Archives for November, 2006

No Surprise, if You’ve Been Reading This Blog

Your ‘Do You Want the Terrorists to Win’ Score: 96%

You are a terrorist-loving, Bush-bashing, “blame America first”-crowd traitor. You are in league with evil-doers who hate our freedoms. By all counts you are a liberal, and as such cleary desire the terrorists to succeed and impose their harsh theocratic restrictions on us all. You are fit to be hung for treason! Luckily George Bush is tapping your internet connection and is now aware of your thought-crime. Have a nice day…. in Guantanamo!

Do You Want the Terrorists to Win?
Quiz Created on GoToQuiz

Posted on Nov 30, 2006 in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

The Initial Initial

I just came across a quote by Edward Abbey that expresses what I’ve long suspected: he mentions a couple of people who go by names like “J. Edgar Hoover,” then says, “you can always tell a shithead by that initial initial.”

A. Mitchell Palmer, J. Edgar Hoover, L. Ron Hubbard, I. Lewis Libby. A little Googling reveals that a Hit and Run commenter has had similar thoughts:

NoStar | November 10, 2005, 11:43am | #

Add L. Brent Bozell to the list that demostrates that people who use a first initial and a middle name are evil and not to be trusted.

J. Edgar Hoover
E. Howard Hunt
G. Gordon Liddy
F. Lee Bailey
L. Ron Hubbard

Hey, what about F. Murray Abraham? He seems okay.

Posted on Nov 30, 2006 in Uncategorized | 6 Comments

Disrespecting the Presidency

I will not be surprised in the slightest if elected office turns Jim Webb into a horse’s ass. It has that effect on everybody else. In fact, I’m already sick of his Springsteenesque legislative-troubadour-of-the-working class schtick.

But George Will is oh so wrong in his reading of Webb’s recent testy interaction with the Prez. The story appeared on the front page of the Post yesterday. But I like the Hill newspaper’s account better:

At a private reception held at the White House with newly elected lawmakers shortly after the election, Bush asked Webb how his son, a Marine lance corporal serving in Iraq, was doing.

Webb responded that he really wanted to see his son brought back home, said a person who heard about the exchange from Webb.

“I didn’t ask you that, I asked how he’s doing,” Bush retorted, according to the source.

Webb confessed that he was so angered by this that he was tempted to slug the commander-in-chief, reported the source, but of course didn’t. It’s safe to say, however, that Bush and Webb won’t be taking any overseas trips together anytime soon.

Here’s Will’s take, from today’s column:

Webb certainly has conveyed what he is: a boor. Never mind the patent disrespect for the presidency. Webb’s more gross offense was calculated rudeness toward another human being — one who, disregarding many hard things Webb had said about him during the campaign, asked a civil and caring question, as one parent to another. When — if ever — Webb grows weary of admiring his new grandeur as a “leader” who carefully calibrates the “symbolic things” he does to convey messages, he might consider this: In a republic, people decline to be led by leaders who are insufferably full of themselves.

As long as he’s chastising Webb for sloppy use of language, as he does in the rest of the column, Will might want to ask himself how much that last sentence comports with reality–i.e., with the observed behavior of the people who actually govern us–unless Will meant to suggest that we’re not living in a republic.

In any event, by the perverse standards of Washington, Webb was rude. To remind the president that thousands of American soldiers are at risk in a disastrous war that he could not be bothered to carefully research before launching–well, that’s just not done, old boy. But what are we to think of the president’s reaction? Having just heard, in effect: “I don’t want my kid killed in this mess,” one would think that the right response, the “caring and civil” one would be: “I know. I don’t want him there any longer than he has to be. And we’re working hard to make sure he doesn’t have to be.” Instead, Bush snapped, “I didn’t ask you that.”

As Will sees it, Bush was right to bristle. You don’t have any right to talk to the president like that, even if his near-criminal unseriousness may end up getting your son killed. It’s “patent disrespect for the presidency.”

Well, this country could do with more “patent disrespect for the presidency.” It might help keep our presidents tethered to reality. I don’t think any of us can really understand how bizarre it is to be president–to be the most powerful man in the world, living behind a military cordon, in a bubble of supplicants and sycophants–and how threatening that would be to one’s psychological health. But George Reedy, LBJ’s press secretary, once described it like this:

“There is no position in the United States in which the isolation from equals is so complete as the presidency. To be the absolute superior in status to everyone else encountered throughout the day is an effective form of isolation…. In many respects, it is an even more effective form of isolation than physical confinement. The prisoner doing a spell in solitary knows that he is cut off from other human beings. The president, however, is surrounded by large, adoring groups that give him the illusion of human contact when all they really do is act as an echo chamber for his thoughts.”

