George Will has written an article decrying the bureaucratic abuses of government officials in Pinal County, AZ. It appears that grasping county supervisors want to fine the owner of a Western themed steakhouse and saloon $5,000 every day that anyone dances in the saloon’s outside dance area. Apparently there is a statute that requires dancing to be done in an enclosed structure.

The aforementioned fine, as well as other nitpicking harassments from the county supervisors, has drawn Mr. Will’s ire. I agree with Mr. Will that the government officials in question appear to have acted in a harassing manner. I will even go so far as say that in this case the law is an ass. However, I can’t go along with Mr. Will in his broad indictment of local government and promotion of judicial activism. Since Ed Whelan over at National Review online has adequately addressed Mr. Will’s comments on judicial activism I will address his indictment of local government.

Mr. Will states that “governments closest to the people are — never mind what sentimentalists say — often the worst. This is because elected tyrants can most easily become entrenched where rival factions are few.” Whereas there is some truth in these statements they are only half truths and, therefore, not complete. The other side of the argument is that governments closest to the people are, due to their proximity, easier to petition than governments situated in distant capitals. It is also easier to participate in such governments. If the local politicians are tyrants then it is easier to leave and relocate because such jurisdictions are local and smaller in size.

As a conservative I understand that, human nature being what it is, man cannot create a perfect system of government. There is always be grasping politicians that seek to abuse their power for all sorts of illegitimate reasons. Since we can’t create heaven on earth we must be guided by sound principles that will help us make the best arrangement possible. One of those principles is that political power should be situated as close as possible to the people upon which it will be exercised. Under such an arrangement it is, as stated above, easier to petition and participate in government affairs. Furthermore, it is easier to escape the tyrants of small local governments than it is to escape tyrants at the state or national levels. Relocating to another county is far easier than relocating to another state, let alone another country.

By separating and diffusing power between the local, state, and national government you prevent the centralization of power. It is precisely the centralization of power at the larger ends of the jurisdictional spectrum (state and national) that creates the greatest risk of abuse by the sort of petty bureaucrats Mr. Will describes.

It is true that local governments are just as able to produce bureaucratic bullies as the national government. However, there is nothing magical that occurs to politicians when they achieve federal office that makes them more high minded or more concerned about individual citizens. To the contrary, the further a politician is removed from his constituents and the larger his jurisdiction the less inclined he or she is concerned with the mundane everyday issues of individual citizens. Whereas the Washington based Senator or Representative may only make infrequent visits back to his home state or district the local politician is just as likely to be your neighbor or someone you see at the store. Consequently, if I have to deal with a politician I would rather deal with one that might have to face me at my kid’s little league games. Hat tip to Southern Appeal.

The Limits of Imagination

Limits of Imagination Query -

The recent tributes to the late and rightly-admired Arthur C. Clarke lead me to think of imaginative fiction, and its limits. I may post a thought or two related to this, but first I am interested in your answers to this question:

Think on all the science fiction, fantasy, "weird tale" fiction, and other imaginative literature you know that featured non-human, intelligent beings, be they aliens, gods, fantasy races, or what have you. Which ones struck you as the most convincingly non-human? I am interested in appearances, motives, and psychology.
A Remarkable Lapse:

Stephen Hayes responds to a Pentagon survey of 600,000 documents captured from Saddam's intelligence service. He finds it contains hundreds of incidents of support of terrorist groups as an instrument of state policy, including this --

This IIS document provides this description of the Afghani Islamic Party:
It was founded in 1974 when its leader [Gulbuddin Hekmatyar] escaped from Afghanistan to Pakistan. It is considered one of the extreme political religious movements against the West, and one of the strongest Sunni parties in Afghanistan. The organization relies on financial support from Iraq and we have had good relations with Hikmatyar since 1989.
In his book Holy War, Inc., Peter Bergen, a terrorism analyst who has long been skeptical of Iraq-al Qaeda connections, describes Hekmatyar as Osama bin Laden's "alter ego." Bergen writes: "Bin Laden and Hekmatyar worked closely together. During the early 1990s al-Qaeda's training camps in the Khost region of eastern Afghanistan were situated in an area controlled by Hekmatyar's party."
The Iraqi Intelligence Service (IIS) issued fake passports to members of terrorist groups; financially supported such groups from Palestine to Afghanistan to the Philippines; provided safe haven for terrorists to hold conferences; and much more.

