Archive for October, 2004

no anxiety about imperfection

Friday, October 29th, 2004

It has become a cliche that the right/left, liberal/conservative labels are becoming meaningless. Glenn Reynolds of InstaPundit is constantly called a conservative even though he is pro-choice, pro gay marriage, anti-drug war, etc. There are conservatives for the war and against the war, for free trade and against free trade. When the liberal or conservative label is applied to someone, you don’t know anything more about where they stand on any particular issue than you did before.

I would suggest that a more useful distinction is between utopianism and messy, imperfect, corrupt compromise, better known as liberal (in the original sense of that word) democracy. Mao, Hitler, Stalin, Castro, L. Ron Hubbard, Karl Marx, Osama Bin Laden, Ralph Nader, and all who believe in the perfectability of humankind, are utopians. Where they fall on the political continuum is irrelevant. Thus we see the current phenomenon of “War is not the answer” leftists allying themselves with Kim Jong Il and Jew-hating, women-oppressing Islamic fascists.

The American founding fathers were visionaries, but they were not utopians. Principles such as the serparation of powers and the separation of church and state, and institutions like the electoral college are frank admissions that human nature is not perfectable. There will always be demogoguery, ambition, greed, lust, and all the seven deadly sins. There will always be disagreement about everything. And war will remain as the ultimate settler of disagreement when there is no other way. The reason that no democratic nation has ever, thus far, attacked another democratic nation, is that democracy is a method that acknowledges and accepts the inevitability of disagreement and provides mechanisms for imperfectly resolving it without violence. Citizens of democracies gradually evolve cultures where the expectation is that one will never have things just exactly as one wants them to be. Perfection can only be imposed, because there will always be someone who objects to the program.

The pitfall of anti-utopianism is the trap of believing that improvement is not possible. As the Zen master Shunryu Suzuki once said to his students, “You are all perfect just as you are, but you could use a little improvement.” Believers in human perfectability have traditionally been the leaders and shock troops of movements to extend civil rights to all races and to women. They have been in the forefront of the efforts to care for the sick and the elderly, to eliminate child labor, to clean up the environment, and a host of other worthy causes. Just because human nature is essentially unchangeable does not mean that therefore the status quo is always the best we can hope for. The trick is to work within the parameters of human nature, rather than against them. Forward, “progressive” evolution of human society always involves a mixture of idealism and appeals to baser human instincts.

My favorite president is Abraham Lincoln (apparently he was gay!). Lincoln was the great compromiser, and a master manipulator. He had no qualms about dealing, often quite underhandedly, with all kinds of racists, megalomaniacs, and utopian crusaders in order to reach his goal, which was not utopia but Union. And by union he meant the acceptance of the Constitution as the framework within which disagreement must be constrained. Slavery was reluctantly acceptable to him, but secession was not, because if the principle of secession were to prevail, then there would be no constitution, no democracy, no way to reconcile disagreement except might. And then the flickering beacon of a middle way that the constitution represents would fade back into war-lordism. Without Lincoln there would be no United States of America, and in all likelihood the present spread of democracy in the world would not be happening. Instead there’s a good chance we would all be citizens of the Third Reich, and there would be no Jews.

So I’m glad that there are Democrats and Republicans, and that they are both so wrong about so many things, and that we never seem to have a very good choice of candidates. I’m glad that Iraq is a mess. It’s a big improvement on what it was before. And I’m glad that no matter who wins the election, a bunch of people are going to be very unhappy about it.

Email of the Day

Thursday, October 28th, 2004

This email from a Peace Corps volunteer in the Ukraine about the election taking place there lends some perspective to the U.S. election:

Actually, I feel I am witnessing a moment that will herald the beginning of a great future for this important country or its return to the sphere of Russia. Of course the American election is important, but I think this election could have a greater impact on the future of Europe and the world.

So far we’ve seen the opposition party denied access to media coverage, the mysterious poisoning of the leading candidate, police and government harassment of political organizations and independent media and every other possible tactic to ensure the ruling party wins the election. And the opposition candidate, Yushchenko, continues to lead in the polls.

And the locals believe that no matter what the final vote count is, the party in power will be declared the winner. And they accept it.

Many fear unrest following the election. Some even fear a civil war pitting the western, Ukrainian speaking population against the eastern, russian speakers.

And russia has made clear their preference. The choice has been reduced to a vote for the east (closer relations with Russia) vs. a vote for the West (closer to the US/Europe).

Ukraine has incredible potential and if it finally is able to be rid of the overwhelming corruption, I think it could be an economic powerhouse.

So the vote is Oct 31. We have been advised to stay home or at least close. If things do get crazy, I plan to sneak out with my camera.

