Tuesday, June 29, 2004

More Moore 

I know, I know... shouldn't be giving the worthless lying lunatic America-hating hack so much bandwidth.

But this post at the Evangelical Outpost is priceless. It's a collection of Michael Moore quotes. My favorite:

These people [the NRA?] are insane and they have to be stopped. And the majority of Americans, according to every poll, want gun control. This group succeeds with a minority position and I think it's time to hear from the other side; time for the other side to not be afraid to stand up for what they believe in and until we correct the mental problem, we have to put the guns away. So I do believe in gun control - guns have to be put aside until we can act more Canadian-like. (1)

The Future of NATO 

An article from The Belmont Club links to some other very valuable information about the changes that are moving through US military forces, and what that means for NATO.

As I read this, it became clear to me that what America needs right now, in terms of alliances to help it meet current threats, is not geographically centered alliances like NATO, whose very name demonstrates the desire to protect certain geographic areas from very specific types of threats. NATO was very successful in its mission, but its mission is now over, and the organization is increasingly held captive by people like Chirac who want to limit its activity.

Open-ended alliances are a bad idea. They cause mission creep; they become ossified; they distort the members' true interests by shielding them from reality. This is certainly the case with Europe, as the member states continue to rely on the US (through NATO) to provide their military needs long after the reason for that state of affairs has disappeared and many of the members themselves have ceased to be US allies in any meaningful sense. Alliances ought to be temporary, to meet the need of the day, and when the need disappears, so should the alliance. We can have friends; we can have interests; but permanent alliances never seem to accomplish much good. The relationship between the US and Britain might be cited as an exception, and perhaps it is. But maybe that's why they call it the 'special relationship'- it's the exception that proves the rule. And even if we're close and share many common interests, does that mean we share all interests? Should Britain help us if we intervene in Haiti? Should we be required to help them if they go to war in Northern Ireland?

What the US needs is a new alliance designed to meet the new threat. We have the 'coalition of the willing' now, that's helping us in Iraq and Afghanistan. We should formalize this kind of relationship. It should not be based on geography or even on ideology, but on the commonly shared interest of eradicating these terrorist groups. We should be willing to work with a wide variety of countries to this end, even countries that we have ideological differences with such as Pakistan or China. This would be an alliance just for this purpose- pursuing terrorism, and would therefore not be viewed as endorsing (for example) China's human rights record or Pakistan's problems. The alliance would be functional only on these commonly shared interests. When the problem of terrorism is controlled, the alliance would end.

As an alternative, we could form a more narrowly focused, but more broadly functional alliance, with like-minded democracies around the world, with the larger goal of promoting democracy, security and human rights as well as controlling terrorism. This alliance would be more like NATO but without the geographical focus. And as a matter of fact, there's no reason why both these arrangements can't exist together. We could work with Pakistan on such issues as terrorist control, but not really view them as allies, and at the same time have a much closer relationship with Japan or South Korea and work with them as partners on a wide range of strategic concerns. In fact, this is largely what we do now, except that we have these formal arrangements such as NATO and the UN that hamper this more pragmatic work and yet contribute very little (and even negatively, I'd argue) to US Security.

Monday, June 28, 2004

Lileks today 

Lileks is wonderful as (almost) always today. But check out the last part of today's post- a great illustration of the difference between Us and Them in this country.

Saturday, June 26, 2004

My Letter to the President and Vice President 

Dear President Bush and Vice President Cheney,
Thank you so much for all you have done for your country. I know it’s been hard on you to hear all the vicious lies that people tell about you and still fight as hard as you have for the security of the USA. Please keep it up. Please have an eye to doing the right thing; the needed thing; the wise thing, rather than the thing that will satisfy those out there that hate you, and that hate America. They’re going to hate you and America anyway. They’d sell America for a mess of pottage in a heartbeat. Many of them already have. Don’t listen to them. Listen to the people that love America. Remember Reagan’s example. He was so popular, and so successful, precisely because he wasn’t guided by polls and the news cycle, but by his convictions.

