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My word-a-day of forgotten English give me wolfshead for Jan 31.

Citing older dictionaries, the word is defined as "An outlaw, meaning a person who might be killed with impugnity, like a wolf," and "In old English Law, a cry for the pursuit of an outlaw as one to be hunted down like a wolf; an outlaw. Originally found in the phrase 'to cry world's head.'"

Most of us have seen the old Westerns with the "Wanted Dead or Alive" posters.

In earlier posts I have argued that we need to go back to treating outlaws like outlaws: in relation to piracy, in our rules of engagement, and on the feasibility of the U.S. acting in the world according to modern concepts of criminal rights.
What the heaven was the Pope thinking? Such is the reaction in this post and the article it quotes and links to from Newsweek/Washington Post.

Pope Benedict's decision to undo the excommunication of Bishop Richard Williamson, an unrepentant Holocaust denier, has been met with wall to wall condemnation. Short of the launch of a new Crusade, it is hard to imagine how the Pope could have ignited such outrage with one decision.

Yet there is an even greater crisis waiting in the wings that will soon be picked up by world media. Williamson's fellow travelers -- the entire network of the breakaway Society of Saint Pius X (SSPX) -- are vocal enthusiasts of a medieval religious anti-Semitism that gives the Islamist imams in Pakistan some serious competition.

The papal move to re-embrace SSPX was carefully negotiated. And if Pope Benedict was expecting any cosmetic changes in SSPX's Jew-hatred he was dead wrong. True ideologues in their hatred, their group's website remains unchanged. Jews, it tells us, are directly responsible for the crucifixion. Jews are cursed with the "blindness to the things of G-d and eternity." As a people, they stand "in entire opposition with the Catholic Church." "Christendom and Jewry are designed inevitably to meet everywhere without reconciliation or mixing."

So who or what is the Society of Saint Pius X? Characterizing them simply as raving antisemites is mistaken. They are a group of Catholic dissidents who think that Vatican 2 made a serious mistake in modernizing the Roman Catholic Church. If they are "medieval" they are so in the same way pre-Vatican 2 Roman Catholicism was, which is to say--not exactly. Here is their website.

What is their view regarding Jews? In their own words

However, in what does that curse consist. Surely it cannot be that there is a collective guilt of the Jewish race for the sin of deicide. For only those individuals are responsible for the sin who knowingly and willingly brought it about. Jews of today are manifestly not responsible for that sin. The curse is of a different nature, and corresponds to the greatness of the vocation of the Jewish people as a preparation for the Messias, to the superiority of their election, which makes them first in the order of grace. Just as the true Israelites, who accept the Messias, are the first to receive "glory, honor and peace to every one that worketh good, to the Jew first, and also to the Greek" (Rm. 2:10), so also are the first to receive the punishment of their refusal of the Messias: "Tribulation and anguish upon every soul of man that worketh evil, of the Jew first, and also of the Greek" (Rm. 2:9). The curse is then the punishment for the hardhearted rebelliousness of a people that has refused the time of its visitation, that has refused to convert and to live a moral, spiritual life, directed towards heaven. This curse is the punishment of blindness to the things of God and eternity, of deafness to the call of conscience and to the love of good and hatred of evil which is the basis of all moral life, of spiritual paralysis, of total preoccupation with an earthly kingdom. It is this that sets them as a people in entire opposition with the Catholic Church and its supernatural plan for the salvation of souls. Fr. Denis Fahey in The Kingship of Christ and Organized Naturalism explains this radical opposition. He describes "the Naturalism of the Jewish Nation" and the "age-long struggle of the Jewish Nation against the supernatural life of the Mystical Body of Our Lord Jesus Christ" (p. 42) He goes on to explain that "we must distinguish accurately between opposition to the domination of Jewish Naturalism in society and hostility to the Jews as a race" which latter form of opposition "is what is designated by the term, ‘Antisemitism,’ and has been more than once condemned by the Church. The former opposition is incumbent on every Catholic and on every true lover of his native land." (ibid. p. 43)

Certainly distressing to modern ears. But, the difficulty is deeper than pre-Vatican 2 Roman Catholicism. The New Testament itself speaks of a curse on the Jews, and of a blindness placed on those Jews who reject Jesus as the Messiah. Saint Paul in Romans 9-11 gives the most sustained attention found in the New Testament to the place and role of the Jews in God's plan.

It is the influence of the late Father Fahey, an Irish priest and academic, that proves most troublesome about SSPX. Fahey wrote and taught that God intends to reestablish Order on earth through the Holy Catholic Church, bringing all of human life and society into conformity with God's will: the creation of a truly Catholic culture. I myself am sympathetic to some aspects of Fahey's thought, such as that ownership of land should be as widespread as possible, most men should be farmers, family life is sacramental, both Individualism and Collectivism are devilish, and Capitalism --the "money manipulators"--are anti-God. The chief difficulty I find in Fahey's thought is his portrayal of those who oppose the establishment of God's Order: Naturalists. For him a Naturalist is someone who, prompted by Satan, opposes the Supernatural Order of Grace. Fahey thought that two main groups of organized naturalists existed who were enemies of the Roman Catholic church, and therefore of God: Masons and Jews. He believed that the "catastrophe" of modernism with its immorality and bloody revolutions was the result of the efforts of these two groups, working secretly behind the scenes.

So, what is Pope Benedict XVI doing? Is he embracing antisemitism? No. The Pope is reaching out to a group of dissident Catholics, hoping to heal a division that resulted from the changes of Vatican 2. Are some aspects of that group problematic in the modern age? Absolutely. But, as the Shepherd of a large and varied flock, it seems to me he is doing the right thing in his outreach. The official statement regarding the Pope's actions are on the Vatican website, but are not yet translated into English.
Posted by: an okie gardener
Story here from Reuters.

Hard to be a Christian in a Muslim land. The article's explanation, Turkish secularism, only covers 80 years of the last 1000. At one time all of present-day Turkey was a Christian land. Then Islamic conquests reduced Christians to second-class citizens--dhimmis--and their numbers have dwindled since.

Good luck with that E.U. membership thing Turkey.
Category: Politics
Posted by: A Waco Farmer
Dan Gerstein, writing on, had it exactly right today: the "real story within the stimulus bill drama is the power jockeying going on within the Democratic family." Put it another way, the unfolding relationship between the Obama White House and the Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, provides the key to understanding the course and character of the next eight years. Ironically, as Gerstein points out, this conflict is also the most neglected story in the Federal City right now.

