Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Worth 1,000 Words

If you ever need the perfect visual representation of the idea that technology doesn't always equal human progress, look no further than the latest cover of the New Yorker.

Just a Thought

I find it amusing that many of the same people decrying the drone-like thinking of our elected officials are themselves guilty of a litmus test of sorts for candidates. I guess I'm with Newt on this. To say that the Republican Party is broken, and that independents and third-parties are the way to go... but then expect that independent candidates are going to toe the non-party line on everything from gay marriage to abortion to gun control to taxes strikes me as absurd.

The problem for Newt (and other non-populist conservatives) is that the GOP candidate in NY's 23rd district appears to be a horrible candidate, and not just because of her policies. Nobody in the establishment seems willing to make the case that Scozzafazza has turned out to be a flawed candidate because of her personality as opposed to policies, but in my opinion it's the best thing they could do. Otherwise, we might as well just admit that the conservative movement is dead (or at least moribund), and that populism has taken its place.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Oh Those Glorious Days of Yesterday

In my inbox today, I received an email from a fan of my day job (even Z-level celebrities have their followers). In it, he said:

Maybe the American People are no longer worthy of the Liberty which God bestowed upon our Patriot Ancestors over 230 years ago. Given the current popularity of pornography, drug addiction, child abuse, prenatal infanticide ("abortion") sodomy, government corruption and other behaviors which back in our Founder's time were known as "Sin", an excellent case could be made for that theory.

I've been seeing more and more statements like this, and while they're certainly well-intentioned and passionately believed, I'm not sure they reflect any real historical reality.

Pornography is certainly more popular today than ever before, but it's not like it was unknown in the day of our "Patriot Ancestors". Drug addiction? Back in the day of our "Patriot Ancestors", beer was more common (and safer) than water in many cities. Child abuse? Yes, we have child abuse today, but we also have laws against it. Back in the day of our "Patriot Ancestors", children were put to work, accidents were common, and beatings were sanctioned under the law.

More importantly, while there are things that our Founders considered sinful that we now allow as legal, there were also things that our Founders accepted that we would now consider sinful behavior. It's a two way street. Yes, abortion was illegal in the days of our "Patriot Ancestors". Women also couldn't vote or hold public office. Yes, pornography is rampant in our society. In pre-Revolutionary Boston, prostitution was rampant. Government corruption? It's always been with us, because governments are made up of men, and men are imperfect vessels.

There is a lot to admire and a great deal to learn from our ancestors, but that doesn't mean that they lived in a utopian age of patriotic freedom. When we approach the past from that perspective, we miss the lessons we can learn from their reality.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Don't Tread on Fox

I've been thinking about the Obama administration going after Fox News. When David Axelrod took to the airwaves this weekend and said, "A lot of their news programming, it's really not news. It's pushing a point of view," why didn't George Stephanopolous ask Axelrod about Ed Schultz getting a front row seat to an Obama prime time press conference? Cleary the White House doesn't mind people who push a point of view, so why hasn't Sean Hannity been invited to a press conference? Why hasn't Bill O'Reilly? Or Glenn Beck?

And when Rahm Emanuel said, ""It's not a news organization so much as it has a perspective," then why didn't John King ask about Obama's appearance on "The Daily Show" or Michelle Obama's appearance on "The Colbert Report"? Certainly hosts like David Letterman and Jay Leno have their own unique perspective. That's one of the reasons we watch them, and Obama's made multiple appearances on both programs.

The White House is now declaring that America's most watched news network isn't news at all. Administrations dating back to Adams have declared certain members of the press to be enemies, but you may have to go back to the second presidency to find a case of an administration declaring war on (arguably) the most popular press. John Adams wasn't sold on the idea of the Alien and Sedition Acts, but he still signed them, and it very well may have cost him re-election. Declaring war on a portion of the press is a statement that you no longer want to hear from them or the people they represent. People don't like their government telling them that they're not worth listening to, and that's exactly what's happening these days. Representatives don't want to meet with constituents because they don't like what they're going to hear. A presidential administration says Fox News is faux news, and asks the other networks to light their torches and storm the castle. Those aren't the moves we expect our elected officials to make. We expect them to listen to us, and we are not being heard. Now the administration wants shut out what is arguably our loudest voice.

