The Joys of Counter-Gloating

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Dear Reader (and those of you who “prefer to watch”),

Don’t miss the announcements below, but let’s jump right in, shall we?

Jonathan Cohn of The New Republic calls our attention to Lyndon Johnson’s remarks when he signed Medicare into law:

“No longer will older Americans be denied the healing miracle of modern medicine,” Johnson said at the signing ceremony. “No longer will illness crush and destroy the savings that they have so carefully put away over a lifetime so that they might enjoy dignity in their later years.”

“Read those quotes carefully,” Cohn advises us, “because they spell out the covenant that Johnson made with the American people on that day: A promise that the elderly and (certain groups) of the poor would get comprehensive medical insurance, no matter what.”

If the suits would pay for the technology, I would have had you read all of that with stirring music in the background and images of fireworks unfolding before you, and then maybe footage of, say, WWII vets or Boy Scouts saluting the flag. Because apparently Lyndon Johnson’s “covenant” with the American people trumps the U.S. Constitution.

Bear with me.

I don’t know what Cohn himself believes about the U.S. Constitution, but his magazine has been churning out highbrow bilge for decades about the “living constitution,” specifically the need for the Constitution to constantly grow, change, adapt, and evolve with the changing times and the new realities that come every generation. To deny this view of the Constitution is to declare yourself a right wing crank of some sort. After all, “everyone knows” the Constitution is a “living document,” and “everyone knows” that times change.

In other words, according to liberal logic, the U.S. Constitution, the fundamental charter of this nation, to which every soldier and statesmen is required to pledge unwavering allegiance: that’s so much clay to be remolded and shaped to fit the contours of whatever form liberal conventional wisdom takes this year.

But LBJ’s “covenant” with the American people? Dude, that is written in stone. His self-serving hot air is the unchanging, unyielding, inalterable Koran of secular liberalism.

For the record, no president forges unbreakable intergenerational “covenants” with the American people. That’s not what presidents are for. Presidents are not gods and their press conferences are not holy pronouncements (in particular, LBJ’s crapper was not the burning bush from which he dispensed divine instructions to his apostles Jack Valenti and Bill Moyers either).

The Founding Fathers weren’t gods either. But they were a far sight wiser and more deserving of reverence and respect than LBJ. And, more important, the U.S. Constitution is a good deal more august a document than an actuarially unworkable scheme of transfer payments conceived of when the young and productive mightily outnumbered the elderly and unproductive.

 

Reverse Causes Severe Tire Damage

I don’t mean to single out Cohn, who has always struck me as one of the least obnoxious of the progressive wonks out there. He just articulates the liberal objection to reform so perfectly. The truth is this junk is all over the place. E. J. Dionne, Harold Meyerson, and countless others talk of our adamantine “social contract” and “covenant” with the American people as if it would be unthinkable, unconscionable, metaphysically catastrophic to “undo” any of the progressive “gains” of the past.

In Liberal Fascism (now out in paperback!), I wrote at length about how the early progressives were ensorcelled by the Hegelian notion of the God-State. The State, Hegel declared in The Philosophy of History, “is the actually existing, realized moral life . . . the divine idea as it exists on earth.” He proclaimed that “all worth which the human being possesses – all spiritual reality, he possesses only through the State.”

I sincerely doubt that any of the policy munchkins tweeting their outrage over Paul Ryan’s plan or the hippies promising to “Koch Block” [sic] union reform in Wisconsin are too up on their Hegel. But I do believe that liberalism still operates on a pseudo-religious conviction that capital-H History is their friend, master, or slave. This is why the very language of politics is so suffused with progressive bias. When conservative politicians successfully reform our system by introducing market mechanisms or by removing idiotic regulations, “objective” reporters talk about how Washington “turned back the clock,” “reversed” gains, “removed” protections, etc. And whenever liberal politicians succeed in creating new sweeping regulations or state controls, the language is all about how Washington took a giant step “forward,” about how “progress” was made on this or that issue.

This is why the same people who look at the U.S. Constitution as either an infinitely malleable writ of social transformation or an outmoded impediment to social progress can simultaneously speak reverentially about intergenerational “covenants” and “contracts.”

The Constitution, when out of sync with the progressive agenda, is a bygone relic of the “horse and buggy era” – to use FDR’s phrase. But the ever-expanding progressive “promise” of American life envisioned by Herbert Croly (and Barack Obama)? That is sacrosanct, holy, metaphysically undeniable. To suggest that it can be reversed is not only an attempt to “repeal the 20th century” (Harold Meyerson’s phrase), it is sacrilegious and villainous. Because “progressive” gains once pocketed must never be returned. The Wheel of History does not do reverse.

 

Fact-Checking Is for Republicans

Whatever you thought about the relative accuracy of the term “death panel,” one thing was certain: You rarely heard the phrase in the “objective” media without its being followed up by a very heavy-handed case for why it wasn’t accurate. The MSM has strict policies about all sorts of words and phrases it considers loaded. Reuters won’t even use “terrorist.” Partial-birth abortion is always “so-called partial birth abortion.”

Frankly, I don’t really have a problem with truth-squadding outsized rhetoric – when called for (it is partial-birth abortion, after all). That’s what the press is for, in no small part. But where is the truth-squadding for all of the “war on the elderly” nonsense we’re hearing in response to Ryan’s plan? If a Republican says “death panel,” expect three paragraphs of scolding about the term’s inaccuracy. If a Democrat says the Ryan plan is a giveaway to “big oil” and will starve children, well, that’s just a legitimate perspective. (See my column today for more on the liberal reaction to the Ryan plan).

 

Wisconsin Out of Pocket

I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed following the Wisconsin election news on Twitter. Okay, I guess I can tell you. I’ve enjoyed it more than Roman Polanski at a Hannah Montana concert, more than Helen Thomas at a Hamas rally, more than Bill Clinton at Silvio Berlusconi’s house a lot.

There was just something so schadenfreudtastic about punitive right-wing counter-gloating after the Left had spent days gloating over their unalloyed victory in Wisconsin. I won’t get into the tick-tock of it all (Michael Moore seemed a few shades from going full-on suicide bomber), though I threw my two cents in here and there, noting how Kloppenberg fell behind in the count when a surge of votes from cowboy poets in Wisconsin failed to materialize. Oh, and I may have asked if you can make cheese curds out of crow and whether or not the progs were going to have tailgating at their pity party. But I was barely a participant in the really grotesquely enjoyable riot of “nyah-nyahs.”

John Nolte (from over at Big Hollywood) captured the spirit of it all well when he signed off, “What does it say that I have to go to bed B4 I run out of taunts about what losers u are? Your misery is my muse, parasites.”

 

The Price of Elections

Of course, if Kloppenberg had won (and she still may – a recount is coming), the unions and their sympathizers would have claimed it was a monumental victory for the forces of progress and all that. We know that because that’s in fact what they did for a few days, until they found those extra 7,000 net votes for Prosser and the unions started to cry like they found their Christmas pony in the wood-chipper.

But if Klop had won, it would have been by the tiniest of margins, even though the Left threw their all into the fight. And although conservatives could have consoled themselves with the fact that the fight shouldn’t have been so hard for the Left to win, given that Madison is the Klingon homeworld of progressivism, it wouldn’t have mattered. They would have lost and the other side would have won.

There’s much to say about all of that, but what I find most interesting is the way a binary result conveys so much information. If the Dems win, that means public unions aren’t doomed, the Tea Party tide is receding, etc. If the GOP wins, then a whole slew of other conclusions become defensible.

All because less than 1 percent of voters voted one way instead of the other.

That’s because elections contain a vast amount information boiled down to a simple yes-or-no, X-or-Y question.

This is not a new insight, of course. We all know “elections matter.”

But I wish people could have the same reverence for prices. The price of a can of tuna – call it $3.79 – seems like a very simple thing, but it is in fact the simple-seeming face of something so massively complicated no single person can fully grasp everything that goes into it. It’s like the tiny antenna poking out of the earth in a nondescript field that is in fact the only visible protuberance of a massive subterranean city, or the inchworm that is really the tip of a leviathan’s tail.

The price of a can of tuna summarizes and synthesizes oil prices, shipping prices, the cost of aluminum, and the weather off the Sea of Japan. Bond markets and the consumer tastes and preferences of a billion or more people have their impact on the price, too, as do regulations, fish stocks, and a thousand other inputs. Each of these things depends on the prices of a billion other things, and yet, harmoniously, they work it all out. Friedrich Hayek called this process “catallaxy.” (Which, if you didn’t see it spelled, you might think was an adjective used to describe cars that look like Cadillacs but aren’t. “Man, that Lincoln Town Car is awfully cadillacsy.”)

Hayek never claimed that this process worked perfectly. He simply argued that it worked a hell of a lot better than state planning. That’s because people closest to ground, with a Fingerspitzengefuehl (you’ve been keeping up with your G-File vocab flash cards, right?) for what all the different variables are, would always be better at figuring out the right prices for things both bought and sold. Planners could never get the prices reliably right (their occasional guesses might work from time to time) because of this “knowledge problem.”

What we are seeing today, in Wisconsin and in Washington, in the fights over everything from government unions to Obamacare to the Ryan plan, is a pitched battle between those who fundamentally understand and accept the knowledge problem and those who do not.

More on that later.

 

Announcements!

I will be at the University of Minnesota on Monday giving a talk co-sponsored by my buddies at C-Fact and the Minnesota Republic. It’s open to the public, so come on down, or up, or whatever. Coffman Memorial Union, President’s Room, 3rd floor, 7 p.m. Parking in the East River Road Ramp. If tradition holds, there will be beers after.

On Wednesday I’ll be at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. I’m not entirely sure why they want me back to give essentially the same speech I gave two years ago, but I’m happy to do it. It’s also at 7:00 p.m., in Carroll Hall, Room 111.

Finally, some of you may have seen the, er, “comedy nights” that Mark Steyn, Rob Long, and yours truly have put on at various NR events. Whether you guys enjoyed them or not, we certainly did. So we decided to start a podcast where the three of us talk. It’s entirely unscripted. Not only did we not know the topics beforehand, we didn’t really know them after either. The first is up over at Ricochet (alas, behind a paywall), but you can get a preview here. Judging by the comments, it seems one of the central debates is whether I laugh like a dolphin or a goat. Check it out – if you dare!

The Third Barbary War

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Dear Reader (and the folks following me on Twitter who only can make it for about 147 characters before they start chasing something shiny),

 

Andy McCarthy Scores Another Victory

Let me get this straight. A Middle Easterner was locked up on American soil. Miraculously he escaped his captors and made contact with the media. When he was found again, he was – without due process of any kind — immediately thrown back into a dark cage. No wonder our image with venomous snakes around the world is so tarnished. This “Bronx Zoo cobra” (notice how he’s named after his prison! No one talks of “Achmed” being on the loose) did nothing wrong. He was blatantly profiled by city officials for the simple crime of slithering while venomous.

 

Don’t Talk About the War

On November 9, 2001 I began an Old School G-File thus: 

There’s been a lot of editorializing lately that the war is going badly. In the current issue of National Review, there’s an editorial entitled “The Limits of Patience.” The editors feel that the war, as currently fought, isn’t working. The wise and attractive folks who sign my paychecks believe there’s too much dickering and bickering on the part of policymakers. They write, “what the U.S. war effort most needs is the clarity of simple-mindedness, the understanding that nothing much matters next to the goal of achieving a decisive victory in Afghanistan, which in turn requires annihilating our enemies.” In short, they call for “DeClintonizing” the war.

I then went on to counsel patience, writing in part:

Until a house is completed, it’s useless as a house. The rain falls through the top, the stove doesn’t work, the toilets don’t flush. As a house, an unfinished house is a total disaster. This is especially so very early in the construction process, when it’s often just a giant hole in the ground with a bunch of workmen scratching their exposed posteriors at $35 an hour. In a certain sense, an unfinished house is worse than no house at all: It’s more expensive, time-consuming, and complicated.

This principle is not unique to houses; it also applies to . . . well, let’s see. Omelets are a mess and a waste of food until they’re cooked. Cars are a lot of useless and expensive metal and rubber until they work. Football games are a bunch of guys running around and hitting each other until the final score tells us who was better at it. . . . And, oh, yeah: Wars are a colossal fog of whirling confusions and unknown banshees, consuming time, money, emotions, geography, and of course lives – until someone wins.

Now, I still basically feel that way about the war in Libya, too. At least in theory. The problem is that what started as a very strange war – but a war nonetheless – is threatening to become something very different altogether. The New York Times reports that NATO has told the rebels that if they kill civilians then NATO will bomb them, too.

As a commenter in the Corner put it, this is reminiscent of that scene in Bananas where the operatives are talking en route to a hot zone: 

“Any word on where we’re going?”

“I hear it’s San Marcos.”

“For or against the government?”

“CIA’s not taking any chances. Some of us are for it, and some of us are gonna be against it.”

More seriously, has there ever been a war where we’ve gone from taking sides in the fight to saying, “You kids play nice! Don’t make me come in there!” (Honest question, has there ever been a great power that has in effect acted like a schoolyard referee, making sure that both sides “fight fair”?)

In principle, I don’t have a huge problem with the U.S. saying that we won’t abide by allies behaving indefensibly. But in reality, I think Peter Kirsanow’s point is very hard to argue with:

We bombed Qaddafi’s forces because they were killing civilians. So Qaddafi’s forces began dressing like civilians. So the rebels began killing civilians. So NATO is warning the rebels not to kill civilians, otherwise NATO will bomb the rebels. But the rebels are dressed like civilians. So NATO may end up killing civilians.

In other news, the administration continues to debate arming the rebels who are dressed like civilians. But Qaddafi’s forces are also dressed like civilians. So we may be arming Qaddafi’s forces who are killing civilians while we also bomb the rebels who are killing civilians and bombing civilians who really are civilians but look like Qaddafi’s forces who are killing civilians.

Who’s on first?

Or as the New York Times itself notes: 

Meanwhile, fresh intelligence this week showed that Libyan government forces were supplying assault rifles to civilians in the town of Surt, which is populated largely by Qaddafi loyalists. These civilian Qaddafi sympathizers were seen chasing rebel forces in nonmilitary vehicles like sedans and trucks, accompanied by Libyan troops, according to American military officers.

Now, obviously, I think it’s possible, even likely, that the rebels will kill civilians without justification. But it’s going to be awfully hard for the crowd in Brussels to be sure who the civilians are in places like Surt and Tripoli.

My larger point, again, is that this is very rapidly moving into uncharted waters. The United States, even under the supervision of a committee (a committee we are, oddly enough, chairman of), even while dotting all of the U.N.’s eyes and crossing all of its tees, and even with only a few CIA operators with alternative footwear (no boots on the ground!), can still mop the floor with Qaddafi’s goons – eventually. But that’s contingent on this actually being, you know, a war. If it becomes something more akin to refereeing a dog fight, I have no idea how it will turn out.

U.N. Will Still Suck Tomorrow  But we do know that however this turns out, and no matter how much backslapping and cheerleading will follow a clear-cut Obama “win” — however defined — one thing we can be certain of is this: We will not have a new era of multilateral cooperation as a result. Walter Russell Mead, not surprisingly, explains it better than I could, but let me give a try, in brief.

