May 31, 2005

Lao Tzu on Great Powers

When a country obtains great power,
it becomes like the sea:
all streams run downward into it.
The more powerful it grows,
the greater the need for humility.
Humility means trusting the Tao,
thus never needing to be defensive.

A great nation is like a great man:
When he makes a mistake, he realizes it.
Having realized it, he admits it.
Having admitted it, he corrects it.
He considers those who point out his faults
as his most benevolent teachers.
He thinks of his enemy as the shadow that he himself casts.

If a nation is centered in the Tao,
if it nourishes its own people
and doesn't meddle in the affairs of others,
it will be a light to all nations in the world.

From this site.

May 30, 2005

A Fascinating Post About Concrete

Dr. Bob is a Seattle blogger who writes about medicine, ethics, and things spiritual. Recently he wrote a piece about concrete technology as applied to the Tacoma Narrows bridge.

Concrete is ubiquitous and is fascinating stuff, essentially a synthetic rock. Its the most common but by no means the only composite material we use these days.

One of the nice things about being a lawyer (yes, there are some!) is the chance to learn about all kinds of things, without having to learn them well enough to do them. Having tried several cases about concrete, I've learned quite a bit about it.

The bridge thing, however, is on a different scale.

Dr. Bob's piece is worth a read, and not too technical to understand.

Mark Steyn Has A Point

As usual:
More than 600,000 Americans died in the Civil War -- or about 1.8 percent of the population. Today, if 1.8 percent of the population were killed in war, there would be 5.4 million graves to decorate on Decoration Day.

But that's the difference between then and now: the loss of proportion. They had victims galore back in 1863, but they weren't a victim culture. They had a lot of crummy decisions and bureaucratic screw-ups worth re-examining, but they weren't a nation that prioritized retroactive pseudo-legalistic self-flagellating vaudeville over all else. They had hellish setbacks but they didn't lose sight of the forest in order to obsess week after week on one tiny twig of one weedy little tree.

There is something not just ridiculous but unbecoming about a hyperpower 300 million strong whose elites -- from the deranged former vice president down -- want the outcome of a war, and the fate of a nation, to hinge on one freaky jailhouse; elites who are willing to pay any price, bear any burden, as long as it's pain-free, squeaky-clean and over in a week. The sheer silliness dishonors the memory of all those we're supposed to be remembering this Memorial Day.

Playing by Gore-Kennedy rules, the Union would have lost the Civil War, the rebels the Revolutionary War, and the colonists the French and Indian Wars. There would, in other words, be no America. Even in its grief, my part of New Hampshire understood that 141 years ago. We should, too.

Deranged former VP? Snarky, that. But the main point's well-taken.

Football, Pokémon, and the Working-Class Family

Pikachu -- a Pokémon

My eldest daughter is recovering from her first year of teaching in a suburban/rural Texas high school.

She's shocked by the indiscipline of the students and the combination of evangelical surface piety and teen-age pregnancy, among other things. She points to literature on the rarity of families sitting down to a meal together and learning basic social skills like not interrupting and responding on topic to something someone else says.

When I hazarded that things like Little League might make a difference, she agreed, allowing how her distaste for things like football had done a 180. If a student is on a team, she said, she or he is much more likely to get a decent grade. The coaches check up on how their team members are doing, and demand of them that they perform their basic tasks consistently.

Team sports, of course, teach lessons from the importance of showing up, to perserverance, division of labor, learning and adhering to rather complex rules, as well as intellectual skills such as learning and applying those worlds.

Thinking about all this reminded me of the period a few years ago when my younger girls were into Pokémon, that costly tournament of invented creatures. Although perhaps with a John Stuart Mill upbringing they would have been reading Vergil, Pokémon is a symbolic system whose complexity and structure resembles that of the Periodic Table, and learning to manipulate that system probably stimulates as many synapses as anything else they might be up to at nine and ten.

I agree -- football, like the military, can save a few kids. I nevertheless ponder the destruction, in a generation, of the working class family in America -- how it happened, its consequences, and what to do about it. Neither the left nor the right understand this. The welfare state, easy divorce, sexual "liberation," the decline of decent factory jobs and the unions that went with them, the glorification and spread to whites of ghetto culture, mass-media-induced brain rot, and steeply rising house prices all are factors.

Solutions? Nothing easy comes to mind.

An Interesting Eulogy

For George Kennan.

Top Stories of the Oughts

We're half way through this decade, more or less. I got a wild hair and decided to try to list the top stories of our decade. Maybe in 2010 I'll be around to look back and see how I did.

