Jack Kemp

There were three people who turned me into a conservative.

Four, if you count Ronald Reagan.  But before I, who grew up very much a liberal, could embrace the idea of conservativsm that Ronald Reagan put out there – and let’s remember that to a liberal Ronald Reagan, especially the version of Reagan that liberals discussed amongst themselves, was a very scary figure –  someone had to soften me up.

The first was Jimmy Carter.  He created a lot of Ronald Reagan voters. And with the “Malaise” speech and his relentless “America Last”-ism, he gave me a good start up the ladder.

The second was Dr. James Blake.  He was the head of the English Department at Jamestown College.  He was also that rarest of creatures – a college English professor who was also a conservative. The son of a New York cop, Blake described himself as a “Monarchist”; whatever, he also made me read Paul Johnson’s Modern Times, and Doestoevskii and Tolstoii and Solzenitzyn and, for that matter, P.J. O’Rourke.  I may have been the last person in Western History to have been pushed up the ladder to conservatism while majoring in a humanity.

But Carter’s impetus was negative; Blake introduced me to the high-level reasons conservatism was not only better, but indeed vastly preferable for intellectual and personal freedom.

But it was Jack Kemp who first connected those ideas to daily life for me; to money, to jobs, to the nuts and bolts of running a government and a society.  While Reagan focused on the big picture – as, indeed, a President and leader should – Kemp tackled the machinery.

In the wake of the Carter malaise, he was one of Reagan and Stockton’s foot-soldiers for supply-side economics. He first filed his tax cut bill – which became known as “Kemp-Roth” when it finally passed, in 1981 – in 1977, long before supply side economics was a household word. Kemp was more than an adherent; he was a pioneer.

Every time in this century we’ve lowered the tax rates across the board, on employment, on saving, investment and risk-taking in this economy, revenues went up, not down”, he said – and, as a major mover and shaker during the Reagan years and George HW Bush’s HUD secretary, he worked to follow through, advocating privatizing public housing (a policy on which Clinton’s HUD boss Henry Cisneros followed through, after carefully rechristening it to get credit for his boss); many of the “welfare reforms” that happened during the Contract for America were ideas that Kemp had been instrumental in not only thinking up, but whose bureaucratic angles Kemp had worked through.  Kemp was the giant on whose shoulders the welfare reformers stood.

Kemp was a native of Los Angeles, the son of a small businessman who went to a small college, mainly because it was his best shot at getting to the pros as a football player.  He was a journeyman quarterback for years…

…he was present at “The Greatest Game Ever Played (before the ’86 Super Bowl)” – the Colts/Giants NFL championship game in ’58 – as a third-stringer on the Giants’ taxi squad. He was cut or traded by five teams before he latched on with the Buffalo Bills, back when the AFL was a separate league.

He led the Bills through a series of great seasons, before and after the merger with the NFL, before injuries slowed him down.  He was drafted to run for the US House in 1971 by the GOP, and he stepped away from his contract with the Bills to run his campaign.

Maybe it was the humble roots, the non-Ivy-League background, the years of struggle and failure before hitting it big, his self-taught nature that made Kemp a face of conservatism for the little guy. I’ve often said that Reagan’s great strength was that he translated Hayek and Friedman into something accessible to pretty much everyone; Jack Kemp turned those ideas into things of substance.  The supply-side claim is not a claim. It is empirically true and historically convincing that with lower rates of taxation on labor and capital, the factors of production, you’ll get a bigger economy.”

And he was always a conservative Republican who spoke to the little guy first and foremost, as befitted perhaps a Rep from Buffalo; There is a kind of victory in good work, no matter how humble“, he once said.

And as I moved to the city and started plying a trade – first as a bush-league conservative pundit, and then as a schmuck trying to make my way, and then again as yet another bush-league pundit, Kemp was consistently a voice and an inspiration to those of us who sought to break the noxious liberal strangle hold on places like Saint Paul.  And like many like me, I took inspiration from another Kemp protege in Jersey City, where Brett Schundler, a Reagan Republican who was very much in the Kemp mold, won three terms as mayor and tranformed his city.  When I’ve said that the Minnesota GOP will never really contest control of Minnesota until we make a play of it in the Cities, I’m echoing Kemp;  There really has not been a strong Republican message to either the poor or the African American community at large“, he once said, nailng one of the enduring chinks in the GOP’s (albeit not conservatism’s) armor.

People say the GOP needs another Reagan.  That’s true to a degree, of course.  But Reagan spoke of truths that are eternal enough that pretty much anyone can remember them; freedom, limited government, security. Reagan took on the world.

Jack Kemp took on mainstreet, one store-owner, voter, program and American at a time.

What the GOP really needs, stat, is a few dozen Jack Kemps; people who can spread the gospel to everyone from the local town hall meeting all the way to the Beltway, and back again.

Hero Worship

Growing up, I dreamed – among a few other things – of being a news reporter.  Let’s just say it’s a good thing not every dream comes true.

But I digress.

One of my “role models”, of sorts, was “Joe Rossi”, a character played by Robert Walden from the Lou Grant TV series.  One of the things about “Rossi” that I remember admiring, and to which I aspired, was fanatical detachment from everything – groups, people, society – supported by a hard-bitten cynicism about just about everything else.  “Rossi” went overboard, of course; never voted, never joined any groups, never did anything that’d compromise this detachment (which was sent up in a memorable episode in which the rest of the staff, in an orgy of chain-yanking, signed Rossi up for every organization they could – the AARP, the NRA, severel political parties, the AAA…

OK, it was  TV show – but that was one of the things (supported by my later experience and a little formal education in the field) that I carried with me through my brief, fruitless career as a reporter; reporters should have a healthy skepticism about everything.
Including reporters.

And I suspect most reporters would agree – at least as a platitude.

That needs, of course, to be combined with ravenous curiosity (which was one part of the craft that I did get right), including the ability to question ones’ own gaps and, dare I say, preconceptions.  We’ll come back to that.

“Skepticism”, of course, has its limits.  Reporters are human; they follow baseball teams, they read books, they vote – they have preferences.  None of them – not even “Joe Rossi” – attains their perfect ideals, whatever thepy are. So it’s not a surprise that, among other sins, reporters are just as big a bunch of fanboys as the rest of us, when you get down to it.  Or so it’d seem, seeing the coverage of Seymour Hersh’s appearance last week at the U of M, as partof the U’s “Great Conversations” program.

I didn’t go – I don’t think the “U” is especially aggressive about inviting non-believers to these things, but I have no idea, honestly.

But it was all over the place; Hersh dropped a few “bombs” (as reported by the local media, who did attend in droves) that got picked up by the big leftymedia.

More on that angle in a bit.

Eric Black of the MinnPost was there:

At a “Great Conversations” event at the University of Minnesota last night, legendary investigative reporter Seymour Hersh may have made a little more news than he intended by talking about new alleged instances of domestic spying by the CIA, and about an ongoing covert military operation that he called an “executive assassination ring.”

Heady stuff!

Hersh spoke with great confidence about these findings from his current reporting, which he hasn’t written about yet.

In an email exchange afterward, Hersh said that his statements were “an honest response to a question” from the event’s moderator, U of M Political Scientist Larry Jacobs and “not something I wanted to dwell about in public.”

Of course, when it comes to “covert executive assassination squads”, you don’t have to do a lot of “dwelling” for the story to grab attention, do you?

