right away, you are definitely not to pee standing up ... you will make a right mess..."

Friday, May 21, 2004

"But speaking here in my capacity as a polished, sophisticated European as well, it seems to me the laugh here is on the polished, sophisticated Europeans. They think Americans are fat, vulgar, greedy, stupid, ambitious and ignorant and so on. And they've taken as their own, as their representative American, someone who actually embodies all of those qualities." - Christopher Hitchens on "Scarborough Country," last night.

Thursday, May 13, 2004

Rumor is, Prince Charles of England will convert to Greek Orthodox. He is currently resting (not his first time) at Mount Athos monastery in Greece. Now, wouldn't that prevent him from ascending the throne? British heirs cannot become Catholics; I believe that is prescribed by law. How can they protect, defend, and represent Anglicanism if the King is Greek Orthodox?

This Welshman was fined for saying nasty things about his Irish neighbors, judged by the court as being "racist." I didn't know the Irish were a race. I knew they were a country, and a culture, and an ethnicity, but race?

Wednesday, May 12, 2004

And Bunnie Diehl brings up the good point: why no attention paid to Berg's butchers anti-Christian remarks, calling President Bush the "dog of the Christians?" Or the President of Lebanon's remarks reacting to US sanctions against Syria for supporting terrorism: "This is yet another proof that the U.S. administration is biased and reels under Israeli influence?"

Which bring up the interesting mix of a Christian dog under Israeli influence. Givemeabreak.
Will the horrid end of Mr. Berg be the splash of cold water so many Westerners need? What will it take to wake people up out of their self-hating, anti-Western stupor? 3000 dead and the destruction of the WTT was not enough? You need more proof that terrorism is not motivated by "us being there," but by us being us? They hate us because we are Americans, not because we happen to be in Iraq right now -- that just makes it easier. They do not hate the proximity of our people so much as they hate the ideas our people represent. How many have to die to prove this to you?

Here is a rather good blog, The Belmont Club, on the awful Berg story:

The Belmont Club predicted that "the sad balance of probability is that Abu Ghraib will be displaced from the front pages by the next terrorist outrage, the next Bali, the next Madrid, the next 9/11 until we find ourselves wondering why it upset us at all" -- and the process has already begun. People who only yesterday were beating their breasts at infamy of the 800th MP brigade will be calling for a MOAB to dropped on Fallujah tomorrow. And to the inherent madness of war we will add another lunacy: strategy by manic-depression. 'Are we feeling generous today toward the enemy? Or do we want to get some aggression off our chests? Hmm?'

This is what comes of asserting the right to unleash emotions disconnected from rational perspective as "patriotic". This is what comes of not sticking to facts and they are these. The enemy has attacked America on its own soil and therefore must be defeated utterly. Members of the US military have committed a court-martial offense and therefore they must be punished severely. Any withdrawal from Iraq will not bring safety from enemy action inasmuch as they attacked Manhattan and Washington DC nearly two years before OIF. Any withdrawal from Iraq without first setting up a stable and responsible government there would result in a bloodbath beside which the massacre of the Shi'ites and the gassing of the Kurds by Saddam would be a pale moonlit shadow. Therefore we must persist until victory.

And the final fact is this. The only exit from war's inhumanity is through the doorway of victory. For while it may be mitigated, controlled and reduced to a certain extent fundamentally "war is cruelty, and you cannot refine it", though victory can end it. While it continues, as many in the Left who long for a 21st century Vietnam hope, it will unleash unpredictable forces which no one can control. Those who delighted in discovering the photographs at Abu Ghraib little imagined Nick Berg's video. And while we can safely grant Andrew Sullivan's plea and publish both, for reasons the media imagine are laudable, it is what comes next that I am afraid of.

And James Lileks, at this incisive best, on the same:

The West doesn’t have the power to change Islam; it only has the power to destroy it. We have a lot of nukes. We could kill everyone. We could just take out a few troublesome nations, kill millions, and irradiate Mecca so that the Fifth Pillar is invalidated. The hajj would be impossible. Every pilgrim a martyr. I don’t think we’ll do either; God help us if we do, but inasmuch as we have the capability, it’s an option. But it would be a crime greater than the crime that provoked such an act, and in the end that would stay our hand. They know we won’t do it.

Strong horse, weak horse.

