Three items today.


Moving to her criticism of the president’s spending, Bachmann pointed to a chart of rising federal deficits.

“This is intending to fail,” she said.

“They have left us holding an invoice of $105 trillion in unfunded federal liabilities,” she went on, alluding to the federal government’s entitlement programs. “Sounds to me like someone is choosing decline.”

Two years after Buckley’s death, the John Birch Society is no longer banished; it is listed as one of about 100 co-sponsors of the 2010 CPAC.

Why is the Birch Society a co-sponsor?

“They’re a conservative organization,” said Lisa Depasquale, the CPAC Director for the American Conservative Union, which runs CPAC. “ Beyond that I have no comment.”

On its website, the Birch Society describes it mission as to “to warn against and expose the forces that seek to abolish U.S. independence, build a world government, or otherwise undermine our personal liberties and national independence. The John Birch Society endorses the U.S. Constitution as the foundation of our national government, and works toward educating and activating Americans to abide by the original intent of the Founding Fathers. We seek to awaken a sleeping and apathetic people concerning the designs of those who are working to destroy our constitutional Republic.”


Attorney General Eric Holder says nine Obama appointees in the Justice Department have represented or advocated for terrorist detainees before joining the Justice Department. But he does not reveal any names beyond the two officials whose work has already been publicly reported. And all the lawyers, according to Holder, are eligible to work on general detainee matters, even if there are specific parts of some cases they cannot be involved in.

Holder's admission comes in the form of an answer to a question posed last November by Republican Sen. Charles Grassley. Noting that one Obama appointee, Principal Deputy Solicitor General Neal Katyal, formerly represented Osama bin Laden's driver, and another appointee, Jennifer Daskal, previously advocated for detainees at Human Rights Watch, Grassley asked Holder to give the Senate Judiciary Committee "the names of political appointees in your department who represent detainees or who work for organizations advocating on their behalf…the cases or projects that these appointees work with respect to detainee prior to joining the Justice Department…and the cases or projects relating to detainees that have worked on since joining the Justice Department."

In his response, Holder has given Grassley almost nothing.

Making America Work

Making It Work:

The Economist has a strong piece on the subject of success in American politics. Why, they begin, are things looking so hard for Washington, D.C.? Blame Obama:

Although a Democratic president is in the White House and Democrats control both House and Senate, Mr Obama has been unable to enact health-care reform, a Democratic goal for many decades. His cap-and-trade bill to reduce carbon emissions has passed the House but languishes in the Senate. Now a bill to boost job-creation is stuck there as well. Nor is it just a question of a governing party failing to get its way. Washington seems incapable of fixing America’s deeper problems. Democrats and Republicans may disagree about climate change and health, but nobody thinks that America can ignore the federal deficit, already 10% of GDP and with a generation of baby-boomers just about to retire. Yet an attempt to set up a bipartisan deficit-reduction commission has recently collapsed—again....

America’s political structure was designed to make legislation at the federal level difficult, not easy. Its founders believed that a country the size of America is best governed locally, not nationally. True to this picture, several states have pushed forward with health-care reform. The Senate, much ridiculed for antique practices like the filibuster and the cloture vote, was expressly designed as a “cooling” chamber, where bills might indeed die unless they commanded broad support.
So, it turns out that obeying the 10th Amendment's restriction on Federal powers is not just the right thing to do for constitutional reasons. It is also the more effective way to enact the policy you prefer. If you're willing to set your goal as "Changing the way we do things in California," or "Making Massachusetts better," you can accomplish a lot -- and with low constitutional hurdles to clear.

If what you want to do is "Change America," that's going to be harder. It's supposed to be hard. America has always been big -- even the 13 original states, in an era before railroads and other motorized travel covered a substantial area. It has always been diverse, with agricultural areas and urban ones; with different religious groups and interests, and immigrants from everywhere.

The model is designed to let different parts of this big, diverse nation do different things. You're supposed to be able to live the way you want in Tennessee, if you can't in Boston. That's the idea.

If it's hard to wrench the ship of state to a new course on a whim, it's supposed to be. The Federal government has wide powers to alter those few things that are really supposed to be its job. The Bush administration, which wanted little authority over the day to day lives of Americans, wielded tremendous and decisive authority in international affairs: and of course they could do so, because that was a legitimate area for the Federal government to exercise wide authority. Therefore, the Founders designed the system to support that kind of action.