Hersh didn’t take back the statements, which he said arise from reporting he is doing for a book, but that it might be a year or two before he has what he needs on the topic to be “effective…that is, empirical, for even the most skeptical.”

Hersh, who is most famous (recently) for releasing the Abu Ghraib story (which the Army had been investigating, and which CBS was sitting on at government request) must be complimented for his focus on “empiricism”.

You might be too, if you’d had enough of your claims – apparently the less-“empirical” ones – turn out to be complete squibs.  I’ll direct you to this story from two years ago; Hersh claimed (amid a flurry of publicity) that US Special Forces were operating in Iran, preparatory to a US invasion.  It’s a claim that’d seem to have fallen down the memory hole; I have read no accounts of any of the journalists present at this or any other appearance questioning Hersh about it.
So perhaps it’s a good thing he’s waiting.  Except for the whole “Dropping the bomb in a talk at the U of M” bit.

The evening of great conversation, featuring Walter Mondale and Hersh, moderated by Jacobs and titled “America’s Constitutional Crisis,” looked to be a mostly historical review of events that have tested our Constitution, by a journalist and a high government officials who had experience with many of the crises.

Or, in Mondale’s case, were intimately involved in causing the crises.

Again, I digress.

Black continues:

And it was mostly historical, and a great conversation, in which Hersh and Mondale talked about the patterns by which presidents seem to get intoxicated by executive power, frustrated by the limitations on that power from Congress and the public, drawn into improper covert actions that exceed their constitutional powers, in the belief that they can get results and will never be found out. Despite a few references to the Founding Fathers, the history was mostly recent, starting with the Viethnam War with much of it arising from the George W. Bush administration, which both men roundly denounced.

Nothing like working a relentlessly friendly room.

That’s not a digression.

We’re getting into the interesting stuff here:

At the end of one answer by Hersh about how these things tend to happen, Jacobs asked: “And do they continue to happen to this day?”

Replied Hersh:

“Yuh. After 9/11, I haven’t written about this yet, but the Central Intelligence Agency was very deeply involved in domestic activities against people they thought to be enemies of the state. Without any legal authority for it. They haven’t been called on it yet. That does happen.

And we’ll wait for the evidence on that.

I’m not saying I doubt it, necessarily – it’s just that I hope Mr. Hersh isn’t too busy waiting for the invasion of Iran to show us the evidence.  Someday.

Now, here we get into the part of the story where it might have been useful to have some journalists in the room with Mr. Hersh:

“Right now, today, there was a story in the New York Times that if you read it carefully mentioned something known as the Joint Special Operations Command — JSOC it’s called. It is a special wing of our special operations community that is set up independently. They do not report to anybody, except in the Bush-Cheney days, they reported directly to the Cheney office. They did not report to the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff or to Mr. [Robert] Gates, the secretary of defense. They reported directly to him. …

Let’s take a brief time-out here.

Re-read Hersh’s explanation of JSOC.  Assuming Black is reporting his words accurately (and I’ve expressed my complete confidence in the honest of Eric Black’s reporting in the past), Hersh explains JSOC as if…:

  1. He expects nobody has heard of it (probably not an unfair assumption, given his audience)
  2. He wants people to believe that its status is something unique, sinister, and unique to the Bush Administration.

It’s buncombe, of course.  Joint Special Operations Command was established so that key, vital, high-risk special operations – hostage rescues, counterterrorist missions and the like – could take place without the paralyzing overburden of the military’s bureaucracy and its effects on these types of operations.

And it reports to the Executive Branch – the Secretary of Defense – rather than Congress; of course, the entire Executive Branch reports to the Executive Branch!  But JSOC is isolated from much of the miltiary’s bureaucracy; it does things that need to be done without bringing 535 other commanders into the chain of command.  JSOC reports to the Secretary of Defense, and thence to the President and Congress.

This chain of command – directly to the highest ranks of power – was established  after an infamous military disaster caused by, among other things, interservice bureaucracy, and micromanagment by civilian officials.

The disaster was “Desert One”.  And the order to create JSOC came from President Jimmy Carter.  The boss of Hersh’s fellow guest on the panel, former Vice President
Walter Mondale.

A roomful of journalists might have known that.

“Under President Bush’s authority, they’ve been going into countries, not talking to the ambassador or the CIA station chief, and finding people on a list and executing them and leaving. That’s been going on, in the name of all of us.

And I’m sure we’ll wait for evidence of the “executions”, in Hersh’s book, upcoming in a year or so.

But barring that “evidence”, there’s a point of order here:  the military doesn’t have to clear its operations with ambassadors or the CIA!  The military doesn’t report to either of them!

There’s no question that JSOC – the umbrella for the US’ clandestine military, including the Joint Special Operations Detachment Delta (“Delta Force”) and the Navy’s DEVGRU (formerly “Seal Team Six”) – does things that aren’t supposed to see the light of day.  And some of these things are by their very nature controversial.  Mark Bowden chronicled the Clinton-era use of JSOC troops to track and kill Medellin drug boss Pablo Escobar; one wonders where the chorus of demands for constitutional due process were back then?

It’s not an idle question for any democracy; in the UK during “The Troubles”, Britain’s Special Air Service – the unit that “Delta” and many of the world’s other special forces are modeled after – garnered decades of controversy in its clandestine surveillance and, in some cases, direct action against the IRA.  While Britain’s constitution recognizes a closer relationship between the military and civil authority than we have in the US – something that helped spawn our tradition of Posse Comitatus, in fact – it’s the sort of thing that a free society needs to watch out for and be aware of.

But, until we get Hersh’s “evidence”, really, all we have is innuendo
A roomful of journalists might have known this, and asked Hersh to square his account with history and, while we’re at it, JSOC’s stated organization, oversight structure and (since it can be reasonably assumed Walter Mondale was there) three-decade-long mission.

“It’s complicated because the guys doing it are not murderers, and yet they are committing what we would normally call murder. It’s a very complicated issue. Because they are young men that went into the Special Forces. The Delta Forces you’ve heard about. Navy Seal teams. Highly specialized.

“In many cases, they were the best and the brightest. Really, no exaggerations. Really fine guys that went in to do the kind of necessary jobs that they think you need to do to protect America. And then they find themselves torturing people.

“I’ve had people say to me — five years ago, I had one say: ‘What do you call it when you interrogate somebody and you leave them bleeding and they don’t get any medical committee and two days later he dies. Is that murder? What happens if I get before a committee?’

“But they’re not gonna get before a committee.”



Because the Obama Administration has found that there’s nothing illegal about what Bush sent JSOC to do?  Distasteful to modern, urban, urbane, small-l-liberal (and usually big-l-Liberal) products of the university system, perhaps, but not illegal?  Indeed, necessary under the circumstances – just as Jimmy Carter found when he plugged the whole thing in three decades ago?

A roomful of journalists might not have known this – but, armed by the skepticism that I and probably not a few of them used to think was a key part of the trade, you’d have thought someone might have asked.

A roomful of star-struck hero worshippers?  Not so much.

Am I being unfair in characterizing the room – people paralyzed, if not by Walter Mondale’s suffocating gravitas, by Hershs’ reputation as, as Black put it…:

…the best-known investigative reporter of his generation…

…as a bunch of star-struck fanboys? Who are acting like the shrimp-league lefty commenter on Marty Owings’ show last weekend whose entire line was “who are you to question Sy Hersh?”