First, how important is the stimulus package itself? Not very. Spending a trillion dollars we don't have is mostly a bad idea, but, nevertheless, one whose time has come. Whether we borrow another trill to sod the National Mall, make Planned Parenthood facilities more available to poor people in need of dignified abortions, or build bridges and roads, none of the details are very important.

We know it will pass. We can also safely assume that it will NOT have a salutary effect on the economy. But we can also predict that the economy will turn upward in the near term unrelated to the massive injection of federal money, the media will happily label the uptick the most astounding economic recovery of the modern age, credit the Obama administration for true genius, and laud the stimulus package as the vessel of our salvation.

2012: Happy Days will be here again. No matter what passes (and, once again, we all know something will pass), President Obama wins in the short term. America likes him. The media adores him. And we all want him to succeed.

But there is one trap he must avoid.

Barack Obama understands his political fortunes are directly related to how far he can distance himself from Nancy Pelosi and her extreme left-wing ideology.


San Francisco liberalism does not work--nor does it play well among regular Americans. Four years of Nancy Pelosi appearing weekly on Meet the Press setting his agenda is not a recipe for a successful Obama presidency. He cannot succeed politically or substantively, if Henry Waxman, Barney Frank, John Conyers, and Speaker Pelosi set the tone for his administration. She is arrogant, vindictive, and over confident. Her leadership means a punishing tenure for the minority in the House and a continuance of Bush Derangement Syndrome, featuring show trials and unhinged attacks on a villain in absentia. This will fly in the face of the post-partisan image Obama has so expertly crafted. In fact, such a circus might even be enough to blunt the unrelenting tide of disapproval for the beleaguered Forty-Three.

The President is an astute politician. He understands Pelosi is poison. He understands the public crucifixion of his predecessor (and/or our intelligence community) is a sideshow he does not need and cannot afford. Obama cannot allow the Old Radical Left in the House to run amok.

Can this President overcome his own party leadership?

I am encouraged by Obama’s choice of Rahm Emanuel as chief of staff, as Emanuel seems to be the only Democrat in Washington who can stand up to the Speaker. How will they deal with her? A public humiliation of the Speaker at the hands of the Team Obama is highly unlikely; it is not their style--and it causes another set of problems. Nevertheless, there is a significant wrestling match going on right now between Pelosi and the White House, which Obama must win to be successful. He is fully aware of this, and I expect him to prevail.

The stimulus is an important test of this theory. As I say, a trillion dollar stimulus in any incarnation is an ill-conceived notion--but it is going to happen. The test is how much of the old Liberal rubbish Obama is willing to force us to choke down. How much of the most politically embarrassing elements of the package can the Obama forces trim away in the murky cloakrooms of the United States Senate? How well can he co-opt Republicans in order to insulate himself against future attacks.

None of this will be easy. Obama is now forced to make a transition from back-bencher with no real responsibility to the owner of the desk where the buck stops. He no longer has the luxury of blending in with the crowd. Now that he is irrevocably in the spotlight, he really does need to stand up as a "New Democrat" and make a break with the Left Coasters.

Let's see what happens.
As I reflect on this question, I realize that I am defining qualities needed to be a great president. My previous posts:

From Polk: the ability to analyze a situation rationally and act accordingly, the willingness to go against one's own party if deemed necessary, and the steadiness to hold to rational goals. In Farmer's words, "a keen sense for the possible."

From Lincoln: recognize the greatest challenge and hold to the imperative it generates, communicate goals as they evolve in a way that ties them in with our national story, and acknowledge that there is a purpose in history that transcends our own plans.

Today, George Washington, the First and the Exemplary President.

Many, many things have been said concerning Washington. I would like to focus on three.

First, Washington was very aware that his every word and deed would be watched, and would set an example. He responded with thoughtful, careful behavior and speech. Even though no other president is going to set the pattern for office the way Washington had to do, every president is closely watched both by those at home and those abroad. There is no room for the careless word or action. In today's 24-7 cable, radio, and internet era, not only foreign diplomats and members of the federal government, but ordinary citizens will be parsing, interpreting, reading-between-the-lines, of every word and deed.

Second, Washington was committed to the principle that private interest must be subordinated to the public good. He did not govern with a "what is in it for me?" or "what is in it for my group?" attitude. Washington truly wanted to do the right thing for the good of the new nation. We want such an attitude in our presidents; and in the long view of history, only a president that can transcend the desire for personal glory and partisan gain will be judged great.

Third, Washington knew how to quit. He voluntarily set aside the power of office to return to private life. Granted that his health was failing after he left the presidency, I still cannot imagine him trying for a third term, or searching for any way possible to stay in the public eye. He was our Cincinnatus.

From Washington: act according to the knowledge that every word and move will be watched closely and can have far-reaching effects, place the public good over private interest, and know how to leave the stage.
What do Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Jackson, Woodrow Wilson, and Franklin Roosevelt have in common?

I would have voted against every one of them. As a conservative Federalist-Whig-Republican, given the opportunity to cast a vote, I am fairly confident I would have selected John Adams over TJ in 1800, John Quincy Adams over Old Hickory in 1828, Henry Clay over Jackson in 1832, William Howard Taft over Wilson (and Teddy) in 1912, Charles Evans Hughes over Wilson in 1916, Hoover over FDR in 1932, and Landon, Wilke, and Dewey in 1936, 1940, and 1944.

Want to hear something crazy? Even knowing everything I know now, I would still vote the same way given the chance.

What else do Jefferson, Jackson, Wilson and Roosevelt have in common?

They were American heroes and great (or near-great, at the very least) Presidents.

Barack Obama is not out to destroy the United States. Yes. He identifies with the Democratic Party--and that fact of life carries a distinct meaning, but, taken in the long view, hopefully, he is no more a threat to American liberty than the other aforementioned Democratic standard-bearers.

That is, even though Hamilton and Adams felt certain that Thomas Jefferson was a wild-eyed Jacobin who would carelessly squander the hard-won gains of the Revolution, Jefferson's political opponents were wrong. Even though John Quincy Adams sincerely believed that the boorish frontiersman, Andrew Jackson, lacked the refinement or capacity to govern the United States, and Henry Clay genuinely thought that the Hero of New Orleans was a dangerous "man on horseback" along the lines of Caesar, Cromwell, and Napoleon, Jackson's opponents were wrong.

You get my point. In the heat of the battle, we Americans are inclined to believe some fairly unreasonable things about our opponents.

Let's all take a deep breath. The campaign is over. It is time to govern.

Footnote (just for the record): it is possible that I might have voted for Jefferson in 1804.

UPDATE: Thanks to HNN for linking us as one of the "quotes of the week."
Category: American Culture
Posted by: an okie gardener
John Updike has died of lung cancer. One of the great American novelists whose work should be required reading for anyone trying to understand the United States in the latter half of the twentieth century.