  • The 9/11 attack and the war with Islamist terrorism.

  • Population decline and Muslim immigration in Europe.

  • Epidemics: AIDS and bird flu.

  • The rise of the internet and blogosphere and the decline of MSM.

  • Depletion of the ocean environment, especially fish stocks.

  • Economic dynamism of China and India.

  • Rise of the Hispanics in the USA.

  • Democratic resurgence in the former Soviet Union (except Russia) and the Middle East.

  • Emergence of a Republican majority (even if Hillary manages to win in 2008).

  • Shift of the Christian center of gravity to the "Third World."

These aren't in any particular order. They're all important stories. Of course, the really important ones are those we haven't imagined.

May 29, 2005

Evolutionary Theory Don't Buy No Burgers

Dennis Mangan points out that the practical uses of evolutionary theory are rather limited:

So, I'd like to ask, what job, other than the miniscule number of biology professorships, is available to someone who has learned evolution? The theory of evolution is one of those things like, say, music appreciation or cultural anthropology that goes in one ear of most college or high school students, and out the other. Knowledge of evolution is all but completely unnecessary for most any job. I know; I have a bachelor's degree in microbiology, I learned the theory of evolution thoroughly, and I have had occasion to use it exactly never in my career. Most of my fellow classmates have either also never used it, or were never able to land a job in any field related to biology or medicine.

I'd never thought of it this way, but he's probably right. Knoweldge of genetics and such is no doubt very useful, and in some contexts selection and adaptation, but one can no doubt treat cancer or breed pluots without committing for or against Darwin. Probably that's why we can run a post-industrial economy with millions skeptical of the theory and finding ancient texts more persuasive.

There's an old joke about a public lecture on astrophysics. After it was over, a member of the audience asked the lecturer if it were true that the Sun would burn up the Earth in five million years. "No, no, I said five billion, replied the lecturer."

"Thank God!" exclaimed the listener, "I'm so relieved!"

If a theory that has few immediate implications can only be accepted at the price of weakening the main textual basis for public morality, it's understandable that many in a pragmatic culture such as ours choose to preserve their moral code and reject a theory that promises no reward except a certain intellectual pleasure.

Although the evidence that evolution through natural selection has occurred is highly persuasive, morally, we are on Dover Beach or worse and have found no sufficient replacement for our tattered religoius traditions. (The tatttering is by no means due just to Darwin, and the tradition was highly flawed as applied in practice.)

Don't Count Your Terrorists Till They're In the Graybar Motel

The MSM and the Web are in a tizzy about whether the bloody Zarqawi is wounded, dead, or about to be captured.

If I were running a war against an invisible enemy, I wouldn't speculate at all, in public, about being "close to" a targt, the target's health or lack of same, or anything else, until I had the body, alive or dead.

Even if we were better at disiniformation than I think we are, all the "We're about to get him" or "We had him but he got away," makes our efforts look stupid, and who knows to what degree it tips the bad guys off.

Just keep it zipped, fellas, until you have the guy and he's sung as much as he's going to sing in the early days.

This is war, not "24 Hours."

"But It's So Cute!"

My 12-year-old daughter and two friends asked and were given permission to have lunch and walk around downtown Laguna today, something they'd never done before. That's what they did, after some practice in calculating a 20% tip (mother, after all, was a server once).

The afternoon was uneventful, and when Youngest Daughter came home she displayed her acquisitions. These included YAPFF (Yet Another Pair of Flip-Flops) and a yellow T-shirt.

Father, in his male way, asked "But don't you have enough shirts?" The inevitable reply (move to strike as non-responsive, Your Honor!) was "But It's So Cute." Which it was -- "Paul Frank (the monkey) meets Oscar Meyer (the weiner)."Paul Frank monkeyGrist for James Thurber, or Lizzie McGuire or something. Call The Situationist International.

Can't Help Chortling

First Schröder gets his hat handed to him, then the dhimmis of Chiraqistan gave a giant national raspberry to Giscard d'Estaing's horrid European Constitution.

The text is a monstrosity, and a united French-dominated, anti-American Europe we can do without.

With that, and a general distaste for Chirac and all his works, one must chortle.

Even if the impulse behind the "non" was a fear of cheap East European labor and a mythical European Union "liberalism" (free market variety, that is), this electoral nose-thumbing at the arrogant Parisian élite is fun to watch.

We can worry later about the protectionist tide that seems to be rising, the world over, some other time.

Photo Magic

Red Poppy Rick Lee's photos are lovely.

So are my sister's. Bee on Flower

HT:Instapundit.