But just as someone has to question the government – and its servants, like JSOC – someone needs to subject Seymour Hersh to some skepticism, too.

And I’m sure that roomful of Journalists will do just that.

After Hersh gets done covering that invasion of Iran he warned us about.

Titanic Stabilizes At -12,000 Feet

Just as people who move to New York from elsewhere become the most preening, arrogant New Yorkers, some of us who come to conservatism from liberalism are the most vituperative about our rejection of vast swathes of our former beliefs.

So I don’t give liberals a whole lot of credence on economics.

Still, it can be useful to see what they’re telling themselves.

Jeff Rosenberg shut down “Twin Cities Daily Liberal” to join “MNPublius” last week.  Congrats to both Jeff and the MNPublii; one hopes the hire was accompanied by  Aaron Landry being perp-walked from the MNPublius office as jeering onlookers pelt him with rocks and garbage.

But I digress.

Jeff’s a good guy, and he’s made the odd good point in his oeuvre – but Emperor’s Clothes-watchers should perk up at this bit from MNPub yesterday, titled “Under Obama, the stock market is stabilizing“.

Of course it’s “stabilizing”.  As long as companies still produce things that people need to buy, some companies will retain some value, and that value will be reflected in the equity market for their stocks.  Until this nation resorts to being a subsistence-farming economy with a barter currency system, companies will be worth something.

Yes, I know conservatives say the stock market is experiencing a catastrophic collapse under Obama, but they also said the fundamentals of the economy were strong under Bush.

And both are true.  If the former were not true, the market would, tautologically, not be off 43% in the past year; if the latter weren’t fact, there’d be no talk of recovery, no matter who to thank.  “Strong fundamentals” – a capable workforce, a currency capable of supporting commerce, management that can find and exploit opportunity – are the reason that 70-90% of us are not subsistence farmers, as our anscestors were 100-300 years ago, and why we’re unlikely to revert to that, even now.

You have to take conservative arguments with a grain of salt.

(Although not due to anything you’ll read here – but I digress.  Ed.)

The truth is that, in Obama’s first six weeks, the market’s volatility has decreased, and though the declines of the Bush economy haven’t stopped, they haven’t become worse, either.

That’s because, short of complete monetary collapse and reversion to barter and subsistence farming – in short, as long as there’s a market out there – then there is a bottom.  Where is that bottom?  As a theoretical matter, when the market capitalization of publicly-traded companies is equal to their physical and financial assets; when the combined value of alll the hundreds of millions of shares of 3M stock, for example, is the same as the value of 3M’s buildings, computers, inventory and bank accounts – presuming that any of those things have worth at all (again with the “forestalling monetary collapse and not heading to the woods with your rifle and your bag of oat seeds”).  The real bottom, presuming the fundamentals of the economy are strong enough to see us into a recovery, is somewhere north of that, depending on the  potential investors see or, paradoxically, less than that for companies that have no future.

The trouble is that conservatives and the media like to use charts like this, which ignore even the recent past [courtesy of Media Matters]:

The trouble is that liberals use charts from Media Matters.  Let’s break it down:

But the truth looks more like the chart below. Under Bush, the Dow Jones lost 6,000 points, or about 43 percent of its value, from its peak in 2007. That includes about 3,000 points lost since September 2008. Under Obama, the Dow has continued to slide, but it is only down about 1,000 points since its low during the Bush administration.

Which makes sense, until you get into the “why” of it all.

The first 3,000 was the impact of the collapse of the housing bubble.  No question about it: it was a financial catastrophe.  And while the Bush Administration and Congressional Republicans did try to beat back some of the governmental idiocy that subsidized the inflation of the bubble in the first place (the systematic socialization of risk and privatization of reward – read “distortion of the free market” – that allowed the bubble to grow and put Fanny Mae and Freddie Mac on the hook to clean up when it popped), there’s plenty of blame to go around; the failure of the Bush Administration to expend the political capitol needed to turn the idiocy back; the Dems complete ignorance of the issue going back to 1998, when the Clinton Administration started instituting the policies that led us to disaster, and so on.

That’s 3,000 points over a little over a year; figure about 250 points a month.

Which, by many accounts (and let’s be honest; if you put 100 economists into a room, you’ll get 175 theories) pretty much covered the correction from the housing bubble.

Then, from September – in the waning months of the Bush Administration, when it became pretty clear that Obama and his socialist, interventionist policies were going to hold sway, and when the (frankly) spendthrift Bush Administration did its level best under Henry Paulson to speed the transition to government funding of the whole mess, the market justifiably reacted – through January, the market shed another couple thousand points. That’s around 400 points a month, depending on where you demarcate your starting and finish lines.

And in the past 45 days, the market has reacted to Obama’s his full-throttle power-dive into a socialist command economy, his tax-hiking, and (I think it’s fair to say) indications of his administration’s incompetence, and burned through over 1,000 points, speeding to what may or may not (the coming weeks will tell us) be close to the Dow’s hard bottom.

You do the math; that’s a 401K-shredding 600-point-per-month pace.

So yes, Jeff – while “sloughing off all value to the point where the market is down to not much above asset value” is a form of “stabilization” (in the same sense that a crashing airplane doesn’t get much below ground level, provided the ground below the plane doesn’t open beneath it and swallow the plane up whole), Obama has “stabilized” the market.

By your leave, we’ve had enough of this kind of “stability”; we’d like him to stop before he “stabilizes” healthcare, home values, Americans’ net worth, and our foreign policy.

By your leave.

CORRECTION: TC Daily Liberal, not MN Liberal Report.  To be fair, Twin Cities leftyblogs sorta run together after a while. MNBlue, MNSpeak, MN Liberal Report, Daily Liberal, Powerliberal, PowerMonkey, Daily Monkey, MNObserver, MNObsessive, MNCompulsive…who’da thunk “branding” was the one thing Mark Gisleson (“Norwegianity”) would excel at?

The Barricades

Four years ago, I and most thinking Americans had a field day, roundly ridiculing a couple of risible strains of “liberal” whinging:

  • Stars who claimed they’d “move to France” if George W. Bush won the election.
  • Vacuous lefty blog-gerbils who yapped about the Blue States seceding from the union and joining to form “The United States of Canada”, and leaving the red-voting “Jesusland” states to themselves (I had particular fun with this, as well as pointing out the political and historical illiteracy of the idea; most of Canada west of Ontario is as red as Montana).  I had extra-special fun with these morons.
  • Acres of “He’s Not My President” bumper stickers.

These were many of the same people, by the way, who tearfully demanded that conservatives “stop questioning their patriotism”, by the way.

But I digress.  The vacuous snivelling hamsters got their president finally.

It’s the other side I’m concerned about now.

We got a call on the show last Saturday from a guy who’s question echoed one I’d heard from not a few people on blogs, on Twitter, and around about in recent months – itself a reprise of something I heard a lot back in the seventies and, just a bit, in the early nineties.

“When should we stop talking and start the active resistance?”

I often ask these people – why?

“It’s never been worse than this!”

I’m starting to lose patience with some of them.

Whenever anyone says anything is “the worst ever”, they’re almost always wrong.  They almost always really mean “the worst I’ve seen”.

Politics is not the dirtiest and nastiest it’s ever been (that’d be the Jackson/Adams contest in 1828, or any election where the Hearst papers uncorked their smear machine); this is not the worst unemployment since World War II (not even close, not yet)…

…and if you’re a freedom-loving American, the Obama administration is shaping up to be a bad one, perhaps a horrible one.  But it’s by no means the worst we’ve seen on any count.