I know things are nasty in the USA but I have to think that it is mostly rhetoric. Here, I am afraid it is much worse.

the electoral college

Wednesday, October 27th, 2004

Christopher Hitchens has now published two pieces, back to back, one in The Nation endorsing Bush, and one in Slate endorsing Kerry. What an apropos omen that this will indeed be as close an election as everyone is predicting. Except me. I still maintain that this will be a landslide for Bush. But if I am wrong, and it is close, and, God forbid, we have another election in which the winner of the popular vote loses in the electoral college, it is inevitable that there will be an outcry demanding a constitutional amendment to get rid of this supposedly ananchronistic institution. So, as a pre-emptive strike, I would like to direct the reader to a brief and excellent article in the LA Times defending said institution. Here is the concluding paragraph:

Yes, the electoral college is easy to poke fun at. Yes, it occasionally frustrates the will of the plurality or majority. But the founding fathers understood the dangers of direct democracy and struggled to create a system that reflected the will of the people while constraining the majority. The electoral college serves those ends well.

Steeped in the Civil War

Monday, October 25th, 2004

Living in the historic district of Murfreesboro is to be steeped in the civil war. A major battle was fought here. Many of the houses are pre-civil war (see photos here). You can almost see soldiers in union and confederate uniforms on the porches and in the streets. The guy who put in a couple of phone jacks for us asked if he could come back with his metal detector and look for stuff in our yard. So he came by with his son yesterday. They spent the day scanning and found a bunch of junk, but also a civil war bullet and a piece of lead off of a mortar round.

The Uncivil War

Monday, October 25th, 2004

Jay Nordlinger is right on the mark today:

“In my view, this election is not a contest to determine how we’ll fight the War on Terror; it’s a contest to determine whether we will fight it at all. And the decision made by the Americans will be fateful.”

I’m currently reading William Safire’s civil war novel Freedom. The parallels between then and now are quite striking. Lincoln was hated by almost everyone, constantly castigated in the press, portrayed as an ignorant, imbecilic baboon. The war was a continuing disaster, much, much worse than Iraq. He had generals plotting against him and each other. How could anyone conclude that this was NOT the wrong war, in the wrong place, at the wrong time. Would you have voted for Kerry, oops, I mean ,McClellan?

Sullivan on Iraq

Sunday, October 24th, 2004

It is very disappointing to read Andrew Sullivan these days. In order to take revenge on George Bush for the FMA, he has wholeheartedly joined the chorus of Bush-bashing on the post-war management in Iraq, and is passing it off as fearless objectivity. Invading Iraq and overthrowing Saddam Hussein was a huge gamble. Leaving him in power would have been an even bigger gamble. The risk had to be taken, and it had to be taken now. Andrew agrees with that part, but is now horrified that the aftermath is not all neat and tidy and predictable.

It was impossible to predict all of the post-war scenarios that have unfolded. Could we have known in advance that the Iraqi army would simply fold and disappear rather than fight? No. Could we have known in advance that Al Sadr would appear on the scene and attempt to lead a Shia uprising? No. Could we have known in advance that Al Qaeda and Iranian terrorists would pour across the borders to prevent democracy in Iraq? Yes, but that’s a good thing. It’s a draw play, to use a football analogy. Should we have immediately smashed the terrorist occupation of Fallujah? I don’t know, and neither does Andrew, but there is certainly evidence that the restrained approach that is being taken is the right one. Did we send enough troops to do the job? I have no idea and neither does Andrew. That question has many variables, such as, how many troops need to be held in reserve for other contingencies in the world, and other strategic and tactical, military and political considerations that are beyond my meager knowledge and understanding, and Andrew’s as well.

One thing that was undoubtedly predictable is that things would be very messy in Iraq post-invasion, that the transition to democracy would be fraught with unforeseen and unforeseeable difficulties. How this will all play out is anybody’s guess at this point. Discussing, questioning, and criticizing what is going on in Iraq is a good thing to do. Hyperbolically assuming the worst is not. This is war. This is the Middle East. It is inevitable that there will be plenty of grist for the mill of those who wish to undermine the effort there. When I read Sullivan these days, I can’t help but conclude, to mix metaphors, that he has a personal axe to grind.

Gay marriage, the FMA, homosexuality, and the emasculation of American culture

Friday, October 22nd, 2004

Here’s the thread of a three-way email discussion between R.J. Smith and Harcamone, with me popping in occasionally. It’s long, but worth reading, a very real, down and dirty talk about the whole ball of wax. Warning: There are some bad words, and frank sexual references.