I have a feeling by the time this all plays out, the Obama administration will have created a million more fans of the network, and Obama will have lost further standing among the American people, at a time when he needs public support more than ever. Obama's personal approval ratings have been relatively stable, and much higher than the ratings on his handlings of issues. Now he's getting personal against the popular press, and I suspect that his popularity will take a hit as a result. Is there no one in the White House pragmatic enough to tell the president: Don't Tread on Fox?

Friday, October 16, 2009

Is Conservative the Anti-Funny?

Maybe my sense of humor climbed into a helium balloon and is now floating over the D.C. skyline (or is hiding in an attic somewhere), but I'm failing to see the funny in Steven Crowder's new video.

I mean, I suppose it's no less funny than SNL's "Dick in a Box" "Jizz in My Pants" (I just can't keep my SNL skits straight anymore), or any of the other "white guy rapping" videos. I don't think it's racist... I just think it's lazy instead of funny.

Seriously, the President of the United States of America wins the Nobel Prize after nine months in office, and the best you can do is a rap about winning a prize for doing your laundry and brushing your dog?

Crowder's a funny guy, and I've liked his stuff in the past. I just hope he's not falling into the same trap that seems to befall so many comedians who come out as conservative: they become less funny. Anybody remember how funny Dennis Miller used to be?

Glenn Beck's Common Sense- A Post Script

I'm hoping to have my review of Glenn Beck's Arguing With Idiots up this weekend, but before I leave GBCS behind, I wanted to make one more point.

I've already pointed out some of the conservative problems with Thomas Paine (and the fact that Beck holds Paine in such high esteem while railing against Progressives still amuses me), but what if Beck had turned to another Englishman instead of Paine. What if Beck had been inspired by Churchill?

While I was reading GBCS, my mind kept turning to some of the speeches Churchill made in the mid and late 1930's. The other day I had the opportunity to peruse some of those speeches, and I found this quote that I think makes Beck's point far better than anything Paine ever wrote.

And do not suppose that this is the end. This is only the beginning of the reckoning.This is only the first sip, the first foretaste of a bitter cup which will be proffered to us year by year unless by a supreme recovery of moral health and martial vigour, we arise again and take our stand for freedom as in the olden time.

Unemployment near 10%. Acquiesence to foreign enemies. Progressive social programs that will bankrupt our future. A break with the old social contract between the dead, the living, and the yet unborn. But do not suppose that this is as bad as it gets. This is only the beginning of the reckoning. It is entirely possible that two decades from now we will look back on this time as the "good old days".

The message in Glenn Beck's Common Sense was ultimately one of optimism, a feeling I fear is misplaced. We may be entering a long winter of discontent, and we are certainly not guaranteed of victory, even if that supreme recovery of moral health and martial vigor takes place in the near future.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

How Far We've Fallen: Gandhi Edition

Back in the 1940's Mohandas Gandhi practiced non-violence as a way to gain Indian independence. Now his grandson wants to use non-violence as a means of control.

This view of a culture of violence is a central aspect to the philosophy that Dr Gandhi shared with the university: "In modern times, we have come to believe that peace can be achieved through the power of the gun and therefore the more weapons a nation has, the stronger a nation is, that they can attain peace through that.

"Now that may be peace of some sort, but that is peace that comes through fear, and that doesn't last very long. Controlling anybody through fear is a very negative thing.

"We need to control people through love and respect, and I believe that can be done between nations as well as between individuals."

We need to control people through love and respect. Could Nancy Pelosi have put it any better?

How Important Is History?

I'm an unabashed history geek, but I fear my generation doesn't really appreciate the story of mankind. Our history is dumbed down and trivialized, and while there are flashes of brilliance to be found in print, online, and television, it pales in comparison to the masses of crap that are churned out by our culture. We even have multiple reality shows airing on the History Channel, which seems rather odd to me.

So, I thought I'd put up a poll to find out if I'm alone in being bothered by our serene and ignorant wanderings through the world, oblivious to what came before us and refusing to contemplate the world we will leave behind. Thanks for casting your vote, and feel free to leave a comment as well.

Is a sense of history important when it comes to examining current events?
Yes, those who don't know their history are doomed to repeat it.
Somewhat important. History doesn't repeat itself, but it rhymes.
Not very important. What's more important is an understanding of how the world works today.
Not important at all. Live in the now, man.
pollcode.com free polls

Are We Decadent Yet?

