May 21, 2008

Taj Mahal, Shmaj Mahal, Flatbush It Ain't

True, Abe Burrows said that Miami was Flatbush with palm trees.

But why does Sadr City remind me so much of Queens Boulevard?

A Website for Everything

This one's for dog castration protest poetry.
Memory still foggy--
Car ride; vet; deep sleep; now pain.
What's this 'round my neck?

So I humped your leg.
It's my duty as a dog.
A bit drastic, no?

Tell me it ain't so.
I thought I was "man's best friend"..
Better hide your shoes...

- dave

May 17, 2008

Farmers and Gays

I had some thoughts about two poltical events this week--the California Supreme Court's discovery of a constitutional right of gays to marry if breeders do, and the Congress's passage by a veto-proof majority of a pork-filled farm subsidy bill.

I'm also experimenting with a service called Scribd, which allows one to upload documents to the Web much as flickr allows it with pictures. See the link below:

Read this doc on Scribd: Farmers and Gays
For a short document, I suppose just posting it is fine, but for longer ones, Scribd and its program, iPaper, seem quite effective.

UPDATE: the window for Scribd is small. The average viewer might not know where to click to make the document bigger. For this blog, it may have limited use. So, here's the text of the document:

In the wake of the California Supreme Court's discovery in the text of the state's Constitution a right of homosexuals to marry if breeders do, I have been puzzled at the ease and swiftness, in historical terms, with which the homosexual agenda has progressed in modern America. I remember my father asserting, with absolute conviction, in the Sixties, that what is now called the gay rights movement would meet so much resistance that it would never amount to anything. He was, of course, wrong. In the space of a generation, gayness is not merely tolerated, but placed on a pedestal, in spite of the fact that gays make up perhaps 2 per cent of the population. (Don't believe the old Kinsey propaganda about 10 per cent—it just ain't so).

During the same week, Congress was passing, with veto-proof majorities, an agricultural subsidy bill loaded with goodies for the large farmers, who represent a tiny proportion of the population.

The notion is hardly original with me, but these events have something in common. Each represents the triumph, in its main area of political interest, of a small minority whose interests are at odds with those of the majority. How does this happen?

Several factors are at work:

  1. The minority cares deeply about its issue; the majority is at most mildly interested.
  2. The minority is found in clumps in various parts of the country, and thus has more influence in a number of places than its national numbers might reflect.
  3. The minority is politically organized, and either has advocates in the scribbling classes, money to spread around, or both.

The result is that on its issue, politicians in a number of places—and judges are politicians, of course—have something to gain, but less to lose, by taking up the cause. Farmers aren't very influential in New York City, but in the rural midwest or California's Central Valley, they have great power, and cultural standing. Gays are concentrated in New York, LA, San Francisco, and a few other places, care deeply about their issue, and their cause has been taken up by many writers, artists, and celebrities, including law professors, who influence the legal profession and thus, eventually, judges. The average urbanite, on the other hand, might prefer not to see his tax money go to subsidize corporate factories with organic parts, but the proportion of the tax money involved is small enough that he doesn't care much. Similarly, citizens of the heartland may disdain the shennanigans of the self-proclaimed queers of the Bay Area, but for most it's an issue far from the core of their being. What's more, as time went on, the idea was sold that it 's provincial and even bigoted to take umbrage at the normalization of gayness.

This notion extends to other constituencies. The pro-Israel lobby is very similar. It has its rather relentless scribblers, its supposed numbers are not that great but situated in a few metropolitan areas where they vote out of proportion to their numbers, and at least until recently has not made demands, say, for US troops, that might arouse strong feelings among the rest of the population. Support for Israel could also be fit into the prevailing foreign policy narratives—the Cold War, and later the Global War On Terrorism.

Substitute the Cuban exiles in Florida, New Jersey and New York, and you get a similar result. The Armenians, fewer in number, less well-organized, and less vocal among the scribblers, haven't quite succeeded.

May 7, 2008


Father of girls that I am, this made me cry, but it's most inspiring.

It's a story of the friendship of two little girls in dire circumstances.

Obama--Attraction and Repulsion

Blogging has been very light, as I've been preoccupied with business and personal matters. It's time, though, after the Indiana and NC primaries, to muse some more about Barack Obama, now the likely candidate and very possibly, after years of GOP fecklessness and in a troubled economy, our next President--with a comfortable majority in Congress.

I've got to confess that although I don't share most of his views, I like the guy. Perhaps it's that he's the most eloquent political figure we've had in a long time (since King, Kennedy, FDR, Huey Long?), and eloquence is something I admire. Perhaps it's that he seems more reflective than the average pol, something we need after the endless wonkish blather of Clinton and the lateral-/s/-laced blubberings of W. Perhaps it's that I find Hillary horribly grating. Even her improved oratorical style does not prevent her from uttering the same nostrums, laundry lists and clichés that annoyed me in the first place.

Despite my personal attraction to the guy, some things give me pause--the messianic cult around him, the skimpiness of content in his early campaign, and the leftist tilt he often shows when he does take policy positions. Sometimes something better shines through--for example, the wisdom of his opposition to the demagogic gas tax holiday McCain proposed and Hillary embraced.

In two areas he gives me pause. First, although he opposed the war in Iraq (easy enough for an Illinois state senator from South Side Chicago) and seems willing to negotiate with our adversaries, I don't know that he's eschewed interventionism in concept; he will be an interventionist with a humanitarian twist, perhaps. Leathernecks, welcome to Darfur.