I believe in the Iraq war. It seems to me that the fierceness with which the terrorists are resisting our success there is just proof of how important it is that we succeed, and how right the choice was to go to war there. If we can help the Iraqi people set up some kind of functioning democracy, then that will put immense pressure on their neighbors to do the same. This is the argument you’ve always made, and it is the correct one. I am deeply sorry that Marines are dying by the dozens in Iraq, but better that than men, women and children by the thousands in New York. That’s why we have a military. Yes, we know that Iran and Syria and Saudi Arabia are probably a bigger source of the terrorist problem than Iraq was. But the American people (most of them, anyway) understand that you have to solve the problems you’re capable of solving, and then move on to the others. We’ve seen the effect that the Iraq war has already had on Libya, Iran and DPRK. So keep up the pressure. Keep up the good work.

A simple word of advice from a simple man from the Red states, though- don’t worry so much about blowing up mosques and the like. Don’t worry about offending the Muslims by fighting in Najaf or Fallujah. They just interpret it as weakness. It doesn’t win over any of your liberal critics. And the rest of us don’t care. We know that the reason it’s even an issue is because the people who supposedly care so much about Islam shoot at us from those mosques. So blow ‘em up. Sure, a lot of people will scream about it. But if they’re not screaming about that, they’ll just scream about something else. In a few days, it’ll be forgotten. And we’ll be closer to winning. And that’s what it’s all about. Ultimately, we need to win over there more than anything. If that involves hearts and minds, fine. But if that involves blowing up mosques, that’s fine too. The American people will be behind you. So go win.

I’m a pastor in a small church in a small town in Colorado. Every Sunday my congregation prays for you. We thank God that there are so many in government today that name the name of Christ. And we pray that you would have wisdom and courage to make the choices that you need to make. We pray that you would look not to popularity or re-election or fame or fortune or anything else as your guide. We pray that you would look to the truth of God’s word for your guide, that the wisdom of God and the love of Christ would teach you what you need to know. We’ll keep praying that prayer every day that you’re in office.

Thanks again for all you’ve done for us.

Matt Powell

Friday, June 25, 2004

Bush's reasons vindicated (again) 

I suppose they'll keep saying Bush lied about the war, but the evidence continues to mount.

Fox reports on a document discovered that says Iraq and Al Qaeda worked together to undermine the Saudi regime. (One kind of wishes they succeeded, but oh well). We already had lots on this, but this is just one more piece of evidence.

And in addition to these WMDs they found in May, here's some more found since then.

So, link between Al Qaeda and Saddam- check.

Iraq had chemical, biological and nuclear weapons programs- check.

And the third reason- the humanitarian violations- well, we already knew all about those. But that's just brownies killing brownies. Why should we care about that?

UPDATE: On the subject of terrorist ties, there's this, too: The warning that Russia's Putin gave Bush about possible terrorist attacks from Saddam Hussein. (Link requires registration.)

Thursday, June 24, 2004

Michael Moore got you down? 

Read this, by Christopher Hitchens on Slate. An excerpt:

To describe this film as dishonest and demagogic would almost be to promote those terms to the level of respectability. To describe this film as a piece of crap would be to run the risk of a discourse that would never again rise above the excremental. To describe it as an exercise in facile crowd-pleasing would be too obvious. Fahrenheit 9/11 is a sinister exercise in moral frivolity, crudely disguised as an exercise in seriousness. It is also a spectacle of abject political cowardice masking itself as a demonstration of "dissenting" bravery.


Circles within Circles 

The attempt to racially engineer the ideal society just ran into more silliness. The NYT is reporting (registration required) that Harvard is concerned about the fact that their admissions policies are benefiting immigrants rather than long-time USA residents.

What, you say? Why would this be a bad thing, that immigrants are getting into our top colleges at higher rates than people who have been citizens for three or four generations? And why would a liberal hotbed like Harvard have a problem with that? It's because the immigrants being benefited are blacks of African and West Indian descent, or their children, and the blacks not being helped as much are the descendants of slavery.