A new era of multilateral cooperation depends on aligning the self-interests, principles, and values of myriad nations to do this sort of thing again and again. Guess what? The self-interests of the nations involved in this enterprise won’t last more than a couple weeks. The prospect of doing this sort of thing in countries that don’t have oil or might be able to fight back is out of the question. As for principles and values, it’s already a cliché to point out that Libya falls short on the humanitarian criteria laid out to justify the war in Libya! This whole thing is a bizarre one-off. And if Obama makes it out the other side politically intact, it won’t be because he had some master plan or doctrine, it’ll be because he was lucky and his presidency is too-big-to-fail for the press.

 

Just Might Be Crazy Enough to Work!

On the other hand, there is something to be said in favor of how crazy all of this is.

A friend of mine told me about a guy he knows from Taiwan. This Taiwanese guy – a serious academic and intellectual – was the only one of his peers to be entirely supportive of the Iraq war. Why? Because the whole thing was so bat-guano crazy that it sent the signal to the Chinese that America was still enough of a gun-slinging badass of a country to send its military halfway around the world just to prove a point. Or something. And being from Taiwan, this guy thought this was a message the Red Chinese needed to hear.

I don’t think this is a fantastic justification for what’s going on in Libya, but if even Barack Obama – the guy with the middle name “Hussein” who ran on getting us out of preemptive invasions of Muslim countries – is willing to launch war #3, you can be sure a lot of bad actors around the world are scratching their heads about what crazy America might do next. That is not altogether a bad thing.

Although why the White House is doing everything it can to reassure the Assads in Syria and others in the region that they’re perfectly safe is beyond me. Leaving ‘em guessing what America might do next has its advantages.

“The genius of you Americans,” former Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser allegedly once said, “is that you never make clear-cut stupid moves, only complicated stupid moves which make us wonder at the possibility that there may be something to them which we are missing.”

 

Some Last War Points

1. I find the claim that “NATO” is fighting this war and we’re not makes about as much sense as saying, “I’m not punching you in the face, it’s just my right hand doing that.”

2. I find the notion that this isn’t a real war to be ludicrous. It may not be a big war (yet) but neither was the Creek War of 1813-14 and that goes down in the history books as a “war.”

3. Personally, I think we should call this the Third Barbary War.

The Mystery of Donald Trump’s Hair Revealed

It’s a double comb-over!

 

Announcements

By the time you read this, I will be switching planes in Chicago en route to Dallas for a speech at the Philadelphia Society. There will be no meet-ups with readers, alas. I need to turn straight around the next day and come home. I am slowly becoming overwhelmed with work (as the unpredictable schedule of this “news”letter might have suggested to you already). I’m way behind on my book. Indeed, I was before my brother’s accident, and now it’s worse than ever. My wife’s picking up new projects. And there’s some other stuff best not shared in such a public forum. (That’s what Twitter’s for!) Anyway, not complaining, just explaining why I may seem a bit frazzled.

In the meantime, here’s my Friday column, and here’s Friday Stuff from Debby. Later! 

Top 100 April Fool’s Day Hoaxes of All Time.

Tomorrow is International Pillow Fight Day.

Scientific breakdown of a Bloody Mary.

Sex change chicken.

Mechanical Engineer Explains the Secrets of the Wiffle Ball.

Video: 12-year-old trick shot quarterback.

Headline of the day: Staten Island man set pregnant ex-girlfriend’s apartment ablaze in bizarre fecal rampage.

How Elephant Vasectomies Are Done.

X-ray machine from 1896 compared to modern version.

In the “things that seem like a bad idea the next morning” category, super gluing a miniature fedora to the side of your head. Related, Creator of Super Glue dies.

Umbilical cord phone charger.

Number of vasectomies spikes during March Madness.

Lightsaber badminton

LEGO Alphabet Spaceships A-Z

Eight million mummified dogs uncovered in Egyptian desert.

The geometry of musical scales.

Libya and Los Angeles

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Dear Reader (and extremely good listeners), 

Yes, yes, Obama has managed to cock-up this war kinetic actiontime-limited, scope-limited military action.”

In fact, he’s such a killjoy, he’s actually taken the fun out of trying to get rid of Moammar Qaddafi. Moammar Qaddafi!

He’s like a guy trying to seduce a woman while insisting that they partake in “kinetic sexual activity” as per the guidelines of the campus committee on romantic congress. (Actually, I think “Kinetic Military Action” is what Bill Murray got in that chest at General Barnicke’s house in Stripes.).

Still, I worry that the Right’s reaction may come back to haunt us. First of all, it’s quite possible that Qaddafi is gone inside a couple weeks (I’m not saying it’s likely, just that it is well within the realm of possibility). All of the protests about the lack of a rationale, the failure to get congressional approval, the subordination of our national security to the U.N., etc., could seem tinny and small if this ends well and relatively quickly.

Obviously, that alone doesn’t detract from the merits of many (though not all) criticisms. But does the Right really want to erase the commander-in-chief’s prerogative to take out mad dogs like Moammar when the opportunity arises? I mean, this isn’t like taking out some African dictator. Qaddafi’s crimes against the U.S. are well known. And there should be no statute of limitations for them. Do we really want to forgive and forget all of that?

To listen to some of my friends, the answer seems to be, “Yes.”

But I’m not so sure this is all about spiting Obama. I think some of us may be exhibiting a delayed backlash against the Iraq War and exhaustion with the Afghan conflict. The Right tolerated mistakes, misjudgments, and staggering military expenditures under Bush in pursuit of a vastly more ambitious agenda. Now, when Obama undertakes a considerably more modest undertaking – albeit in a decidedly annoying and incoherent fashion – many conservatives shout “Enough!”

As I’ve written many times, I think something similar explains the tea parties. They, too, are a kind of delayed Bush backlash. But there’s a key difference. Yes, Bush was a big spender and an expander of government, but he was a piker compared to Obama. To mirror what he has done on the domestic front, Obama would need to be announcing a full-scale invasion of Australia.

 

Beware the Hypocrisy Trap

There’s a natural tendency in politics to adopt your opponents’ lowest standards as your own. For example, the Left has spent much of the last decade insisting that conservatives are sleazy, slanderous, dishonest, and mercenary and then — often in the same breath — they’ll say liberals need to adopt the very same tactics. Recently, many folks on the right have been sounding very similar. We need to use Alinskyite methods to fight the Alinskyites!

This, in a nutshell, is the hypocrisy trap. Yes, liberals are hypocrites for notshouting “Chickenhawk!” at Obama. But conservatives would be just as hypocritical for shouting “Chickenhawk!” at Obama. More to the point, the argument over the proper application of the term “chickenhawk” completely leaves out the question of whether the underlying policy was wrong or right. FDR was a chickenhawk, World War II was good policy. Remember?

Again, it is very difficult to make this point about Obama’s policy because it is entirely unclear that he has one. But amidst all of the shouting, it’s worth keeping in mind.

 

The Big If

Now, all of that is completely moot and stupid if the real goal of this enterprise doesn’t involve killing or exiling Qaddafi. If we don’t get rid of him, it will be a colossal error for which we will pay a terrible price for years to come. On this I am totally with Adam Garfinkle:

As I have said, a Qaddafi left armed and dangerous when the dust settles is an unacceptable outcome. Civilian planes will likely start failing out the sky, as did the one over Lockerbie; assassination attempts will multiply, like the attempted Libyan-backed murder of the Saudi king in 2003; al-Qaeda and affiliates might be aided and abetted to do Lord-knows-what to the Italians, the French, the British and, of course, to us. With nothing to lose, and way beyond the threshold of worrying about sanctions and such, Qaddafi could well become more dangerous than ever. If I were Silvio Berlusconi, in particular, I’d pick my future whorehouses with extreme care.

The only thing I think Garfinkle gets wrong here is the bit about Berlusconi’s whorehouses. I’m pretty sure, he gets his whores delivered (and in 30 minutes or less or his first [expletive deleted] is free).

 

Grey in L.A.

In case you hadn’t noticed, I have returned from Los Angeles after nearly two weeks. I was there for a Liberty Fund conference at the beginning, some off-the-grid work on my book in the middle, and a family vacation at the end (when my womenfolk flew out). The family vacation part was undermined, but not ruined, by terrible weather and hideous lines at Six Flags.

I have to say (“Do you really ‘have’ to say it, or are you just too lazy to come up with a more self-confident intro?” – The Couch) that L.A. has grown on me.

As a born and bred New Yorker and passionate fan of urban walking, I will never fully come to terms with a city that was designed to be hostile to bipedalism and perambulation.

Indeed, one thing that really amazes me is that Los Angeles is far, far more hostile to walking than it is to smoking. There are places to smoke all over, including cigars, as I discovered. And there are smokers all over. But tell someone that you’re going to walk to dinner and they look at you like you just admitted there’s a body of a dead clown in your trunk.

 

Peeing with the Stars

While I did a little hobnobbing with a few famous names I cannot drop, the more amusing thing was to see all of the TV and movie folks walking around in everyday life. It was like my life was a peripatetic version of The Love Boat,Cannonball Run, or Hollywood Squares.

One morning, at the Farmer’s Market, I worked at a table next to the regulars, who included George Segal and Paul Mazursky. There was also that really nasally Jewish comic (“Yeah, that really narrows it down!” – The Couch) who’s appeared on a zillion sitcoms whose name I can’t remember. At the Apple Store at the Grove I saw Jere Burns asking about the new iPad. And then, of course, there was the time when I was three urinals over from Hank Azaria at the movie theater. We were both there to see Battle: L.A. I didn’t strike up a conversation, because I’m not a chat-by-the-urinal kind of guy. But still, it was obviously a special moment for both of us.

 

Quick Movie Minute

As I said, I saw Battle: L.A. It was good, not great (though the wildly pro-Marine themes were nice to see). They successfully wove together a massive number of alien and war movie clichés into a coherent whole that was larger than the sum of its clichés. I want to avoid spoilers, but I do wish they could have done without the bit where the aliens are vastly more advanced, have the benefit of surprise and the advantages that come with being utterly remorseless, and yet can be defeated with a single maneuver. (“I thought you said you wanted to avoid spoilers?” — The Couch.) The problem here, as with Independence Day, is that it makes remotely plausible sequels problematic. It’s also stupid.

 

Movie Minute II

I also went to see Mars Needs Moms with my daughter. It was pretty bad. The biggest problem wasn’t the script, which could have been perfectly fine. Rather, the movie was a perfect illustration of the uncanny-valley problem. For those of you who don’t know about the uncanny-valley problem, in a nutshell it’s this: The more authentic artificial representations of human life get, the creepier they become. This, for example, explains why we naturally throw up a little in our mouths when we see Al Gore try to act “normal.”

You can read more about the uncanny valley here, or watch this excellent synopsis from 30 Rock using porn video games and Star Wars as examples.

In Mars Needs Moms, the humans are lifelike enough to really bum you out, particularly one dude who gives off a severe pederast vibe. My daughter disliked it for numerous reasons, not least the fact that one mom actually dies in the movie. And, believe it or not, my eight-year-old little girl doesn’t like that sort of thing. The whole movie had a really serious tone and atmosphere problem that I think could have been largely solved with Pixar-style animation. This is a point Al Gore’s advisers have been making for years, but he won’t listen.

 

Movie Minute III

I also rented The Proposition on iTunes. It’s an Aussie Western and I thought it was very good. (Warning: It’s pretty bloody) It could have used ten percent more exposition. But all in all, it was very well done. Perhaps the most impressive part – aside from the acting and the writing – is the way the director managed to work real flies into almost every scene and got the actors to, er, act as if they were used to flies crawling over their faces.

 

Speaking of Flies

Who among us can forget that scene in Indiana Jones where Belloq eats a fly? Oh. I guess a lot of you can forget.

 

Announcements

Culver’s, Here I Come. I will be speaking in Minnesota – Minneapolis to be specific – on April 11 for my pals at CFact. Details to come, but I hope folks in the area can make it.

Tune in. This Tuesday I’m doing something I’ve never tried (I typed that with my foot on the Couch’s throat to avoid it saying something unkind). I’m going to host a radio show here in D.C. The morning show on WMAL’s “Morning Majority” (formerly “The Grandy Group”) from 5 to 9 a.m. I’ve always wanted to try this sort of thing, but I’ve turned down opportunities in the past. I’m a little vexed by the fact that I have to be there so early in the morning (pre-show meeting is at 3:45), and by the fact I’ll have no idea what I’m doing. But I’m a general believer that being afraid of something is not, in itself, a good reason not to do something. Stay tuned, as it were. 

Biden Rails On. Here’s my Friday column on that lovable crazy neighbor in the vice president’s house.

You say it was your birthday! If you forgot to send me a shoebox full of cash, or something similar, there’s still time. (If you’d prefer to launder that cash through something more legitimate, like a speaking gig, please contact Keppler Speakers.)

A present for you! Meanwhile, here is a pile of Stuff from Debby from March 14, which I’m only now getting around to running.

What Pi Sounds Like. (Today is Pi Day.)

Gallery of Decorated Gas Tanks.

How to Make a Laser From a Gin and Tonic.

Giant shoe car.

Five things you never knew about Pac-Man.

Science headline of the day. Maybe this will fix the problem.

Evolving Surface of a 3D Fractal.

Thank God for evolution.

In international-arms-sales news, Lockheed Martin Tried to Trade F-16s for Frozen Chickens.

Export hopes for urine-boiled eggs.

Recreating the flying house from Up in real life.

Weird Vintage Ads.

Car Crash Victim Sues Paramedic Who Stole His Foot.

Waiting to pee can help you make better decisions, study finds.

Mexican gay beer.

Free-Speech Follies

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Dear Reader (including all you yotches* who said you’d send in new “Dear Reader” gag suggestions),

There’s a strange contradiction inside the conservative mind. You often hear that we are less free today than we were a generation ago or a hundred years ago or pretty much any time between yesterday and the Founding.

I’ve never been too sympathetic to this notion. It’s not that we haven’t lost some freedoms or seen them constrained. Anyone who’s tried to burn leaves on their front lawn or get the kind of flush from his toilet that makes a man proud can attest to that. But we have gained other freedoms as well.

If you’re going to use a simple binary system of “more free” versus “less free,” in which you add up all of the available freedom today on one side of the scale and all the freedom we had in year X on the other side, then it becomes very difficult to defend the proposition we are clearly less free today. Two gold ingots of freedom in particular throw off the scales: The liberation of blacks and women. It is impossible, using simplistic accounting methods, to say that we were freer in 1811 or 1911 than we are in 2011 if you take it as a given that women and blacks are people and citizens too (a point the Cato Institute was forced to concede thanks to Clarence Thomas).

I could talk about this all day, but I want to get to the point. Lots of people on the right (and the left) are absolutely terrified about losing their free speech rights. I know this not least because I’m getting lots of e-mail from them in response to my column today. In one sense that’s fine and good and healthy. In another it’s bizarre.

It reminds me of Victorian England, where everybody was terrified of public sexuality at precisely the moment that public sexuality was the least of society’s problems. Taken as a whole, we have a monstrous glut of free expression in this country. My kid can find things on the Internet in one minute that even 15 years ago a grown-up would have had to spend days searching for in the red-light district. And whenever anyone suggests regulating any of it, everyone freaks out as if our very future as a nation hinged on open and free access to videos of transvestites playing both sides of the field at once, if you know what I mean.

The simple fact is that “expression” is more free today than at any time in American history, period, full stop. Check local cable listings for details.