TIME obituary.

Powerline remembrance.

Updike read and was influence by the great Neo-Orthodox theologian Karl Barth. He even once remarked that Barth's theology "at one point in my life, seemed alone to be supporting it [my life]."

Here is an article from Theology Today that can serve as an introduction to Updike and Barth.

"Updike doesn't preach. He tells realistic stories with symbolic and theological overtones that, in effect, invite us to enter the discussion ourselves. Here we are invited to consider the goodness of our relationship with God. God's partnership with us in the covenant of grace disclosed in Christ does not, as has been said, solve our many problems. Yet, within our bloodsoaked world, it does give us a place to stand. Only goodness lives. But it does live. God is God and may be trusted to fill our lives with radiance and the world with joy. "

Here is another introduction to Updike as a Christian novelist with a Barthian perspective.

The novelist John Updike is a Christian, but not a Christian novelist in the sense that his work forces an explicitly Christian message onto the reader. On the contrary, precisely because Updike is a Christian he believes the novelist should portray the human condition with unsparing honesty, expressing his "basic duty to God" in writing "the most truthful and fullest books" he can.1 One therefore looks in vain for clear, morally uplifting, spiritually stirring messages in Updike's fiction. At the same time, a powerful theological dimension can be seen running through his work: subtle but profound, invisible yet constantly present, giving Updike's uninhibited report of the human condition a specifically Christian perspective.

John Updike, R.I.P.
Category: General
Posted by: Tocqueville
So warns Tony Blankley of the Washington Times:

President Obama is a beguiling but confounding figure. As he has said of himself: "I serve as a blank screen on which people of vastly different political stripes project their own views.” (”The Audacity of Hope.”) It is indeed audacious that he should proclaim this consciously disingenuous attribute. And, as one reads his inaugural address, it is hard not to conclude that it was shrewdly crafted to perpetuate such confusion.

Run-of-the-mill politicians try to hide their duplicity. Only the most gifted of that profession brag that they intend to confound and confuse the public. Such an effort is beyond ingenious - it is brazenly ingenuous.

And it is working. Many of my fellow conservative commentators are embarrassingly eager to search Mr. Obama's words, groveling for hopeful signs that he is not a radical intent on changing the face and nature of our republic. Some of our Tory conservatives have clung to his words (”hard work and honesty, courage and fair play, tolerance and curiosity, loyalty and patriotism-these things are old. These things are true”) as evidence of a deep conservatism.

Other smitten conservative commentators take false comfort from his reference to George Washington's “small band of patriots huddled by dying campfires on the shore of an icy river.” Free-market conservatives point hopefully - pathetically - to the first clauses of his words: “Nor is the question before us whether the market is a force for good or ill. Its power to generate wealth and expand freedom is unmatched, but this crisis has reminded us that without a watchful eye, the market can spin out of control.” That “watchful eye” he calls for may be as benign as Teddy Roosevelt's anti-monopoly policies, or it could be as constricting as French Socialism - or worse. Mr. Obama offers philosophical hope to all.

And how easily (willingly?) some of our fellow conservative commentators are seduced to believe the good parts and hope away the bad bits.

(More after the jump . . .)

» Read More

The Pew Forum has this summary of the results of their 2007 survey on abortion views. There is a strong correlation between religious identification and the position held. The most support for legal abortion comes from those who identify as Jews. The least support comes from Jehovah's Witnesses. Even stronger is the correlation between practice and position, with 61% of those who attend services weekly opposing abortion.

Overall, U.S. citizens polled at 18% favoring legal aborion in all cases, 35% legal in most cases, 24% illegal in most cases, and 16% illegal in all cases.

For those of us on the Pro-Life side, the most heartening statistic is that less than 1 in 5 Americans favors completely unrestricted legal aborion, and 3 out of 4 favor some restriction.
The Pew Forum has a chart listing the religious affiliation of U.S. presidents. Episcopalians are the largest group, way above their proportion in the general population. Presbyterians also are over-represented.

Unitarians also are present in numbers far above their share of the population, though none more recent than Taft. Unitarians are the only non-Christian group present, denying the Trinity and the Divinity of Christ.

Andrew Johnson was our last president without a formal religious affiliation, sharing that category with Abraham Lincoln and Thomas Jefferson. I am not sure that we would elect someone without church membership to the White House today.

For what it's worth, Bill Clinton and Warren Harding both were/are Baptists.

I am not sure that Andrew Jackson is in the correct category. If I get ambitious tonight I'll try to check on it. UPDATE: According to Robert Remini Jackson's people were Presbyterian. He himself united with the Hermitage Presbyterian Church in 1838, after the White House. Had he been baptized as an infant? Remini does not say.
Category: American Culture
Posted by: an okie gardener
Infidel Bloggers' Alliance recently reminded me of a jazz standard I had forgotten: Charles Mingus' beautiful elegy in tribute to Lester Young entitled Good Bye Pork Pie Hat.

This tune touches me deeply.

Here is Mingus himself, leading an all-star group at Montreux in 1975. For those of you unfamiliar with him, Mingus is the one on bass.

Lester Young was a saxophonist who came to prominence in the Count Basie Band. Here is a brief bio intro. Here a bit longer one.

Charles Mingus, the brilliant, troubled and troubling, bassist was one of the great jazz composers.

Joni Mitchell was attracted to his work, and here is her performance of Goodbye Pork Pie Hat.
I have much to say about my trip to the Federal City. But, first, let me begin with an overview.

January 20, 2009. High Noon. There I was, standing with 1.8 million of my fellow Americans, wedged on the Mall between the Monument and the Memorial, with the Capitol as a backdrop, watching the 56th quadrennial American Inauguration of the 44th President of the United States.

My journey had been long and circuitous.

My pilgrimage began the day before in a parking lot on the campus of McLennan Community College in Waco, Texas. From there, eighteen of us flew 1200 miles from Austin to Baltimore-Washington International Airport, staying the night in College Park, Maryland, riding the Metro Green Line into the District the following morning, forced by overflow crowds to abandon the subway several stops short of our destination, walking west then north, then west then north again--and again, bellying around closed-off streets, eventually finding a clear artery onto the Mall.

There we stood, finally, on "America's front yard." But that famous pet name for the National Mall falls short of expressing the full power of the place, for the long stretch between Capitol Hill and the Potomac is not just a massive shared lawn--it is consecrated ground. We had arrived at the outer courtyard of the great temples of American democracy, independence, and our conception of justice, sprinkled throughout with shrines and tabernacles to our national accomplishments, sacrifices, heroes, and ideals.