So, he asks:
How can a study offering an unprecedented look into the closed regime of a brutal dictator, with over 1,600 pages of "strong evidence that links the regime of Saddam Hussein to regional and global terrorism," in the words of its authors, receive a wave-of-the-hand dismissal from America's most prestigious news outlets? All it took was a leak to a gullible reporter, one misleading line in the study's executive summary, a boneheaded Pentagon press office, an incompetent White House, and widespread journalistic negligence.
Read it all.

Obama speech

The Obama Speech:

This was a tremendously good speech. Read it, for speeches are better to be read than heard, as you can more easily separate the ideas from the rhetorical ability -- and it is the ideas that matter.

Let's talk about it. I think the core question is here: what, to judge from the speech, is the role of the American nation in Obama's view?

It is his starting point: "to form a more perfect union." He declares that he intends to be on the side of "the men and women of every color and creed who serve together, and fight together, and bleed together under the same proud flag."

He has hard words only for one group: corporations. Here, too, he invokes an American patriotism of a sort -- he says he will punish companies that might ship jobs to non-Americans.

He very carefully avoids mention of immigration, eliding "Hispanics" into his section on health care and education in a way that makes clear he is talking about American citizens. He denounces the view that people should worry about their jobs being taken by someone who doesn't look like them, but again in terms that are not about immigration.

By phrasing it in terms of 'other Americans,' he avoids what I think may be a difficult problem: addressing the question of why Americans should hate corporations that ship jobs to Mexico, but be unbothered by illegal immigration that likewise replaces American workers with Mexican ones. As far as I can tell, the effect on the American worker is the same, except for the fact that illegal immigration requires those workers who do still have jobs to pay higher taxes that support the 'health care' and 'education' of the illegals.

The rule, then, is that America is meant to bring us all together: everyone in America, citizen or not, legal or not.

This is isolationism. Everyone in America is "in" -- the rest of the world is "out," and will be treated as such.

Iraqis are out -- we should bring the troops who fight together home, and forget the cause they fought for.

The third world is out -- sorry, Kenya -- for they are the primary beneficiaries of outsourcing, and access to the American market. Since the only way to preserve those jobs in America is to apply punitive tariffs on African or Indian goods, the poorest of the poor will lose.

Not all outsiders will lose; we know he wants to have talks with Iran and North Korea without preconditions. Iran, indeed, is apt to benefit greatly from a combination of American withdrawal from Iraq, and easy talks on their nuclear program. As in Africa but writ large, the brutal who are strong enough to take what they want will prosper.

With one exception. China loses, although his promised cuts in American defense -- and with it, any hope of containing an expansive China -- are a bonus for them. Yet the danger to their economy from punitive tariffs is such that it could cause a genuine social collapse. China's rapid economic expansion has left them with high expectations to meet, yet those expectations are really based on American-Chinese trade. This week's riots in China will be a tiny taste of what would happen if the Communists could suddenly no longer provide the growth and hope that the Chinese have come to expect.

A destabilized China and Middle East -- with Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey tugging at a failing Iraq -- is the legacy of such a policy. An Africa suffering from redoubled poverty and the murderous wars that accompany it there is another.

Will it buy a few more years of internal comfort and self-righteousness, before the twin crises of Social Security and Federal pensions come due? That I cannot say; but if Europe, which seems to be the model, is any indication -- yes. People are very good at being self-absorbed. We can be, too.

Or we can try to help mankind. America is rich; much has been given to us. Much is expected. Walking away from that responsibility would create a whirlwind that would, indeed, reshape the world.

An Experiment:

In fairness to Wright and his mentors, consider this post at a Catholic website. The post is simply an American flag, with the words of "God Bless America." The comments...

UPDATE: Feddie, the original author of the post, links to some followups by co-bloggers. In any event, the point is that hatred of America is not unique to Wright's church.

It is, however, uniquely embedded in that church's basic theology; which is something of a problem for a man who, after 20 years' attendance, wants to be President of the United States. I think many Americans will also be bothered by the basic disrespect for God that is likewise embedded in that theology.