There is another path, of course. Simply put: if a US city is nuked, the US will have to nuke someone, or let it stand that the United States can lose a city without cost to the other side. Defining “the other side” would be difficult, of course – do you erase Tehran to punish the mullahs? Make a crater out of Riyahd? These are exactly the sort of decisions we never want to make. But let’s say it happens. Baltimore: fire and wind. Gone. That horrible day would clarify things once and for all. It’s one thing for someone in a distant city to cheer the fall of two skyscrapers: from a distance, it looks like a bloody nose. But erasing a city is a different matter.
Everyone will have to choose sides. That would be one possible beginning of the end of this war.

Thankfully, it’s not the only one. There are a dozen other scenarios, half of which we can’t imagine: the unknowns we don’t know, as a wise man said. But half the battle will occur in places we cannot reach or observe. A minimal-casualty defeat of the Islamists will require the help of Islam. I'd like to think that will happen on its own, without some exterior catastrophe to force the issue. For that matter I'd like to think I'll win the Powerball. Every time the jackpot goes over 200 million, I buy a ticket. Every time I lose. I'm always disappointed, of course. But never surprised.
If you have a few minutes, read this fascinating article about virtual gaming and economics. A down-on-his-luck economics professor started virtual gaming at his home and began looking into the economy of the gaming world. When he realized that virtual goods and currency were actually being sold at online auction sites, he took notice:

He began calculating frantically. He gathered data on 616 auctions, observing how much each item sold for in U.S. dollars. When he averaged the results, he was stunned to discover that the EverQuest platinum piece was worth about one cent U.S. — higher than the Japanese yen or the Italian lira. With that information, he could figure out how fast the EverQuest economy was growing. Since players were killing monsters or skinning bunnies every day, they were, in effect, creating wealth. Crunching more numbers, Castronova found that the average player was generating 319 platinum pieces each hour he or she was in the game — the equivalent of $3.42 (U.S.) per hour. "That's higher than the minimum wage in most countries," he marvelled.

Then he performed one final analysis: The Gross National Product of EverQuest, measured by how much wealth all the players together created in a single year inside the game. It turned out to be $2,266 U.S. per capita. By World Bank rankings, that made EverQuest richer than India, Bulgaria, or China, and nearly as wealthy as Russia.

It was the seventy-seventh richest country in the world. And it didn't even exist.

Castronova sat back in his chair in his cramped home office, and the weird enormity of his findings dawned on him. Many economists define their careers by studying a country. He had discovered one.

Or perhaps you are a tad religious? How about virtual church service?

Tuesday, May 11, 2004

And Happy Birthday Charles Warren Fairbanks, one of a long distinguished line of totally unknown men who were Vice-President of the United States. Unfair, mind you, but inevitable. As Truman's Veep Alben Barkley once said, "A farmer had two sons, one went to sea, another became vice-president, and neither were ever heard from again."

Anyhow, tip a glass today for Fairbanks (for whom Fairbanks, Alaska is named -- did you know that?), an Old Guard conservative senator from Indiana, picked for the 1904 Republican ticket with Teddy Roosevelt to balance off TR's disturbingly progressive tendencies.

I have been buried under a pile of final exams lately, so the posts have been few. But as the song goes, "I'm beginning to see the light."

A sensible column in today's Union-Leader decrying the New Prohibitionism of MADD: lowering the blood alcohol level any further will harm the "wine with dinner" drinkers, not the alcoholics who kill and maim.

And God bless Alex Beam in the Boston Globe for slapping down the ninny movie "Super Size Me" as an simplistic anti-business screed:

The truth is that if you were to eat a diet of exclusively foie gras, caviar, and champagne for 30 days you would trash your health just as surely as Spurlock trashed his. But truth -- along with his sex life -- is the first casualty in Spurlock's movie. The biggest lie of all is Spurlock's repeated claim that McDonald's has changed its menu as a result of his crusading expose.

And he brings up the fact (totally unknown to me) that the Competitive Enterprise Institute (where one of our blog compatriots once worked) did the same thing, except eating a more balanced and health-conscious menu from McDonald's, and actually lost weight and lowered their cholesterol. Read about it here.

Friday, May 07, 2004

Save the historic English pub! No more theme bars! Campaign for Real Ale has just completed a survey of London pubs and found that only 134 of 5,700 have "interiors of special historic interest." I am getting a terrible thirst.
Eurovision Song Contest

I noticed on BBC that they are asking for Eurovision 2004 song contest lyrics. Whenever I see this, for good or ill, I always think of the tv show Father Ted, when Ted and fellow Catholic priest Father Cilley submitted lyrics and won. The song was "My Lovely Horse":

My lovely horse running through the field,
Where are you going with your fetlocks blowing in the wind?
I want to shower you with sugarlumps,
And ride you over fences,
Polish your hooves every single day,
And bring you to the horse dentist,

My lovely horse,
You're a pony no more,
Running around with a man on your back,
Like a train in the night,
Like a train in the night.