We are suddenly quiet--even in the midst of the din of a million voices. Now we are ready to celebrate the most sacred rite in our political culture: the constitutionally prescribed installment of a popularly elected Chief Magistrate of the United States of America.

For all the rhetoric of bipartisanship, the crowd was primarily Democrats--not surprising and not necessarily unfitting. When Jimmy Carter appeared on the screen, they erupted with excitement and approval. When the Clintons came into focus, the boisterous multitudes screamed with glee. Bush-41 and Barbara: silence. Bush-43: snarling enmity. For the vast majority of these pilgrims, this is not a day to forgive easily or indiscriminately hail presidents in general. They had arrived with a palpable malice toward at least one. Perhaps one day they will feel more charitable toward Forty-Three--but this is not that moment. Again, no real surprise--and no offense taken.

The intermittent chant: O-bam-a. O-bam-a. O-bam-a.

An Aside: there is something unsettling about this brand of personal adulation. If this were a Republican crowd, it would be U-S-A, U-S-A, U-S-A, but let us judge not, that we be not judged.

Rick Warren's invocation is long--but not offensive to the throng. The moment passes without comment.

Joe Biden becomes vice president. His voice is loud and clear, almost startling over the massive public address system.

There is a moment of high art. Yo-Yo Ma, Itzhak Perlman, and other musical luminaries play a stringed ditty to sooth the savage beast and prolong the moment of anticipation. Is it live? Or is it Memorex? Memorex, as it turns out.

Then there is Aretha--and her hat, which is somehow perfectly befitting in the great collage.

Then the Oath (including the "stumble"). The new President is nothing if not a gracious man--in the big picture, this is very good news for the nation and carries a whole host of positive ramifications.

We are packed in--tighter and tighter as the climactic moment of transfer draws near. By the time Obama raises his hand we are pressed together snugly, straining to see through the smaller and smaller cracks in the wall of humanity. Every time Dianne Feinstein, master of ceremonies, gives permission for the audience to "sit down," the mob on the Mall roars with laughter and Bronx cheers.

Then the address: it is wonderfully traditional, subtlety stressing continuity over change. Inaugurations, of course, were not intended as victory parties; rather, they provide an institutional moment for renewal and re-dedication to the principles of the Revolution and the hard realities of constitutional governance. The lofty rhetoric of the address is properly replete with echoes of FDR and JFK and a host of other former chief executives and ancient Greeks and Romans. The newly remastered words roll over the crowd, plucking "mystic chords of memory connecting every living heart with every patriot's grave," perfectly tailored for ceremonial re-absorption into the collective American canon.

Early on in the speech, I am aware of a man in front of me. He is about my age. He is above-average height, with a relatively athletic build, and white. He is with his wife. They both carry themselves with a confidence that leads me to guess that they are comfortable professionals. I imagine both of them to be alumni of some prestigious institution of higher learning. By the end of the address, they will both be crying--and happily taking digital photographs of their tear-stained faces. But before that, the man is holding a small American flag above his head. Following a few early Obama oratorical high points, the man smiles down at his wife and observes, with great irony, "look at me; I am now a flag-waving American."

A flag-waving American? Who would have believed it--I think I hear him saying. Prior to this moment, the patriotic pose had been for simpletons--the last refuge of a scoundrel. Clearly, this man was much too sophisticated to "wave the flag." Men and women of great intellect had taught him long ago that the emotional exhortations to nationalism were ill-intentioned broad-axes designed to manipulate ignoramuses in Kansas and other backward parts of Red-State America.

But there this man stands, inches away from me, waving his American flag, and wiping away the tears of joy streaming down his face. God Bless America? Could this really be the land of the free? Could it be possible that the creed is NOT merely a lie manufactured and promulgated by rich white men to obscure the issues of exploitation, racism, sexism, and corporate greed.

My most optimistic hope: this really is a new day.

For all the hackneyed talk of "history in real time," this time and place presents Barack Obama with a truly unique opportunity. His presidency has the potential to usher in a watershed moment in our modern national life. Might this be the dawning of a new era in which the several generations of citizens hyper skeptical of the "mythic" American narrative reconnect with a less antagonistic view of the American past?

It is a heavy burden--much too much to ask any one man to carry in our current milieu of ironic detachment. Nevertheless, I choose to believe this President sees the danger of our collective loss of faith and plans on pursuing a rigorous agenda of renewal.

What the cynics fail to understand is that the ground has shifted beneath them — that the stale political arguments that have consumed us for so long no longer apply.

Are we on the cusp of a New American Patriotism?

"Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray...."

My Prayer for US. My prayer for this President:

"With firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in."

May God Bless this President. May God Bless America.
Category: Courts
Posted by: an okie gardener
Powerline has this post on a recent Supreme Court decision on the Exclusionary Rule. In the majority decision (Roberts, Alito, Scalia, Thomas, Kennedy) the Court held that the exclusionary rule should apply only where its deterrent effect on police misbehavior outweighs the substantial cost it imposes in letting guilty and possibly dangerous defendants go free. In other words, the effect of the decision is to limit the amount of evidence that can be excluded from trial on technical grounds. The majority of justices decided that the primary goal of a criminal trial is to find the truth. The minority opinion held that the exclusionary rule should receive a "majestic" interpretation, and gave evidence of a fundamental distrust of the police.

What sort of nominees can we expect from Obama? What sort of nominees can we expect Pelosi to prefer?

The Senate Republicans better grow backbone.
Category: American Culture
Posted by: an okie gardener
Don't miss reading Martian Mariner's recent post on Heath Ledger's posthumous win for his portrayal of The Joker. In his post, Mariner reflects on the difficulty of making Good interesting in fiction.

Mariner reminded me of Simone Weil's reflections on this problem. From her Notebooks:

Literature and Morality. Imaginary evil is romantic and varied; real evil is gloomy, monotonous, barren, boring. Imaginary good is boring; real good is always new, marvelous, intoxicating. Therefore "imaginative literature" is either boring or immoral (or a mixture of both). It only escapes from this alternative if in some way it passes over to the side of reality through the power of art--and only genius can do that.

Her longest sustained attention to this problem is found in the essay "Morality and Literature." Here is the opening paragraph:

Nothing is so beautiful and wonderful, nothing is so continually fresh and surprising, so full of sweet and perpetual ecstasy, as the good. No desert is so dreary, monotonous, and boring as evil. This is the truth about authentic good and evil. With fictional good and evil it is the other way around. Fictional good is boring and flat, while fictional evil is varied and intriguing, attractive, profound, and full of charm.