How can somebody possibly keep straight which groups are supposed to benefit from Affirmative Action? Is it skin color? Can't be, because I'm sure many of these African immigrants are darker than the average African American who is supposed to be getting the benefits. Is it, as the article suggests, those with all four grandparents being African-Americans? Presumably this is because these were the ones who actually were disadvantaged by slavery. But what if one of the grandparents wasn't black? The article suggests that then they wouldn't be as desirable a candidate for Affirmative Action. But what if that one non-black grandparent was a slaver who forced his attentions on the black grandparent? And shouldn't descendents of Irishmen who suffered extreme economic oppression when they first came here be eligible for some kind of benefit? And how could you possibly sort all of this out on a college admission form?

Ironically, the 'problem' leading to this fact is that immigrants as a rule are a highly motivated lot, whether they be from Africa or Asia or anywhere else (whether this applies to the illegal Mexican immigrant problem is another question, I'd think). Most of them come here for the opportunity. But this then would imply that skin color has nothing to do with the disadvantages that American blacks face. Even place of origin doesn't directly affect it, since there's this major difference between blacks who came from Africa just recently, and blacks who came from Africa involuntarily several generations ago. The next corollary of this is that public policy based on said skin color or place of origin is hopelessly simplistic and unfair, and ought to be abandoned.

I waited in vain for anyone from Harvard, or the NYT, to make this point.

Via Powerline- thanks!

Friday, June 18, 2004

Book Review 

Brothers No More (A Blackford Oakes Novel)
Brothers No More (A Blackford Oakes Novel)

One of the nice things about being (mostly) done with school is that I've rediscovered reading for pleasure. I've read a lot of genres over the years, sometimes focusing on one or the other- horror, sci-fi, classics, mysteries, novels, whatever really. As a young person one tends to think that one is a (x) kind of reader: I'm a sci-fi fan! (except for all the sci-fi that stinks), or later, I'm a fan of novels! (except for all the ones that stink). It's the same with music. The younger music afficionado tends to have just one style, perhaps just one artist or composer. But as one ages and grows more sophisticated, one learns that what is interesting is what is good, not what fits a particular definition.

That's just prelude, really, and has nothing to do with this book, except to say that I liked this book, but only because it was good. It didn't even particularly matter that it was written by one of my heroes of political commentary (although that's what piqued my curiosity to buy it). If it weren't good, I wouldn't read any more of Buckley's fiction and instead just read his commentary. Just as, for example, I like Sean Penn's movies, but don't much value his political insights (I just resisted a strong urge to put scare quotes around that last word).

Brothers No More is a novel by William F. Buckley about a subject, or perhaps one should say in a genre, that he visits often- that is, the Cold War. This book isn't about the Cold War at all, though, which is why perhaps 'genre' is better than 'subject'. The Cold War is just the backdrop for a story that is simply about human nature.

It's the story of two school friends who fight in Italy together during WWII. One of those friends reveals a deep character flaw in that fighting, a flaw that the other friend helps him cover up. But the revelation of this flaw ends up working a surprising result- as the one friend becomes starkly aware of his own weakness, he struggles to overcome his flaw by developing his deficient character, while the other friend, believing himself to be superior to his friend due to the revelation of the flaw, is blinded to his own flaws and thus does not struggle to mitigate them, but rather allows them to bloom into full flower. The friends are followed through the next few decades as their lives take very different paths, but who are always linked by the sister of one who married the other, and by the memories of the days in Italy when so much was revealed about them.

I've always known that Buckley was a great writer. He's known for his prodigious vocabulary and his very expressive commentary. But he's a very terse, natural fiction writer, which might seem like a conflicting skill set. It's not a hugely substantial book, and spends little time philosophizing or sermonizing about the subject. He lets the story tell itself. You can tell that he's a writer with a sense of humor as well, as he allows himself to be the target of the hatred of one of the sympathetic characters:

To round out the political coverage, the Times told her to do a feature on Conservative Party candidate William F. Buckly, Jr. She spent a few days reading his books, his columns, and listening to one of his campaign speeches. She reported to the City Editor that she could not do a feature on him, but would gladly volunteer to serve on it if ever an execution squad were organized.