A few years ago, historian Jacques Barzun released his history of the past 500 years. He called it From Dawn to Decadence. I thought about Barzun's book while I was reading Glenn Beck's Common Sense, because I get the sense that Beck would agree we've become a decadent society that cannot change based on legislation or judicial rulings alone. If you believe society is decadent, then you tend to believe that we need a social and cultural awakening so that we behave better, instead of passing more rules and laws to guide a morally anarchic society.

I thought about this while reading Suzanne Breslin's eye-opening essay, They Shoot Porn Stars, Don't They?. I'm not an anti-porn crusader, but there was something distubing and depressing about Breslin's story. Maybe it was the porn director who wanted to make an actress cry before her scene, maybe it was the actress who reluctantly decided to let a machine invade her "personal space" for the whopping sum of $500, or maybe it was the breezy assertion of a porn producer and director who simply believes that if people didn't want this stuff, nobody would buy it. He's right, of course. People want all kinds of stuff. That doesn't mean it's good for us to have it.

So what do you think? Are we a decadent society?

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Eugene Robinson: Strawman Slayer

Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson really stretches his mental muscles today, opining that conservatives are exhibiting "Hanoi Jane" behavior. Here's a question for Mr. Robinson: I thought Jane Fonda's actions in the 1970's were perfectly fine, or at least excusable now (kinda like Roman Polanski's rape of a 13-year old girl). Yet I doubt 30 years from now Eugene Robinson is going to be okay with Limbaugh and Beck's criticism of President Obama's Nobel Peace Prize. So is Mr. Robinson just intellectually lazy, or is he hypocritical?

I'm going with lazy. Robinson, rather than accepting the fact that plenty of world leaders (including Nobel Peace Prize winner Lech Walesa) didn't think Obama had earned the prize, instead engages in a fight with strawmen.

The problem for the addlebrained Obama-rejectionists is that the president, as far as they are concerned, couldn't possibly do anything right, and thus is unworthy of any conceivable recognition. If Obama ended world hunger, they'd accuse him of promoting obesity. If he solved global warming, they'd complain it was getting chilly. If he got Mahmoud Abbas and Binyamin Netanyahu to join him around the campfire in a chorus of "Kumbaya," the rejectionists would claim that his singing was out of tune.

Let the president actually accomplish any of those things, Mr. Robinson. Perhaps you're right, perhaps you're wrong, but it's telling that even you can't find real accomplishments of the President. Instead you have to invent future accomplishments for the President. How lame.

Of course, having said that, watch Eugene Robinson win a Pulitzer for this column.

Friday, October 9, 2009

A Split Decision On Glenn Beck's Common Sense

Glenn Beck's Common Sense is ultimately a book with two purposes. The first is to outline the urgent problems that our nation seems unwilling or unable to recognize, and the second is to tell us how to act. GBCS succeeds brilliantly in achieving its first purpose, but sadly, fails to achieve its second goal.

The book is full of shocking and disturbing statistics about greed, government waste, and Progressivism, presented in a very "common sense" way. By the time I had finished reading, I believed Beck. We have some serious problems confronting us, and if we don't deal with them, our children are going to be the ones paying the price. Of course, I believed that going into the book as well.

Unfortunately, the remedies offered by Beck are vague and exceedingly unrealistic. After carefully and skillfully guiding the readers through what could be a very boring discussion on national debt, Beck's answer to us is: stop spending. His answer to the problem of parties that don't listen to us is to drop out (as opposed to Goldwater's solution in 1964 of getting more involved in the Republican Party). His 9.12 project is full of populist platitudes like, "The government works for me. I do not answer to them, they answer to me." Well, populism isn't conservatism, and a nation of honest, reverent, hopeful, thrifty, humble, charitable, sincere, moderate, hard working, courageous, grateful, and personally responsible people suddenly developing overnight in this country strikes me as almost as fanciful as believing that there is such a thing as "free money" to give to people. And the sad fact is, we have plenty of Americans who believe in free money. Those of us who don't believe Obama's "stash" (as one woman in Detroit recently put it) is neverending have to be realistic in our goals and tactical in our thinking.