It's also pretty clear that by reflex or instinct, he's a statist--a Nanny Stater who wants to use government to improve s morally, a centralizer who wants to regulate more and spend more, and an egalitarian who wants to soak the rich (if only a bit) to help the poor (at least in concept). He expresses these notions in conciliatory fashion. The Clintons are policy triangulators; Obama's a stylistic triangulator.

All of this rings my political alarm bells, but then, although there's much to admire in John McCain, he rings bells, too, and some of the same ones.

We are doomed, it seems, to live in an interesting political year, and perhaps an interesting quadrennium.

Obama, McCain, Bob Barr. Hmm. Stay tuned.

May 1, 2008

Apophatic Conservatism

Fleming's curmudgeonly post moves from expressing irritation at the foibles of bloggers to the difficulty of fathoming a basis for a revived conservative coalition.
There is a lot of conservative chatter out in the blogosphere. Much of it can be reduced to Rodney King’s question: “Why can’t we all just get along.” Unfortunately, most of these would-be peace-makers, drunk on their own ungrammatical effusions, have made themselves appear as stupid as Rodney King–and just as troublesome and even harder to repress. They spend their time lambasting “Paleos,” Catholics, Southerners, and even all Christians, wihtout knowing the first thing about “paleoconservatism,” Christianity, or the South. Then they wonder why they cannot build a coalition. I had hoped, by beginning a serious dialogue on the early Church, Protestants and Catholics might begin to find some common ground. In fact, that is exactly what has happened. Can we develop the same common ground on more political topics? Why not? Where do we begin?
Perhaps, like Marxists schooled in their squabbles, conservatism seems more fragmented from the inside than the outside. Catholic traditionalists, nationalists, Southern revivalists, libertarians, and so on appear to have very different views. Whether they are "conservative" in the dictionary meaning of the world is often questionable.

This brings to mind a couple of adages. First, "the enemy of my enemy is my friend." The second is the supposedly Arab saying, "I against my brother, my brother and I against my cousin, my cousin and I against the infidel." In short, it is easier to define what we are against than to agree on the reasons.

There is an approach to theology in the Orthodox tradition called "apophatic":
Apophatic theology—also known as negative theology—is a theology that attempts to describe God by negation, to speak of God only in absolutely certain terms and to avoid what may not be said. In Orthodox Christianity, apophatic theology is based on the assumption that God's essence is unknowable or ineffable and on the recognition of the inadequacy of human language to describe God. The apophatic tradition in Orthodoxy is often balanced with cataphatic theology—or positive theology—and belief in the incarnation, through which God has revealed himself in the person of Jesus Christ.
One can approach conservatism in a similar fashion--we don't agree on who we are, but we have a consensus on what we're against. For me, the essence of conservatism is a recognition of human fallenness, the danger of tinkering with the unarticulated and inarticulable habits of soul and society evolved over generations, and the probable wickedness and folly of all "progress," all utopias and systematic programs for change, especially when imposed by a powerful state.

In short, a conservative coalition might form around rejecting the idea of progress, schemas and programs for comprehensive change, the impulse to reform everything, and powerful and centralized government--which today also means opposing interventionism in the name of crusades for democracy. We define ourselves, that is, by what we are not.

It might be a start.


Thomas Fleming is the grey eminence of Chronicles, a paleocon site inhabited by a variety of fairly rare political fauna, united by a distaste for interventionism and the federal gummint. He likes to write about topics like Beowulf and the early fathers of the church, rather than today’s Rasmussen poll (not that there’s anything wrong with that).

Today Fleming put up a post that had two themes, both worthy of comment. The first is the feckless idiocy of much bloggery:
Which came first in America, the narcissistic obsession with personal trivia or the blogosphere? In other words, did Internet blogging reduce the mentality of young Americans to the level of mind-numbing chatter about what they had for breakfast or what they think about Obama or did blogging only give an opportunity for the already brain-dead to talk about themselves?

I suppose I know, already, that the second answer is the correct one. I’ve spent the past 30 years, at parties, conferences, rides on the O’Hare shuttle bus, and coffee hour after church, listening to strangers tell me about the wonders of their RV, their vacations in Disney World, their opinions on pop music, and their political prejudices. Beware of the Republicans, who are plotting to enslave American workers; beware of the Clintons, who are plotting to make themselves dictators. What are most political blogs but cellphone conversations overheard on the runway before the plane takes off. The good thing about blogs–including this one–is that you don’t have to read them, but when the bloggers are shouting into their telephone or cornering you at coffee, they are impossible to escape.
Here Fleming is being a bit curmudgeonly, I think. Gossip about the misbehavior of the dog, the hats or scarves of the church-ladies, breakfast, and so on, are the sinews of social life. Live in isolation and you start to miss this stuff. Even I, a self-proclaimed curmudgeon, feel impelled to lighten up and enjoy the chatter I hear while on line at the post office or the market.

Reading the ramblings of the accredited commentariat, that is, those who get paid, I cannot say that they are wiser than those of the better bloggers. Indeed, because they must dance for their supper, they seem more inclined to effuse contrived ephemera.

Blogging, and especially commenting, combines the vices of spontaneity, isolation, and permanence. We write without thinking much, without the raised eyebrow or the "Ahem!" of our interlocutor to curtail our folly, and our drivel is preserved in pixels and bytes even when we think better of it. The catharsis of writing a really ripping letter to the editor and then crumpling it up and trying for a three-pointer in the trashbasket has been lost.

Bloggery is no worse than daily stuff-and-nonsense; it just doesn't disappear as chatter does when the sound waves dissipate. A word to the wise, or better, to the heedlessly garrulous.

More on TF's second point, later.