May 25, 2005

A Different Concept of Freedom

This report about the flamoyant Italian journalist Orianna Fallaci being put on trial for writing a book some Muslims found offensive highlights the difference between our First Amendment conception of freedom of speech and the European one, which is far more paternalistic, and perhaps in reaction to the Nazi era, criminalizes the expression of ideas and sentiments that minorities find offensive.

The concept, it seems to me, is that "tolerance" is something granted by the state that the state can modify or take away for reasosn based on "public interest."

American liberty, on the other hand, is not granted by the state, but is a limitation on the power the people permit the state to have.

Although imperfect in the execution, this concept is fundamentally different than the European, which is essentially a watering-down of absolutism rather than an expression of popular sovereignty.

Or so it seems to me.

May 22, 2005

Things To Obsess On In the Middle of the Night

This report says Venezuelan caudillo Chavez has nuclear ambitions.

Could be true. Perón did.

The fact that he's a nut case is beside the point.

Delenda est Caracas?

Captain Underpants the Mass Killer

Gerard points out what no one should need to point out -- there's a difference between showing Saddam Hussein in his big whites and committing mass murder:

Today's exhibit #1 of our decline in which our fellow Westerners seem to rejoice is the utterly fabricated hue and cry over some snapshots of a monster in his underwear.

Evidently someone somewhere in the mire of their minds have determined that these images of the Emperor's New Clothes are in some odd fashion degrading and demeaning to the likes of Saddam Hussain. They take this view in the full and abiding knowledge of the extent and the depth of his decades long history of crimes against humanity so vile there is no language known that can express them. Yet still these warped souls seem to feel that, well, Saddam is just another human being.

But of course he's not. He's something that has taken human form, but all that is truly human about him is no longer resident. There is no imaginable fate or execution available for this walking pillar of dung that will in the least balance the scales of justice. Justice no longer enters into this equation.

So I imagine that all those blighted individuals who believe the underwear photographs are some kind of "assault on dignity" are likewise empty of the sense of justice that the merest human infant possesses. For them, there is no hope of regaining either sense or sensibility and we leave them to their vacant philosophies and vapid lives. It shames me to have them as part of my society. It would shame them as well, but they have no capacity for it.

Personally, I wouldn't be upset if they displayed his head on a pike. Though perhaps a trial, if properly handled, would be educational.

May 21, 2005

An Underrated American

Bryan As A Young ManA while ago I posted a picture and some words about Huey P. Long, aka "The Kingfish."

A cousin of mine was in a school production of Inherit the Wind, the drama about the Scopes Trial, sometimes known as the "Monkey Trial," a 1925 extravaganza about the teaching of evolution in the schools also a movie starring Spencer Tracy, Frederic March, and Gene Kelly. The trial brought together H.L.Mencken, who covered the affair as a cynical young reporter for the Bawlmer Sun; Clarence Darrow, the flamboyant Chicago trial lawyer; and William Jennings Bryan, three-time presidential candidate and former Secretary of State.

Clarence Darrow and Wm Jennings Bryan at the time of the Scopes trial

I was thereby inspired to divagate a bit about Bryan. I've always admired Bryan for two reasons. He was a great orator, in a style that is lost in our electronic age. His most famous speech was the "Cross of Gold" speech that preceded his nomination at the 1896 Democratic Convention. The speech was a masterpiece, and included such choice passages as this:

You come to us and tell us that the great cities are in favor of the gold standard. I tell you that the great cities rest upon these broad and fertile prairies. Burn down your cities and leave our farms, and your cities will spring up again as if by magic. But destroy our farms and the grass will grow in the streets of every city in the country.

And this, which gave the speech its name:

If they dare to come out in the open field and defend the gold standard as a good thing, we shall fight them to the uttermost, having behind us the producing masses of the nation and the world. Having behind us the commercial interests and the laboring interests and all the toiling masses, we shall answer their demands for a gold standard by saying to them, you shall not press down upon the brow of labor this crown of thorns. You shall not crucify mankind upon a cross of gold.

Bryan's finest hour was his resignation, on principle, as the nefarious Woodrow Wilson's Secretary of State, because Wilson, having run for reelection on the slogan "He kept us out of war," promptly began maneuvering to get us into World War I.

Bryan was known as "The Great Commoner," and was a legend and a hero in the farming communities, squeezed between the banks and the railroads. Vachel Lindsay wrote of this:

I brag and chant of Bryan, Bryan, Bryan
Candidate for president who sketched a silver Zion,
The one American Poet who could sing outdoors,
He brought in tides of wonder, of unprecedented splendor,
Wild roses from the plains, that made hearts tender,
All the funny circus silks
Of politics unfurled,
Bartlett pears of romance that were honey at the cores,
And torchlights down the street, to the end of the world.