This problem attaches to fiction itself intrinsically, she asserts. This is because there are necessities and impossibilities in reality which do not obtain in fiction, any more than the law of gravity to which we are subject controls what is represented in a picture. In other words, precisely because fiction is separated from truth and its necessity it cannot make good interesting and is able to make evil attractive. (For Weil "fiction" is bigger than literature and includes most of our memory, hopes and dreams, etc. unless we are unflinchingly attached to truth.)

A genius, in his maturity, she thought, can overcome this limit of fiction, because the mature genius is able to write truth. Such genius is rare. In the West she lists

This sense of gravity, which only genius can impart, is found in the drama of Aeschylus and Sophocles, in certain plays of Shakespeare, in Racine's Phedre alone among French tragedies, in several comedies of Moliere, in the Grand Testament of Villon. There, good and evil appear in their truth.

She held writers (I don't think she ever considered movies) to the standard of truth. From her essay "The Responsibility of Writers":

Writers do not have to be professors of morals, but they do have to express the human condition. And nothing concerns human life so essentially, for every man at every moment, as good and evil. When literature becomes indifferent to the opposition of good and evil it betrays its function and forfeits all claim to to excellence.

Perhaps the power of The Dark Knight comes from its attention to the reality of good and evil, even if the writers and director lacked the genius to make good more interesting than evil.
Category: Politics
Posted by: an okie gardener
Best analysis of Obama's Inauguration Speech anywhere in the media.

This is funny right here. I don't care who you are.
I recently watched The Dark Knight, which is simply a fascinating movie. Also recently, Heath Ledger was posthumously awarded a Golden Globe Award for Best Actor in a Supporting Role. I have no doubt that Ledger was a brilliant actor; the depth of roles he played with subtle skill attests to his talent and hard work.

However, if he were able to make an acceptance speech, I think he would have to thank the evil nature of the character of the Joker right after he thanked his folks and the director.

Blaise Pascal once wrote that "Evil is easy, and has infinite forms; good is almost unique." The Joker was, in a sense, easy - he embodied a particular type of evil, the evil of unchecked, merciless chaos. He was also a tempting evil - the greatest tragedy in the film is that the Joker is able to corrupt the "White Knight", Harvey Dent. Batman bends, but does not break, under similar temptation. But even though he carries out sophisticated plans in pursuit of his corrupting aims, Ledger's Joker seems constantly unhinged and capable of anything -- except for good.

Batman IS capable of good. In a sense, he is capable of no evil, although he breaks societal norms to do his good. And so, compared to the Joker, Batman seems pretty boring.

And Batman is actually a pretty complex hero, capable of doubt and able to empathize with the criminal mind. This separates him from a character who is more gooder in a way -- Superman. Superman is downright boring. We always know what he's going to do: The Right Thing, as defined by Truth, Justice, and the American Way. The evil minds have all of the originality in the Superman series. When more good guys are needed, they're just variations on the theme - Wonder Woman, Superboy, etc. They're as predictable as Superman.

Don't get me wrong, I like Superman, for that very reason. But it's easy to see why the acting award goes to the bad guy.

Post Script: An interesting research puzzle for someone would be to determine if there have been more "good" characters to win acting awards or "evil" characters, or if there has been a trend toward one or the other. Or, if during times of national crisis, one type gets the nod over the other, etc.
January is the month for National Sanctity of Life Day, the month of Roe v Wade. It is a day to remember those killed by abortion, and to pledge ourselves to lives that affirm the rights and importance of other human beings, including the unborn.

News links.

Here is the text of President Bush's Proclamation of January 18 as the 2009 Sanctity of Life Day.

National Sanctity of Human Life Day, 2009
A Proclamation by the President of the United States of America

All human life is a gift from our Creator that is sacred, unique, and worthy of protection. On National Sanctity of Human Life Day, our country recognizes that each person, including every person waiting to be born, has a special place and purpose in this world. We also underscore our dedication to heeding this message of conscience by speaking up for the weak and voiceless among us.

The most basic duty of government is to protect the life of the innocent. My Administration has been committed to building a culture of life by vigorously promoting adoption and parental notification laws, opposing Federal funding for abortions overseas, encouraging teen abstinence, and funding crisis pregnancy programs. In 2002, I was honored to sign into law the Born-Alive Infants Protection Act, which extends legal protection to children who survive an abortion attempt. I signed legislation in 2003 to ban the cruel practice of partial-birth abortion, and that law represents our commitment to building a culture of life in America. Also, I was proud to sign the Unborn Victims of Violence Act of 2004, which allows authorities to charge a person who causes death or injury to a child in the womb with a separate offense in addition to any charges relating to the mother.

America is a caring Nation, and our values should guide us as we harness the gifts of science. In our zeal for new treatments and cures, we must never abandon our fundamental morals. We can achieve the great breakthroughs we all seek with reverence for the gift of life.

The sanctity of life is written in the hearts of all men and women. On this day and throughout the year, we aspire to build a society in which every child is welcome in life and protected in law. We also encourage more of our fellow Americans to join our just and noble cause. History tells us that with a cause rooted in our deepest principles and appealing to the best instincts of our citizens, we will prevail.

NOW, THEREFORE, I, GEORGE W. BUSH, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim January 18, 2009, as National Sanctity of Human Life Day. I call upon all Americans to recognize this day with appropriate ceremonies and to underscore our commitment to respecting and protecting the life and dignity of every human being.

IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this fifteenth day of January, in the year of our Lord two thousand nine, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and thirty-third.


President Bush has been consistently pro-life in regard to abortion, including fetal tissue research.

Obama? I assume we will see the lifting of restrictions on federal money for abortions CNN story, , loss of protection for those health care providers opposed to abotion and lifting of federal funding restriction of fetal tissue research Bishops' Concern, less emphasis on abstinence, nomination of judges who will in no way threaten Roe v Wade, opposition to parental notification laws, and cessation of support for the Born Alive legislation.

Obama's record on abortion is appalling. He did not oppose killing infants who survived partial-birth abortions.
Instapundit links to an article in The Times of India concerning a recent speech by the Dalai Lama. The article cocludes

He said that the only way to tackle terrorism is through prevention. The head of the Tibetan government-in-exile left the audience stunned when he said "I love President George W Bush." He went on to add how he and the US President instantly struck a chord in their first meeting unlike politicians who take a while to develop close ties.

This quote is starting to circulate in the blogosphere, but before we get too excited, check out this summary of the speech from the official website of the Dalai Lama

Responding to a question on the application of non-violence in tackling terror, the Dalai Lama said hope lay in preventing it in the future. He said those indulging in terrorist acts could not be termed mad people as some were very educated. He said such people harboured strong ill-feeling and hatred due to many reasons, some of which could be centuries old.