R.J. Smith:

Agnostic, Gay, and in favor of the Federal Marriage Amendment

I see on this site, as on so many others, that folks are not willing or able to make moral judgments concerning sex. Gay Marriage, at its core, involves giving tacit approval to anal intercourse among men. Now, to be blunt, I like sticking my cock in another man’s ass and getting off, very much so, but although I may be confused (for whatever reason, environmental or hereditary) about just which orifice my cock goes in, I’m not confused about the fact that I am indeed confused. I don’t think you have to be religious to conclude that the proper pairing is between a man and a woman, not a man and another man. It’s just not rocket science.

Now, gay marriage proponents may bring up many of the benefits of it to themselves concerning everything from parental rights to inheritance to health insurance, yada yada yada. But in point of fact, very few of them have children, very few of them need health insurance from their partners, etc. But most of them would be engaging in anal sex. So the real salient feature of gay marriage, and civil unions, would be the implied acceptance in law of anal intercourse. (There are far and away more gay men then gay women, so I’m not even going to bother mentioning that small subset.) Sticking a cock in another man’s ass is simply not healthy sexual conduct, especially for the bottom. It tears the hell out of the tissue linings, and is the reason why hiv is so prevalent among gay men. There are no inherent benefits to society from anal intercourse that I can discern.

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Failing the Equivalency Test

Tuesday, October 19th, 2004

Posted by Harcamone

Ax yourself what might be the response from the liberal community — near and far — if a Moslem-themed poster, operating on the same disrespectful/satirical wavelength, were to appear on walls in Los Angeles advertising an art show.

Letters!

Tuesday, October 19th, 2004

Check out the Letters section over in the right column. The quality of the letters is very impressive.

war on drugs/war on terrorism

Tuesday, October 19th, 2004

Posted by Jason

The war on drugs can be said to have begun all the way back in 1914 with the passage of the Harrison Act and escalating over the decades with the passage of the Marihuana Tax Act in 1937 and the Daniel Act in 1956. However, the creation of the DEA in 1973 really kicked it into high gear and exponentially increased the amount of money being made from the worldwide illegal drug trade.

Drug money funds terrorist activities all over the world. Now that the Taliban has been effectively crushed, the biggest dangers facing the people of Afghanistan and our troops over there are from renegade warlords being funded by the opium trade. There is some evidence that Al-Qaeda is involved in smuggling opium out of Afghanistan through Pakistan and Iran to the West. The ongoing war in Columbia between rebels and government mercenaries is funded on both sides by the cocaine trade.

Our homeland is less secure because of the number of illegal border crossings related to the drug trade. Mexico, in addition to being a major producer of heroin and marijuana, is the main conduit for drugs entering the U.S. from elsewhere. The massive amounts of money being made have rendered most Mexican officials hopelessly corrupt making it next to impossible for any meaningful cooperation between our governments regarding border control.

Illegal drug profits fuel much of the violent gang activity in our cities and increasingly our suburbs. Children are recruited as runners/dealers because when they are caught they do not face the same penalties as adults. The attempt to catch big time drug dealers by offering lesser sentences to those willing to provide information has hideously backfired because the bigger fish simply end up throwing the feds a few small fish.

I believe that the legalization of drugs under the same regulatory and tax practices that govern alcohol and tobacco would offer the following benefits:

1.) The bottom would drop out of the worldwide illegal drug trade drying up the major source of revenue for terrorist and criminal activities in Afghanistan, Columbia, Mexico, Nepal, Peru, etc.

2.) The pressure on America’s borders would be reduced because much of the illegal border traffic consists of drug runners and people recruited to cultivate and guard marijuana fields in the U.S.

3.) Domestic gang related crime and violence should drop substantially since much of it is fueled by the profits to be made dealing illegal drugs. Removing the profit removes the incentive to commit crimes.

4.) Children much less likely to become involved with drugs and gangs because the incentive for recruiting juveniles is gone once illegality and profit motive removed.

I left off the obvious financial boon from the diversion of funds currently being used for interception of some tiny fraction of the illegal drug trade and the imprisonment of nonviolent drug offenders here in the U.S. In addition, the tax revenues would be enormous, certainly comparable to those from nicotine and alcohol. Maybe some of these monies could go towards fighting terrorism and improving homeland security. Or tax cuts for the wealthy, whatever.

In the interests of balance, I have to admit there could be a negative side to full drug legalization. It is likely that there would be a rise in drug use because the law does stop many people from experimenting. However, just because something is legal does not make it acceptable. Someone who is constantly drunk or seldom bathes is unlikely to hold a job or have any friends for long. It is important to realize that laws are not the only answer to societal problems and in fact can erode and impede people’s natural social impulses to belong and gain the satisfaction of family, friends, and personal responsibility. The United States of America survived and thrived for well over a hundred years before we decided that the role of the federal government was to protect us from ourselves. Perhaps, in this time of crisis when the most urgent goal of the federal government is defeating international terrorism and this goal directly conflicts with the war on drugs, we could give the nanny state a rest for a while. What say you fellow citizens?