But not all expression is speech (hint: If you put a dollar bill in its G-string, it’s not “speech”). And not all speech is political speech, and not all political speech is the same.

The First Amendment right to free speech is first and foremost the right to engage in politics, not the right to a subsidy from the NEA to crap in a can and put it under a halogen lamp for morons to admire and the New York Times to hail as a transgressive breakthrough.

And for the several years prior to the Supreme Court’s repeal of McCain-Feingold, political speech in America was one of the most regulated forms of expression we had.

This was not only a travesty, it was a complete inversion of how we understand the protection of our liberties. Normally, the argument goes, we have to protect this absolutely crazy, whacky expression of freedom so we can protect our core freedoms. It’s a version of the “First they came for the Jews” trope. If we protect the outliers, the outposts on the frontiers of freedom, we can be sure that the home fires of liberty will continue to burn bright. So the ACLU and others claimed that we had to protect the rights of performance artists, strippers, and crazy homeless people.

I’d be fine with all of that if it were true. But it ain’t. It turns out that when you dispatch your most ardent forces to the frontier, they go native. Worse, they tend to look contemptuously at how we do things back home.  Just look at the Hollywood base of the Democratic party. It has convinced itself that the Founding Fathers were more concerned with protecting porn than with the ability to run “stealth ads” during a presidential campaign. TheFederalist papers were stealth ads! The threat to our freedoms isn’t at the outposts on the frontier, the threats come through the front doors of our homes and offices.

And that brings me to Fred Phelps and the Westboro posse. The idea that our freedom hinges on whether or not these psychopaths can torment grieving families is just flat-out absurd. There are any number of areas in life where Phelps’s antics are already banned — inside Churches, near schools, whatever. The idea that if we add funerals to the list, we’ll all be talking Newspeak by morning is borderline paranoid.

For a big chunk of American history, if someone had desecrated a military funeral the way the Westboro fanatics do, they’d have been beaten by the good and decent townfolk and maybe even horsewhipped by the sheriff. And yet to listen to some conservatives, if Phelps is restrained, we’ll all be a little less free. Feh. I’m more dismayed that we’ve lost the freedom to beat the tar out of funeral desecrators with impunity.

 

Take a Letter . . .

Here’s another question: Why is “cordially” an appropriate way to end a letter? I get signing off with “sincerely,” because that’s a subjective statement about your own state of mind. But isn’t “cordial” descriptive of an atmosphere? Either the letter is cordial or it isn’t; saying it is doesn’t make it so. Imagine if I wrote you a letter in which I told you I was going to repossess your grandmother’s coin-operated dialysis machine, but I signed off “Generously, Jonah Goldberg.” That wouldn’t make the letter generous, would it? And if I wrote a letter in which I told you to eat excrement and perish, the letter wouldn’t magically become more cordial with the inclusion of “cordially.”

Speaking of letters, if you’re unaware of the Cleveland Stadium Corporation’s 1974 letter in response to some complaints, then you are ignorant of one of the Greatest Moments in Letter Writing.

 

Potpourri

I want to thank everyone who has sent their condolences, insights, best wishes, and prayers in regard to my brother’s passing. I can’t respond to them all, not least because it’s simply so emotionally draining. But as I deal with all of the emotional, spiritual, and, alas, financial fallout of Josh’s death, I want you folks to know that your support is greatly appreciated.

On to happier things.

Jimmy Fallon does an excellent Charlie Sheen.

Here’s some old Friday stuff from Debby that I missed:

Why everything tastes better when it’s beer-battered: A Scientific Explanation.

Bird-poop facials.

Flamethrower gloves.

Japanese nose lift.

The greatest trick-shot quarterback of all time?

Beer marshmallows.

Crabzilla.

Ghostbusters, 1954.

Great (and cheap) Valentine’s Day gift.

The science of why cats roll.

Catholic Confession app launched for iPhone.

Headline of the Week: “A happy ending to farmer’s anus woes.” The story is pretty disgusting, but the gist is you can apparently live without an anus, which raises the question: Why do we still have Paul Krugman?

Speaking of anus headlines (Hah! This is the only “news”letter you subscribe to that begins sentences that way, isn’t it?), here’s an interesting item: Inmate Caught with 30 Items in Anus: ”Upon removing the condom, they discovered many more items: 17 blue pills, 1 cigarette, 6 matches, a flint, a syringe, lip balm, a CVS receipt and a coupon.”

I guess I can understand the receipt, if your prison boss was a stickler for strict accounting. But the coupon?

 

Announcements

There will be more announcements next week!

* I used the word “yotch” in the salutation. This is a slang word I picked up from my wife. She acquired it during her time at Marquette University. As I gather, it’s used vaguely like “shmuck” among Midwesterners. I await further guidance on usage, etymology, and spelling from readers.

Until next time,

Cordially,

Jonah Goldberg

From the frontlines

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Dear Reader (and those of you who’ve fled the G-File for fear of providing a quorum of readers),

Don’t worry, I’m not going to go all morbid on you. But I should clear the air.

My brother died last week. He had an accident. He fell down some stairs. He surely had too much to drink when it happened. It’s all such an awful waste. You can read how I felt — how I feel – about my brother here.

But, you know, this is uncharted territory for me. And while I have little to no morbid desire to wallow indefinitely in a public display of grieving, the G-File has always been a dispatch from the frontlines of my mind, a quasi-personal letter to the collective You. Some might even call it the mad scribbling in the virtual ink of diluted fecal matter on my imaginary jail-cell wall.

And, as you can imagine, there are few things more on my mind than this choking fog of awfulness.

I’m told by a friend that there’s a new book out, The Truth about Grief by Ruth Davis Konigsberg, that apparently demonstrates how Elisabeth Kubler-Ross made up all that stuff about the “five stages of grief.” I have no plans to read it. But I’m fully prepared to believe that any hard-and-fast five-point definition of grief is bogus. Admittedly, my data sample set is pretty small but hugely significant; in the last six years I’ve lost my father and my brother out of a family of four people. And, already, it’s clear to me that the geography of grief cannot be so easily mapped.

Obviously there are going to be similarities to the terrain. But just as there are different kinds of happiness — say, winning the lottery versus having a kid, or beating cancer versus seeing Keith Olbermann booted off of MSNBC – there are different kinds of sadness, too. And how they play out depends on the context.

In terms of my own internal response, the most glaring continuity between my dad’s death and my brother’s is loneliness. Don’t get me wrong. I’ve got lots of company. I have lots of people who care for me more than I realized. I’m richer in friends and family than I could ever possibly expect or deserve.

But there’s a kind of loneliness that comes with death that cannot be compensated for. Tolstoy’s famous line in Anna Karenina was half right. All unhappy families are unhappy in their own way, but so are all happy ones. At least insofar as all families are ultimately unique.

Unique is a misunderstood word. Pedants like to say there’s no such thing as “very unique.” I don’t think that’s true. For instance, we say that each snowflake is unique. That’s true. No two snowflakes are alike. But that doesn’t mean that pretty much all snowflakes aren’t very similar. But, imagine if you found a snowflake that was ten feet in diameter and hot to the touch, I think it’d be fair to say it was very unique. Meanwhile, each normal snowflake has its own contours, its own one-in-a-billion-trillion characteristics, that will never be found again.

Families are similarly unique. Each has its own cultural contours and configurations. The uniqueness might be hard to discern from the outside and it certainly might seem trivial to the casual observer. Just as one platoon of Marines might look like another to a civilian or one business might seem indistinguishable from the one next door. But, we all know the reality is different. Every meaningful institution has a culture all its own. Every family has its inside jokes, its peculiar way of doing things, its habits and mores developed around a specific shared experience.

One of the things that keeps slugging me in the face is the fact that the cultural memory of our little family has been dealt a terrible blow. Sure, my mom’s around, but sons have a different memory of family life than parents. And Josh’s recall for such things was always not only better than mine, but different than mine as well. I remembered things he’d forgotten and vice versa. In what seems like the blink of an eye, whole volumes of institutional memory have simply vanished. And that is a terribly lonely thought, that no amount of company and condolence can ease or erase.

In Other News

Okay, now that I’ve addressed the 800-pound gorilla in the room first, let’s move on (“Wait, please look under my cushions, the gorilla left you a ‘present.’” –  The Couch).

As you may have noticed, there’s been some news since my last G-File, whenever that was. About a week ago, the conflict in Wisconsin was shaping up to be the Spanish Civil War of domestic policy (which is better than it shaping up to be the Spanish Fly of domestic policy, not least because I have no idea what that would mean). But I no longer see it that way. Scott Walker deserves plenty of praise and support, but it’s becoming very clear that this is an idea whose time has come. As I put it in my column this week, Americans are coming to grips with the fact that public-sector unions have been a 50-year mistake.

Anyway, at this point I’m sure everyone is sick of the familiar arguments against public-sector unions. So here’s a very quick less-familiar one. I’ve been reading Tyler Cowen’s e-book The Great Stagnation. (I’ve got some problems with his argument, but it’s still a very worthwhile read.) One of the points he makes is that two of the sectors that have been the most immune to great waves of productivity, efficiency, competition, and modernization are education and health care. I don’t think any sane person can really dispute that as a broad generalization. And while I don’t think public-sector unions are the sole or even chief problem in those realms, it strikes me as near impossible to reform these sectors without breaking the spines of public-sector unions.

And please don’t tell me that crushing the unions will mean that jobs in nursing and teaching won’t pay well any more. The domestic oil and gas industry pays twice the average national wage and it is largely non-union (which offers one more reason why the Democrats don’t care about the oil and gas industry). There will be strong demand for nurses and good teachers. But there will be less demand for padded payrolls full of deadwood. In D.C., at least until Michelle Rhee came along (and was then eaten alive by the teachers’ union), there was one education bureaucrat for every teacher in the district.

I don’t know what “winning the future” means, but I do know what bankruptcy, stagnation, and woe mean. And that means radically changing the way we do business.

Left-wing Pranks = Journalism, Right-wing Pranks = Evil Lies

I’m not sure what I make of this story about a prank caller pretending to be one of the Koch brothers. But I do have one minor observation. How is that when a left-wing blogger pretends to be someone he’s not and catches a Republican in what amounts to a “sting,” it’s a vital source of news, but when right-wing types conduct stings at Planned Parenthood or ACORN, it’s all an elaborate and dangerous fraud? I’m sure somebody at Media Matters for America will explain it to me when they’re done smelling their fingers.

Pot Pourri

At some point I need to write up my visit to Israel. It was my first trip there, and if I hadn’t gotten the news about my brother while there, it would have been a pretty profound experience. But I should at least say here that it was a great experience and the folks at the Emergency Committee for Israel did a fantastic job.

This is really cool.

Over the last month, I have traveled across about 12 time zones, and not in a straight line either. That has allowed me to catch up on Fringe (a Fox TV series). I really dig it. Look for obscure and annoying Fringe discussions in the future. Don’t say you weren’t warned.

Minor announcements

I was supposed to receive the 2011 Robert J. Novak Journalist of the Year Award at CPAC a couple weeks ago. But I couldn’t make it because I was dealing with my brother’s arrangements. I was all set to make some fun jokes about how amused Bob Novak would be to learn that I was flying in from Tel Aviv to accept the award. Anyway, I want to thank Rich Lowry for subbing for me at the last minute. He did a fantastic job. And I want to thank the folks at CPAC for being so understanding.

In late March or early April, I should be speaking at UNC-Chapel Hill. More details when I’ve got ‘em.

On April 1, I will be the keynote speaker at the Philadelphia Society meeting in Dallas. I’ve never been to a Philadelphia Society meeting, but I’ve always wanted to go (for those who don’t know it’s one of the oldest and most venerable gatherings of conservative eggheads).

On Monday, I’m scheduled to be on Red Eye. I’ve never done it from in studio. I feel like I’m heading into the cantina on Tatooine.

That’s it for now. Happier days ahead.

Back from Hawaii, Off to Israel

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Dear Reader (and those of you who have already won the future and therefore know the contents of this “news”letter),

Well, my record of causing massive geopolitical events simply by leaving town is holding steady. While I was in Hawaii, the Middle East came apart like a stale cookie the Cookie Monster pretends to eat (you do know he has no throat hole, right?). It all started when I was in Pendleton, Oregon, for 9/11, and ever since then it seems like big stuff happens whenever I’m on a trip, like when Gore abandoned the Florida recount while I was stuck in a Puerto Rican hotel room (which sounds a bit like a gross sex maneuver). Well, this Friday I leave for Israel, so stock up on bottled water.

 

Israel You Say?

That’s right, Israel. I’ve never been, so if some of my more anti-Semitic, anti-Israel and anti, well, -me e-mailers are right, I should have a whole pile of backlogged checks to pick up at the Ministry of Zionist Stooge Pundits Abroad. More on that when I have something worthwhile to say (“Good God, man, that’s a sharp break with past policy.” – The Couch).

 

But What about Egypt?

I’m not going to write a lot about Egypt here because events keep changing on me like a pound of silly putty in the hands of a hippy having a bad acid trip. (“Look it’s a bunny! With fangs! Now it has wings! Now it’s a wobbly wheel on a shopping cart! Now it’s one of the Love Boat dancers! Remember them? I wonder if Captain Stubing ever fought in Viet Nam, imperialist bastard! Oh, it’s a fanged bunny again. I think I’ll call him Bunnicula.”)

But a few points come to mind:

1. One of the things I do like about events like this is that, at least for a moment, a lot of folks are shaken from their partisan-ideological-comfortable positions. Some lefties agree with some righties, some righties agree with some lefties. Neocons disagree with each other – and with Israel. Now, I know there are some No Label types out there who think that this should be everyone’s reaction to everything. You can hear this philosophical assertion in No Label and pragmatic babble all the time. Supposed free-thinkers claim to process every new fact with an open mind, without preconceptions, etc. But if you think about it for just a minute or two, you should realize how crazy that is.

We have predictable reactions to most events because most events are fairly predictable. They’re easily fit into our existing worldview because our existing worldview was formed or informed by previous events that formed a pattern. That’s what ideologies, political philosophies, are: our best effort to understand the facts and events we’ve encountered in the past. This is why, for example, old learned men are less likely to be shocked by the morning newspaper than the office interns.

Complacency can be a problem, to be sure, but generally speaking it’s only when truly surprising events occur that our normal worldview should be significantly tested. If you think you should be surprised by every new fact or event, then you’re saying that we shouldn’t learn from past new facts and events. Which is to say, we should all act like idiots. The wise man isn’t surprised by the banal, the fool is.

2. I don’t mind all of the instant analyses and instant reactions. What bothers me is when people “know” what will happen not just tomorrow, but six months from now. This thing is going to pinball around a dozen times over the next six months.

3. I have a weird theory. Maybe one of the reasons – aside from the illiteracy, shame culture, anti-Semitism, authoritarianism, etc. – that Arabs are both so conspiratorial and so complex in their political machinations is the lack of alcohol in their cultures. Maybe there’s so much intrigue and duplicity in the Middle East because that’s exactly the sort of thing you’d expect in a society where men sit around all night consuming stimulants like nicotine and caffeine. In, say, Russia — another hotbed of paranoia — people stay up late into the night, but they get drunker and more simplistic the later it gets. In hookah bars, you stay up later and later, totally sober and increasingly wired, like a college sophomore on a sleep-deprivation vision quest who, at 3:00 in the morning, suddenly realizes he should write his term paper on how Kierkegaard predictedJersey Shore. Of course, this could be entirely wrong.