An alternative vision of the proper view of enemies in religion, courtesy of Obama's preacher of 20 years' service.

Black theology refuses to accept a God who is not identified totally with the goals of the black community. If God is not for us and against white people, then he is a murderer, and we had better kill him. The task of black theology is to kill Gods who do not belong to the black community ... Black theology will accept only the love of God which participates in the destruction of the white enemy. What we need is the divine love as expressed in Black Power, which is the power of black people to destroy their oppressors here and now by any means at their disposal. Unless God is participating in this holy activity, we must reject his love.
The law that Jesus set out to correct taught that the Israelites were a specially chosen people, and God might favor them so highly as to wish that they annihilate other nations, root and branch, woman and child. Some have said that the Book of Joshua made them stop believing in God:
Joshua took Makkedah on that day, and struck it and its king with the edge of the sword; he utterly destroyed every person in it; he left no one remaining … Then Joshua passed on … to Libnah … He struck it with the edge of the sword, and every person in it; he left no one remaining in it … To Lacshish … He took it on the second day, and struck it with the edge of the sword, and every person in it … Gezer … Joshua struck him and his people, leaving him no survivors …To Eglon … [They] struck it with the edge of the sword, and every person in it he utterly destroyed that day....
It has not made me stop believing in God, but it has made me stop believing that the ancient Jewish priestly class was honest with their worshippers about what God wanted. I think I'm right to say that this was a large part of Jesus' message: that the priests as a class appear to have used their position for their own good, and for the good of the rich and powerful, rather than being honest with their flock about what the faith required or implied. I leave aside that there were doubtless individual good priests as well; and that the bulk of Israel were people not of that class, as good or bad as any people. Nevertheless, the priestly class of Israel was -- I cannot help but believe -- faithless with their charge.

Obama's preacher apparently has adopted the "kill 'em all" aspect of the Book of Joshua -- again, "Black theology will accept only the love of God which participates in the destruction of the white enemy." But he has made it one degree worse than the falsest of the false keepers of the Old Testament were ready to do: for they at least believed that God might righteously punish the nation for failure to hold to the bargain that made them the Chosen. If they taught that God wanted Israel to wipe out even the children of the Ammonites, they at least also taught that God could hold the nation accountable for some sort of sin (even if it was only the sin of making graven images to worship -- i.e., the sort of thing that might imperil the power of the priests).

Mr. Wright appears to believe that the deal works the other way around: that it is the business of men to "kill Gods" who will not abide by the bargain that the men prefer.

Frankly, this is more atheism than religion -- it takes as its roots Nietzsche's doctrine that men create Gods and may kill them, rather than any belief that a Creator exists who ordered the world in a particular way, for a particular reason. It is a cynical use of the part of the soul that exists to be filled with the search for religious truth, a conscious and willful bending of it to fill a selfish desire.

Finding a Home

Finding a Home:

It is Easter week. I want to offer two pieces on Christianity and warriors. The first is from Robert Graves, describing both the knights of King Arthur and the world of Sir Thomas Malory. It shows several of the ways in which Western warriors are oddly placed within the sphere of Christendom:

[Arthur] was annointed king by an archbishop and wore a cross on his shield, yet his sponsor was Merlin the Enchanter, begotten on a nun by the Devil himself, and according to Taliesin poems in The Red Book of Hergest, "erudite druids prophesied for Arthur." .... [W]hile the seigneurial class consented to fight for the Cross as an emblem of Western civilization, the ascetic morality preached by Jesus did not appeal to them in the least. Jesus' grave warning that 'he who lives by the sword shall perish by the sword' was read as a joyful reassurance to the true knight that if he always observed the code of chivalry, he would die gloriously in battle and be translated to a Celtic Paradise in the twinkling of an eye. Moreover, the Western conception of personal honour could not be reconciled with humility, turning the other cheek, and leaving God to avenge injuries.