If it's hard to force legislation on the country at the Federal level, good. Maybe you should stop and do something else instead. The only new Federal laws we really need are laws to repeal some of the existing over-regulation of our daily lives; and to reduce the percentage of our paycheck-to-paycheck wealth that the Federal government intends to suck up and spend.

Aside from that, we've got all the Federal laws we need.

Against Mothers in Combat

Against Mothers in Combat:

Hoover considers the question. Can we make this distinction? I'm putting the question particularly to my female readers, who are a stalwart lot on the matter of women having the right to compete on equal terms. So? Does motherhood make the difference Hoover thinks it does, or not? If so, why? If not, why not?

He's had all he can stand.

A pilot furious with the Internal Revenue Service crashed his small plane into an office building in Austin, Texas, that houses federal tax employees, setting off a raging fire.

I wonder how much more of this we'll see.

The Roots of Morality

The Roots of Morality:

Many modern philosophers are under the impression that humanity sort-of invents morality. This is not Protagoras' "Man is the Measure of All Things" concept, although like most of the problematic moral issues of the modern era there are ancient echoes of bad ideas long abandoned. Rather, this is rooted in the writings of Immanuel Kant on moral philosophy, although those who followed him have run with it well past his own writings (which presuppose the existence of God, though Kant doesn't believe we can have reason to believe in God; and state that the 'moral legislation' we are doing can only produce laws that are in accord with the moral laws that would be acceptable to a 'holy will').

The normal condition has been to assume that any 'moral law' is rooted in nature, whether because God put it there or because it arises from evolutionary success. Dogs and other canids have a clear moral structure, as do other advanced animals.

We talk about the dogs and horses a lot, because they mirror our own ethics in useful ways (though the animals are quite distinct biologically, unlike the primates who may be more similar to us). Since this is the year of the Tiger, though, it might be worth looking at how a Tiger would 'legislate' morality.

If Kant were right, a tiger who evolved into a rational being would abandon eating other rational beings -- he would be able to understand Kant's 'categorical imperative,' and would reason that it was wrong to use other rational beings as means to his ends.

Is that plausible? Would a rational tiger reason any such thing? Or would he use his reason to decide that nature had made him an efficient predator, and that it was his duty to keep others strong by removing the weak and stupid from the gene pool?

If that's right, the concept that humanity is in charge of morality is an illusion; our reason doesn't create morality, but is merely used to ratify what we already believe by nature. Where we disagree -- some people are quite willing to prey on others -- we resolve the issue not by reason, but by force (which appears to me to be another law of nature).

It's only a thought experiment, since there isn't any rational tiger. Still, what do you think?

Socialist Books

Books Are Good:

Some books are better than others, but what really matters is what you do with the books you read. If these books are to help you understand a problem in American society, and route around it, that's one thing; if they're inspiration and a roadmap for you, that's something else.

Good catch.

Comments "Upgrade"

Comments "Upgrade"

The threatened promised upgrade to the Echo comments system has arrived. I realize that some of you didn't like it very much, but I didn't find anything else that would be any better; and any other change would have resulted in the loss of the 20,000+ existing comments, which would annoy me (though I archived them as xml files, we would have no practical access to them).

Good luck with the new system. I hate change as much as the rest of you, I assure you. :)

Palin on Tea Parties

Mrs. Palin on Tea Parties:

So, we just finished saying that one of the most important contributions Mrs. Palin might have to the Tea Party movement was in helping it learn what it needs to do to compete for power. It happens that she spoke to that issue tonight.

You can skip the first bit, where O'Reilly is talking to himself. He wants to say that the Tea Party movement needs to do a William Buckley and cast the extremists from its ranks; but that's not the real question. The real question has to do with how the bulk of the movement can pursue an agenda without a central authority. He's missing the point; she seems to be onto it.

Daring Young Men

Daring Young Men:

What do you know about the Berlin Airlift?

[An important work of history-since-1945 devoted] less than a page to the airlift. That caused Reeves to wonder whether the 277,500 high-risk, expensive flights through Soviet airspace to supply food and fuel to the West Berliners had disappeared in the mists of history.