I am laughing right now.

Wednesday, May 05, 2004

The Iron Lady is back. And listen (or read, as it were) to what Lady Thatcher, 25 years after her election as British PM, has to say:

"We are quite old. But we are still fighting ... the old ones are always the best".

"We even converted our opponents, but conversions of convenience rarely last and they start to go wrong. Left-wing politicians fall back on Left-wing remedies."

"They spend, they tax, they borrow - and as problems pile up they demand still more taxpayers' money, and then they demand another chance. But they don't deserve it and they mustn't get it."

"When you are in office, it is not enough to have the right intentions, although that helps. It is not enough to seek the best advice, although that is important. In the end, you have to believe in what you are doing and be able to carry the nation with you."

Does the world miss her or what? A giant among pygmies!
Today's Union-Leader editorial blasting colleges for treating 18-22 year olds like children lands some punches:

At Villanova University, the commencement speaker this year is Caroll Spinney, who plays Big Bird on “Sesame Street.” Commencement speeches can’t get much more simple-minded than “The Wisdom of Big Bird,” which is the title of the book Spinney published last year.

Most colleges attempt to use the commencement speech as the final educational moment in a student’s academic career. When a college uses this important ceremony to subject seniors to simplistic moral lessons suitable for a kindergarten audience, and eliminate early classes so students can sleep in, it shows how little administrators think of the students’ mental and moral aptitude.

What do you do when the kids show up to class in their pajamas? Happens all the time.

Of course, professors could simply lock out the class in protest, like this Italian priest did when his congregation thought his sermons boring, dozed during his talks, and often left early. He went on strike and pinned a terse note on the church door saying the town was not tending to their religious life:

"Let's face it, people take free time whenever they want to," the priest explains.

"They go and play sport and then go out on Saturday nights. But when it comes to Sunday morning, they'd all rather sleep.

"I think it's strange people complain Mass is too long.

"People will happily take a week off to go to the beach, but a little time for God would be better than making excuses."

And, next time you fly, be careful before you eat your salad. There might be a frog in it.

Tuesday, May 04, 2004

This is pretty darn funny: Edward Said: The Musical. From the "crack young staff" over at Hatemonger's Quarterly.
A thoughtful profile on Russell Kirk and the state of "Kirk Studies" in today's Chronicle.

A necessary slap in the face, "wake-up-you-fool" shoulder shaking, by George Will in today's Washington Post. In part: Condoleezza Rice, a political scientist, believes there is scholarly evidence that democratic institutions do not merely spring from a hospitable culture, but that they also can help create such a culture. She is correct; they can. They did so in the young American republic. But it would be reassuring to see more evidence that the administration is being empirical, believing that this can happen in some places, as opposed to ideological, believing that it must happen everywhere it is tried.

Being steadfast in defense of carefully considered convictions is a virtue. Being blankly incapable of distinguishing cherished hopes from disappointing facts, or of reassessing comforting doctrines in face of contrary evidence, is a crippling political vice.

In "On Liberty" (1859), John Stuart Mill said, "It is, perhaps, hardly necessary to say" that the doctrine of limited, democratic government "is meant to apply only to human beings in the maturity of their faculties." One hundred forty-five years later it obviously is necessary to say that.

Quoting Mill gives me the creeps, but the point is very well made.

Bunnie Diehl tipped me off to the New Pantagruel -- read the "about" section and the introduction to the first issue. Looks like a mighty worthy cause.

Monday, May 03, 2004

George Saintsbury on Some Suggestions for a Newest English Dictionary:

IDEALISM: Dollars.

TEMPERANCE: Being in a temper with those who temperately enjoy themselves.

BROAD-MINDEDNESS: The result of flattening high-mindedness out.

MENTALITY: A state of somebody else's mind that you dislike or don't understand.

GESTURE: Word stripped of all proper meaning, and therefore usable at indiscretion.

VICTIMISATION: "Making the doer suffer" -- which the Greeks thought was right and "Labour" thinks wrong.