4. One last Egypt-prompted thought. I like the look of the word “Egypt” because the three middle letters drop below the line they’re written on. Is there a word for letters that drop down like that?

 

About Hawaii and America

Hawaii was great. Getting there, hmm, not so much. Getting back was just awful. When will a benevolent G-File reader (is it too presumptuous to call you folks “G-Philes”?) finally give me free use of his (or her!) private jet?

Hawaii is an odd place. It’s a really interesting mix of tropical luxury and tropical redneckery, for want of a better – or even real – word. I’m hardly an expert. I’ve only been to the big island a few times, and I’ve never been to the other islands at all. But Hawaii’s culture is really distinctive. I don’t mean just the native Hawaiians; that observation is obvious enough. But the Caucasian – or haole – culture is very different too.

For those of you who don’t know, haole (the haole pronunciation of haole is “howlie”) means “foreigner” in Hawaiian but it’s often used to describe white residents of the state as well, in much the same way that New Hampshire natives refer to “Massholes” or Vermonters refer to “flatlanders,” or the way some Manhattanites refer to “Americans.”

Haole is not necessarily as pejorative as those usages, but it can be. In my house we’ve been using it the way you might say “white bread” or “traditional” or “old-fashioned American,” particularly when it comes to food. Here’s a typical conversation in the Goldberg household:

Me: “Hello, beloved, what’s for dinner?”

The Fair Jessica: “Lasagna.”

Me: “Excellent! Are you doing something new or clever?”

TFJ: “Nope. I’m doing it howlie style.”

Anyway, back to Hawaii. Lots of the white folks have gone native in a way that I’ve never seen in any other state. Alaskans, for example, don’t adopt Indian speech and names, but in Hawaii it’s common to meet white folks who talk as if they are straight out of a Hawaiian version of A Man Called Horse.

Oh, and on that redneckery point, lest I be misunderstood (“Sometimes being misunderstood is the only reason you have a job” – The Couch). It’s not that Hawaii is more low-rent than other states. It’s just that the low-rent aspects seem so out of place in a part of the country that is culturally synonymous with “exotic beach vacation.”

But then you come to realize that what appears “low-rent” is often just a manifestation of your (my) own East Coast biases (though I do think there’s no classy way to have more than, say, two old refrigerators in your front yard). For instance, I spend a good amount of time nearly every year in Alaska and the Pacific Northwest, where if you go to a barbecue or a party, it is often impossible to tell from what people are wearing or even how they’re talking whether they are millionaires or working stiffs. You don’t encounter that sort of the thing on the East Coast much. Everyone has a natural tendency to think their cultural preferences are “normal.”

But one of the things I love more and more about this country as I get older is how diverse it really is. I don’t mean the often superficial and faddish diversity of the Left – people of different hues and genitalia thinking the same way – but real diversity: a richness of cultures, traditions, and “normals.”

Or maybe I’m just itching to go on another cross-country drive this summer.

 

Various & Sundry

Again, I leave for Israel tomorrow evening. Like the original Jonah in Nineveh, I plan to Twitter the bejeebus out of the trip.

I will be at CPAC again this year. Indeed, I have some news – sans quotation marks – about all that: I will be this year’s Robert J. Novak Journalist of the Year.

I don’t have this week’s compilation of Debby’s Odd Links. But here are a few one-offs from her and others you might find interesting:

Meat!

Teenager makes homemade death ray.

Balls. Of. Steel.

This was my favorite story of the week. As a wise man once said: “If a man says he is not afraid of dying, he is either lying or is a Gurkha.

Cowards, Conversation-Starters, and Lamarckians

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Dear Reader (and those of you getting this through simultaneous translation from the Chinese),

If memory serves, I believe we are coming up on the one-year anniversary of the Goldberg File.

I think this is a fine moment to reflect on the year that was.

Oh, not out loud, but on your own time.

 

Civility, My Ass

I know most of us are exhausted by the post-Tucson civility “conversation.” The problem is that it was never a conversation. The best working definition of a conversation, according to liberals, is “Shut up while I explain how awful you are.” That’s what we’ve been witnessing for the last two weeks, and there’s no reason to expect it to change.

Yesterday, Rep. Steve Cohen went on a tear comparing Republicans to Nazis. He says he has no need to apologize because his comparison was entirely fair.

A few days before that, a victim of the Tucson shooting insisted that Sarah Palin and the Tea Partiers were to blame for the massacre. Subsequently, he physically threatened a Tea Partier. He eventually apologized, but as far as I can tell, the liberals who celebrated his initial indictment saw no need to rethink anything.

And that’s the point. If the Left really cared about incivility, they would have been condemning a lot of liberal speech for the last ten days. So would the bulk of the mainstream media that takes its cues from the Left.

But for the most part, the Left isn’t concerned with the lack of civility, it’s concerned with the ability of the Right to get its message out. “Civility” is simply shorthand for “Don’t object to what we’re doing in a way that anyone will notice.”

 

Conversation-Starters Anonymous

Remember Eric Holder’s speech about how we’re all “cowards” for not wanting to talk about race in America? His use of “coward” always reminded me of one of those scenes in Westerns where a gunslinger “calls out” someone in a saloon or a cabin by accusing his intended victim of being a “coward.” Come on out, ya yella-bellied coward!

The point of such taunts isn’t to talk things out. It’s to get a clean shot.

(And yes, in case any finger-sniffing left-wing blogger is secretly subscribing to this “news”letter, I am speaking metaphorically).

Whenever conservatives speak with the slightest honesty about the problems facing black America, the response isn’t “Thanks for your honesty,” it’s a press release denouncing the racism or insensitivity of such remarks.

Here’s a small example that has always stuck with me. In 2007, Newt Gingrich said that bilingual education keeps some Hispanics in the “ghetto.” Within hours, the “let’s have a frank dialogue” crowd had denounced the former House speaker, insisting that he apologize for being so frank. And Gingrich promptly complied.

Of course, it’s not just in politics. On campuses across the country, students are A) told that we need to have a “frank and honest dialogue” about race, sexuality, Islam, whatever, and B) that anyone who offers opinions that differ from the conventional wisdom is a retrograde, reactionary Christianist in dire need of reeducation.

If I asked you for your honest opinion about my $14 haircut and every time you started to offer it, I slapped you across the face with a half-rotten roadkill raccoon, after a while you might start to suspect I was less than sincere in my request for honesty.

 

Speaking of a Climate of Violence

There’s this story:

PHILADELPHIA – A doctor who provided abortions for minorities, immigrants and poor women in a “house of horrors” clinic has been charged with eight counts of murder in the deaths of a patient and seven babies who were born alive and then killed with scissors, prosecutors said Wednesday.

Aside from the obvious horror of the story, there’s something else that bothers me. This doctor provided abortions to “minorities, immigrants and poor women.”

Were the minorities and immigrants rich? Were they not women? Why divvy up the victims this way? Perhaps I’m over-reading, but it’s almost as if the author needs to highlight the fact that even an abortion doctor can be a bad person – if the victims are downtrodden women who fit an ideological prism.

 

Hu’s on First

So I watched the press conference with Hu and O. I have nothing to add, except that an hour later I wanted to watch it again.

 

Something to Noodle

While working on the new book I never talk about, I’ve been reading up on Herbert Spencer. Readers of Liberal Fascism will recall that I consider him to be one of the most unfairly maligned thinkers in American history. He’s credited with inventing Social Darwinism, even though that’s a term he didn’t use and a concept he didn’t believe. Herbert Spencer was to libertarianism what Edmund Burke is to conservatism, and yet countless historians and journalists insist he was a premature Nazi and champion of eugenics.

As for “Social Darwinism,” that’s just one more in a long list of terms and theories that the Left ascribes to its opponents to make them easier to vilify.

Anyway, what’s interesting to me is that Spencer wasn’t even really a Darwinist; he was a Lamarckian. As I understand it, he modified his views on biology as Darwin’s theory was developed. But he remained what you might call a Social Lamarckian.

Lamarckianism, you might recall from 9th-grade biology, is the idea that organisms can pass on traits and characteristics acquired in their own lifetime to their offspring. A simplified version: Teach a dog to answer the phone, and her puppies just might answer the phone instinctually without being trained.

This theory is pretty much discredited among biologists, as far as I know. And I have no brief for bringing it back.

But I think in the social realm, it’s a really helpful concept. As longtime readers know, I am a big fan of defining conservatism as the idea that human nature has no history. A baby boy born in an affluent suburb today will grow up to be pretty much what you’d expect: a doctor or accountant or salesman. A baby boy born today but transported back in time to 10th-century Norway will grow up to be a Viking who rapes and pillages. And a baby Viking boy, if transported to Shaker Heights, will grow up to be a computer programmer. There’s nothing in our genes that says we have to be civilized, while there’s a lot in our genes that says we should be barbarians.

What makes the difference is our accumulated wisdom. Some of that is stored in our parents’ brains, but a lot more is embedded invisibly in our institutions, customs, habits, language, etc.

And that’s where the Lamarckian part comes in. If we change our institutions, due to necessity or folly, those changes are passed down to the next generation, who will eventually take over those institutions based upon their inherited assumptions. We are all shaped by the institutions we are raised by, and as we change them, the next generation inherits those changes.

I’m sure there are piles of books brimming with words like “mimesis” that explain – or debunk – this theory a lot more thoroughly. I just thought it was interesting and something I never really thought about.

 

Why So Glum?

I’m glad you asked, Mr. Headline Writer. I’m not glum per se, just a bit exhausted with politics, which is why it’s probably good news I’m leaving (or trying to) for Hawaii tomorrow morning.

My syndicate is nominating me for a Pulitzer again, which is cool, though I doubt I’ll ever win (for reasons both substantive and petty). As part of the process, I had to look over my columns for the last year – and I found the whole thing a bit dispiriting. I’m not sure why, but the prospect of another year of hammer-and-tong politics leaves me a bit grumpy.

I think this is a real danger for columnists. They get weary with ideological fights, and so they suddenly start looking for ways to get beyond politics. They look for proof that the stuff they don’t like is going away, or they get seduced by arguments that the stuff they don’t like can be purged at little to no cost. I could give you a long list of folks I think this has happened to. But I’ll save that for another day.

Anyway, here’s to getting my batteries recharged. I’ll let ya know if there will be a G-File next week when I know.

The Liberal Establishment vs. Straw-man Constitutionalists

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Dear Reader (and the nosy woman in the next booth who doesn’t want to subscribe but hates to feel left out),

As I write this, I’m having a devil of a time balancing my laptop on my spaghetti-strainer codpiece. But that’s my problem. More to the point, the new House of Representatives is reading the U.S. Constitution.

The reaction from the liberal establishment, not to mention the sweatier corners of the Left, has been both instructive and hilarious.

It’s a bit of a cliché in political commentary to say “watch what so-and-so does, not what he says.” And that’s good advice as far as it goes. But it misses something. The implication is often that if so-and-so says X but does Y, he never really believed X. But as we all know, in life we often have to do Y when we believe X. I say that with the confidence of a father who survived his daughter’s princess phase.

But one thing you can’t hide is what pisses you off. That’s why I love the Left’s profound annoyance with the Right’s fixation with the Constitution. This New York Times editorial is a perfect example of establishment-liberal pique. Some excerpts, with my comments in brackets:

A theatrical production of unusual pomposity [as opposed to the Times’ usual pomposity] will open on Wednesday when Republicans assume control of the House for the 112th Congress. A rule will be passed requiring that every bill cite its basis in the Constitution. …

The empty gestures are officially intended to set a new tone in Washington, to demonstrate – presumably to the Republicans’ Tea Party supporters – that things are about to be done very differently. But it is far from clear what message is being sent by, for instance, reading aloud the nation’s foundational document. Is this group of Republicans really trying to suggest that they care more deeply about the Constitution than anyone else and will follow it more closely? [I don’t know about anyone else, but surely they intend to suggest they’ll follow it more closely than A) the Democratic party and B) the New York Times editorial board. Surely that’s a good, albeit easy, start?]

In any case, it is a presumptuous and self-righteous act, suggesting that they alone understand the true meaning of a text that the founders wisely left open to generations of reinterpretation. Certainly the Republican leadership is not trying to suggest that African-Americans still be counted as three-fifths of a person. [Man, it took them longer than usual to play the race card.]

There is a similar air of vacuous fundamentalism [Translation: Stupid Christians!] in requiring that every bill cite the Constitutional power given to Congress to enact it. The new House leadership says this is necessary because the health care law and other measures that Republicans do not like have veered from the Constitution. But it is the judiciary that ultimately decides when a law is unconstitutional, not the transitory occupant of the speaker’s chair. [So wait: Congress doesn’t need to be concerned with whether the laws they pass are constitutional? That’s a standard destined to bite the Times in the ass.]

All of this, though, is simply eyewash – the equivalent of a flag-draped background to a speech – compared with the actual legislation the Republicans plan to pass. And though much of that has no possibility of being enacted, it does suggest the depth of the struggle to come. The bill tauntingly titled the “Repealing the Job-Killing Health Care Law Act” has nothing to do with increasing employment and will never reach the Senate floor, but shows that the leadership is willing to threaten the hard-fought access to health care for millions of the uninsured, just to make a political point….

The one good thing about these meaningless rules and bills is that they finally seem to be prodding House Democrats into standing up for their own programs as they enter the minority….

The Republicans’ antics are a ghastly waste of time at a moment when the nation is expecting real leadership from Congress, and suggest that the new House leadership is still unable to make tough choices. Voters, no less than drama critics, prefer substance to overblown theatrics.

Now, by my count that’s like a half-dozen places where the Times says overt displays of fealty to the Constitution are “meaningless,” substance-free “theatrics,” “eyewash,” “vacuous,” etc. If it’s all so meaningless, why not simply applaud? Why not chalk it up to rhetorical bunting and move on?

Rarely have so many people been so terrified by the meaningless, the vacuous, the substance-free.

Scoring debater’s points on the Times’ hypocrisy and inconsistency – while entirely valid and no small amount of fun – is really not worth a lot of time (the Times has never failed to argue that symbolism it likes is worthwhile, from failed votes on stem cells to the fight over the Confederate flag). What’s intriguing here is just how pissed off the Times is that people think it’s important to consider the Constitution when drafting laws.

And that’s all the justification I need for the GOP’s meaningless, vacuous stunt. If it exposes the folks who get pissed off by such things, it’s done quite a lot.

 

Straw-man Constitutionalists

One point I couldn’t get into my USA Today column on the “debate” over the Constitution is the constant mischaracterization of the conservative position on the Constitution.

They say that the Right “worships” the Constitution. They insist that conservatives believe it is “unalterable” or “sacred” just the way it is.

And then they proceed to mock conservatives for not understanding that the Founders never intended for the Constitution to be unalterable. Some of the more literate will even quote Jefferson, who believed that it should be updated every 20 years or so. Some of the more idiotic ones will tell you that without a “living” or “changing” Constitution we wouldn’t have freed the slaves or given the women the vote.

But conservatives don’t think the Constitution can’t be changed. They think it can be, and even should be, by the means provided for in the Constitution. The slaves were freed – with a constitutional amendment. Women got the vote – with a constitutional amendment.