She's a complete liberal, and yet Buckley makes her one of the good guys (gals?). And he does it not in some obvious patronizing way to prove that he was just writing fiction, not politicizing, and the reader barely even notices, because Buckley IS just writing fiction and not politicizing.

As a side benefit, one learns a few things about FDR, WWII, Vietnam, and other subjects of this period of history. Like any good work of fiction set in a historical setting, it teaches about its setting in a way subtle enough to not intrude on the story.

But more important, it teaches about the human subject. At the end of the day, this is the only real subject there is in fiction, or at least the only one I'm interested in. I learned long ago that I did not find certain sci-fi books interesting and others very dull because the one had superior laser gun fights or more interesting spaceships, but because the one more truthfully revealed the human character reacting in the environment. It's the same with any genre- the genre is just the canvas that the author uses to paint or sketch or sculpt or render what's really interesting- the only thing that's really interesting- the human being, interacting.

Another interesting thing has happened to me, as I become increasingly involved with people on a professional level- I find myself increasingly drawing on good fiction for insight into how I can expect people to behave. I find this one of the most trustworthy predictors of human behavior. I say to myself, If this were a fairy tale or a folk tale or a good novel, and there were a character acting like that person, what would I expect would happen to that character by the end? Is he the villain or the hero of the piece? It's usually guided me accurately. Good fiction is the human race's repository of natural wisdom, and I felt like this book added a few more things to my small repository.

Emerging problems 

Rusty comments here on some signs that the Emergent church is about more than an aesthetic change, but a theology change. He's right, of course. Aesthetic changes never happen in a vacuum, I don't think. If I came to work in a business suit every day for 20 years, and one day showed up in a hawaiian shirt and cutoffs, you'd suspect I may have had a change in my outlook on life that went a little deeper than my wardrobe. But if you actively denigrate systems of theology, you can at best expect that some will use that to sneak some heresy in the backdoor, and at worst, the choice to denigrate systems is itself heresy. These guys believe very passionately in the importance of the medium used to communicate, so we shouldn't be surprised that there's something very substantial underlying their desires to change that medium.

And don't worry, Rusty. They don't like me too much anymore either.

Wednesday, June 16, 2004

The Southern Baptists continue to take a stand 

The Southern Baptist Convention has decided to pull out of the Baptist World Alliance, because of the BWA's "left-leaning stance." Good for them for taking a stand.

I heard an interview yesterday on NPR, with Rev. Paige Patterson, the president of South Western Baptist Theological Seminary, about the decision. He said the decision was due to the BWA's positions on gay marriage, inerrancy and female pastors.

Melissa Block's hostility was almost palpable, even suggesting to Rev. Patterson that the SBC would be better off with a more 'big tent' approach. What exactly Ms. Block knows about what would or would not help the SBC be stronger is not entirely clear. It would be like Pat Robertson suggesting ways that Planned Parenthood could improve its mission statement. But Rev. Patterson gave an excellent answer, saying that the big tent approach was precisely the problem, and that Jesus warned against that kind of approach with His wide way / narrow way analogy. He said their responsibility was simply to be true to their convictions, and to be true to Scripture.

We could use more like Rev. Patterson and the SBC. And some might suggest to Ms. Block a more professional approach to her field.

Monday, June 14, 2004

The Racial Calculus 

A great article on the west's attitude about fighting terrorists for the last 30 years appears today on NRO, here.

It sparked a thought- why can Liberals darkly mutter about the high proportion of Jews contributing to the foreign policy of this administration, but any mention of the high proportion of Arab Muslims contributing to terrorist activity is deemed racist?

I guess I know the answer to that already.

New Sermon 

Last Sunday's sermon is posted. It's on the martyrdom of Stephen, and the power of faith that he displayed. It's under the 'Sermons' link on the sidebar.


It is really important to maintain friendships, I think. And I'm not very good at it.

When I was just a little lad, friendship was very difficult for me. I was an odd child, I've been told. Of course, I thought it was everyone else who was weird, at the time. But as I grew older, I discoverd it was I who had difficulty grasping the social norms and niceties. I got better at it, but more importantly, I came to accept who I was and who everyone else was, to a greater degree, and this made life easier.