Glenn Beck has a wonderful way with words, but that doesn't mean that his call to action is on target. If anything, Beck is guilty of expecting too much from his fellow Americans. It's a shame, because as a warning cry, GBCS is desperately needed. And to be perfectly honest, why should Beck be expected to both warn the world of impending doom and be the guy with the plan to save the day? That scenario seems more Hollywood than history to me. After all, Paul Revere warned the countryside that the Regulars were out, but it's not like he helped write the Declaration of Independance. Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration, but didn't fight when the British invaded Virginia during the War of Independance. So why should Glenn Beck (or Rush Limbaugh, or Sean Hannity) know best how to save us?

In the end, I have to give GBCS one thumb up. It attempts to be a serious book, but by articulating essentially unserious solutions, it fails to be anything more than words of warning lost amidst a pundit's heartfelt yearning for a new and awakened America.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Glenn Beck's Common Sense- A Multi-Part Review

A friend of mine recently emailed me and asked what I thought about Glenn Beck's books, "Glenn Beck's Common Sense" and "Arguing With Idiots". I told her that since I hadn't read them, I really couldn't pass judgement. Then I thought to myself that since a) I was looking for something new to read and b) Beck is everywhere these days, it wouldn't hurt to pick up the books and give them a going over. So, periodically I'll be sharing some thoughts about the books, starting with Glenn Beck's Common Sense (hereafter known as GBCS).

I have to confess something right up front. I am not a fan of modern day pundits draping themselves in the flags of our founders. I didn't like it when Peggy Noonan did it with Patriotic Grace, and I don't like it when Glenn Beck does it with GBCS. Remember, I was the guy who didn't even want the Tea Parties called Tea Parties. I believe our history is a precious resource, and I'm greatly concerned when people play fast and loose with our history to try and draw comparisons to today.

This brings me to the first problem I have with GBCS. Glenn Beck is a product, in a way that Thomas Paine never was. Right there on the third page of GBCS it even says, "Glenn Beck is a trademark of Mercury Radio Arts, Inc." Thomas Paine, on the other hand, wrote and published the original Common Sense anonymously. Beck charges $11.99 for his book. Paine charged two shillings for the first run, and then one shilling thereafter. He also encouraged the reprinting of the pamphlet by other printers, and did not accept royalties for the sale of Common Sense. Considering the pamphlet is estimated to have sold hundreds of thousands of copies in less than a year, Paine turned his back on quite a bit of cash.

I'll admit, I would probably have a more open mind if Beck's book didn't bow to the altar of Paine quite so often, at least in the early going (I'm reviewing as I'm reading). For instance, in his author's note, Beck calls Paine a "heroic patriot". No, actually Paine wasn't a patriot. He was indeed, as Beck describes him, an extraordinary writer and (at times) a renowned motivator, but he was never a patriot in the modern sense of the word. Paine's cause wasn't freedom from British tyranny, it was freedom from monarchical tyranny throughout the world (Scott Liell's 46 Pages provides a rich and detailed, yet very readable account of Paine's life, as well as the meaning and impact that Common Sense had upon its publication). After the American Revolution, Paine returned to London, and eventually went to Revolutionary France, where he was initially hailed as a hero, but nearly lost his life as the governmental Terror campaign was roaring to life. Paine was also a critic of religious authority, and I'm curious to see if Beck's reverence for Paine extends to Age of Reason. Paine was also the author of Agrarian Justice, which stated in part:

In advocating the case of the persons thus dispossessed, it is a right, and not a charity . . . [Government must] create a national fund, out of which there shall be paid to every person, when arrived at the age of twenty-one years, the sum of fifteen pounds sterling, as a compensation in part, for the loss of his or her natural inheritance, by the introduction of the system of landed property. And also, the sum of ten pounds per annum, during life, to every person now living, of the age of fifty years, and to all others as they shall arrive at that age.

Not exactly the words of a firebreathing individualist, but that's because Paine wasn't a conservative. Paine was a pure radical, more interested in change than what came after it. In fact, his ideas of governance bear an awful resemblance to the modern day liberal twaddle that Beck attacks throughout the rest of the book.