It gets worse if the man behaves so as to enhance his isolation, favoring “loyalty” above all else in those he surrounds himself with, refusing to read newspapers, using the Secret Service to keep protesters entirely outside his line of sight. But even the most well-grounded of presidents, men who recognize the distorting effects power has on character and work to fight it, can succumb. As Reedy put it, “A president would have to be a dull clod indeed to regard himself without a feeling of awe.” Of course, if the guy’s a dull clod to begin with, then you’re really in trouble.

Posted on Nov 30, 2006 in Uncategorized | 19 Comments

Lame.

Disappointingly, it turns out that people thrown out into space don’t have their heads explode, as in the great space-noir Outland, starring Sean Connery. Instead,

When the human body is suddenly exposed to the vacuum of space, a number of injuries begin to occur immediately. Though they are relatively minor at first, they accumulate rapidly into a life-threatening combination. The first effect is the expansion of gases within the lungs and digestive tract due to the reduction of external pressure. A victim of explosive decompression greatly increases their chances of survival simply by exhaling within the first few seconds, otherwise death is likely to occur once the lungs rupture and spill bubbles of air into the circulatory system. Such a life-saving exhalation might be due to a shout of surprise, though it would naturally go unheard where there is no air to carry it.

In the absence of atmospheric pressure water will spontaneously convert into vapor, which would cause the moisture in a victim’s mouth and eyes to quickly boil away. The same effect would cause water in the muscles and soft tissues of the body to evaporate, prompting some parts of the body to swell to twice their usual size after a few moments. This bloating may result in some superficial bruising due to broken capillaries, but it would not be sufficient to break the skin.

Not very cinematic. (Hat tip Marginal Revolution.)

Posted on Nov 28, 2006 in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

People Who Read People

I always read People when I go to get my haircut. Today I read the November 20 issue and laughed out loud twice. First, there was a squib on Richard Dawkins book containing this great anecdote (here retold by Alan Watkins in the Independent):

Towards the end of the last war, Winston Churchill’s son Randolph was holed up in what was until recently Yugoslavia with Evelyn Waugh and the second Lord Birkenhead. He was proving noisy, drunken and argumentative. To try to secure some peace and quiet for themselves, Waugh and Birkenhead bet him 10 pounds each that he could not read the Bible in a fortnight. Churchill accepted the bet. After a few hours he pronounced:”This book is extremely well written. Why has it not been brought to my attention before?” After some days, [working his way through the Old Testament] he could be heard saying from time to time, in tones of awed admiration: “God, isn’t God a shit?”

The second thing was this quote from Dr. Jeffrey Sachs. I paraphrase from memory, but something to the effect of “Brad and Angelina are just so amazing together. They support each other 100 percent, which gives them the strength to be the world leaders they are” or some such.

Posted on Nov 17, 2006 in Uncategorized | Comments Off

R.I.P. Milton Friedman

Capitalism and Freedom and Free to Choose were among the first libertarian books I read. They couldn’t have meant as much to me–after the fall of the Berlin Wall–as they did to the folks who read them contemporaneously: especially with C&F, written at the cusp of the New Frontier, when 75 percent of the American public told pollsters that they trusted the federal government to “do what is right” most or nearly all of the time. But they meant a lot.

Yglesias takes issue a famous passage from Capitalism and Freedom, where Friedman criticizes Kennedy’s “ask not what your country can do for you.” Friedman said:

President Kennedy said, “Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country.”… Neither half of that statement expresses a relation between the citizen and his government that is worthy of the ideals of free men in a free society.

Matt says:

This seems like a straightforward misreading of Kennedy’s statement. He didn’t say “ask what you can do for your government” he said “ask what you can do for your country.”

I followed the link to Kennedy’s First Inaugural and reread it, meaning to argue the point. Here’s the surrounding text:

In the long history of the world, only a few generations have been granted the role of defending freedom in its hour of maximum danger. I do not shrink from this responsibility–I welcome it. I do not believe that any of us would exchange places with any other people or any other generation. The energy, the faith, the devotion which we bring to this endeavor will light our country and all who serve it–and the glow from that fire can truly light the world.

And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you–ask what you can do for your country.

My fellow citizens of the world: ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man.

I don’t really feel the need to argue the point any more. If you wanted to, I guess you could read this as “a thousand points of light,” but to me it smacks more of “a fire in the minds of men” from 43’s unhinged Second Inaugural. And the passages that contain the other famous lines from the speech (“pay any price, bear any burden”) sound themes in common with Bush’s 2nd. In both cases, we’re talking armed Global Meliorism (plus the Peace Corps, in Kennedy’s case). Bush didn’t invent swelling rhetoric about America’s unique historical mission, nor was he the first to employ that rhetoric in the service of causes that resolve themselves in pointless carnage. I don’t know why it sounds any sweeter coming from Ted Sorenson rather than Michael Gerson.