Friendships now came fast and furious. In school, at work, in church, I knew everyone and everyone knew me. I'd sling the humor and the wackiness and the love, and it wasn't long before I knew a lot of people everywhere I went. I'd bump into people in town, at the mall, at the bar, that I knew from somewhere. It's actually kind of a street cred when people know you better than you know them. That's right, I'm kind of a poor-man's celebrity! Say hi, give the wave, move on. You'll never run out of friends.

But then life got to be more work. You grow up a little more, change jobs, move, have a baby, and suddenly you realize that the guy you were such good friends with but always assumed was replaceable, turns out not to be as replaceable as you thought. Turns out you're not the only special individual in the world- they're all special individuals, and every friend you lose touch with is one particular kind of person that you'll never meet again, and that you'll miss.

So you learn to work at it. You learn to go out of your way (and where I live, that usually means an hour out of my way) to see people, to call people, to write an email. A guy who was a close friend before, that I worked with, that I had lunch with practically every day- now I'm lucky to have a beer with him twice a year. But it's something.


There was a guy I went to school with at Case Western, a guy named Greg Smith. I put that in here in case he reads this. Greg, if you read this, drop me a line. Hopefully you've learned to use the Internet by now. You were terrible at it when I knew you, but that was 1993 after all. They didn't even have blogs then, not really.

Anyway, Greg Smith was one of those real individuals. He was smart, he was hard-working, he was funny, he was a great musician and he was considering a triple-major in classic literature and ancient Greek and something else equally arcane, if I remember correctly. He was from someplace in Ohio like Akron and one of the best nights in my life was hanging out with him talking about theology on the tailgate of his Vista Cruiser and smoking awful 30-year old cigars that a professor gave me. Greg was also a lot better Christian than me, although I didn't know it for a long time.

I transferred to a different school the next year, and just figured I'd meet lots of other people like Greg, so why bother keeping in touch? I think he even wrote me a letter, which I can't remember whether I replied to or just lost. I was kind of a, well, something that might get this page locked out of a few filters if I told you, back then. I suppose it goes without saying that I never met anyone like Greg. I've taken a few stabs at locating him since then, without success. If only he had a name like Javier DeLonghi or something, it might be easier. But one of the most unusual people I've ever known had one of the most common names there is. Irony, I think, is the proper term for that.


Maintain friendships. It's worth it.

Who "They" Are 

Yes, it's true- they want us gone from Iraq. But the question is, who's "they"?

For the answer, check out ASV today, here.

Thursday, June 10, 2004

New Sermon 

I've posted a new sermon, from Acts 7. In it, I discuss how the temple was never intended to be the center of Jewish worship, but pointed to the promises of God, which were the center. An excerpt:

The Temple was the place where the people of Israel went to meet God. The pillar of fire and cloud that led them through the wilderness, symbolizing God’s presence, always rested where the tabernacle was supposed to go. It was in the Holy of Holies, where the Ark of the Covenant was kept, where God’s presence was most symbolically seen, where God made His presence known to the people. Later the Holy of Holies was seated in the Temple, when the Temple replaced the Tabernacle. It represented fellowship with God.

But it also represented man’s alienation from God, at the very same time. Fellowship with God was barred. The Holy of Holies was barred to the people. Only the High Priest could enter it, and then only once a year, and then only with blood sacrifice. The Temple, while being a promise of fellowship, was ultimately a constant reminder that they did not have fellowship because of their sins.

But the promises of God pointed to a time when that would change. The promises spoke of a new covenant, when God would have mercy on them and forget their sins, and then He would be their God and they would be His people. The prophets spoke of one who would come and clear the way to fellowship with God, who would make the crooked roads straight, and lay low the mountains and raise the valleys, who would make plain the way to the Kingdom of Heaven.

And when Jesus came, and died on the cross to pay the price for our sins, He did exactly that. And the heavy curtain in the temple that separated the Holy of Holies ripped in two, showing that man was no longer barred from fellowship with God. In Jesus Christ, every believer could approach God directly. Jesus was the way that man could truly know God. Jesus was, and is, the true Temple.