There were truths eternal in the gab and tittle-tattle.
There were real heads broken in the fustian and the rattle.
There were real lines drawn:
Not the silver and the gold,
But Nebraska's cry went eastward against the dour and old,
The mean and cold.

There's more about the Scopes Trial in a fine series of pages here. The "Inherit the Wind" version, although it does not make Bryan entirely unsympathetic, takes dramatic licenses and is a but unfair to Bryan.

What's fascinating about all of this is that although the issues and symbols have changed, there's nothing new about the "red state"-"blue state' dichotomy, or the culture wars that go with it. Bryan, a flawed man, was nevertheless a giant, and quintessentially American. We should not forget him.

May 17, 2005

Proof!

You can't stuff a Quran down the toilet unless, perhaps, it's inscribed on a grain of rice.

Why didn't some MSM guy think of this?

HT: the inevitable Instapundit.

Alma Mater Makes a Fool of Herself -- Yet Again

Some East Indian Jamoke made an ass of himself in a commencement speech at Columbia, referring to this country as the middle finger on the global hand. If a Yank gave a speech in Bangalore using the digitus impudicus to describe his hosts as greasy, self-righteous idolaters, they'd be burning the American Embassy.

Columbia is my alma mater, such as it is, and after the silliness about nasty Palestinians, thin-skinned Jews, and Columbia conspiring with the New York Times to stifle student comment on the story, it's just about what I expected.

No wonder the owl in hiding in the statue of Athena on the main campus. He's embarassed!

May 16, 2005

This Time, the 419 Scam Goes International

Some time ago, I posted this about a version of the Nigerian "419" scam that creatively used Suha Arafat's name. It's the most-linked and most-read post on this blog, ever.

The publicity about the oil-for-food-and-bribes scandal has now inspired a new version of the same old fraud:
From: widowhelp22@netscape.net
Subject: Widowhelp
Date: May 16, 2005 8:40:53 PDT
To: [Me]
Reply-To: widowhelp24@netscape.net

Dear Friend,

I got your email address from the Internet and please do
not feel bad about this message more especially as I am
from Iraq. I am a widow of one of the former senior
managers of the Iraqi State Oil Organisation in charge
of the United Nations Oil-For-Food Programme.

My Husband and three of our four children were killed
in the U.S. led military campaign during this crises
period leaving my little daughter. Before the dead
of my husband, he reveals to me that he deposited a
luggage containing 12 million US dollars as family
valuables with a local security company here in Baghdad.

What I want is that I need you to help me
receive this luggage when it arrive Europe.
The security company has agreed to help transfer
the luggage to Europe and that I need somebody
to receive it for me since I am not free to travel now.
Please note that this doesn't involve any risk.
All I need from you is honesty and a promise
not to betray me after you receive the luggage.
Please note that I have decided to take this risk
because the new Iraq government is investigating
all the managers that work at the oil for food
program and I stand to lose the entire fund if I
don't relocate them.

Note that for security reason, I will not disclose
my identity until you respond to this mail. I look
forward to hear from you soon and I will provide
you with more details.

Thank you.

I get three or four 419 letters a week. Others must have the same experience. One asks, "How can this possibly work?"

But of course, spam is cheap, and finding one modestly well-off patsy would pay off handsomely.

The UN's debasement is common knowledge, now, even among Nigerian con men. Everyone gets it, except Democrat Senators and MSM editorialists.

May 12, 2005

Monday Morning Haiku

My Philistine hound
Has not read Hemingway.
Goethe leaves him cold.

I'm scratching myself
And wondering why I'm tired,
With no work done yet.

May 11, 2005

A Cranky Piece That Cannot Be Gainsaid

Roger Kimball has a cranky piece about the leftist "march through the institutions" as it affects, nay, corrupts our universities, at least in the liberal arts. He's cranky but cannot be gainsaid.

May 10, 2005

The Death of Conservatism?

John Derbyshire, historian of mathematics and polymorphously inquisitive commentator, here muses that conservatism is dead, and we shall not see the likes of Maggie Thatcher again.

He has a point, but of course conservatism is always dying out. It's the nature of the beast. And "conservatism" today is a cover term for several different political strands.

I really don't want to go into it now, myself. But read the whole thing.

May 8, 2005

Open Borders and Closed Minds

Laguna Beach is pretty much a Bobo town. Among the sights to be seen on the main road into town is a shaded area where day laborers wait to be hired. Conveniently organized by the Chief Nannies of the City, this redoubt likely houses close to 100 per cent illegal aliens.