But what’s truly infuriating is that when conservatives suggest that we should update the Constitution to meet the demands of the changing times, liberals suddenly start talking about the “sacredness” and “genius” of the Constitution. How dare conservatives meddle or “tinker” with it!? Stupid hypocritical Republicans! You talk about how much you love the Constitution but now you want to “tamper” with it!

Liberals have no problem with unelected judges illegitimately “breathing new life” and “new meaning” into the Constitution in order to deal with new circumstances, but they recoil at the idea of voters and elected politicians doing the same thing through legitimate mechanisms.

It’s almost as if they hate the idea of sharing power over the meaning of the Constitution with anyone who disagrees with them.

Overpopulation, They Cried

People of a certain age – i.e., pretty much anyone younger than me – might have a hard time appreciating what a big deal overpopulation hysteria was back in the day. It drove many of the world’s most “enlightened” people to embrace some of the most unenlightened policies. It’s what caused many in the literary crowd to fall in love with gas chambers, long before anyone had ever heard of Nazis or Adolf Hitler. Remember this golden oldie from D. H. Lawrence?

“If I had my way, I would build a lethal chamber as big as the Crystal Palace, with a military band playing softly, and a Cinematograph working brightly, and then I’d go out in back streets and main streets and bring them all in, all the sick . . . the maimed; I would lead them gently, and they would smile me a weary thanks . . .”

The idea that we would all be crushed by the teeming hordes, swamped by the dark and dusky, outbred by the lowly, infected our thinking. Paul Ehrlich, who can never be mocked enough, predicted that billions would die from mass starvation, including tens of millions in America alone. Planned Parenthood’s roots lie in the aim of curbing the unwanted masses from growing.

In case you missed it, none of that happened. That is not to say that expanding populations and prosperity don’t create real problems. The oceans are overfished. Rainforests are being cut down – stupidly. Really awesome animals are losing habitat.

But those problems are what you get when you have rising wealth mixed with impoverished policymaking.

Anyway, I could go on about this stuff because I find it so interesting (and who among us doesn’t get a thrill up their leg when given the chance to bash Malthusians?), but really it’s just a cool excuse to link to this, which shows that you could put the entire population of the planet in Texas, with the population density of New York City, fed with just the food produced by the U.S. and with half the daily output of the Columbia River.

Yes, one can offer quibbles. For starters, traffic would suck!

But it’s still pretty illuminating.

 

Announcements

I was voted ”Favorite D.C. Blogger” among Twitter users, or something. That, and five bucks, will get me a date in Manila. But maybe that means you should follow me on Twitter, or something?

I’m leaving tomorrow for something called The Awakening in South Carolina. That’s almost all I know about it.

Before the Christmas break, I was scheduled to be on Special Report tonight, though I haven’t heard from anybody over there, so maybe they forgot.

I’ll be recording a Ricochet podcast with Mark Steyn today, should be out tomorrow. Stay tuned.

I’m giving a lecture or something at Hillsdale in early February.

While I announce my speaking gigs quite a bit, I don’t pimp for new work all that often. But as I look at the financial wreckage that was 2010, if anybody does want to book me for a paying gig, please contact Keppler Speakers.

That’s it for this week. Sorry no Debby stuff, no Canadian porn and no you can’t call me Phyllis (Just in case you were planning on asking). More jocularity next week.

Okay, Polystichum Munitum, the Old Mnemonic Is ‘SOHCAHTOA’…

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Dear Reader (and the hatemongers who’ve spent the last two years inciting me to write this column),

Well, I’m going to be writing elsewhere on Obama’s uplifting, noble speech to what appeared to be the homecoming rally of the Arizona Wildcats.

I take it that a lot of readers out there hated the speech for one or more of several reasons. They include:

1. They don’t have any faith in Obama’s sincerity. This is part of his race to the center, and it amounts to saying “nice doggie” until he can find a rock.

2. The audience. Cheering at the name of a murdered 9-year-old girl like she was the starting running back creeps a lot of people out.

3. Obama deserves some blame for the audience, because the White House advance people seemed to want it that way – prepping the place with T-shirts and whatnot.

4. Obama took his sweet time clamping down on the climate his surrogates helped create. It’s pretty easy to parachute in only after your side’s campaign of vilification hasn’t worked – and your side got in what shots they could – before yelling time out.

5. The false equivalence between what the Left was doing this week and what the Right was doing. The Right’s self-defense may have been contributing to the poisonous atmosphere this week. But that’s like saying resisting an assault from a mugger is contributing to the atmosphere of violence.

I think all of these things have merit, some more than others. But it seems to me you have to take events as they come. The speech was a good speech, probably the best of his presidency (somewhat surprisingly, that’s not as high praise as it might sound). The president, who campaigned as a post-partisan, spent two years in office as a rank and intellectually disingenuous partisan. For two years, conservatives have been decrying and denouncing Obama for failing to live up to his own standards.

Last night Obama took our advice. He gave what may have been the least self-involved speech he has ever given – and the most presidential. It was high-minded and empathetic, open-hearted and civil. It was inspiring without belittling those not on his side. Unlike, say, his secretary of state, never mind the majority of his biggest defenders in the press, he didn’t pretend to know what drove Jared Loughner beyond the demons of his own dementia, and he subtly chastised those who claim they do.

Would it have been nice if he had come out earlier to tamp down the acrimony? Yes. Would it have been appropriate for him to ask the audience to stop cheering for a minute? Absolutely. Would it have been better if he’d thrown sharper elbows to his left? Maybe. But barring dropping to his knees like Henry in the snows of Canossa and begging for forgiveness, I suspect that some of his detractors simply can’t give him credit. I can understand that. President Obama deserves his share of blame for the climate in this country.

But this speech seemed as much as anything to be a good-faith effort to mend things.

Will he hold to the spirit of his speech? Who knows? Bill Clinton’s Oklahoma City remarks were more high-minded than people remember. It was his comments the day after that were so horrendous and shameful.

Like the man said, trust but verify.

One last point. It is amazing how moving to the center amounts to taking the high road. Obama wants to be president again. That requires being a better one than he has been. The press will launch its usual lick-bath fawning, but I doubt they’ll acknowledge the subtle rebuke they’ve received.

 

The Low-Hanging Fruit

Prior to last night, the Left, the liberal establishment, the mainstream media, Hollywood – I know, I know: This strikes some as a redundant list, like a rabbi talking about how you can’t eat ham, or pork, or bacon, or swine – were determined to push a palpably false storyline.

As I mentioned in the Corner, I was on Fox yesterday debating some woman named Nancy Skinner who couldn’t get her brain around the idea that if there is no evidence confirming her position and ample evidence disproving her position, then her position must be untenable.

This was of course just one minor example. No doubt everyone reading this “News”letter knows what I’m talking about. We say, “Two plus two is four,” and they respond, “Yes, but a vest has no sleeves.”

It’s all so incredibly exhausting, like trying to explain trigonometry to a fern. No, scratch that. Trigonometry is hard to explain to anybody. It’s like trying to tell a fern it shouldn’t buy the premium cable package, with Cinemax and Showtime and all that, since it doesn’t really watch much TV. Okay, maybe that doesn’t work perfectly either, because the point I’m getting at here is that it’s impossible to explain anything to a fern once it’s decided that it isn’t going to change its status as a non-sentient vascular plant.

Likewise, it is impossible to have a serious conversation with people who have locked onto an interpretation of reality that isn’t dependent on facts.

But at the same time, if you don’t push back, a false conventional wisdom concretizes. Not only does this completely ruin an already ludicrous extended arguing-with-a-fern analogy, but it also does massive damage to the country. The idea that Kennedy was killed by a “climate of hate” survives to this day, despite the fact that it’s a complete lie. The early success of that lie made the Great Society possible. If left unopposed, the lie pushed by the asshat chorus this week could easily have dealt a mortal wound to the new GOP House, conservatism, never mind the whole country.

That’s one reason why conservatives should be very reluctant to buy the “discourse” discourse. Yes, it’s absolutely true that folks on our side – and every other side – say things they shouldn’t say from time to time. It happens. And it’s worth criticizing, condemning, or excusing, depending on the substance and the context. But often what the Left calls hate speech is really simply unwelcome honesty.

Before the age of the Internet, talk radio, and cable TV, the establishment could have gotten away with turning Loughner into a tea partier, just as it turned Goldwater into a psychopath, Father Coughlin into a right-winger, and the Soviet genocide into an accounting error.

They still try, but there’s room to push back now.

 

‘A’ for Effort

Here’s one small example. Robert F. Kennedy Jr. – a man I’ve long considered to lack the intellectual candlepower to cook toast – wrote a lengthy piece in the Huffington Post decrying the “climate of hate” that killed his uncle. It covers all of the clichés about the right-wing atmosphere, the insults, the mood, etc. And some of that stuff was no doubt truly awful. But none of that stuff killed Kennedy.

Lee Harvey Oswald, the actual person who killed JFK, who isn’t even mentioned by name in RFK Jr.’s essay, was a Communist. It’s the little details the Left finds so annoying.

 

What’s That Now?

Yesterday, Spike Lee said the following on The Today Show:

Here’s my, my take in it. I think that, as film makers, as politicians, as artists, we have to understand that all, whatever we do goes out in the universe. And you should be aware of what you’re doing. And you cannot just say “Well I just did this and, and my – had nothing to do with what happened.” That’s, that’s not, that’s not the case. Also, the United States of America is the most violent country in the history of civilization. And this NRA thing. We gotta turn this around. You know these, these guns are out of hand. And I know they have a very powerful lobby but something has to be done about the gun control in this country. That’s my opinion.

Where to begin? First there’s the fact that this is the guy who lent support to Louis Farrakhan’s theory that George W. Bush deliberately blew up the levees to flood New Orleans. Or perhaps we should ponder the fact that he made his career by making a movie called Do the Right Thing, which ambiguously defended a massive race riot. Please, no lectures from Spike Lee about civil discourse.

Oh, wait. Jeez. I forgot. Then there’s this thing about America being the most violent country in the history of civilization. If he’d said America is the most violent country in the world today, he would simply be a Joy Behar-level idiot. But he said America is the most violent country . . . ever! Mother of pearl. Rather than run through the whole litany – what about the Aztecs? The Nazis? Mao and the 65 million lives he took? Pol Pot? Etc. – instead I would like to quote from Billy Madison:

“Mr. Madison, what you’ve just said . . . is one of the most insanely idiotic things I have ever heard. At no point in your rambling, incoherent response were you even close to anything that could be considered a rational thought. Everyone in this room is now dumber for having listened to it. I award you no points, and may God have mercy on your soul.”

 

Announcements & Whatnot

I will be on the panel tonight on Special Report.

For those who missed it, here’s a lengthy response to a lot of queries about Mein Kampf.

In case you missed last week’s Ricochet podcast, featuring yours truly and Mark Steyn, here it is.

Also, NR has launched its own podcast called The Balcony. Why “The Balcony”? Why not? I’ll be on it again tomorrow.

I will be going to Hawaii at the end of January. I won’t be taking any of you with me. My wife’s family is having a little reunion of sorts. It’s a command attendance kind of thing. I fought it tooth and nail. But I had to relent. Poor me, I know. We will be on (in?) Kona. If anyone’s got restaurant recommendations or other cool suggestions, let me know. I’ve been there before, but it never hurts to ask.

That’s it for this week.

The Liberal Establishment vs. Straw-man Constitutionalists

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Dear Reader (and the nosy woman in the next booth who doesn’t want to subscribe but hates to feel left out),

As I write this, I’m having a devil of a time balancing my laptop on my spaghetti-strainer codpiece. But that’s my problem. More to the point, the new House of Representatives is reading the U.S. Constitution.

The reaction from the liberal establishment, not to mention the sweatier corners of the Left, has been both instructive and hilarious.

It’s a bit of a cliché in political commentary to say “watch what so-and-so does, not what he says.” And that’s good advice as far as it goes. But it misses something. The implication is often that if so-and-so says X but does Y, he never really believed X. But as we all know, in life we often have to do Y when we believe X. I say that with the confidence of a father who survived his daughter’s princess phase.

But one thing you can’t hide is what pisses you off. That’s why I love the Left’s profound annoyance with the Right’s fixation with the Constitution. This New York Times editorial is a perfect example of establishment-liberal pique. Some excerpts, with my comments in brackets:

A theatrical production of unusual pomposity [as opposed to theTimes’ usual pomposity] will open on Wednesday when Republicans assume control of the House for the 112th Congress. A rule will be passed requiring that every bill cite its basis in the Constitution. …

The empty gestures are officially intended to set a new tone in Washington, to demonstrate – presumably to the Republicans’ Tea Party supporters – that things are about to be done very differently. But it is far from clear what message is being sent by, for instance, reading aloud the nation’s foundational document. Is this group of Republicans really trying to suggest that they care more deeply about the Constitution than anyone else and will follow it more closely? [I don’t know about anyone else, but surely they intend to suggest they’ll follow it more closely than A) the Democratic party and B) the New York Times editorial board. Surely that’s a good, albeit easy, start?]

In any case, it is a presumptuous and self-righteous act, suggesting that they alone understand the true meaning of a text that the founders wisely left open to generations of reinterpretation. Certainly the Republican leadership is not trying to suggest that African-Americans still be counted as three-fifths of a person. [Man, it took them longer than usual to play the race card.]

There is a similar air of vacuous fundamentalism [Translation: Stupid Christians!] in requiring that every bill cite the Constitutional power given to Congress to enact it. The new House leadership says this is necessary because the health care law and other measures that Republicans do not like have veered from the Constitution. But it is the judiciary that ultimately decides when a law is unconstitutional, not the transitory occupant of the speaker’s chair. [So wait: Congress doesn’t need to be concerned with whether the laws they pass are constitutional? That’s a standard destined to bite the Times in the ass.]

All of this, though, is simply eyewash – the equivalent of a flag-draped background to a speech – compared with the actual legislation the Republicans plan to pass. And though much of that has no possibility of being enacted, it does suggest the depth of the struggle to come. The bill tauntingly titled the “Repealing the Job-Killing Health Care Law Act” has nothing to do with increasing employment and will never reach the Senate floor, but shows that the leadership is willing to threaten the hard-fought access to health care for millions of the uninsured, just to make a political point….

The one good thing about these meaningless rules and bills is that they finally seem to be prodding House Democrats into standing up for their own programs as they enter the minority….

The Republicans’ antics are a ghastly waste of time at a moment when the nation is expecting real leadership from Congress, and suggest that the new House leadership is still unable to make tough choices. Voters, no less than drama critics, prefer substance to overblown theatrics.

Now, by my count that’s like a half-dozen places where the Times says overt displays of fealty to the Constitution are “meaningless,” substance-free “theatrics,” “eyewash,” “vacuous,” etc. If it’s all so meaningless, why not simply applaud? Why not chalk it up to rhetorical bunting and move on?

Rarely have so many people been so terrified by the meaningless, the vacuous, the substance-free.

Scoring debater’s points on the Times’ hypocrisy and inconsistency – while entirely valid and no small amount of fun – is really not worth a lot of time (the Times has never failed to argue that symbolism it likes is worthwhile, from failed votes on stem cells to the fight over the Confederate flag). What’s intriguing here is just how pissed off the Times is that people think it’s important to consider the Constitution when drafting laws.

And that’s all the justification I need for the GOP’s meaningless, vacuous stunt. If it exposes the folks who get pissed off by such things, it’s done quite a lot.