Referring to 9/11, the Dalai Lama said he told President George Bush that while he regarded the U.S. President as a nice person, he stood opposed to Mr. Bush’s policies. He said he had suggested to Mr. Bush that instead of spending billion of dollars in launching the war, the world would have been a much different place had these funds been utilised to spread education and health care.

Preventing terrorism for the Dalai Lama appears to be a matter of raising children who do not hate.
Category: Politics
Posted by: an okie gardener
All the Barak hype "I'm the new Lincoln" really grates on me. I am reminded of 1Kings20:11

"Let not him that girds on his armor boast himself as he that puts it off"

Or, in the TXVB (Texas Version of the Bible),

Don't brag climbing into the saddle like your're climbing down.
From The Sun (UK) linked from Drudge:

At least 40 al-Qaeda fanatics died horribly after being struck down with the disease that devastated Europe in the Middle Ages.

Full Story.

My rejoicing is tempered by a question: Any possibility that Al Qaeda might include The Plague among its bioweapons or their development?

In honor of the inauguration, I continue to ask what skills are needed for a successful presidency. In the first post I examined the presidency of James K. Polk and drew from his success these lessons: 1. make rational decisions, 2. don't be afraid of unpopularity with your own party, 3. keep focused on rational goals. Farmer suggested that qualities 1 and perhaps 3 could be summarized as having a keen grasp of the possible.

Abraham Lincoln has been on my mind the last few days. (I wonder why.) Many, many things can be said about his strengths as president, but I will focus on three.

First, he recognized the greatest challenge facing his presidency--the secession of several Southern states--and the imperative for his office--to reestablish the Union. From this imperative he never wavered, in spite of the cost of the war, and the opposition of the Copperheads.

Second, he was able to communicate his goal for the conflict, even as that goal evolved and gained complexity. Lincoln articulated his war aims in terms of the nation's founding ideals, as in the Gettysburg Address.

Third, Lincoln recognized that history was bigger than he or the Federal Government. Though he rejected the church (and the politics) of his father Thomas, in the end he understood that the Sovereign God of his father was at work in the war. This belief strengthened his resolve, and kept him from identifying the cause of the Union was absolute good. See his Second Innaugural Address.

From Lincoln: recognize the greatest challenge and hold to the imperative it generates, communicate goals as they evolve in a way that ties them in with our national story, and acknowledge that there is a purpose in history that transcends our own plans.
Category: American Culture
Posted by: an okie gardener
Christopher Hitchens writes in Vanity Fair to tell the truth about free speech in the West: it is dying because those who should be its champions fear violent Islam.

Read the essay.

These are among the things that have happened, and have become depressingly taken for granted, since the fatwa of the ayatollah. We live now in a climate where every publisher and editor and politician has to weigh in advance the possibility of violent Muslim reprisal.

Most readers are aware that Ray Bradbury's 1953 novel Fahrenheit 451 concerns the burning of books. What you may not know, unless you have read it, is that Bradbury's future society began to burn books after it was granted that everyone has a right not to be offended.
Category: American Lives
Posted by: an okie gardener
My day calendar reminds me that today is Benjamin Franklin's birthday.

Brief biography from The Independence Hall Association of Philadelphia.

Benjamin Franklin, born in Boston, Massachusetts, on January 17, 1706, may by his life alone be the most profound statement of what an American strives to be.

PBS biography.

He was one of the most extraordinary human beings the world has
ever known. Born into the family of a Boston candle maker, Benjamin
Franklin became the most famous American of his time. He helped
found a new nation and defined the American character. Writer,
inventor, diplomat, businessman, musician, scientist, humorist,
civic leader, international celebrity . . . genius.

The Papers of Benjamin Franklin. Yale collection online.

A link page from The Independence Hall Association of Philadelphia. Includes a link to a virtual tour.
Posted by: an okie gardener
Category: General
Posted by: an okie gardener
From The Telegraph U.K, link from Brits at Their Best.

David Smiley died this month at the age of 92.

Colonel David Smiley, who died on January 9 aged 92, was one of the most celebrated cloak-and-dagger agents of the Second World War, serving behind enemy lines in Albania, Greece, Abyssinia and Japanese-controlled eastern Thailand.

After the war he organised secret operations against the Russians and their allies in Albania and Poland, among other places. Later, as Britain's era of domination in the Arabian peninsula drew to a close, he commanded the Sultan of Oman's armed forces in a highly successful counter-insurgency.

After his assignment in Oman, he organised – with the British intelligence service, MI6 – royalist guerrilla resistance against a Soviet-backed Nasserite regime in Yemen. Smiley's efforts helped force the eventual withdrawal of the Egyptians and their Soviet mentors, paved the way for the emergence of a less anti-Western Yemeni government, and confirmed his reputation as one of Britain's leading post-war military Arabists.
. . .
During the Second World War he was parachuted four times behind enemy lines. On one occasion he was obliged to escape from Albania in a rowing boat. On another mission, in Japanese-controlled eastern Thailand, he was stretchered for three days through the jungle with severe burns after a booby-trap meant for a senior Japanese officer exploded prematurely.

Read the whole story.

I hope to do more thinking about this question over the next week or two as we get ready for a new president of the United States. Prompted by reflections on Farmer and Mariner's thoughts on education and presidents, I offer the following.

To begin, let's take a little known, but successful U.S. President as judged by most historians: James K. Polk.

Three things stand out about him to my mind.

First, he remained rational in emotional times, making rational decisions. For example, Polk, a Democrat, came into office with looming conflicts betwen the U.S. and Great Britain and Mexico. With Mexico over the recent aquistion of Texas, combined with the claim of Texas for territory down to the Rio Grande. With Great Britain over the boundary between the U.S. and Canada in the Northwest. Both issues generated lots of emotion. His own party had campaigned on the slogan of "54 40" or fight!" In other words, take all the disputed territory in the Northwest or go to war with Britain. But, when in office, instead of being swayed by the emotion of the moment and going to war with the British Empire (especially since war with Mexico seemed likely), he entered into negotiations that resulted in the present boundary between British Columbia and Washington State and eastward.

Second, as seen above, he was willing to be unpopular with his own party. Polk did not simply follow what seemed the prevailing opinion of the moment among voters. In addition to acting rationally in the above situation, he risked rejection by elements of his own party.