Of course, when the veil ripped in two, it showed something else. The Ark, and the mercy seat, and all the other furniture of the Temple, had long ago been carried off by the Assyrians and the Babylonians and the rest. The Temple worship had been destroyed by God because of the idolatry of the people of Israel. The Temple had become a monument of the failure of man to save himself, to be able to approach God truly through ceremonies and ritual. The Temple had become a constant reminder to Israel of their need for a redeemer, a high priest who would forever clear the obstacles between God and man. Jesus was and is that redeemer, but because they had refused to see the true message of the Temple worship, they didn’t recognize Jesus when He came.

We are all at the same risk, when we elevate ‘church’ above Jesus; the body above the head; the size of the congregation above the content of the service; the means above the end. Jesus did not come and die for us to have the opportunity to have potluck dinners or women’s retreats or long committee meetings about the building fund. He came so we could have fellowship with God.

The link's on the sidebar, under 'Sermons'.

Tuesday, June 08, 2004

The Importance of Proper Vowel Pronunciation 

I hope this isn't becoming a BabyBlog or anything...

Katie came in to the front room today while I was getting ready to go out, and said, "you suck!"



She repeated, "You suck!" and pointed right at me.

That's it, we're throwing out the TV. Wait, we don't get any TV. Just DVDs, and she sure didn't hear that on Looney Tunes or Veggie Tales.

What did you say, Katie? "You Suck!" Andrea, standing in the kitchen doorway, incredulous.

Wait, sock! I'm holding my socks to go out. "Your socks!" Yes, Katie. They're my socks.

Whew. A few more weeks of innocence.

Monday, June 07, 2004

What I Learned from Ronald Reagan 

Real leadership means having the vision to see things nobody else thinks are possible.

Don't listen to your critics.

You don't have to know everything to be a great leader. Just know who does know.

It can actually be an asset to have people think you're dumb and lazy.

If you want to change the world for the better, you have to believe in people.


Friday, June 04, 2004

The Road Past Wigan Pier 

A great post from The Belmont Club pointed me to the book The Road to Wigan Pier, a book by George Orwell about the very hard lives of coal miners in Britain during the Industrial Revolution, early in the 20th century.

Orwell was a socialist, and was almost as critical of capitalism as he was of totalitarianism in 1984. Wigan Pier purports to show the failures of capitalism and industrialism, in the heavy price it exacts on people's lives. This passage is perhaps somewhat emblematic, from chapter 1:

But it is no use saying that people like the Brookers are
just disgusting and trying to put them out of mind. For they exist in tens
and hundreds of thousands; they are one of the characteristic by-products
of the modern world. You cannot disregard them if you accept the
civilization that produced them. For this is part at least of what
industrialism has done for us. Columbus sailed the Atlantic, the first
steam engines tottered into motion, the British squares stood firm under
the French guns at Waterloo, the one-eyed scoundrels of the nineteenth
century praised God and filled their pockets; and this is where it all led
--to labyrinthine slums and dark back kitchens with sickly, ageing people
creeping round and round them like blackbeetles.

I'd certainly agree that conditions sounded quite horrible during that period for lots of people. But it seems a bit of a failure on a couple of fronts, both in regard to the past and to the future.

With regard to the past, the lives of a large portion of earth's population have always been horrible. People tend to look on the sufferings of their day as some kind of anomaly, and indeed they frequently are, in the details. The miners of this novel suffer from breathing coal dust; suffer from having to walk large distances in a crouch; suffer from working in an unsafe environment far underground. These things were relatively new labor conditions in the Industrial era, and thus make a poignant novel. But in the broader scope, the real problem the miners faced was poverty (not new), dangerous work (not new), fraudulent employers, miserable living conditions, and few options for anything different in their lives or those of their children (all not new). Farming peasants in the middle ages; hunter-gatherers in tribes on the North American continent; fishermen; sailors; conscript soldiers- you get the point. The majority of mankind has always lived in slavery and always lived in misery.