Spending?  Roosevelt’s New Deal was worse.  So far.

Gun control?  While Obama’s record is bad, he hasn’t done anything yet; Democrats from FDR through Clinton all took their swipes at the Second Amendment, from Roosevelt’s prohibitory taxes on automatic weapons (which eliminated gang warfare!) to Clinton’s “1994 Crime Bill”, which did for many less-fashionable liberties what Bigfoot does to junked cars.

Civil Liberties?  Three words; J. Edgar Hoover.  FDR, Truman, Kennedy and LBJ got away with things that’d make any of the ofay gerbils that were protesting George W. Bush’s “Abuses” gag up their skulls.  Nixon invoked executive orders that gathered unprecedented “emergency” powers unto the executive – which has had libertarians chattering amongst themselves for almost forty years.  Obama bears watching; the Dems in Congress bear even more of it.  But so far, the threats are minimal (while still intolerable).

Repackaging vacuity as “change” and “audacity?”  OK, there Obama’s in a league of his own.

Overall demoralization of the parts of this country that matter?  The seventies were worse.  They had everything we have today and more – instability, out-of-control government, the Middle East going nuts, stagflation, Jimmy Carter – and a nation that was coming off of Vietnam, which, if you don’t remember it (and I only do through the prism of a 12 year old’s memory) was the most demoralizing thing to happen to this nation since the mid-thirties.  I don’t know if anyone ever ran the numbers, but Carter’s “Malaise Speech” must have prompted more population-wide suicides than any other single event in American history (shaddap about Oberlin undergrads popping too many Valium after Kerry lost).

And even that wasn’t the worst it’s gotten.  In my father’s lifetime – well within my grandparents’ early adult lives – there were those in the mainstream who seriously considered socialism, communism, even pre-war Naziism viable models with much from which we could learn, even much to emulate for our own good.  There were those in positions of great power who actively sought to incorporate “the best” of these ideologies into our own.

The point being that, so far, the Obama Administration isn’t the worst thing our constitution, our economy and our society has faced – yet.  And while the price of liberty is eternal vigilance, and the Founding Fathers well-recognized the possibility that Americans might need to throw off another tyranny someday, this isn’t it.

Not yet.

It’s a big government, and it’s getting bigger.  It’s a not-ready-for-prime-time government, run by a lot of very canny people who buffaloed a lot of our nation’s not-too-bright with a lot of breezy platitudes, and which rode to office on an almost-but-not-quite-unprecedented wave of discontent with the status quo.  It’s a government full of poltroons and ideological three-card-monte sharks.  But it’s not a communist dictatorship.

It was elected, for better or worse.  And we have three years and eight months to make the case that it should be thrown out of office and – this is the important part – nobody’s changing that.

If they do?  Well, get back to me then; it’ll be then you should think about putting on the camo and grabbing Grampa’s Garand and heading into the north woods.

Until then?  It’s still America.

As Douglas Adams said, “Don’t Panic”.

Three Or Four Races Are Plenty

I’m sitting looking over my broad, tree-lined avenue with a glass of single-malt, and the sky is blue and the white families with their happy, present-sotted kids are wandering past on their errands, and the election is over, so let’s all relax and quit irritating each other, OK? Michele Bachmann, Erik Paulsen, Jim Oberstar, Betty McCollum, John Kline, Colin Peterson and that other guy are about to take office, so all you black people just get over it. Go stock up on watermelon and spare ribs and maybe real estate in Liberia. White people still rule this country. Deal with it. Boom Shakalaka Boom.White legislators plan to bring sanity to Washington, and why not begin with Congress? It has been sorely in need of reform for a long, long time.

Democrats intend to bring reform to Washington, and why not begin with the United States Congress? It has been sorely in need of reform for a century or so. Equal representation for all people is a good idea in theory, assuming they are half smart, but then you look at Keith Ellison, an incurious frat boy from the state of Humphrey and Mondale, and you think, whoa, something is wrong with this picture. We need some horizontal control.

Let’s start at the beginning and redraw the map. First of all, is there a reason for South Central Los Angeles to have a congressional representative? I have often wondered about this. Why give a House seat to a half million wannabee gangbangers, pimps, crack addicts, prostitutes and derelicts while Utah gets one lousy House for millions of honest, hard-working people? (Compton has roughly the population of Salt Lake.) It’s OK if South Central LA sends somebody with brains and an independent streak, but when they send a couple of Black Democrat hacks, then it makes no sense.

The idea behind the Congress was to create a representative body of wise counselors who rise above the petty tumult and think noble thoughts and do the right thing in a pinch. Can you think of a time when Los Angeles’ representatives have done this? No, you can’t. So let’s bite the bullet and make Compton a federal protectorate and appoint an overseer – ooh, what a perfect word! This would be a good assignment for the Department of Housing and Urban Development. It’s done a heck of a job in south Chicago, so let’s give it all of Compton and, while we’re at it, Newark. A wonderful postcard place, but what have its congresspeople done other than grub for federal largesse for Newark? Change the name to “Housing Project # 447227” and put HUD in charge of it.

While we’re at it, let’s admit that Detroit, El Paso and Philadelphia have never been completely comfortable as part of the United States. They’ve tried to fit in, but it just isn’t working, so let’s allow them to pull out and find their own path. You could attach El Paso to Juarez and make a lovely little desert nation out of that, and let Detroit join Canada, and make Philadelphia an “independent” nation. Add Camden New Jersey to it. They really are part of the same thing. This leaves us with 40 or 50 House seats unoccupied (more if we simply assumed that all black people could be conveniently represented by a few token representatives, since they all vote the same anyway. It’s called consolidation, folks. It goes on all the time in corporate America and also in local school districts, so let’s make it work for America.

We White people will personally foot the bill for the new, incredibly convoluted district maps. This is a promise.

We now have 40 states and 20 extra Senate seats to parcel out. Give some to ex-CEOs. This would rescue them from their lonely lives on the lecture circuit and lend some pizazz to the place since they’d be free to spout off and say whatever they think. People would sit in the galleries to listen to Lee Iaccocca. He’d be down there sawing away with Donald Trump and Leona Helmsley and maybe some former bank and auto execs. Let them in the club and put that experience to use. And give congressional seats to the NRA and the GOP itself. This would definitely add brains to the assembly.

And that is how you create a permanent white majority. Al Sharpton showed us the way. Learn from the master. Those dinkeldorfs who ran the show for 40 years must never be allowed to return to power. Take those fuzzy-headed libruls to the cleaners. Subject them to alternative interrogation techniques until we get to the truth. Keith Ellison would make a decent host of a daytime quiz show. He came dangerously close to running for president. Ai yi yi yi yi. Let’s get to work.

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You Might Be Anti-American!

In the wake of the flap the agenda media and the Sorosphere manufactured over Rep. Michele Bachmann’s statements a few weeks ago on Tinglyball with Chris Matthews, I wondered – is it possible to question other peoples’ motivations anymore?

I’m convinced – having not only read the accounts and seen the video of Rep. Bachmann’s appearance, but having talked with Rep. Bachmann about the subject – that Rep. Bachmann meant “people who don’t have the nation’s best interests at heart”, and “people who love America exactly as it isn’t and has never been”, when she said “anti-American”.  And when she said the media should be exposing this, she meant “doing its job, and giving people some means of critically examining candidates’ views”, rather than “witchhunting”. 