Third, he kept focused on his goals. He wanted to ensure that Texas was safely part of the United States, and he wanted to add California, then part of Mexico. When negotiations broke down, he used military force--probably upon a pretext--to acquire California and the Southwest, plus force Mexico to recognize that Texas was now part of the United States. As the War with Mexico proceeded, however, some Democrats pushed for the conquest and aquisition of all Mexico. Polk, instead, entered into new negotiations from a position of military superiority on the battlefield, gaining his goals.

From Polk: the ability to analyze a situation rationally and act accordingly, the willingness to go against one's own party if deemed necessary, and the steadiness to hold to rational goals.
From NPR:

"While it is true that Barack Obama did not actually invent the light bulb, no one has ever thrown a switch quite like him."

They did not really say that. I made up that line.

But this story this morning about how Barack is going to make reading cool again is in that vein.

First, let me remind you that I really do like this fellow. I do think he is smart and cool and am convinced that he loves his country. I concur wholeheartedly with President Bush's statement of the obvious: "we are rooting for his success because his success will be our national success." Also, I am impressed with the President-elect's love for words. I enjoy his writing (his memoir and his major speeches in which you can clearly see his hand and style coming through).

However, sometimes the breathless mainstream fawning just goes a bit too far.

"Barack Obama is a reader."

How refreshing.

Not only that, he is a writer: "You actually have both a writer and a reader in the White House who is articulate and eloquent in his own right."

Wow. He really is the new Lincoln.

Another expert commentator observes: "And it's clear that he reads not just for entertainment, but to stimulate whatever gifts he has that make him the incredible speaker that he is."

So, he won't just be reading
My Pet Goat.

While the NPR story mentions the claims that the current president reads a lot, we certainly understand why this is going to be totally different. And while Laura Bush gets an obligatory mention as a "former librarian and voracious reader," NPR reporter Lynn Neary neglects to mention that Mrs. Bush, in partnership with the Library of Congress, initiated the National Book Festival back in 2001, which, in actual fact, has become a substantial institution to promote interest and excitement in books. A fact, evidently, not germane to the story of the new President and his potential to positively change our reading habits for the better.

As NPR suggests, maybe Barack really is the new Oprah.

13/01: No Kidding?

Category: Frivolity
Posted by: A Waco Farmer
According to a Carnegie Mellon study, published Monday in the Archives of Internal Medicine and big news today, insufficient sleep makes on more susceptible to colds.

What would we do without these kinds of scientific breakthroughs?
Category: Media and Politics
Posted by: A Waco Farmer
And the award goes to:

Alec Baldwin

"30 Rock"

Tina Fey


And if you don't think they deserve all these accolades, awarded by snarky Hollywood insiders, who love knowingly quick-witted shows about snarky Hollywood insiders, then you can "suck it!"

"30 Rock" is, in fact, a cute show. Yes, the gag gets a bit strained, especially if you don't work in the entertainment industry--but, no matter, it is smart and funny, worth watching (relatively speaking), and it deserves to stay on the air despite its traditionally anemic ratings.

But, come now, this evidently insatiable desire to exalt "30 Rock" and Tina Fey over obviously more-deserving shows and stars is growing tiresome.

We get it. You love Tina Fey. You love how she put Sarah Palin in her place. You love Alec Baldwin. You admire his politics. You swoon over his hip sense of ironic detachment. You love the show about doing a network show. We get it. You really love yourselves. Now move on. There are some truly brilliant comedies out there ("The Office" to name one).

A note on Tina Fey: I really hate this, but I just don't have anything for her anymore. Too bad for me. She was a real favorite (an intellectual brick house: smart, sexy, and funny--the ultimate winning hand). But no more. The crush is over.

And, of course, it was the Sarah Fey-lin gag that killed that loving feeling. By the time it was through, the whole bit was just so "played." When I first heard Tina Fey was going to do Palin I had my doubts. Tina Fey is a comic genius--but she is not a great actress. She is great playing Tina Fey--but anything more than that is a real stretch. But, on that first night, she hit Palin out of the park. It was a pitch-perfect tour de force. But she went down hill from there, pushing a one-gag bit way beyond its viability.

If you listen carefully, she does not really sound much like Palin (her impersonation is actually a lot more Bob and Doug McKenzie than Sarah). Upon closer inspection, Tina Fey is not nearly as attractive as Palin. Over the long haul, the Tina Fey character was thin and tinny. The gag relied way too much on a beauty contest Sarah Palin entered in her late teens. Because of her limited acting ability, Tina Fey's Sarah Palin increasingly drew on a generic dopey bubble-brained bimbo stock character. By the end of the run, there was nothing left in the tank.

And what did Tina Fey do when there was nothing left? She kept coming with the cartoon, piling on the hackneyed sexist stereotypes to camouflage the lack of penetrating content. Why? Because her friends kept laughing. And she was on the side of the angels. Maybe this wasn't completely fair--but it was for the cause. Sometimes you have to be a "mean girl" when the whole world hangs in the balance. And Sarah Palin had it coming. She had dared to insinuate that Barack Obama's stint as a community organizer had not prepared him to be President of the United States. She was fair game.

Anyhow, when I look at Tina Fey now, I no longer see a sharp attractive woman at the peak of her creative powers with a heart for the underdog. Now, I only see the bully, willing to slash and burn to be popular. It worked. Congratulations, Tina Fey. You are the toast of town.
In an essay for TIME entitled "The Bush Administration's Most Despicable Act," Klein makes this assertion:

"This is not the America I know," President George W. Bush said after the first, horrifying pictures of U.S. troops torturing prisoners at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq surfaced in April 2004. The President was not telling the truth. "This" was the America he had authorized on Feb. 7, 2002, when he signed a memorandum stating that the Third Geneva Convention — the one regarding the treatment of enemy prisoners taken in wartime — did not apply to members of al-Qaeda or the Taliban. That signature led directly to the abuses at Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo Bay. It was his single most callous and despicable act. It stands at the heart of the national embarrassment that was his presidency.

Full essay.

Here is a link to the text of the Geneva Convention from the UN website. Here is the relevant portion. I've put into boldface those that Islamic terrorists do not meet. In the document, "Parties" refers to the signing countries. Since the terrorists are not the official forces of a specific country, they cannot count as regular troops.

Article 4

A. Prisoners of war, in the sense of the present Convention, are persons belonging to one of the following categories, who have fallen into the power of the enemy:

1. Members of the armed forces of a Party to the conflict as well as members of militias or volunteer corps forming part of such armed forces.