And with regard to the future, the seeds for the correction of the conditions Orwell described can be seen in his own book. From chapter 2:
It is not long since conditions in the mines were worse than they are
now. There are still living a few very old women who in their youth have
worked underground, with the harness round their waists, and a chain that
passed between their legs, crawling on all fours and dragging tubs of coal.
They used to go on doing this even when they were pregnant. And even now,
if coal could not be produced without pregnant women dragging it to and
fro, I fancy we should let them do it rather than deprive ourselves of

He is, of course, exactly right. When the rich and powerful of the world needed to enslave others to get what they want and were able to do so, they did. But as the coalminers got more efficient, and people became more wealthy as a result, it was no longer viable to have women dragging buckets of coal by chains around their waists. It was either unsafe, unprofitable, or unpopular. Unsafe is really just another way of saying unprofitable, because all work is unsafe in an absolute sense. The costs, both financially and socially, of having women do that kind of work in the coal mines eventually outweighed the benefits, or they'd still be doing it today. Nobody forced them to do it then; they did it because it was more profitable than not doing it.

Orwell also talks about the fact that one in three miners of his day had access to baths at the mine heads so they could easily wash themselves after shifts. This had not always been the case, but Orwell fails to examine the causes that would lead the mine operators make this sort of thing available to the men. He says the operating costs of those showers was paid by the miners themselves, but there you have it- they have the option, and pay for it. The mine owners themselves must have set the system up in the first place. Why? Because happy workers are more productive workers. Safe workers are more productive workers. This is something the world knows, and mainly because of capitalism.

OK, you caught me. This is a free market screed. Guys like Orwell can complain about the plight of the worker all they want, but as governments got better at enforcing contracts and workers got more productive as the industrial age advanced, they just got richer and their lives got better. They were able to demand better working conditions, more money and regular work. They were able to demand this because their skills and productivity made them valuable, and owners were willing to pay for that value because it earned them profits. Technological advance made it possible to do more with less workers, and this allowed the workers still doing it to make more. Orwell describes the fact that they used a kind of circular saw to chop at the coal instead of just picks and crowbars, which made them far more efficient. The coal miners who still did the work decades after Orwell wrote were furious when Margaret Thatcher put many of them out of work in 1984 and promoted nuclear power and better efficiency in the coal industry- if the jobs were such miserable slavery, why protest when the world moved past the need for them? They had to switch careers, retrain- yes, there was some short-term discomfort, but a more wealthy advanced society produces more jobs in more variety, and so it's only short-term discomfort.

But then Orwell's not really much of an economist. He says things like this, from chapter 10:
Under the capitalist system, in order that England may live in comparative comfort, a hundred million Indians must live on the verge of starvation--an evil state of affairs, but you acquiesce in it every time you step into a taxi or eat a plate of strawberries and cream. The alternative is to throw the Empire overboard and reduce England to a cold and unimportant little island where we should all have to work very hard and live mainly on herrings and potatoes. That is the very last thing that any left-winger wants. Yet the left-winger continues to feel that he has no moral responsibility for imperialism. He
is perfectly ready to accept the products of Empire and to save his soul by sneering at the people who hold the Empire together.

Good for him for exposing the hypocrisy of your average left-winger, but bad for him for relying on the false dilemma of Empire or global isolationism. England can have its strawberries and cream without ruling India. Just be smart, be productive, and buy them.

The false dilemmas continue, from ch. 13:

We may take it that the return to a simpler, free, less mechanized way of life, however desirable it may be, is not going to happen. This is not fatalism, it is merely acceptance of facts. It is meaningless to oppose Socialism on the ground that you object to the beehive State, for the beehive State is here. The choice is not, as yet, between a human and an inhuman world. It is simply between Socialism and Fascism, which at its very best is Socialism with the virtues left out.

The industrial society, the advanced modern world, is coupled in his mind with a centralized planning state. The idea that a largely unplanned, and yet very modern and sophisticated society could exist is simply not a possibility that Orwell conceived of. But look around you- we have it. It is telling that in 1984, technology is the enemy of freedom, not its friend. But here I am, a comparative nobody, able to express myself and advance my ideas to anyone who cares to listen, solely because of technological progress. We found out about Tianneman Square and the student riots in Iran because of technology.