Straw-man Constitutionalists One point I couldn’t get into my USA Today column on the “debate” over the Constitution is the constant mischaracterization of the conservative position on the Constitution.

They say that the Right “worships” the Constitution. They insist that conservatives believe it is “unalterable” or “sacred” just the way it is.

And then they proceed to mock conservatives for not understanding that the Founders never intended for the Constitution to be unalterable. Some of the more literate will even quote Jefferson, who believed that it should be updated every 20 years or so. Some of the more idiotic ones will tell you that without a “living” or “changing” Constitution we wouldn’t have freed the slaves or given the women the vote.

But conservatives don’t think the Constitution can’t be changed. They think it can be, and even should be, by the means provided for in the Constitution. The slaves were freed – with a constitutional amendment. Women got the vote – with a constitutional amendment.

But what’s truly infuriating is that when conservatives suggest that we should update the Constitution to meet the demands of the changing times, liberals suddenly start talking about the “sacredness” and “genius” of the Constitution. How dare conservatives meddle or “tinker” with it!? Stupid hypocritical Republicans! You talk about how much you love the Constitution but now you want to “tamper” with it!

Liberals have no problem with unelected judges illegitimately “breathing new life” and “new meaning” into the Constitution in order to deal with new circumstances, but they recoil at the idea of voters and elected politicians doing the same thing through legitimate mechanisms.

It’s almost as if they hate the idea of sharing power over the meaning of the Constitution with anyone who disagrees with them.

Overpopulation, They Cried People of a certain age – i.e., pretty much anyone younger than me – might have a hard time appreciating what a big deal overpopulation hysteria was back in the day. It drove many of the world’s most “enlightened” people to embrace some of the most unenlightened policies. It’s what caused many in the literary crowd to fall in love with gas chambers, long before anyone had ever heard of Nazis or Adolf Hitler. Remember this golden oldie from D. H. Lawrence?

“If I had my way, I would build a lethal chamber as big as the Crystal Palace, with a military band playing softly, and a Cinematograph working brightly, and then I’d go out in back streets and main streets and bring them all in, all the sick . . . the maimed; I would lead them gently, and they would smile me a weary thanks . . .”

The idea that we would all be crushed by the teeming hordes, swamped by the dark and dusky, outbred by the lowly, infected our thinking. Paul Ehrlich, who can never be mocked enough, predicted that billions would die from mass starvation, including tens of millions in America alone. Planned Parenthood’s roots lie in the aim of curbing the unwanted masses from growing.

In case you missed it, none of that happened. That is not to say that expanding populations and prosperity don’t create real problems. The oceans are overfished. Rainforests are being cut down – stupidly. Really awesome animals are losing habitat.

But those problems are what you get when you have rising wealth mixed with impoverished policymaking.

Anyway, I could go on about this stuff because I find it so interesting (and who among us doesn’t get a thrill up their leg when given the chance to bash Malthusians?), but really it’s just a cool excuse to link to this, which shows that you could put the entire population of the planet in Texas, with the population density of New York City, fed with just the food produced by the U.S. and with half the daily output of the Columbia River.

Yes, one can offer quibbles. For starters, traffic would suck!

But it’s still pretty illuminating.

Announcements

I was voted ”Favorite D.C. Blogger” among Twitter users, or something. That, and five bucks, will get me a date in Manila. But maybe that means you should follow me on Twitter, or something?

I’m leaving tomorrow for something called The Awakening in South Carolina. That’s almost all I know about it.

Before the Christmas break, I was scheduled to be on Special Report tonight, though I haven’t heard from anybody over there, so maybe they forgot.

I’ll be recording a Ricochet podcast with Mark Steyn today, should be out tomorrow. Stay tuned.

I’m giving a lecture or something at Hillsdale in early February.

While I announce my speaking gigs quite a bit, I don’t pimp for new work all that often. But as I look at the financial wreckage that was 2010, if anybody does want to book me for a paying gig, please contact Keppler Speakers.

That’s it for this week. Sorry no Debby stuff, no Canadian porn and no you can’t call me Phyllis (Just in case you were planning on asking). More jocularity next week.

 

When Is Your Quantum Moment?

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Dear Reader (and your Sprockets monkey),

Readers laughing,

Editors gassing,

Meeting G-file after G-File,

And in every e-mail “news”letter you’ll hear . . .

Okay, I couldn’t finish that. But I leave it up to you folks to suggest a G-File- or NRO-related Christmas-song parody! What fun! Best entry will appear in the Corner next week. Must be relatively safe for work. And, since me and the Couch are the only judges, you can guess what happens to entries that either mock me too uncharitably or might get me in Dutch with the suits.

When Is Your Quantum Moment?

Imagine you can go back in time. How much useful knowledge could you really bring with you? By that I mean, how much actual constructive knowledge could you deliver to the folks in, say, 1800 or 1500?

Imagine I was immediately transported back to the year 1750. Let’s assume that I could even get a hearing from people who mattered (a big assumption). What could I bring to temporal show-and-tell that would move things along rapidly? Ninety-eight percent of my knowledge would be useless (“You’re not exactly like a cognitive MacGyver, now” – the Couch). I couldn’t tell them how to make life-saving drugs, or how to make an electric transistor, or how the internal-combustion engine works. I’m sure I could give some helpful tips about the importance of hygiene and some general tidbits about nutrition. I could take a stab at explaining CPR – but that’d be a real crapshoot if my credibility was on the line.

Now, of course, ideally if I were to go back to, say, the year 1200, I’d bring a lot of guns, the complete Time-Life series of how-to books, and a whole bunch of chemistry and medical textbooks, before commencing my plan to become the Kemal Ataturk of humanity.

And I know there are some readers out there who churn their own butter and solder their own personal electronics (“Wanna see my MyPhone?”). But many of us pretty thoroughly rely on the accumulated wisdom of others. As I’ve written before, nobody in the world even knows how to make a pencil – and even that idea came from someone else!

The vast bulk of knowledge we have is dependent on stuff we know little or nothing about. I can drive a car and make a computer work, but I am barely better equipped to build a car or put together a computer than a Viking.

Why do I bring this up? Well, partly because I’m always daydreaming about time travel (and someday, when I write my novel, graphic or otherwise, that daydreaming will really pay off!). But also because I think it illustrates a fundamental – the fundamental – conservative point. Civilization has a memory cache we dare not erase. Because it is our collective wisdom, or intangible capital, that makes us rich, that makes us anything at all.

They’ll Always Disappoint You

My column on the GOP field elicited a vast array of feedback, much of it expressing exasperation with the “limited” choices we have in a field of more than a dozen candidates.

Personally, I think you guys are being too hard on our roster. We could do a lot worse than most of these contenders.

But I think what a lot of conservatives want is to love the nominee. It’s only natural. When you talk about finding that special someone, you don’t like the idea of settling right out of the block, particularly when the Right has been doing a lot of settling for a very long time. Most conservatives I know felt that John McCain was at best a compromise, and for many that’s putting it way too charitably.

That’s certainly how I felt. It’s also, truth be told, how I felt about George Bush, not only in 2004 but also in 2000. I’ve yet to meet anyone who was really stoked to vote for Bob Dole, and I voted for the Libertarian candidate in 1992.

So yeah, I understand the emotion.

But I don’t think it’s necessarily a good or healthy one. Love, as they say, is blind. And blindness to the foibles and shortcomings of politicians is a recipe for disaster. In 2000, a lot of folks on the right fell in love with Bush. He was a beneficiary of a right-wing version of identity politics. He was, to put it succinctly, authentic – the indispensable quality of all identity-politics appeals. Everything about him cried out “I’m one of you” to evangelicals and other Red State voters. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t hold any of that against Bush. I think his religious convictions, his gut instincts, his Americanness, were – and are – all appealing attributes. But for some folks, they seemed to swamp any consideration of his downsides.

You can tell when someone is in love with a candidate when they fall back on arguments like “You just don’t get it.”

I remember the huge boom for Fred Thompson. I’d tell people, “I like Thompson, he might be good. We’ll see.” And the responses I’d get would have nothing to do with his substantive positions and all about his Chuck Norris-like abilities to have his cake and eat it too. If you said you liked candidate X, they’d say, but candidate X believes in position Y. When you responded that Thompson believes in Y as well, they’d say “That’s different!” or “You just don’t get it!”

All that changed, of course, when Thompson actually got into the race and thought he could win it by conducting a months-long audition for a Bartles & Jaymes commercial.

But that’s sort of the point. When he was unobtainable, he was perfect. When he joined the fray, he was human. I suspect the same thing would happen pretty quickly if Chris Christie jumped into the race. Christie seems like the most awesome candidate ever, precisely because he’s playing so hard to get. Now, for the record, I think Thompson would make a fine president, and from what I can tell, Christie would be great. But that’s not my point.

My point is that love is overrated in politics. Bill Rusher, the longtime publisher of National Review, always used to give new staffers at NR this simple piece of advice: “Politicians will always disappoint you.”

They’ll disappoint you because A) they are politicians, and politicians have to disappoint their biggest fans in order to get reelected or get things done, and because B) they are human beings built from the crooked timber of humanity. I don’t want any more cults of personality for a while. I want a reliably and philosophically conservative candidate who will be able to get things done and who feels like he’s got to dance with the conservatives who brought him. If that person is Sarah Palin, I’m for Sarah Palin. If it’s Mitch Daniels, I’m for Mitch Daniels. And so on. I haven’t made up my mind about who that person is, yet. But I would like to make that call as unemotionally as possible. Let’s save the emotion for what is good in life: crushing our enemies, seeing them driven before us, and hearing the lamentations of the women.

About Jeb

No potential candidate generated more excitement than Jeb, though not all of the excitement was positive. Full disclosure: I have a soft spot for Jeb. I’ve always thought he was the more impressive guy of the Bush brothers. He did a fantastic job as governor – substantively and politically. But fate dealt him a rough hand, presidency-seeking-wise (in the broader picture, Jeb is obviously an incredibly fortunate guy compared to what most of humanity is dealt).

What makes Bush’s plight so literary is that, overwhelmingly, his biggest problem is his family name and all that comes with it. So many readers have a simple and clear cut position: No more Bushes. I have to say, I’m sympathetic. I don’t like dynasties and I don’t like gambling that the third one will be a charm. But it just seems unfortunate.

It reminds me of the Hill Street Blues with “Vic Hitler the Narcoleptic Comic.” Well, if you don’t remember, it’s not worth getting into.

E-mail!

This is going around. Some of you may find it amusing. Other may find it terribly insensitive. I will let you sort yourselves out:

Since more and more Seniors are texting and tweeting, there appears to be a need for a STC (Senior Texting Code).

ATD: At The Doctor’s

BTW: Bring The Wheelchair

BYOT: Bring Your Own Teeth

CBM: Covered By Medicare

CUATSC: See You At The Senior Center

DWI: Driving While Incontinent

FWB: Friend With Beta Blockers

FWIW: Forgot Where I Was

FYI: Found Your Insulin

GGPBL: Gotta Go, Pacemaker Battery Low!

GHA: Got Heartburn Again

IMHO: Is My Hearing-Aid On?

LMDO: Laughing My Dentures Out

LOL: Living On Lipitor

LWO: Lawrence Welk’s On

OMMR: On My Massage Recliner

OMSG: Oh My! Sorry, Gas.

ROFL . . . CGU: Rolling On The Floor Laughing . . . And Can’t Get Up

TTYL: Talk To You Louder

WAITT: Who Am I Talking To?

WTFA: Wet The Furniture Again

WTP: Where’s The Prunes?

WWNO: Walker Wheels Need Oil

Announcements! And Debby Stuff!

  • Can you believe the New Goldberg File is coming up on its first anniversary? (I think that’s right, but since I can’t check the archives, I can’t be sure. Oh, right. That’s actually the point of this announcement, but I’ll stay inside the parentheses because it’s warmer in here. (I thought these things smelled bad on the outside!) We are actively pondering how to create an online archive of G-Files for those of you who want them. I’m constantly getting asked to leave the public library if I’m going to keep making those sounds, but that’s not important right now. I’m also asked how new readers can read old G-Files, how folks can access them to link to, etc. Our team of web monkeys will be working around the clock over Christmas throwing feces at each other, but in their spare time they’ll noodle this issue even more.)

  • There will be no G-File next week for the holiday break. I will be like Rocky in Rocky I, II, III, but especially IV (since it’s so cold out), training for my triumphant return.

  •  In last week’s G-File, I made an offhand reference to a friendly contest between Forrest Tucker and Milton Berle. Some of you got that it was also an off-color reference as well. Most of you didn’t.

  • I am still on Twitter (@JonahNRO), and it’s taking up way too much of my time, particularly since I have no idea why I’m doing it.

  • Debby’s Wednesday Stuff on Thursday!

 

Klingon Christmas Carol.

The Platypus: Nature’s Swiss Army Knife.

How Mariah Carey makes goats produce more milk.

Why the other line likely is moving faster.

Top Ten Weirdest New Animals of 2010.

A Serbian man reportedly has become a hero in Egypt by accidentally killing a shark with his butt while drunk.

Anatomically related: Buttock-cupping: A New Form of Alternative Medicine. [BROKEN LINK]

Snow Crystals Under a Microscope.

Laurel and Hardy meet Santana. [BROKEN LINK]

Strange Foreign Pick-up Lines.

The camel beauty contest.

Roadrunner vs. Coyote: In Live Action!

2004 Dave Barry column: Who named these guys wise men?

“Musical chills” explained.

Flowchart: Explain the Internet to a 19th-Century Street Urchin.

Urinal-Based Gaming Interface.

Tonight’s mystery guest on The Barack Obama Comedy Hour is…

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Dear reader (and the leather-clad gimp in the footlocker at your feet),

One of my favorite TV conventions is the cameo appearance. If you try to look up the definition of “cameo appearance” on the interwebs, you’ll become hopelessly confused. That’s okay, you know ‘em when you see ‘em (but if you pedants would prefer to interrupt my stream of consciousness by calling it a “guest appearance” or a “walk-on,” that’s fine, just be glad I don’t have a big enough semi-frozen flounder to smack you in the face with from where I’m sitting).

I can’t remember if I mentioned it in here before (“Don’t worry, given how you’re so rarely sober, no one expects you to remember” – The Couch), but one of my favorite cameos comes from The New Scooby Doo Movies (1972-1973). Those meddling kids are driving their “Mystery Machine” – that creepy panel van that, today, would more likely be owned by someone wearing a sex-offender ankle bracelet – when all of a sudden they find a car broken down on the shoulder of the highway. Velma takes one look at the driver and exclaims: “The famous Don Adams!” Then the animated Don Adams (voiceover by Don Adams) explains that he’s taken over his brother’s pest-control business full-time to become “bug killer to the stars.” Who said writing for TV was hard?

The old variety shows – you know, Sid Caesar, Laugh-In, The Krusty the Clown Show, The Pappy O’Daniel Flour Hour, Lonesome Rhodes’s Cracker Barrel – they had a more casual attitude toward the cameo. One minute they’re in the middle of the show, and then suddenly the audience starts buzzing as someone “unexpected” walks on the stage: “Why, it’s TV’s Larry Storch! Give him a hand, everybody!”

“Thanks, Krusty,” Storch, an immensely popular TV star from 1953 to 1955, from 1965 to 1969, and in the spring of 1973, might respond. “I’m here today to talk to you about something very important to me – the famine in Biafra and U Thant’s heroic work to end it. But first, I thought I’d do a little juggling, and maybe tell you a few stories about my dear friend Forrest Tucker and his friendly contest with Milton Berle.”