But the Friedman quote needs some surrounding context, too:

“The free man will ask neither what his country can do for him nor what he can do for his country. He will ask rather ‘what can I and my compatriotes do through government’ to help us discharge our shared goals and purposes, and above all to protect our freedom? And he will accompany this question with another: how can we keep the government we create from becoming a Frankenstein that will destroy the very freedom we establish it to protect.”

Obviously, it’s wrong to read Friedman here as (a) denigrating government as such; (b) condemning any sort of public-spiritedness or collective purpose–as Matt seems to. I read Friedman to be attacking the notion that our most important obligations as Americans and human beings are national ones; and that, as David Brooks once put it (approvingly) “national purpose can only find its voice in Washington.” The notion that we’re all better people when we’re saving scrap metal for bullets and holding war bond drives. Friedman”s saying that government exists to carve out space for our families and “little platoons” and all our purposes, individual and collective. It’s that way, and not the other way around.

Friedman’s lived experience taught him the relationship between war and government growth. But he didn’t write a lot about war. He wasn’t obsessed with it, like doctrinaire libertarians or neoconservatives. (That’s not moral equivalence, by the way.) When he did talk about war, he usually said the right things. The passage we’re arguing about isn’t directly about war, nor is the chapter in which it appears. But it seems to me directly relevant to the war-mad intellectuals who are the greatest threat to freedom today, as does this other passage from C&F’s introduction:

To the free man, the country is the collection of individuals who compose it, not something over and above them. He is proud of a common heritage and loyal to common traditions. But he regards government as a means, an instrumentality, neither a grantor of favors and gifts, nor a master or god to be blindly worshipped and served. He recognizes no national goal except as it is the consensus of the goals that the citizens severally serve. He recognizes no national purpose except as it is the consensus of the purposes for which the citizens severally strive.

Which is pretty cool. Before National Greatness Conservatism was invented, Milton Friedman was against it.

Posted on Nov 16, 2006 in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

In Praise of the LP

It’s silly, and in some cases, sad, when Americans invest their hopes, dreams, and identities in electoral politics. Politics is best experienced as entertainment, whether horrific spectacle or farce, and we’ve been a little too heavy on the former for the last four years.

I’ve always voted Libertarian for president–even for the last guy, who was living in his car (even though he apparently didn’t believe in driver’s licenses. Odd). I’ve regretted other votes–to my great shame, I voted for George Allen for Senate in 2000. But I’ve never regretted voting LP. They can’t win, so you can’t lose.

More importantly, they provide more entertainment value per vote than any other party, and in some races, their candidates may just end up getting enough votes to screw Republicans. Case in point: The Blue Guy was apparently the spoiler in the Montana Senate race. The Blue Guy!

Add to that the following from Metafilter:

Chief Wana Dubie is the Libertarian candidate for State Representative in Missouri’s 150th District. He has a marijuana leaf tattooed on his forehead and once painted bullseye on his roof so the ‘government could find him.’ After a 5-year sentence for growing marijuana, he’s running for office and with hopes for a 2008 bid for governor: Dubie vs. Blunt.

OK, it’s Beavis-level humor, but it made me laugh.

Posted on Nov 8, 2006 in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

What’s the Matter with Virginia?

What sort of a person, faced with the choice between George Allen and Jim Webb would actually pick that graceless, classless, frat-boy goon Allen? Why was this even close?

Posted on Nov 8, 2006 in Uncategorized | 7 Comments

I for One Might Be Content with Our Old Republican Overlords

Here’s a cynical reason to hope the president is right about Republican prospects this week: Iraq is lost. If that could become any clearer, it will in the next two years. Yet if the Dems take the House and Senate, the GOP narrative will be that we could have won but for the Ds sapping America’s will to see the job through. That narrative will be offered even if, as I suspect will be the case, the Dems do not exercise the power of the purse to spur withdrawal. Of course, that’s the narrative that some tried to sell on Vietnam, without much success. But two more years of Republican control forecloses that story even getting off the ground. It says that the president and his party own this war, it makes it far less likely that they can pass failure off on anyone else, and it makes it more likely that the kind of rethinking and purging that needs to happen happens.

Is that rooting for failure? I find it hard to address that question without four-letter words, but let’s just say that I think we’ve already failed, and I’d like us to learn the right lessons from that failure. (For more, see Julian with a rare sports analogy.) I always wonder, if people like me are said to be rooting for failure in Iraq because it would validate what we’ve said about how and how not to fight the war on terror, would it be fair to say that the hawks are rooting for another terrorist attack at home so they can impress on us the importance of their preferred strategies?

If winning in Iraq is not an option, then we might as well have some political clarity about how and why we lost. As I say, it’s a cynical reason, but in politics, that’s the best kind.

Posted on Nov 4, 2006 in Uncategorized | 6 Comments

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