Not that facts or context matter, of course.

Are there “anti-Americans” out there?  In the sense that there are people who want America extinguished from the planet?  Probably none in public life that matter, Jeremiah Wright and his invocation of the Sixth Commandment notwithstanding.

But can someone’s commitment to “American” ideals – the things that our founding fathers enshrined, things like “one person, one vote” and “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”, “the rule of law”, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights – be criticized?

One of the most popular posts that’s ever appeared on this blog came out four and a half years ago, during a previous spate of demands that nobody question anyone’s motivation (“Don’t you dare question my patriotism!”).  Entitled “You Might Not Be An American If…“, it kinda summed up how I feel about Bachmann’s statement and, yes, the targets:

If You Believe: that America has problems – huge problems – then dissent is American.
But If You Believe: …that America’s problems make it an inherently rotten concept, then maybe you should think about whether you’re living in the right place. 

If You Believe: …that America’s projection of power around the world is immoral – then dissent is American.
But If You Believe: …that any projection of American power is inherely unjust because it’s America, then maybe you should be living in, say, Sweden? Just an idea.

If You Believe: …that capitalism is wrong because its inequalities are inherely unjust, then dissent is American.
But If You Believe: …that the free market is inherently, irrevocably evil, perhaps China would be a better fit? Just suggesting…

If You Believe: …that invading Iraq was wrong, then dissent is American.
But If You Believe: …that our temporary administration of Iraq is worse than Hussein’s 30 year reighn of horrors, then perhaps you should rot in hell we need to have an attitude adjustment.

At four years’ remove, I might add a few:

If You Believe: …that racism still exists, and that people (or even just White People) inflict it on others, then dissent is American.
But If You Believe: …that all of America (or just White America) makes its every decision based purely on racism (unless they vote for Barack Obama), then you might be Anti-American.

If You Believe: …the Constitution is a “living document”, then dissent is hunky-dory.
But If You Believe: …that the Constitution is itself a corrupt, vile document that never did anyone any good, then perhaps you should find a different society to live in, just on basic principle.

Wanna swat at Bachmann’s statement?  You gotta bring more game than most of her critics seem to be able to manage.

Square Bullets For The Infidels

I remember reading a book about thirty years ago – The Social History Of The Machine Gun, or something like that.  It was a pseudo-academic treatise, adapted for some shred of popular market appeal, that talked about the social roots of fully-automatic weapons.

In one of the first chapters, they included the plans for an early, rudimentary multi-chambered cannon.  It dated back to the 16th or 17th century, and had five or six chambers attached to a circular plate; the plate could be rotated to push the chambers up against the barrel for firing – sort of the anscestor of the Gatling Gun (or, for serious gun geeks, the multi-chambered Aden gun).

It had one extra feature noted in the plans; it used a traditional round chamber to fire round bullets “for use against Christians”, the plans noted (I’m paraphrasing).  But if the troops were facing Moslem troops, the plate could be swapped out for one with chambers bored for square bullets (and no, I don’t recall any plans for square barrel bores), on the theory that square bullets would cause grislier wounds and do more damage.  Of course, being Mohammedans, the extra cruelty was justified, at least to the inventor.

There’s nothing new, there, of course.  A teacher of mine in high school – a Vietnam-era veteran who served in the US or Germany, if memory serves – recalled that one of the first things that the drill instructors did in basic training in wartime was to dehumanize the enemy; Vietnamese and Japanese and German humans became “Gooks” and “Japs” and “Krauts” and what-have-you.  Because killing humans is hard – but pushing a bayonet into a hateful caricature is easy.

Of course, German society (like much of Europe) had a solid head-start in dehumanizing Jews.  Hitler pushed things over the edge – but when it came to reducing a class of humans to untermenschen, he stood on the shoulders of giants.  Hateful, loathsome giants.

For most people – normal, decent people, at any rate – the first step on the road to unspeakable hatred is the belief that somehow, your opponent is less worthy of the decency most of us afford to actual humans.  And once you get past that, really, it’s a hop skip and jump to any ghastly horror you can imagine.

Emily from X Perspective is, by the way, a normal, decent person.  But a recent posts shows some of the dehumanization that is swallowing the left in re Sarah Palin.

[Not following politics this week? GOP VP Candidate Sarah Palin’s 17-yr old daughter is pregnant. Which we’d ignore if Palin wasn’t adamantly anti-sex-ed and anti-abortion.]

I admit to a small amount of hypocrisy of my own here: in general, I believe we should leave the kids out of this election – it’s not the girl’s fault her mother is running for office. But this was just too spot-on not to share.

“We should leave kids out of politics – unless we really hate what their parents [supposedly] stand for?”

And then, all bets are off?  Because decency is only for people who believe as “we” do?

And where’s Palin’s “hypocrisy?”  She – and, we presume, her daughter and future son-in-law – are pro-life.  And they’re following through on that belief.  Perhaps that’s a form of logic impermeable by conservatives; either way, I’m just not seeing it. 

Leave aside that the Juno analogy is completely off.  It supports Palin’s, and the pro-lifers’, stances; the Juno character had the baby, which, by the way, pissed off the pro-abortion crowd to no end – especially here in the Twin Cities, from whence Juno screenwriter and last year’s Hottest Writer Ever, Diablo Cody, sprang a few years back; local “feminists” were in a aorta-busting froth that Ms. Cody didn’t have young Juno abort her “oops”, more or less as they are with Bristol and, for that matter, Sarah Palin.  On whom, by the way, “feminists” have also bestowed dictatorial power over her daughter and her “reproductive choices”.  But that’s just a sign of a photoshopper with no command of metaphor.

On the other hand, every time the left slags Palin and her family, there’s another struggling middle-class-or-lower family who realizes there’s somebody running for the White House who just plain gets it.  And that translates into votes.

So by all means, photoshoppers; photoshop on!

The Right Of The People

By a 5-4 vote, the Supreme Court of the United States today ruled in the Heller case that the Second Amendment of the United States Constitution is exactly what the founding fathers intended; that a right “of the people” means “people”, not “the National Guard”.

The court dealt forty years of erosion of civil liberties and contempt for the law-abiding citizen a sharp kick in the groin with pointy boots. The decision stands as the capstone on one of the most remarkable bits of grassroots politics in American history – a three-decade battle where the nation’s people, black and white and Republican and Democrat, fought their elites first to a standstill, and then came back to an escalating series of victories, starting in the courts of public opinion, extending through legislatures and city councils around the nation, to today.

This ruling euthanizes the DC Gun Ban – which is was, like most gun control measures, a racist concoction intended to keep all those brown-skinned people from running amok in the nation’s capitol, to return us in deed if not in thought to the days when black people had a separate, unequal justice system…

To quote Lyle Denniston of ScotusBlog:

the Court nullified two provisions of the city of Washington’s strict 1976 gun control law: a flat ban on possessing a gun in one’s home, and a requirement that any gun — except one kept at a business — must be unloaded and disassembled or have a trigger lock in place. The Court said it was not passing on a part of the law requiring that guns be licensed. It said that issuing a license to a handgun owner, so the weapon can be used at home, would be a sufficient remedy for the Second Amendment violation of denying any access to a handgun.

The decision opens up possibilities for litigation and legislation on further gun bans, like Chicago’s, and also at least partially ejects US V. Miller from its misbegotten role as definitive precedent on Second Amendment issues.