Anyway, I bring all this up because the NyQuil frappe I’ve been drinking seems to finally be kicking in. But also because I got that distinct TV-cameo vibe last Friday when Bill Clinton just wandered by the White House press room to chat. If it had been better stage-managed, Obama could have stopped mid-sentence during a really partisan and divisive disquisition explaining how he hates partisanship and divisiveness to declare, “Why, it’s 1997’s Bill Clinton! Give him a big round of applause, everybody.”

“Thanks, Barack Hussein. I’m so happy to be here. You know, when Barack Hussein and I were talking backstage, we were laughing at how he used to talk about my presidency, like it wasn’t worth two ticks on a squirrel’s behind. [Cue laugh track] Now, look at poor old Barack Hussein. Well, I told him, ‘Don’t you worry Ba-rocky, you’ve got me in your corner now.”

The End of Taboos?

Okay that’s the wrong headline, because I actually believe we’ll always have taboos, but what is taboo will change – just not always for the better. Consider the case of alleged scumbag David Epstein. I’m going to forgo the usual “alleged” part because even his lawyer seems to be conceding that Epstein did in fact have a long sexual relationship with his own daughter. And while honest people can debate whether incest should be a crime (I think it should be), I have no use for anybody who objects to the taboo against incest. Call it my taboo against anti-tabooists.

It’s interesting, as a sociological matter, that the Epstein case has elicited a riot of “serious” talk about the incest taboo. Here’s Salon:

It has all the sordid ingredients to supply tabloid headlines for days, but far more interesting – at least in my nerdy universe – are the laws behind this case and others like it. After all, the relationship in this case allegedly began after Epstein’s daughter reached the age of consent. It isn’t a clear-cut case of child abuse, and there are no allegations that the three-year-long relationship carried on without the daughter’s consent.

A few points:

1. If I were a pro-gay marriage activist (“You mean you’re not?” – The Couch), I would be really pretty concerned with this argument going around. Epstein’s lawyer:

“Academically, we are obviously all morally opposed to incest and rightfully so,” he told ABCNews.com. “At the same time, there is an argument to be made in the Swiss case to let go what goes on privately in bedrooms.”

“It’s OK for homosexuals to do whatever they want in their own home,” he said. “How is this so different? We have to figure out why some behavior is tolerated and some is not.”

I love the modifier “academically” when he means exactly the opposite. It reminds me of that line from Irving Kristol about the phrase “in principle”: “In principle’ must rank among the saddest phrases in the English language. When someone says he agrees with you in principle, that is usually prefatory to his explaining that he disagrees with you in fact.”

For years pro-gay marriage advocates have understandably taken extreme offense at the mere suggestion that homosexuality is akin to incest. If they’re going to let these arguments slide from the left, let’s have a good deal less outrage when the Right uses them, hmm-kay?

2. The Left likes to claim that it is libertarian on “social issues.” I think this is sometimes true, mostly not. What left-libertarians believe in is more like radical self-assertion, the lifting of social and legal restraints on certain behaviors or lifestyles. If the Left were actually libertarian, it would stop shouting down speakers, stop implementing speech codes, and stop championing modern sumptuary laws regarding what you can eat, drive, or wear.

Indeed, if the Left wants to adopt the mantle of libertarianism, they need to understand that if government gets less involved in our lives, civil society must get more involved. That means more taboos, more stigma, more discrimination properly understood. That’s the difference between spontaneous order and childish chaos.

In a truly free society, people need to be free to discriminate. I don’t mean in the racial sense, I mean in the prudential sense. We all discriminate – i.e., make choices based on experience, data, and intelligence – in every facet of our lives. The man who doesn’t discriminate literally cannot tell shit from shinola (lighten up, it’s the G-File). And in a minarchist state, the regulation of social norms must of necessity be left up to society. That means employers, landlords, would-be fathers-in-law (!), neighbors, etc., can judge people by what criteria they find relevant. If drugs are legalized, I sure as hell better be able to discriminate against drug addicts when it comes to hiring babysitters. If incest isn’t a jailable offense, then I sure hope it will still be okay for Columbia University to fire skeeves like David Epstein.

What If This Had Been a Right-winger?

I think it is indisputable that, if this story weren’t about David Epstein, left-wing Huffington Post contributor, but about, say, Richard Epstein, University of Chicago free-market guru and National Review contributor, the Left wouldn’t bother with seminars on the legitimacy of sexual taboos and would instead proceed straight to the crucifixion stage of the debate. I’m not saying that the Left wants to defend David Epstein straight up. But the general tendency in these personal scandals is that when a lefty is the culprit, the issue becomes intellectualized. When a righty is the culprit, the Left goes looking for a good lynching tree. This is certainly true when it comes to sex and drug scandals. When a Republican gets jiggy with a younger staffer, he’s a “predator.” When a Democrat does the same thing, he’s merely trying to make a “human connection.”

One of the key ways the Left pulls off this double standard is by using the hypocrisy clause. Since conservatives profess to have principles, it’s okay to condemn them when they violate those principles. But since the Left embraces non-judgmentalism as its highest value, they are not guilty of hypocrisy. It is by these means that the Left uses our principles as loaners solely for the purpose of condemning conservatives. When Rush Limbaugh had his prescription-drug problem exposed, when Bill Bennett had his gambling brouhaha, the Left attacked them (implausibly) as hypocrites, even though they really didn’t have any real problem with the actual behavior.

The downside of this tendency is that it exults those who are consistently immoral while condemning those who are inconsistently moral.

Speaking of Taboos

Without getting into the whole “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” argument (I’m basically okay with repeal if the military can accomplish it without much disruption – I don’t think this is the best moment to be doing it, though). But I thought this passage from a pro-repeal piece in the Post today was both unpersuasive and amusing:

Repeal would undoubtedly produce some disruption, but if other nations’ experiences are any guide, it will be so minimal as to be essentially nonexistent. Consider what is likely to happen if and when “don’t ask” is repealed: Lance Cpl. Smith will be having a typical Marine conversation with Lance Cpl. Jones, and the topic will turn to women. Smith will remark on how much he enjoys their company. Jones will reply: “Actually, man, I like dudes.”

Smith: “Really?”

Jones: “Yeah, man, really.”

Smith: “Wow. I didn’t know that.”

Both will then go back to cleaning their rifles.

Maybe it’s just me, but “cleaning their rifles” sounds like an unfortunate euphemism.

Announcements!

1. Today (Friday) is the D.C. National Review Christmas lunch. I will say hi to everybody for you.

2. The AEI Christmas party is today as well. I will say hi to almost everyone for you (I’m still afraid of some people there).

3. I wrote what I thought was a pretty amusing column – certainly more entertaining than this G-File – on the omnibus bill. When I woke up, I learned that the bill had been killed and taken my column down with it. I stand by my totally groundless assertion that my column is what tanked the bill. If you want to read it, go here. If you don’t want to read it, you should still go here, because I need the page views, man.

If this is “triangulation,” I can’t wait to see “total surrender.”

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Dear Reader (and the horse you rode in on),

Now that’s what I’m talking about. Who among us didn’t love Barack Obama’s back-to-back press conferences in which he denounced the Republicans for their bipartisan agreement and denounced rank-and-file Democrats for opposing it, all the while telling everyone he got bullied into agreeing to something he considers bad public policy?

I know, I know, Rich Lowry, with his facts and his logic and his fancypants books-without-pictures, has concocted a theory that this has all been good for Obama because he’s triangulating. And yeah, yeah, the substance of the deal is pretty popular, and ticking off the base of his party has an upside (I believe it was Socrates who said, “If Nancy Pelosi is for it, I’m against it”). But it’s at least worth keeping in mind that from the distance most of us are watching all this from, “triangulation” and “total f’ing surrender” are as hard to distinguish from one another as the red-eyed tree frog and the grey tree frog are from 100 yards away, at night, after drinking a blender full of Maker’s Mark.

Okay, that might be a slight overstatement. But the simple fact is that Obama’s “race to the center” looks an awful lot like a guy backing up from a steamroller. He may not in fact be surrendering to the GOP, but he is throwing overboard every dispensable item he can find, lest he go down on the HMS Failed Presidency. At this rate, by the end of this movie, he’s going to be standing on top of a huge steamer trunk labeled “Obamacare” as the galley fills with rushing seawater.

Mitch McConnell Look What You’ve Done to Me! I’m Melting!

It’s kind of hard to put your finger on what, exactly, was so fascinating about Obama’s performance. This is especially true because I don’t have access to your fingers, so even if I did know I couldn’t put your finger on it, but that’s not important right now. Jim Geraghty had a good instant reaction to the “incoherence” of Obama’s position:

In his opening statement, Obama talked about how much he wanted to fight on this issue, but then he says he’s going to sign it because it’s the best possible option under the circumstances. One moment he’s insisting that the country can’t afford to extend the high-end tax cuts, the next he’s dismissing continued opposition on the part of Democrats as “fighting a political fight.” He’s trying to simultaneously assure Democrats that he didn’t sell them out and opposes tax cuts for the wealthy as much as they do, while at the same time, persuade them to vote for a deal that he just said he opposes so much.

“My first job is to make sure the economy is rolling and that people are creating jobs out there,” Obama says, days after unemployment went up from 9.6 percent to 9.8 percent. Later he said that there is no danger of a double dip recession, a statement that seems less certain after the most recent jump.

Then he referred to the GOP as “hostage takers” and said, “in this case, the hostage was the American people.”

“We were not operating from a position of political weakness,” he insists. But a moment later, discussing Republicans, Obama says, “they would have a stronger position next year than they do currently.” If time is not on your side, are you really operating from a position of political strength?

Also, the fact that this was pretty much the angriest we’ve ever seen the man is part of it. When the Norks tested a missile in the face of Obama’s hopey-changiness, we got cool. After various attempted and successful terrorist attacks on American soil, we not only got cool, we got cool condescension, whereby the president immediately suggested that it was silly or rash to assume that a guy shouting “Allahu Akbar!” as he murdered American soldiers had anything to do with Islamic terrorism. When Julian Assange vomited classified information, we got a strongly worded letter from Harold Koh and some tepid verbiage from Obama.

But when the press corps suggests that the likes of Keith Olbermann, Rachel Maddow, Andrew Sullivan, Katrina vanden Heuvel, Markos Moulitsas, Sleepy, Dopey, and Bashful et al. might have reason to be disappointed in him, we finally see Obama the Pissed. At one point he reminded me of a favorite scene from The Simpsons when Homer tells Bart he can’t see the Itchy and Scratchy movie:

Bart: Look, can I please go to the movie?

Homer: I know my punishment may seem a little harsh, but I can’t go back on it. You’re welcome to watch anything you want on TV.

Bart: TV sucks.

Homer [visibly shaking with anger, grabs Bart by the shoulders]: I know you’re upset right now, so I’ll pretend you didn’t say that.

But what I think was most telling about the press conference(s) is that they happened at all. I can understand the first press event, when Obama wanted to get out in front of the news. But why the second? What did he add to the conversation? And in both, he seemed bizarrely unprepared to deal with the reality of the situation. I mean, did he not think he was going to get asked questions about whether he was going wobbly?

Deeper Ever Deeper

Ultimately, I think Obama’s biggest problem and his best path to political salvation can be gleaned from this passage in Peter Baker’s profile of Obama from just before the election:

Obama is preaching patience in an impatient age. One prominent Democratic lawmaker told me Obama’s problem is that he is not insecure – he always believes he is the smartest person in any room and never feels the sense of panic that makes a good politician run scared all the time, frenetically wooing lawmakers, power brokers, adversaries and voters as if the next election were a week away.

In other words, he’s arrogant. More importantly, he’s most comfortable in rooms where he thinks nobody is smarter than him and when he thinks all his advisers are dumber than him. We saw that man this week. He was visibly pissed that his friends couldn’t see the big picture and he lashed out at them, and none of his comparatively dumb advisers could stop him.

Is It So Hard to Get Some Sharks with Frick’n Lasers and Yarmulkes on Their Heads?

So last week’s G-File had a riff on Anti-Americanism as a kind of god-hatred. I wrote, in part: “I think one of main drivers of anti-Americanism is the conviction that America is a stand-in for God. By that I mean people think we can do anything we want, so when we fail to fulfill their every wish, it must be because we choose not to (something psychologically similar seems to happen to some people who hate God or the idea of God because of their own personal problems).”

Lots of readers (but not the horses they rode in on) wanted me to expand on that. I will someday. But in the meantime, I thought we might spend a moment on a variant of a similar dynamic: Israel hatred.

If America is a capricious god to many around the world, then Israel is surely a steadfast Satan. If America fails to do what is right, Israel excels in doing everything that is wrong. Hence any tragedy, any shortcoming, any foible that is too embarrassing or too banal to accept blame for, or chalk up to chance, must of necessity be a crime committed by those hellacious Hebrews.

Case in point: An Egyptian official is not willing to rule out the possibility that the Mossad has trained sharks to attack in Egyptian waters. From theJerusalem Post:

Egyptian officials say they have not ruled out the possibility that a fatal shark attack in Sinai on Sunday could have been a plot by the Mossad.

“What is being said about the Mossad throwing the deadly shark [in the sea] to hit tourism in Egypt is not out of the question, but it needs time to confirm,” South Sinai Gov. Muhammad Abdel Fadil Shousha was quoted as saying by the Egyptian state news site egynews.net.

Note: He’s not saying for certain that the sharks are Zionist stooges, merely that we can’t confirm it – yet. No epistemic closure for this guy!

Announcements! Statements! Mild Exhortations! Weird Links!

If you have a Twitter account and aren’t following my Twitter feed (@JonahNRO) then – and this is no exaggeration – you are missing my tweets. If you can sleep through the night knowing that, then, well, good for you and your “normalcy.”

If you haven’t noticed, I’m basically in the extended rotation for the Special Report panel these days. Thanks for the kind words and, in particular, those of you who sent in e-mail to Fox in support of the idea.

Here’s my USA Today piece, reprinted at NRO, on the silliness of this No Labels stuff. I liked this reader’s point:

“Stop your bickering” is what parents say right before they dictate the family’s next immediate course of action, without resort to voting or terribly much regard for the wishes of the pre-franchised.

Here’s a quick take on what Obama wanted to talk about this week, America’s Sputnik moment. Alas, he didn’t mean that the current moment is spherical but pointy in parts.

And, last, Debby’s Odd Links. I will post them this afternoon in the Corner but you see them here first, because that’s how we roll.

The Word “Mistletoe” Literally Means “Dung Twig.”

Loo of the Year Awards.

What Would Happen If Every Element On The Periodic Table Came Into Contact Simultaneously?

How Ma Bell Shelved the Future for 60 Years.

Beer Menorahs?

From Popular Mechanics: The best way to shoot a zombie in the brain.

Dave Barry’s Holiday Gift Guide is here. And here’s an old Dave Barry column: ’Twas the night before Christmas / Or Hanukkah or Kwanzaa or whatever religious holiday your particular family unit celebrates at this time of year via mass retail purchases . . .

The historical technology involved in bra design.

Underwear with the Fourth Amendment printed in metallic ink.

Methane-powered laptops?

1960s spacesuit designs from Wernher von Braun’s science fiction novel. Related, a gallery of spaceship art.