2. Members of other militias and members of other volunteer corps, including those of organized resistance movements, belonging to a Party to the conflict and operating in or outside their own territory, even if this territory is occupied, provided that such militias or volunteer corps, including such organized resistance movements, fulfil the following conditions:

(a) That of being commanded by a person responsible for his subordinates;

(b) That of having a fixed distinctive sign recognizable at a distance;

(c) That of carrying arms openly;

(d) That of conducting their operations in accordance with the laws and customs of war.

3. Members of regular armed forces who profess allegiance to a government or an authority not recognized by the Detaining Power.

4. Persons who accompany the armed forces without actually being members thereof, such as civilian members of military aircraft crews, war correspondents, supply contractors, members of labour units or of services responsible for the welfare of the armed forces, provided that they have received authorization from the armed forces which they accompany, who shall provide them for that purpose with an identity card similar to the annexed model.

5. Members of crews, including masters, pilots and apprentices, of the merchant marine and the crews of civil aircraft of the Parties to the conflict, who do not benefit by more favourable treatment under any other provisions of international law.

6. Inhabitants of a non-occupied territory, who on the approach of the enemy spontaneously take up arms to resist the invading forces, without having had time to form themselves into regular armed units, provided they carry arms openly and respect the laws and customs of war.

B. The following shall likewise be treated as prisoners of war under the present Convention:

1. Persons belonging, or having belonged, to the armed forces of the occupied country, if the occupying Power considers it necessary by reason of such allegiance to intern them, even though it has originally liberated them while hostilities were going on outside the territory it occupies, in particular where such persons have made an unsuccessful attempt to rejoin the armed forces to which they belong and which are engaged in combat, or where they fail to comply with a summons made to them with a view to internment.

2. The persons belonging to one of the categories enumerated in the present Article, who have been received by neutral or non-belligerent Powers on their territory and whom these Powers are required to intern under international law, without prejudice to any more favourable treatment which these Powers may choose to give and with the exception of Articles 8, 10, 15, 30, fifth paragraph, 58-67, 92, 126 and, where diplomatic relations exist between the Parties to the conflict and the neutral or non-belligerent Power concerned, those Articles concerning the Protecting Power. Where such diplomatic relations exist, the Parties to a conflict on whom these persons depend shall be allowed to perform towards them the functions of a Protecting Power as provided in the present Convention, without prejudice to the functions which these Parties normally exercise in conformity with diplomatic and consular usage and treaties.

C. This Article shall in no way affect the status of medical personnel and chaplains as provided for in Article 33 of the present Convention.

Article 5

The present Convention shall apply to the persons referred to in Article 4 from the time they fall into the power of the enemy and until their final release and repatriation.

Should any doubt arise as to whether persons, having committed a belligerent act and having fallen into the hands of the enemy, belong to any of the categories enumerated in Article 4, such persons shall enjoy the protection of the present Convention until such time as their status has been determined by a competent tribunal.

So, let's summarize Klein's mistakes. (1) He does not demonstrate how the Geneva Convention could apply to captured terrorists. (2) He assumes that not treating terrorists according to the non-applicable Geneva Convention automatically led to abuses such as at Abu Ghraib. (3) He does not offer a rigorous, legal definition of torture, thereby allowing him to include underwear on the head and dog leashes. (4) He ignores successful follow-up actions based on intelligence obtained by water-boarding.

At least TIME magazine is a declining forum for this nonsense.

Category: Thinking Out Loud
Posted by: an okie gardener
Story here, forwarded by Photognome.

In a nutshell, the sun has cycles in its intensity. During intense periods the sun can release strong magnetic storms into the solar system. Such magnetic storms can disrupt electronic devices on earth. For example, in 1989 a solar storm caused power outages in Quebec.

A study recently completed looks at the effect of a major storm on modern economies. The last really, really big storm was in 1859. It shorted out telegraph wires, starting fires. If a storm of similar magnitude occured today in our electronic communications, satellite-dependent, interconnected-power-grid world, major whooey would hit the fan.

The study called for plans to be made.

For those of us conservative, liberty-loving types, we believe we should be pro-active, not passively waiting for someone (i.e. the government) to take care of us.

So, readers, what can we do. For starters, how about at all times having power-outage kits in our houses. Things like candles, flashlights and batteries in the package. How about "blizzard kits"? A shelf with canned and dry foods, including powdered milk and canned meat, to last a week at least. A first-aid kit.

As you've guessed, I think everyone should have these sorts of things on hand to deal with more ordinary kinds of disruptions.

A file of printed copies of bank records, retirment account statements, insurance policies, etc.

Any suggestions for alternative heating and cooking if the grid goes down? I have a couple of small propane tanks and a camp stove for cooking. Maybe I should look into a propane heater. (Here in SW Oklahoma a major ice storm several years ago put many counties into a pre-industrial state for about a week.)

08/01: Shamocrat

One of the Christmas gifts I received is a day-by-day calendar that gives English words that have fallen out of use. Put together by Jeffrey Kacirk, each day also includes a tidbit of history.

Today's word is shamocrat: One who pretends to be possessed of wealth, influence, rank, or indeed any quality which is only conspicous by its absence. Citation is to John Farmer's Americanisms Old and New (1889).

I thought of this word when listening to a portion of Barak Obama's address on the economy. When it comes to economic knowledge, the guy is a shamocrat. The New Deal did not bring the Great Depression to an end. As a general rule seen in modern history, increased government control and manipulation of an economy does not bring prosperity, rather, economies are damaged by too much government involvment. Some regulation is necessary to prevent abuse and preserve free markets, we learned in the late 19th century. But too much government involvment results in ordinary people being trapped in underperforming economies.

Recessions are not catastrophes signaling the end of free markets. Though they are painful, they seem a necessary evil in free markets. Our nation has survived about twenty recessions and depressions in its history. Would it be nice to have no recessions? Of course. But we rarely are given the choice between perfection and imperfection. Rather, we must choose between various imperfections, choosing the lesser evil. Totally free markets led to abuses, so has too much government involvment.

Obama's plan seems the idea of a shamocrat.
Category: Thinking Out Loud
Posted by: A Waco Farmer
Very disappointing. Sad news for the Senate. Sad news for the nation.
Category: Politics
Posted by: A Waco Farmer
I just read this Karen Tumulty piece in TIME on Caroline Kennedy's quest for "Camelot II," which is relentlessly critical. No caveats. No judicious presentation of "on the other hand." No mercy. And, worst of all for the Kennedy putsch, Tumulty gets it right.

When TIME mag dishes out this brand of unapologetically unsympathetic reportage of a liberal scion-slash-icon, it is worth noting.

One other not-so-subtle swipe at the heiress: click onto the above TIME link and check out the art. The pic of Caroline is absolutely hideous. The message: this is a woman much too unattractive to be a Kennedy or a senator.