This is not the end of the war over the Second Amendment, of course. It’s not a complete victory; licensing at the end of the day is conceptually scarcely less odious or abuse-prone than a ban (as we’ve found out in Saint Paul this past year). The orcs still control much; many cities (or at least their governing elites) still pay lumpen, unthinking fealty to the notion that a disarmed, docile citizenry is a safe one.

Some of this world’s people know better…:

…that the only genuinely secure people in this world are the ones that can see to their own security.

Yes, folks – this is serious business.

This is far from the end. Indeed, as Churchill said, it’s the end of the beginning…:

…and much hard fighting remains.

The court did the right thing – and now, this is a battle we Real Americans have to consolidate, extend, and win in the legislatures, City Councils, and in Congress.

The orcs will regroup and try to consolidate and, eventually, make another assault on the God-given rights of the law-abiding American. It is inevitable; it is the way of the orc to feed on your freedom. Softcore fascists like Heather Martens and Wes Skoglund aren’t drying up and blowing away because of this ruling; it remains to us to extinguish the smoldering dung-heap of that whole school of thought, in the legislature, in court, and most importantly in the hearts of people smart enough to know the difference between “rights of the people” and “privileges granted by your masters”.

But we – the Americans who’ve fought long and hard to keep this issue on the national radar, and drive this nation back from the insane nadir of the collectivist seventies – deserve a moment, if only a moment, to relax and enjoy the fruits of today’s victory. It’s a great respite from a dismal political season, and a solid jumping-off point for what comes next.

Enjoy it. I sure am.

To all of you who’ve spent so much time, toil and treasure winning today’s victory, a salute. You’ve earned it.

Tomorrow? Well, it’s back to work. Back to the endless job of putting the enemies of freedom to the rhetorical point of the political pike – one Congressman, one Justice, one voter at a time.

The way we’ve done it all along.

Thank you. And God Bless America.

(Over the top a little? Not really. Oh, I’m doing the endzone happy dance. I’m doing to do the endzone happy dance on David Lillehaug’s neck – rhetorically speaking, of course. Today’s a great day, and I’m going to treat it as such).

Happy Patriots Day!

No, not the football team – the anniversary of Paul Revere’s ride to mobilize the militia against the British, and the Battles of Lexington and Concord.

By bypassing the mainstream media and taking the word directly to the people, Revere was in a sense the first conservative blogger; indeed, had his horse been named “Blog”, the metaphor would stand on its own.

Sadly, that is not the case.

However, a look through Massachusetts state archives reveals that, like a good conservative pundit in the public eye, Revere stirred up a firestom of controversy.

In the Bofton Ftar-Tribune, columnist Richelieu Sturdevaant wrote:

Patriots of olde have lamented to me that thif is a fad, far cry from the old days in Maffachufettes, where real patriots worked with the Britifh Government!

Zebulon Perry, writing the Maffachufsetf Monitor – a broadsheet funded by British parliamentarian and tax patriarch George Townsend, wrote:

Revere, who riddeth fourth against the lawful Brittifh taxes, is funded by the Sons of Liberty!

Hezekiel Martens, of Citizens for a British Massachusetts, noted:

The righte to keepe and bear armfe is clearly laid down in the Britifh Conftitutione to derive to the Militia, which is the Britifh Redcoatte. Mufkettes kill 1,000,000 Maffachufettef children a year.

Grace Kelleye, writing fo the broadsheet MassRed, wrote:

George Washington is the real fascist. We should all lay down on the roade in front of Mr. Revere.

Lord Jefferey Fleckey of Broadsheet of the Moderatte Royaliste simply wrote:

Revere if fo pwnn3edde

And Otis Coleman of the Ftrib wrote:

Fure, fit a ftupid overfexed filverfmith aftride a faft horfe, and fure, he’ll feel like a ftud. Fo what? He’fe no big cheefe. Af a feventh-grader fitting on my knapfack, sucking on a sucker, fifty yearf ago on the weft fide of Bofton, I faw that.


Happy Patriots Day!

Just Like A Spirit In The Night

Someday if I ever made a movie of my own life,  most of the soundtrack would probably be Springsteen songs.  I associate one song or another with most of the big milestones of my life – teenage angst, love found and lost, hope, determination, grief, whatever you got.

The E Street Band is just a tad greater than the sum of a bunch of great parts; the beating heart of the Weinberg/Tallent rhythm section, Miami Steve’s raw, sloppy-yet-perfect backup vocals, the Big Man’s sax garnishing the whole thing…

…but under and around and occasionally soaring above it all was the soul of the E Street Band’s sound – Danny Federici and his Hammond B-3.

Federici passed away yesterday at age 58 from complications of skin cancer after nearly forty years of playing with Springsteen:

It was Federici, along with original E Street Band drummer Vini Lopez, who first invited Springsteen to join their band.

(“Child”, with Springsteen, Federici, Vinny “Mad Dog” Lopez and Vini Roslin)

By 1969, the self-effacing Federici — often introduced in concert by Springsteen as “Phantom Dan” — was playing with the Boss in a band called Child. Over the years, Federici joined his friend in acclaimed shore bands Steel Mill, Dr. Zoom and the Sonic Boom and the Bruce Springsteen Band.

Federici became a stalwart in the E Street Band as Springsteen rocketed from the boardwalk to international stardom. Springsteen split from the E Streeters in the late ’80s, but they reunited for a hugely successful tour in 1999.

Federici and Springsteen were half of “Steel Mill”, a first-generation metal band (of all things) that predated the E Street Band by a couple of years, and whose bootlegs have been for thirty years among the most sought-after in the boot business. 

  It’s no accident that the Springsteen moments that I remember the most are, most often, the ones most keenly-accented by Federici’s raw, understated, yet always dead-on playing:

  • The figure in the chorus of “Incident on 57th Street” (The Wild, The Innocent And The E Street Shuffle); it’s only three notes repeated eight times, dissolving into a high, fat wash of chords keening above the raw longing of Bruce’s vocals; “Puerto Rican Jane – oh won’t you tell me…”, but without it, it’d be just another lovelorn guy baying at the moon; Federici’s part adds and accents the tension, the hope, the passion. 
  • “Jungleland” (from Born to Run);  The huge swell as Bruce roars “From the churches to the jails, tonight all is silence in the world…” signals that this song is going downtown to rumble.
  • “Sandy”, from E Street Shuffle, featuring Danny on an unforgettable accordion part

  • The Farfisa part that propels the choruses of Born in the USA’s “Glory Days” (and is virtually a sample of the even cooler part on “I’m a Rocker” (The River).
  • “Backstreets” (from Born to Run); Federici does two things that stand out in this song – one of my favorites, and easily the best “breakup” song of all time.  From the bridge (“Endless juke joints and Valentino drag…”) to the end, of course, Federici’s B3 howls with all the anger and longing that this angry, longing song deserves; the organ is the atmosphere.  But it’s at the beginning – the long intro Federici shared with pianist Roy Bittan – that is the most ingenious.  The organ part starts low, mournful and sad, with broad chords behind Bittan’s eighth-note riffing.  But then, when the band comes in, Federici swells up into a higher register, playing a nervous, jittery pentatonic counterpoint behind the rest of the band.  It’s so subtle you have to listen hard for it – and you usually sense it rather than hear it.  But it adds the angst-y undercurrent to the intro; while the rest of the band broadly thumps away, the organ twitches and twists in the background like all the unanswered questions behind any lousy breakup. 
  • “Jackson Cage” (The River) – Federici is the propulsion behind this, one of Bruce’s rawest sprints, almost challenging Weinberg to keep up. 