Perhaps it was amazing to people living in the dark days of the 30's to imagine that progress was possible (in fact the only way it was possible) if government just got out of the way. The dichotomy is not between Socialism (state planning with a heart) and Fascism (state planning without a heart). It's ultimately between all forms of planning (which always end up as Fascism) on the one hand, and freedom of every kind, including economic, on the other. That's the real dilemma, the real choices societies always swing between.

Economic freedom is necessary to any other kind of freedom. Without freedom over my house and car and checkbook and labor, all my other freedoms ultimately are just on paper. The Soviets found this out the hard way, and China's about to. If you give people freedom of economic decisions, they'll take freedom in all their other decisions too. On the other hand, if you deny economic freedom, you can give the people religious freedom, freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, anything else you like. None of it will matter.

Orwell seems like a good guy, struggling with tough choices in dark times. But he ultimately remained stuck in the same class snobbery he tried so hard to escape. The poor miners of Wigan Pier could only be rescued by their betters. But history has proven that if you just give those miners freedom, they'll save themselves.

Wednesday, June 02, 2004

No More Ladies Night 

A judge in New Jersey has ruled that 'Ladies Night' at local nightclubs is discrimination. As the law seems to be operating today, I guess it is. It was only a matter of time, I suppose. We gave our government the right to engineer society according to some arbitrary set of principles a long time ago, so we shouldn't be surprised when they actually do it.

What about "Curves", a ladies-only health club? What about women-only colleges? One suspects that they went after the night clubs first because the behavior police can't stand the idea of anyone having fun.

Now the whole idea of 'Ladies Night' is, of course, rather distasteful. The marketing idea is, as I understand it, that if you get lots of ladies in and let them get drunk for free (relatively cheap, as it doesn't take too much with most ladies), then the guys will take care of themselves. The guys will happily go and pay cover charges and buy lots of overpriced drinks if they know there will be lots of liquored-up women there. A fool and his money are soon partying. Yes, it's distasteful. But criminal?

I guess we can thank the Christian progressives of the last century for so thoroughly indoctrinating this country with the idea that anything we find morally distasteful should also be illegal. The church is the light of the world, and if that light becomes darkness, it's a very great darkness.

The Media 

By now, of course, it's well established that the media is out to destroy the right wing and shill for the left. This should come as a surprise to no one.

What came as a surprise to me was how long it's been going on and how far-reaching its effects have been.

I've been reading A History of the American People by Paul Johnson, a little bit at a time for a while now. Great book, by the way. Johnson's opinion of the Watergate affair was that a press, who had eagerly shilled for FDR, JFK and LBJ, but who hated Nixon, destroyed him over minor issues when they had actively covered up much larger transgressions in Nixon's predecessors. Well, no big shocker there.

The big shocker to me was how their actions led directly to the disaster that was the '70's. Nixon had gotten us out of Vietnam, but had not turned tail and run. He had negotiated a settlement that fixed the border between North and South and that included an American air and naval presence offshore, so that America could easily come to the aid of the south if the north broke the truce. Of course the north did break the truce, but by the time they did, Nixon had been forced out and Gerald Ford was president, appointed to the Vice President post in the wake of the different scandal that forced Spiro Agnew out and then succeeding Nixon. Being unelected, he was very weak, and was only allowed through the nominations process by a Democratic congress because he would be weak, having no coalition, no mandate, no strong principled positions. But Ford was a good guy, and tried very hard to get Congress to do something when the Communists invaded the south, but of course they didn't.

The presidency was neutered for the rest of the decade. Ford could do very little, and Carter was even worse, emboldening our enemies and alienating our friends. All this because the press decided that they didn't like Nixon, and set out to destroy him.

Now this is all Johnson's take on it. I know that Johnson's pretty conservative, so perhaps he's biased. But the resemblance to our own day, where a press eager to witchhunt Bush for anything they can come up with, when they covered up far greater offenses under Clinton, is a little shocking, and chilling in the consequences if they succeed in getting Kerry elected.

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