Students questioned by Reeves said they had never heard of the airlift. Reeves' contemporaries generally guessed the effort had occurred during the presidency of John F. Kennedy, not the presidency of Harry S. Truman 13 years earlier.

Unable to restrain his enthusiasm, Reeves told audiences about Truman's heroic decision to supply Berlin by air, in the face of objections from his cabinet and the Joint Chiefs of Staff that it would be impossible to feed a city of more than two million by using cargo planes.

"Then I would babble on about the daring young men (and some women) from the States and Great Britain being pulled away from their new lives, their wives, their schools, their work for the second time in five or six years," Reeves writes. "This time they were supposed to feed the people they had been trying to kill, and who had been trying to kill them, only three years earlier."
Much of the mission in Iraq has been of the same nature. America may not be the only power in history that so readily forgives former enemies, and bends itself wholly to their good when they are ready to be friends instead; but it must be in rare company.

The Pirate Queen

The Pirate Queen:

So, via Dr. Althouse, some fellow has gone to a lot of trouble to photoshop Mrs. Palin to remove everything he calls 'glamorous' about her.

Result? It demonstrates that her loveliness, which is genuine, is not a result of the make-up or hairstyle. If anything, several of the retouches make her beauty clearer by removing distractions. (I always took the beehive hairdo as a way of playing down her beauty, since it's not normally associated with beauty. And since when is taking off the glassess supposed to be the way that you make a woman less glamorous? That runs counter to every movie Hollywood ever made. She really has these people spinning.)

My suspicion, however, is that you could photoshop her with a pirate hat, a scar across her face, and an eyepatch without changing anyone's mind.

Dr. Althouse says, "This is an effort at defeminizing Sarah — like drawing a mustache on her." Given her sense of humor, I won't be surprised if she turns up soon on a FOX broadcast wearing a fake moustache. If she did, it would only increase my sense of admiration.

What do people like about her? It's as if no one has understood. It's not just that she went to small, state schools; it's not just that she did local news and beauty pagents before she became a small-town mayor. It's very much that she does things like write notes on her hand because she still gets nervous in interviews and forgets even the most basic things she wanted to say. Yes, she does; and everyone who has ever had to speak in front of a group can relate to the pressure, while imagining how much worse it must be for someone the media longs to destroy and humiliate. What is amazing is that she doesn't let it stop her: she writes a note on her hand, and goes right ahead.

She's ordinary, yet has managed -- through discipline, through these little tricks, and through the strength of the family she and her husband have built -- to succeed at what she has set out to do. When she hits a wall, she finds a way to climb it.

Of course people admire her. She happens also to be lovely. Good that she is; why shouldn't she be?



For Doc Russia.

A good piece! Here's another:

Year of the Tiger

Year of the Tiger!

We were in China for the Lunar New Year in 2001, and let me tell you, it is a thing to see. This year is the Year of the Tiger, which is the sign that stood over the year in which I was born.

Tigers are said to be most compatible with horses and dogs. Chinese tradition holds also that tigers love to resist authority, are unable to resist a challenge when honor is involved, and provide excellent protection against the danger of burglary.

What was your year of birth, in the Chinese system? They poured thousands of their finest minds into developing it, over hundreds of years: did it work? How much does the system match what you find to be true of yourself?

GHBC 34-53

Grim's Hall Book Club: Bendigo Shafter, Chapters 34-47

Perhaps due to the Super Bowl, we are a week behind here. With your permission, I'll go ahead and include both weeks' readings here.

This is the climax and dénouement of the book. Ben goes to New York City and wins his love; he returns to duty, helping people along the way survive a snowstorm that drifts over the tracks. (Easy to feel some sympathy for that bit of the plot, for those of you up north!) They go to the medicine wheel and resolve the last fight with the rogue Shoshone.

Some last questions about the book:

1) What do you think about how the town turns out, and the future plans of the main characters?

2) We should talk about the question of what constitutes a proper education. Drake Morrell ends up being highly praised, after his initial introduction as a murderer on the run. He introduces the children of the backwoods to Latin, classics, history, and many of the things that Bendigo has been introduced to as well.