And of course, the entire album Darkness on the Edge of Town.  Dave Marsh once wrote that Born to Run belonged the Clarence Clemons and Roy Bittan – but Darkness belonged to Federici (and the low end of Weinberg’s drum kit, the toms and bass).   Marsh was right, as he usually was (when not writing about politics, anyway); Federici has almost too many great moments to catalog; the burst of howling joy in “Badlands” (especially the roaring swell in the second verse – “Poor man wanna be rich, rich man wanna be king…”), the fatigue-ridden last-call motif on “Factory”, the indigo atmospherics in the title cut…

…and, perhaps best of all, “Racing In The Street”, which constantly dukes it out with “Darkness…” for the title of my favorite Bruce song.  The song is the flip side of “Born To Run” – it’s about growing up and realizing after you’ve driven your suicide machine through the mansions of glory, that party’s got a morning after – the rest of your life. 

And the final coda, after the last chorus – “tonight my baby and me are gonna ride to the sea, and wash these sins off our hands…” – is entirely driven by Federici; slow and mournful at the beginning, and then brightening like the sun rising in the east over The Shore, as another day begins as things pick up tempo and life starts up again.

Federici was the quietest member of the band, the one who stayed the most in the background, the one whose career was most-closely tied to the band.


  Unlike Nils Lofgren, he had no previous solo career; he never forged much of a second career, like Steve Van Zandt’s acting or Max Weinberg’s now-long career as a bandleader, or for that matter Gary Tallent’s as a producer; he didn’t have the force of a supersized personality like Clarence Clemons to boot doors open.  His single solo album, the jazzy and largely instrumental Flemington, was and remains obscure.  He reportedly took the E Street Band’s extended hiatus, from 1990 to 1998, the hardest; rumors among the E Street fan hive had it that he had a bit of a drinking problem; the band’s reunion and tour in ’99 was, the rumors had it, a huge boost to his life. 

Whatever.  The fact remained that whatever the rest of the E Street’s bands parts brought to the table, Federici added the atmospherics, the foreboding, the tingle of anticipation…the soul of the band.

RIP, Danny Federici.


Go ahead and pick your Heston:

The academy award-winner?

Ben Hur was probably the first “serious” movie I sat through as a kid – the first time I ever got that a movie could be more than simple yuks and scenery, that a story could mean more than what was being put in front of you. Heston won his Oscar almost fifty years ago, before I was born – and the movie still amazes me.

Heston was an amazing actor. Brad Carlson links to an excellent video retrospective of Heston’s film career.

And nobody, anywhere, writes about actors like Sheila O’Malley does:

My brother Brendan and I watched The Ten Commandments on the night before Easter, and expressed amazement, for the 100th time, how incredible Heston is, how inevitable. …even today, lulled to sleep by CGI effects, there is something stunning and terrifying about the Red Sea parting, well done! – but none of it would matter a whit if it weren’t for Heston’s commanding (pun) performance. He had no fear. He embodied courage, and was able to portray it larger than life. This is something NO actors have today – NONE – it is no longer the “style” of acting, and no longer in vogue. And that’s fine. Things don’t have to stay the same forever. But at least we could look back at one of the greats and say, “Ah. There. That is how it was done. That is how it should have been done.”

Absolutely true.

How about the “other” Charlton Heston, the man that stood for his beliefs at every turn – the one who marched on Washington in 1963 with Martin Luther King, at the height of his career…

…at a time when social activism was not the fashion in Hollywood.

Joel Rosenberg:

In 1961, he attended a premier of one of his movies in Oklahoma.  The theater was segregated; he joined the picket line.  At a time when it was by no means politically expedient to do so, he marched with Martin Luther King Jr.  He was, throughout his adult life, a staunch opponent of communism, McCarthyism, and racial segregation.

A quarter-century later, Heston went on to spend the last fifteen years of his working life tirelessly fighting to protect the civil liberties of law-abiding Americans…

…which, for many people who were born too late to see Heston’s glory years on the big screen, was the Heston they knew best.

The Charlton Heston that drove more than a few people over the edge, helping cement the career of at least one polemicist, and assuring that he’d never do lunch in Hollywood again?  That was him.
Gary Miller:

Few did more than Charleston Heston to keep the stinking paws of the damned dirty apes off the firearms of law-abiding Americans.

Just like the patriarch Moses he played in the magnificent 1956 Cecil B. DeMille classic, he did not live to see the promised land. But if an originalist majority on SCOTUS prevails in the soon-to-be-decided Heller case he will have died just short of the River Jordan.

Of course I owe that Charlton Heston – the guy who helped galvanize millions to turn the tide on two issues that mean a lot to me and many like me, civil rights that are seen as two sides of a coin, but should not be – something, too.

Or maybe the guy in a city and business and society full of libertines and faux libertarians, who achieved far beyond anyone’s dreams and ascended to the pinnacle of a career that he’d stumbled into and yet mastered, and devoted a fair chunk of his life to doing what was right and, at the end of the day, stayed married to his high school sweetheart for an entire lifetime?

How do you reconcile all those different Charlton Hestons?

You don’t. You appreciate the entire package on its own terms. Back to Sheila, who comes up with the words I was flailing at trying to find on the show yesterday, to capture an ideal that as usual Sheila nails without effort. I’ll be slathering on the emphasis:

The most stunning tribute of all, it takes my breath away to this day, is Richard Dreyfuss’ tribute. He wrote it for National Review – obviously a publication with political leanings that has nothing to do with who Richard Dreyfuss is, and how he votes. But, as I have said repeatedly on my blog, as I have chased people away from my site who seem constitutionally unable to play by my rules, as I have stated in my comment policy: when you are dealing with art, and the appreciation thereof, politics must take a backseat. At least if you want to have a worthwhile conversation. And then there are those who say, “I liked Charlton Heston BECAUSE of his politics” and that is just as idiotic. His work transcends. He was an actor, first and foremost, a “great pretender”. So talk about his work, please – there is plenty there to keep us chatting for 100 years at least! Nobody “owns” Charlton Heston. Nobody “owns” John Wayne. The most flaming liberal in the world could appreciate and love Red River, and those who put politics at the forefront are completely missing the point. What we are talking about here is love. And these actors who touch us, who get beneath our skins, who create something indelible … transcend all of that. The editors at National Review knew that, and so did Richard Dreyfuss.

I agree – and am awash in profound respect for a man that worked so tirelessly at the love he had for his craft, his country and its principles, and his family. Whose entire life is a monument to his love for all three.

As with Ronald Reagan (an underappreciated actor, albeit nowhere near Heston’s league), the different parts went together to make the whole man. You can – you have to, as Sheila correctly notes – appreciate them separately, and keep your art and your politics in separate silos. As Richard Dreyfus does, in the piece Sheila called out, and that you need to read. Written right after Heston’s diagnosis with Alzheimer’s was made public five and a half years ago, it’s almost too full of perfect quotes. I’m going to grab two of them

I believe that films like Ben Hur were conceived because Heston was there to make them. He allowed these stories to be told because he was there to play the parts. …When I saw Charlton Heston as a kid, he took me far, far away, to places few actors could go. The only other American actor so comfortable outside of this era was Wayne, and Heston could time travel farther. Both held the magical alchemy that made me forget the commonplace of here and now completely. John Wayne allowed us into our American past. Heston, because of his perfectly male face, the depth of his voice, the measured almost antique rhythm of his speech, the oddly innocent commitment that allowed him to dive without looking into the role, took me farther, before the common era, as they say.