The concept of knight-errantry would have made poor sense in Israel. I recall no distressed damsels in the entire Bible, the heroes all being national deliverers, not individuals adventurers. When an ancient Israelite fought in God's name, he fought ruthlessly: thrusting women through the belly with his javelin, dashing the little ones against stones, and smiting non-combatants with the edge of his sword -- churlish behavior for which an Arthurian knight (unless engaged in a blood feud) would have had his spurs lopped off by the hangman. And the Israelite was realistic about yielding to superior force in allowing himself to be led away captive; not so the true knight.

The second is from G. K. Chesterton, who thought that Western warriors belonged very naturally in Christendom -- because, for him, Christianity was big enough to welcome true warriors and also pure pacifists.
Joan of Arc was not stuck at the cross-roads, either by rejecting all the paths like Tolstoy, or by accepting them all like Nietzsche. She chose a path, and went down it like a thunderbolt. Yet Joan, when I came to think of her, had in her all that was true either in Tolstoy or Nietzsche, all that was even tolerable in either of them. I thought of all that is noble in Tolstoy, the pleasure in plain things, especially in plain pity, the actualities of the earth, the reverence for the poor, the dignity of the bowed back. Joan of Arc had all that and with this great addition, that she endured poverty as well as admiring it; whereas Tolstoy is only a typical aristocrat trying to find out its secret. And then I thought of all that was brave and proud and pathetic in poor Nietzsche, and his mutiny against the emptiness and timidity of our time. I thought of his cry for the ecstatic equilibrium of danger, his hunger for the rush of great horses, his cry to arms. Well, Joan of Arc had all that, and again with this difference, that she did not praise fighting, but fought. We know that she was not afraid of an army, while Nietzsche, for all we know, was afraid of a cow.
Chesterton returns to this theme later in Orthodoxy.
The Gospel paradox about the other cheek, the fact that priests never fought, a hundred things made plausible the accusation that Christianity was an attempt to make a man too like a sheep. I read it and believed it, and if I had read nothing different, I should have gone on believing it. But I read something very different. I turned the next page in my agnostic manual, and my brain turned up-side down. Now I found that I was to hate Christianity not for fighting too little, but for fighting too much. Christianity, it seemed, was the mother of wars. Christianity had deluged the world with blood. I had got thoroughly angry with the Christian, because he never was angry. And now I was told to be angry with him because his anger had been the most huge and horrible thing in human history; because his anger had soaked the earth and smoked to the sun. The very people who reproached Christianity with the meekness and non-resistance of the monasteries were the very people who reproached it also with the violence and valour of the Crusades. It was the fault of poor old Christianity (somehow or other) both that Edward the Confessor did not fight and that Richard Coeur de Leon did.
Both Chesterton and Graves are correct. There are those men for whom "live by the sword, die by the sword" is more a promise than a threat: and Christianity has room for both. Jesus had room both for Jewish priests who could see that his overturning of the moneychangers was an act of righteousness, for their alleged moral order had become wicked; and even Coifi, which means "Hooded one," could ride to the temple of Freyr and cast a spear into it. If such a one as Coifi can strike a blow for Christianity, then Merlin is just as welcome.

The interesting thing about Christianity is the degree to which it accepts men as they are: the Christian law is not the Ten Commandments, but the Great Commandment: "Love each other as you love yourself; forgive everything." If I am to love a man, I must love him as he is; yet if I am to love him as I love myself, then I may fight with him to the degree that I would fight myself. I may even kill him, if there are things I would rather kill myself than be guilty of having done.

If I can but forgive his soul, I am doing all that is asked in the Lord's Prayer: "Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us." If I can do that, then we may fight each other as hard as needs be -- and we may even love the chance to strike a blow for what is right, best, just. Even the most wicked man is therefore lovable, insofar as he gives us the greatest opportunity to create good in the world. Even our own capacity for sin is lovable, for the same reason.

This is the meaning of the poem at the sidebar:
How white their steel, how bright their eyes! I love each laughing knave,

Cry high and bid him welcome to the banquet of the brave.

Yea, I will bless them as they bend and love them where they lie,

When on their skulls the sword I swing falls shattering from the sky.

The hour when death is like a light and blood is like a rose, --

You never loved your friends, my friends, as I shall love my foes.
In that way there is room in the house for knights as well as friars, for troubadours and Templars, poets and enchanters.