L'amour describes the effect of this education as "pride of bearing and appearance, as well as a love for knowledge," but "not... 'scholarship,' for that is often a different thing."

Is this the right vision of education? If so, why? If not, what is missing?

3) What do you think of how Webb turned out? Was it what you expected from the early foreshadowing? Is he a virtuous character, or not?

Finally, there's a last question:

What should we read next? I had originally intended to follow some of Ben's education, and we could talk about which of those books he read that we might want to read also.

However, it occurs to me that it might be a good idea -- given recent discussions -- to branch into some material that concerns our recent debates. We've debated some descriptions in Chaucer in isolation from his broader works; it might be good to read one of the Canterbury Tales (I am thinking of the Wife of Bath's tale, which you might describe as an early feminist take on the story of Sir Gawain and Dame Ragnall). We could also look at some classic texts on how men and women view each other, both by Medieval and Renaissance men and women; Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliette, perhaps, along with some of the Marie de France or Christine de Pizan stories. That might give us a deeper view of that material.

I'm quite open to your opinions here. Please chime in, and let's discuss it.


Romantic Love and Practical Service:

The Lady of the Lake, a post from 2008 that was one of the most discussed ever written here, talked about how the courtly love tradition allowed men to channel their romantic love into practical service. It examined how this form of chivalrous love is an ethic of willful service, one to the other; how this service diffused the tensions that endangered feudal bonds, and instead let a knight serve his lady as energetically as he might serve his lord; and thereby opened the way for women to occupy positions of genuine power in the Medieval period.

Such service needn't be grand, though. One might channel the romantic energy of the holiday into something as practical as making lunch:

Some lucky marriages incorporate this broader ethic of love and willful service. In time faithful service may win a lady's love, and her friendship; and her heart, so that she feels a duty to serve in turn. That is what gives you the strength for harder times. I have missed the last two Valentine's days, but we survived on stores laid in earlier years; and now is the hour for refilling the store, while we may, against future troubles that may come.

Happy Valentine's Day.

St. Valentine's Day

St. Valentine's Day:

This video is said to be the St. Valentine's Day concert at the "Guacheros Club" in Belgrade.

Who was St. Valentine? There were three! The most likely was a martyr put to death for conducting marriages among Roman legionnaires, who had been instructed not to marry. It has an interesting history, as a celebration. Our friend Chaucer features.

Speaking of Chaucer, and without meaning to rekindle the previous discussion, I did run across another description of the female lead in one of his tales that might better suit some of you who objected the last time. It is of Griselda, from the Cleric's Tale:

Amongst these humble folk there dwelt a man
Who was considered poorest of them all;
But the High God of Heaven sometimes can
Send His grace to a little ox's stall;
Janicula men did this poor man call.
A daughter had he, fair enough to sight;
Griselda was this young maid's name, the bright.

If one should speak of virtuous beauty,
Then was she of the fairest under sun;
Since fostered in dire poverty was she,
No luxurious in her heart had run;
More often from the well than from the tun
She drank, and since she would chaste virtue please,
She knew work well, but knew not idle ease.

But though this maiden tender was of age,
Yet in the breast of her virginity
There was enclosed a ripe and grave courage;
And in great reverence and charity
Her poor old father fed and fostered she;
A few sheep grazing in a field she kept,
For she would not be idle till she slept.

And when she homeward came, why she would bring
Roots and green herbs, full many times and oft,
The which she'd shred and boil for her living,
And made her bed a hard one and not soft;
Her father kept she in their humble croft
With what obedience and diligence
A child may do for father's reverence.

Upon Griselda, humble daughter pure,
The marquis oft had looked in passing by,
As he a-hunting rode at adventure;
And when it chanced that her he did espy,
Not with the glances of a wanton eye
He gazed at her, but all in sober guise,
And pondered on her deeply in this wise:

Commending to his heart her womanhood,
And virtue passing that of any wight,
Of so young age in face and habitude.
For though the people have no deep insight
In virtue, he considered all aright
Her goodness, and decided that he would
Wed only her, if ever wed he should.
Unfortunately, the rest of the tale is nearly unbearable -- certainly to those who love truly. Still, I thought perhaps you would appreciate this much of it: a girl, though poor and only 'fair enough to sight,' but the fairest under the sun inside her heart.