A local anti-immigration group has made the street across from this outdoor hiring hall the locus of small demonstrations, where a mostly blue-haired, white platoon carries American flags and hand-made signs protesting the influx and reminding the would-be exploiter of labor that hiring those without the mica or green card signifying the right to work for hire in the USA is a crime.

Yesterday, this demo was met by a counter-demonstration, not by libertarians out to protect the free market in labor, but most prominently by a banner in Spanish favoring world-wide open borders and claiming (in English) sponsorship by something called the International Socialist Organization.

The ISO are one of the lately more visible decay products of Leon Trotsky's "Fourth International."

The problems of illegal immigration are real enough, affecting most directly those of whatever color who must compete for low-wage work with desperate border-crossers, but also threatening national security, because by definition illegal immigrants are not vetted by anyone, and to the extent that such immigrants remain here and are slow to assimilate, creating a "plural society" of different ethnic groups who meet only in the marketplace.

Whether it is politically or morally possible to do much about illegal immigration is unclear. No doubt the wall could be extended to cover the entire US-Mexican border, and one conceivably could be built at the Canadian frontier as well, at least if another terrorist attack linked to the border (as the near-miss Y2K bombing at LAX was) occurred.

A large-scale razzia for illegals who have lived far from the border for years and have American citizen children, whatever the anti-immigration movement might dream of, is not on, as the Brits say, absent some sea-change in our national mood, such as one brought on by a depression, widespread rioting, or major terrorist attacks.

The cynical ISO slogan of world-wide open borders, even if in the abstract it could warm a libertarian heart, is in reality even less practical. This is what Leon Trotsky called a "transitional demand," a reasonable-sounding, if radical, reform proposal, whose inexorable logic, if it were ever followed, points toward revolution, as did the Bolshevik "Bread, Peace and Land" in 1917 Russia.

Where is the center-left, center, and center-right in this debate? Nowhere, it seems. The problem is too intractable. Let the center-right beware. If neglected, the issue will provide fuel to the extremes.

Update: An on-the-scene report on the situation in SW Arizona here.HT: Real Clear Politics.

May 4, 2005

The Hysterical Led By the Paranoid

In this piece, John McCandlish Phillips points out the bizarre and unfounded nature of MSM and the left's hysteria about evangelical Christians' influence on politics:

In more than 50 years of direct engagement in and observation of the major news media I have never encountered anything remotely like the fear and loathing lavished on us by opinion mongers in these world-class newspapers in the past 40 days. If I had a $5 bill for every time the word "frightening" and its close lexicographical kin have appeared in the Times and The Post, with an accusatory finger pointed at the Christian right, I could take my stack to the stock market.

This hysteria is something different from disagreement, even vigorous disagreement. It's an attitude that denies the legitimacy of participation in our public life by the group that began this polity some 400 years ago, and has regularly influenced our culture.

And much of it is born out of sheer ignorance. There are people to whom the Bible is as obscure and unknown as the Zend-Avesta or the Egyptian Book of the Dead even though, religion aside, it's one of the charter documents, perhaps the charter document of our civilization.

I'm not prepared to drum any civil, law-abiding group out of our public life, or reflexively regard their participation as a threat to freedom. That doesn't mean I have to support all their causes, and indeed, they are a diverse group in many ways, culturally, theologically and poltiically, so they don't even support all one another's causes.

There are a lot of people out there to whom one must say, "Take a Valium!"

HT: Hugh Hewitt.

May 3, 2005

My Favorite ex-Trotskyist and the Truth About North Korea

Christopher Hitchens, an apostate Trotskyist and man-about-town, writes pithily and grasps certain basic realities of the modern world that are beyond the ken of many, here reminds us of the truth about North Korea. Fairly close to Hell-on-earth.

Hitchens contends that

It seems to me imperative that the human rights movement, hitherto unpardonably tongue-tied about all this, should insistently take up the case of North Korea and demand that an underground railway, or perhaps even an overground one, be established.

This assumes the "human rights" movement to be balanced and sincere. Part of it no doubt is, but much of it is infected with the concept of "No enemies on the left."

It also calls into question the concept common on the left that idealizes asceticism, especially when imposed upon others. North Korea demonstrates what this concept is like in practice.

Hitchens points to this satellite photo, showing South Korea ablaze with light, and North Korea plunged into darkness.

This country is probably, along with parts of Africa, the absolute nadir of human existence in this age. I await Michael Moore's and Sean Penn's contribution to this discussion, but I'm not holding my breath.