I point this out not to play "gotcha!" with Beck, but because at the outset of reading this book I am already concerned about faulty assumptions and bad history. The half-knowledge most of us possess is enough to make us think we know our history, but not enough to actually serve any useful purpose beyond looking like we're smart. To think that most of us know enough about our history to recognize our mistakes, much less learn to repeat them is ridiculous, and we don't help our cause when we add to the misconceptions many of us have about the Founding generation.

One other point I need to make before I get into the meat of the book. When you're writing that "Today we find ourselves back in 1776", you immediately run into a problem: it's not 1776, for many reasons. Chiefly among them: we're not at war with our government. And to suggest that it is 1776 might make folks think you're advocating such a war. How does Beck deal with this dilemna? Just two paragraphs after saying it's 1776 all over again, Beck stands down.

I lay out several options, but I want to be clear that none of them includes violence. Thomas Paine and his fellow revolutionaries shed their blood so that future generations would have access to weapons immeasurably stronger than muskets or bayonets: the weapons of democracy. Those are the tools that we will use to usher in a second American revolution, a revolution that won't be fought on battlefields, but in the hearts and minds of the three hundred million people lucky enough to call America home.

Here, as throughout the book, Beck is correct in the bottom line (violent revolution is not the answer), but he's completely off in his line of reasoning. Not to put too fine a point on it, but our Founders weren't Jesus, and they didn't die so that we would never have to fight our government again. We can't buy our freedom on the credit of our ancestors' heroism and courage. We haven't even begun to exhaust non-violent remedies that are available to an active and involved citizenry, but the thought that our children or grandchildren may not live in circumstances identical to ours isn't a radical one. In fact, it's just common sense. It's also a much more difficult argument to make, one that, fully fleshed out (as opposed to my own brief thoughts) would take a lot more space than the three sentences Beck spends opposing violence. Again, he reaches the right conclusion, but he gets there via an easy and cheap argument, and one that doesn't stand up to intellectual rigor.

Secondly, I dislike Beck's rhetoric calling for a second American revolution, because Beck doesn't really want a political revolution. I believe what he's calling for is a social Awakening instead, but almost nobody knows who Jonathan Edwards is these days (though Voters in the Hands of an Angry God would make a great title). Still, don't cheapen history. There's a lot of useful knowledge to be gleaned from a survey of pre-Revolutionary American history. Our story doesn't begin with the Founding generation, and Beck may have found a better match in the periodic religious resurgances throughout our nation's history had he looked there.

Having said all that, when seperating Beck's own thoughts from the historical context in which he wants to place them, Beck's message of action ("Do not remain neutral. Do not sit idly by.) resonates with millions of us. He's right when he says many of us feel that something is wrong, even if we can't define it. Now I'm going to read the rest of the book and see how good a job Beck does at defining our problems and articulating an answer.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

A School Without Books

Cushing Academy in Massachusetts is ditching it's 20,000 volume library. After all, who needs books when you can have a Kindle. I mean, we all know that reading on a Kindle is just the same, or even better than reading an actual book.

The problem is that nobody actually reads a Kindle. You read from a Kindle. It's an entirely different, and much more antiseptic experience. You'll never get "lost in a Kindle", and the head of Cushing Academy should be smart enough to know that.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Time Saving Tips for Presidents

Matt Yglesias says cut the president some slack for not meeting more with his military commanders. After all, there's only so much time in the day.

A major financial crisis and global recession arose last fall. Dealing with that takes time. Obama, unlike Bush, acknowledges the scientific evidence that the world is poised on the brink of catastrophic climate change. Dealing with that takes time. There’s a need for new financial regulations. Dealing with that takes time. A new administration needs to appoint hundreds of people to various jobs and get them confirmed. That takes times. And the administration is trying to pursue comprehensive health care reform. That also takes time. Doing lots of things that take lots of time leaves less time for other things.

Well, in the interest of being a good American, and being part of the solution and not the problem, I would like to offer these handy time saving tips to current and future presidents.

1) Clear up a few hours on Sunday by NOT appearing on every television network except Fox. Stick with one or two at most, and outsource your other appearances to subordinates.

2) Don't take unneccessary foreign trips. Like, to Copenhagen, for example.

3) Kill two birds with one stone by inviting generals to "beer summits" with police officers and college professors.

4) Don't meet with the Dalai Lama. Boy can that guy talk. Looks like the president's already got this one covered though.

5) Order in.