Taxidermy Artists.

Wi-Fi might be frying our brains.

Is squirrel the perfect austerity dish?

And the Bad Sex in Fiction Award goes to . . . (Probably NSFW. If anyone finds all of the scenes nominated, please send!)

Why not throw another state secret on the barbie?

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Dear Reader (and that terribly disappointed fellow who only subscribes to the G-File for the pictures),

I know, I know: I’ve been tardy. First there was that fundraising letter that the suits made me try to pass off as shinola a G-File. Then there was the cruise, then there was the Thanksgiving holiday. Oh, no wait: First there was a giant concentration of matter and energy that gave birth to the universe as we know it. Or, first there was God and he had this giant ball of stuff and he asked himself, “What’s the matter?” and he decided it wasn’t anything interesting so he made it into the universe. Regardless, quite a few chapters later, I was tardy with the G-File.

Rather than regale you with tales of how no one uses the word “regale” anymore (by the way, can one merely “gale” someone with a tale?), or regale you with tales of the high seas, let’s just jump right into it.

Assangeination

Like the aftertaste from a Tiger Mart chimichanga, my “assassination” column on Julian Assange simply won’t go away. Contrary to my friend Shannen Coffin’s suggestion that I was winkingly calling for rubbing out Assange, I really wasn’t. My point was that the world is so much less dramatic than a lot of folks on the left and the right make it out to be. As I wrote in an early clarification, “Both the left and the right have an overly dramatic understanding of what our intelligence agencies do and can do. On the right we have Jack Bauer and Blackford Oakes; on the left we have Jason Bourne and Oliver Stone’s JFK.”

I think where I got into trouble was in not showing sufficient reverence for the sanctity of Assange’s life. I’m not sure this was a shortcoming of the column, since that’s actually how I feel. I wouldn’t weep over Assange’s demise. But that’s not the same thing as calling for his assassination. We have laws against that, and those laws should be respected.

What’s interesting to me is how offended so many on the left are by the suggestion that Assange is simply a bad guy (and it’s not just on the left; some libertarians seem quite smitten as well). After all, if I talked so glibly about offing Jeffrey Dahmer or, heck, Dick Cheney, at least some of these folks would be less outraged. Needless to say, Assange is no folk hero to me.

One argument I’ve gotten from a few pro-Assange e-mailers strikes me as particularly revealing. It goes along these lines: “Assange is not an American. All of you conservatives talking about ‘treason’ don’t know what you’re talking about. He has no obligation to defend America’s secrets.”

Think about this. Put aside whatever obligation a citizen from an ally country might have. Implicit in the assertion is that, if Assange were an American, he would be doing something traitorous. But hey, he’s an Aussie, so who are we to say he can’t throw another state secret on the barbie?

There’s a strain of multicultural American self-loathing at work here. Sure, American citizens may be constrained by legal technicalities into defending American national security, but who are we to judge foreigners who want to tear our country down?

Speaking of Asinine Non-Judgmentalism

Something similar can be found in what Lee Smith calls ”anti-anti-Islamism.” For the record, that was a painful sentence for me to write, not only because my 16th-century writing corset is starting to chafe but also because I’ve been using that phrase for a while now but that rat bastard Smith beat me into getting it into print. But since he did, I’ll let him describe it:

[BLOCK]Stewart may be just a comedian, as he himself habitually justifies his excesses, but that gives even more reason for concern. It means the rehabilitation of a terrorist sympathizer has now hit the mainstream. What we’re seeing is something akin to the Cold War-era phenomenon of anti-anti-Communism. The anti-anti-Communist left, comprising large sections of the press, academy, and even federal bureaucracies, was simply incapable of understanding that the defense of American civil liberties did not depend on the uncritical defense of the rights of Communists. Call this latest manifestation of liberal illogic anti-anti-Islamism.

While there are a few on the American left, especially in the academy, who maintain that Islamism delivers a valuable critique of Western imperialism, or is a social movement defending the oppressed, this is a minority position. Anti-anti-Islamism is something else: a belief that American opponents of Islamism have cooked up a Muslim scare for their own political benefit, just as anti-Communists once concocted a Red scare. [BLOCK]

I’d add that I don’t think that’s the only historical parallel to the Cold War. There’s also what might be called a Bircher strain of anti-Islamism out there on the right, which doesn’t quite say that the only good Muslim is a dead Muslim but does hold the view that there’s no such thing as a good Muslim. I think that camp is smaller than the Left claims, but bigger (at least in my experience) than we on the right should tolerate.

While We’re on the Topic of the Cold War

It’s not just the Left that has cockamamie theories about the Tea Parties. I am truly shocked that the Daily Caller has published this.

Put aside the fact that the author makes no effort to rebut the Birchers’ ongoing position that Dwight Eisenhower was a Communist. The author tries to make the case that the Tea Party movement is something of a reincarnation of the John Birch Society itself. Come on. I mean, sure, both entities are anti-Communist and populist, and, well . . . the meaningful similarities start falling apart there. 

Speaking of Anti-Americanism

The other night, I was on the Special Report panel and we were discussing Bush’s efforts to combat AIDS. Brett Baier asked Charles Krauthammer if America’s standing in the world was improved by Bush’s efforts. Krauthammer’s answer was, essentially, No.

And I think he’s right. America arguably does more good for the world than any other global actor. But it is alone among major global do-gooders in the degree to which it gets zero lasting credit for it. Sure, for a couple weeks after we save countless foreign hurricane or earthquake victims, we get some good press. Sometimes when we liberate a country, we’ll get a round of short-lived applause. But more often than not, we’ll get boos.

When was the last time anyone wrote Uncle Sam a thank-you note for keeping the sea lanes open? Most of what we get from the world is backseat whining from people who think they’re entitled to whatever the U.S. gives them and what the U.S. gives them isn’t nearly enough. Why?

America, the God that Fails

I think one of main drivers of anti-Americanism is the conviction that America is a stand-in for God. By that I mean people think we can do anything we want, so when we fail to fulfill their every wish, it must be because we choose not to(something psychologically similar seems to happen to some people who hate God or the idea of God because of their own personal problems). In Iraq, villagers didn’t understand why they couldn’t have TiVo and Kegerators the Monday after Saddam’s statue fell. The European Left believes we have the wealth and technology (stolen or created via capitalist exploitation, of course) to cure diseases and make Garrison Keillor funny. So, when diseases endure, or when motionless audiences wait like cacti anticipating a fleeting spring shower for something funny to exit Keillor’s mouth, they think it must be because America has willfully denied them an entitlement.

In America, we give our self-loathers a megaphone to denounce us more clearly with. Iran’s dissidents get a bullet to the back of the head; America’s get a slot on Charlie Rose. For the most part, I wouldn’t have it any other way. Free speech, political dissent: It’s not always high-minded or fair or constructive, but it’s always a lot better than the alternative.

What rankles is the bravery on the cheap. When Naomi Wolf gushed over her own heroism for speaking out against the BusHitler regime, she preened as if she were really risking her personal safety. Say whatever the hell you want about America, but keep in mind that the reason you can say it is that you’re in America.

Now, Assange is different. First of all, he ain’t American. Second, he’s not merely a global dissident, he’s a criminal with an ideological axe to grind against America.

But he still represents the same dynamic. He’s going after America because he can. If he tried a WikiLeaks dump on China or Russia, he’d wake up to discover he was the inspiration for the SNL song “D*ck in a Box” except the box would be across the room in some Russian dude’s meaty paws. It’s more bravery on the cheap.

Beyond cowardice why is he targeting America? Because he’s offended by our “hypocrisy,” which is another way of saying that he takes America’s goodness for granted. He expects us to be better than the rest of the world, and when we act like a normal country – as we sometimes must – he sees it as a betrayal. Our “hypocrisy” is the tribute his vice pays to our virtue.

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The WFB Formula Is Restored

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Dear Reader (and the folks who skip right over this gag because it’s reached the point of diminishing returns like a third nipple),

No doubt you’ve been pacing the floor like an expectant father with the clap for my take on the elections. Well, here ya go.

I basically agree with Jim Geraghty. “In short,” he wrote on Twitter, “this is the most frustrating overwhelming landslide victory of all time.”

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t buy much of the hand-wringing over the Senate stuff. I always thought that winning the Senate would be something of a poisoned chalice. It would allow Obama to go all Harry Truman on the GOP’s “do nothing” Congress while still allowing him to veto all the significant legislation. Meanwhile, GOP gains in the Senate were far from meager (I think, as a percentage increase, the Senate gains would be even bigger, but I have to check that with my math intern, and he’s busy dancing to an organ grinder for nickels). But given how high expectations were, particularly in my own mind, it feels like a slight letdown. In particular, the fact that Harry Reid wasn’t dragged out of the Senate like Randolph and Mortimer Duke in Trading Places is a great letdown.

But the simple fact is that if you went into a coma a few months ago and woke up the day after the elections, you would be shocked to discover that the world had been all but destroyed by a zombie outbreak. Of course, that’s only true if you woke up inside the storyline of AMC’s Walking Dead. If you stayed in this universe, however, and woke up today, you would say, “Holy schnikes, the Democrats got beaten like an overly aggressive mime in a biker bar.”

I remain a big fan of the Tea Parties and I still believe quite strongly that they have been an incontrovertible net benefit for the GOP and the country. But I don’t think we can honestly say that they didn’t have a downside. A slightly more mainstream but still quite conservative candidate would probably have beaten Reid. Mike Castle almost surely would have beaten Coons and, more importantly, a better but still quite conservative primary challenger would have been preferable to Castle and Angle. I’ll leave it to Geraghty and the psephologists to tell us whether any House races were harmed because of the Tea Parties, but my hunch is that for every one that was plausibly hurt by them, many, many more were helped.

The WFB Formula Is Restored

In short, despite all of the flack and the arguments from a couple months ago, I am forced to conclude that the Buckley rule still seems the most sound: vote for the most conservative candidate electable.

Now, I will concede that’s hardly an easily applied rule of thumb like, say, “Never try to tickle a wolverine when it’s eating.” But I think reasonable people understand that electability is a perfectly valid factor to consider and not impossible to apply, either. (Heads up: Bill McGurn and I briefly argue about this in the next Ricochet podcast.)

A Welcome Blow to Triumphalism

I think Ramesh made a very good point in the Corner yesterday: “Republican victories last night were amazing judged by any standard other than that of the inflated expectations some conservatives had in the days leading up to the election. But the upside of the high-profile disappointments Republicans have just experienced is that they will nip any triumphalism in the bud. If Republicans had swept all before them, they would have entered the 2012 cycle overconfident. Now they’re more likely to remember that picking strong candidates matters, merely standing for conservative principles is not enough to guarantee success, and no cycle is good enough to justify making unforced errors.”

Bipartisanship, Here We Come

One irony of Tuesday’s results: The Senate will become more bipartisan. Manchin has to work closely with Republicans or he will violate every campaign promise he made — and he’s up for reelection not in six years but in two. Lieberman and Nelson will work with Republicans, too, and I don’t think the list ends there. There were already a bunch of Democrats in the Senate who were for extending the Bush tax rates (stop calling them Bush tax cuts!).

And now, via John Miller in the Corner, look at all the Senate Dems up for reelection in 2012:

Welcome to the 2012 election cycle. The three most vulnerable Democratic senators in 2012 are probably Bill Nelson of Florida, Ben Nelson of Nebraska, and Jon Tester of Montana. Republicans also may target Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, Claire McCaskill of Missouri, Kent Conrad of North Dakota, Sherrod Brown of Ohio, Bob Casey Jr. of Pennsylvania, Jim Webb of Virginia, Maria Cantwell of Washington, and Herb Kohl of Wisconsin. Retirement watch: Dianne Feinstein of California (age in 2012: 79), Daniel Akaka of Hawaii (88), Nelson of Nebraska (71), and Kohl (77).

Nebraska, Missouri, Ohio, Virginia, Pennsylvania, North Dakota, Montana, Michigan: Those are all anti-Obama/Republican states right now. Something tells me some of those senators might be more willing to triangulate to the center than the president of the United States seems to be.

The Death of Conservatism’s Death

One last point, just because the Tea Party came out a bit more tarnished than I would have liked, at the Senate level: The 2010 election is pretty much a resounding repudiation of many of the macro arguments made by folks like Sam Tanenhaus, David Frum, and others. Health-care reform was not a “Waterloo“ for Republicans, nor were Republicans “too optimistic” about November. Florida was not a “spectacular bloodbath” for the GOP.

Meanwhile, Tanenhaus’s eulogy for conservatism is the intellectual equivalent of “Dewey Beats Truman” at this point.

And Tuesday wasn’t so much the proof as the final confirmation. Contrary to all sorts of predictions, electing a social conservative governor in Virginia wasn’t a disaster for the GOP. Indeed, even the Washington Post concedes that Virginians dig their new Republican government. McDonnell was a both/and candidate, not an either/or one. Rich Lowry was making this point a year ago.

Various & Sundry

One of the staple observations of conservatism is that one of the staple tactics of liberalism is incremental tyranny. Yes, conservatives can sometimes overdo this diagnosis, just as liberals can sometimes underestimate the dangers of their own do-goodery. That points to one of the great disadvantages for conservatives in public debates: We end up making a big deal out of little things because of our rational fear they will turn into big things.

For instance: No one will ever say, “From my cold dead hands, you can take my Happy Meals!” But the pursuit of “food justice” has the potential of being profoundly tyrannical. The problem is that by the time we get there (and “if” we get there) we’ll have conceded all of the principled objections to it.

ICYMI Department

My USA Today column: here.

My syndicated column: here.

Fun anti-Olbermann gloating: here.

And me at the Enterprise Blog on Obama’s press conference: here.

Media Update 1: In-Depth

Just one last reminder: I’ll be on C-Span/BookTV’s In Depth this Sunday for three hours. I don’t expect folks to miss football on all the post-election Sunday shows. But if you could just clog up the phone lines so all of the Julian Assange-loving freaks who plan on calling in to give me hard time can’t get on, that would be great. Oh, and let’s create a password if G-File readers get on. No Howard Stern-style “Baba Booey” stuff. How about just a polite “Carthage must be destroyed” or “Excelsior”? Oh, and you can suggest questions here.

Media Update 2

I am scheduled to be on the All-Star Panel tonight on Special Report.

(Social) Media Update 3

I am still trying to maintain a Twitter presence. I am also trying to beat Jim Geraghty to 10,000 followers. Why? Excellent question! I’m @JonahNRO

Nice Job Mom

Speaking of social media, Momma Goldberg (and my brother Josh) have just launched a very impressive new social media feature to Lucianne.com. Congrats to them, and “Check it out” to you.

And, Last, Your Dreams Come True

Debby’s Odd Links from last Friday:

Vintage Ideas of Space Travel.

20 Untranslatable Words from Around the World.

5 Strangest Vehicles Ever Made.

Halloween for pets.

Average teen sends 3,339 texts per month.

Why smart people drink more alcohol.

Some Disturbing Antique Exercise Equipment.

Pictures of water balloons without the balloons.

Size does matter.

The record-breaking belly-button-fluff collection.

Winners of a microscopic photo contest.

Watch These Impossible Gears Turn.

The Worst Driving Songs of All Time (So Far). Vaguely related: Driver thanks man who hit him on purpose.

Christopher Columbus cleared of importing syphilis from the Americas to Europe.