PSYCHOLOGY: Something like "gesture" and "mentality," ie. used without meaning. For instance, a husband writing to his wife, once expressed desire for a divorce because "your psychology is impossible." He did not mean that she had written a bad book or held erroneous opinions on the subject. He only wanted to get rid of her.

And on politics, The Two Commandments of "Labour":

(1) Nobody else shall have anything that I have not.

(2) Somebody else shall pay for everything that I have.
Bernadette Malone rightfully denounces Soviet Chic, the rather lame and ignorant nostalgia for all things communist, in her column today. How many people have to die before this becomes, at the very least, bad taste? 60 million were not enough?

Niall aims to please, and his 3 hour C-SPAN filibuster was a veritable Ferguson-fest. Taking questions from viewers on his many books (most questions were sensible, but several were of the mentally defective conspiracy kind), he jumped ably from topic to topic -- financial history, World War One, the Rothschild family, Roman/British/American empire-building, etc. -- yet made them appear of a whole concern.

Ferguson has a new book out, hardly a surprise since he produces monographs almost annually now, called Colossus, contextualizing the United States Empire and arguing on its behalf (as well as warning Americans to stay the path -- will they listen?). In fact, this book looks to expand on the conclusions made in his earlier book Empire, of the largely productive and moral role played by British imperial power in the 19th and 20th centuries.

Some things I found out:

Niall is moving to Boston for the fall, a new member of the Harvard faculty.

He terms himself a "liberal fundamentalist," more of an economic liberal than a political conservative. In his most explicit personal political references I have heard to date, he ties his ideas to Thatcher's reform of the British economy, and mentioned as his philosophical forebearers Victorian liberals (Gladstone and Mill, and I suspect Spencer, Cobden, and others of that ilk) and Adam Smith. Only begrudingly did he call himself a "Lockean," finding the label too political.

Niall was quite critical of the Wilsonian idealism of the neo-conservatives, and in fact denied he was part of the neo-cons. Instead, he called himself a "realist," and was less interested in building liberal democracies around the world on the American model (here, here) and more interested in stabilizing international relations, maintaining liberal and open markets, and ensuring a system of order and law in places lacking such things. Saddam should have been removed not because of suspected WMDs (Ferguson thinks that was brittle ground on which to base the war) or because Iraq was insufficiently democratic, but because Saddam endangered Middle Eastern stability and was a brutish thug.

He rather smartly answered one caller's amazement that the Iraqis did not like Americans more, now that they were liberated from Saddam. Ferguson said this (along with a woefully short attention span and patience) was an American fault, wanting to be loved rather than feared and respected. If the goal of Iraq and Afghanistan was international romance (we love you, why won't you love us back?), then it is doomed to fail. Stability comes from respect, not love.

He openly admires Henry Kissinger (big surprise) and appears on the verge of writing a large reconsideration of Kissinger's life in the next several years. A book on World War Two will be coming next.

Anyhow, a very good show by a very talented (and television-friendly) historian. C-SPAN did not have the interview up on their site as of this morning, but it should be soon. Take a peek when it does.

Sunday, May 02, 2004


So how did dear old Niall's special go? Oxonians Without Cable are agog to find out.

Here's an assortment of Wellington quotes that the Doc missed, most to do with the army and war, at which the Iron Duke was more or less unsurpassed.

Hard pounding, gentlemen. Let's see who pounds the longest.

Up Guards, and at'em.

A close run thing. A damned close run thing.

Nothing except a battle lost can be half so melancholy as a battle won.

-Quotations associated with Waterloo

We always have been, we are, and I hope that we always shall be detested in France.

Publish and be damned!
-Attributed, but the authority is uncertain.

I never saw so many shocking bad hats in my life.
-Upon seeing the first Reformed Parliament.

Saturday, May 01, 2004

Lord Curmudgeon, Scottish peer? If I were a rich man, rich man, ...

Like I tell those who are hysterical over the Patriot Act, it is difficult to enjoy your civil liberties when you are dead. Heather MacDonald agrees.

Happy Birthday to the Duke of Wellington, born today in 1769.


"An extraordinary affair. I gave them their orders and they wanted to stay and discuss them." after his first Cabinet meeting as Prime Minister

"By God! I don't think it would have been done if I had not been there" commenting after the battle of Waterloo

"Don't quote Latin; say what you have to say, and then sit down" advice to a new MP

"Nobody cares a damn about the House of Lords; the House of Commons is everything in England and the House of Lords is nothing"