Somehow he was able to cut the myriad strings that connect us to our current lives, so he could inhabit our imagined past and imagined future so perfectly. So well did he do this that his discomfort was obvious when he played in the Now (actually, make that my discomfort, because he more than likely had a ball in the rare instances when he played something current). If it wasn’t the past it was the future. I could never have gotten to Ancient Rome without him, nor Ape City.


It has become fashionable to characterize his politics; almost as if his politics were a separate thing, like Diana’s popularity. People are either defensive or patronizing (if not contemptuous). I can only say I wish all the liberals and all the conservatives I knew had the class and forbearance he has. Would I be as patient or serene when so many had showed me such contempt, or tried to make me feel stupid or small? I doubt it, truly I do. This is dignity, simply and completely. A much more important quality than political passion at the end of the day, and far more lacking, don’t you think?

That may be the biggest thing to take away from Heston; to love what you do, to fight for what you believe in, to live a life you’re proud of, and to do it all with grace.

In remembering the man, his life, his accomplishments, his impact on this world – and as Dreyfus noted, the man in which they were all wrapped up and and coexisted so famously – you can note them all in parallel, and fondly remember them all.

And so I do.

And rest in peace, great American icon. You will not be forgotten.

I’ll take all of the Charlton Hestons. Thanks.

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Open Letter to Ms. Sensitivity

To: Molly Priesmeyer, Rent-a-Blogger and Snark-Minx

From:  Mitch Berg, Unpaid Hack

Re:  John McCain’s Teeth.

Ms. P,

 I realized that I said that I’d try to contact you the next time I had a question about your coverage of an event.  And since the Sorosphere is suddenly all afroth over the state of Senator McCain’s teeth (that’s why we go to the Sorosphere; all that cogent analysis!), it’d be a good time to ask you…

…except your email address doesn’t seem to be anywhere on the MNMon’s (really, really badly-designed) site.

Sorry.  Pinky swear, I tried!

So anyway, here’s my question:  When you copy and paste a line that 5,000 other leftybloggers write:

If bloggers are saying one thing about John McCain this week it’s that the 71-year-old has some serious grit. Of course, that grit comes in the form of McCain Mouth, a deformity that apparently causes teeth to look like a mess of yellowed and contorted Chiclets. Today, BuzzFeed.com has picked up on the mouth meme, turning McCain’s piano-key chompers into an official phenomenon.

The consensus? “They’re old.”

Well, not nearly as old as the Senator is. 

Because – you do realize this, don’t you, Ms. Priesmeyer? – Senator McCain had a bunch of his teeth broken off at the gumline while he was being held as a POW.  Which, of course, can set a guy up for a whole lifetime o’ dental hurt. 

But you didn’t know that – right?  If you’d known that, you’d never, ever have written such a deeply, disturbingly dumb piece.  Right? 

Seriously – please plead ignorance. I’d like to know that even the MNMon has a level below which even they won’t sink – although reason tells me my faith is probably misplaced.

While looks are an easy and lame target,

[Being more mature than he used the be, the writer bites his tongue at the too-easy retort, knowing he’s a better person for it] 

 it’s at least refreshing to see McCain’s teeth get a razzing (though, unfortunately, not a cleaning). It gets a little tiring listening to the same sexist cries that Hillary Clinton is just too ugly to be president. Hatin’ on the looks of all the candidates? Now that’s equality!

No, that’s just stupid and sophomoric.  Dinging Senator Clinton on her looks is stupid and sexist.  Ripping Senator McCain for the appearance of a mouth that had the living sh*t beaten out of it by NVA goons is its own punishment, at least among people with consciences.

Glad to see Steve Perry’s bringing some professionalism to the good ol’ MNMon!

UPDATE:  Brodkorb is even less-amused:

This is really disgusting attack on Senator McCain and Minnesota Monitor should be embarrassed

Michael has more faith in Steve Perry than I do. 

UPDATED UPDATE: I’m gratified to see that the lefties in Brodkorb’s comment section are even more cheesed-off than the rest of us. 

RE-UPDATED UPDATE:  Mo’N @ Jo’T has the photoshop of the day.

UP-UPDATED UP-UPDATE:  I never actually put Minnesota Monitor on my blogroll, so I can’t remove it in a fit of pique.  I’m considering adding it for about five minutes, so I can gas it. 


Somewhere in Bosnia, 1996

I crawled through the mud, a G3K carbine in one hand, a handful of slimy, suspect topsoil in the other, as the rain poured down.  The corner of a spare magazine cut into my hipbone as I slithered over a small clump of rocks, and back into a small coulee that led me up the slimy, festering hillside.

The ridge above the airfield at Tuzla was dotted with trees, most of them blasted bare by years of shelling and mortar fire from the Bosnian and Serb sides alike. With only scrubby, ugly shrubs to hold the soil in place, the hillside was slowly eroding down into the valley below.  It was as ugly a place as I’d seen – recently.

BANG.  A loud rifle report split the rain-drenched quiet ahead of me.  “Back on the ball, Mitch“. 

I looked down the ridge to the tarmac 1000 meters away, and my mission was re-clarified; the C130 transport plane, with the crowd of troops and civilians huddled behind a Humvee behind it, pinned down by sniper fire.  Fire from the snipers I was hunting.

Down on the tarmac, I saw a man in camouflage make a run for a dugout by the runway; a couple of SVD sniper rifles, unseen in the scrub not far in front of me, barked almost simultaneously, again and again. The man zigzagged between the geysers of mud that the 7.62mm shots spewed into the air as he dove, head-first, into a slit trench.  He made it, miraculously.

“This is Stain Six…” an out-of-breath-sounding voice yelled over the radio, “Vulture and Vulture Chick are pinned down on the tarmac. We need to get the snipers…”

The snipers’ rifles cracked again, and the voice cut off a second later.  Stain Six – the Secret Service mission leader – was pinned down hard.

I had to find the snipers, and I had to find ’em fast. I was hoping my backup would get there soon.

“Golfball Two One” crackled over the radio, in a thick scandinavian accent – Gohlfboll Turr Vonn. It was Sergeant Janssen, leader of the Danish squad that was my backup, “this is Golfball Tree Two. Ve’re pinned down. Ve can’t help“.

Crap. My backup was backed up. I was on my own.

I crawled through a shallow depression behind the wreckage of an old Serb T-55 tank whose turret had blown off and sat on its roof twenty feet away – and saw my target. Two Serb snipers, they and their long, menacing-looking rifles swathed in ghillie netting, taking their aim. Another man, serving as their spotter, peered into binoculars, muttering in guttural, clipped Serb.

One of them fired a shot, the report echoing across the valley as I used the noise to cover my movement.  I slowly crawled around the rear bogey of the wrecked tank, sizing up the Serb position. Something wasn’t..quite…right…the hair on the back of my neck stood up.

I looked around, my senses heightened by enough adrenaline to restart Keith Richards’ heart…

there. In the woods – another Serb, covering the snipers’ rear, his AK47 at the ready, turning…

toward me.

Our eyes locked. For a split second, we hesitated. I was quicker; my first round caught his AK47 right in the receiver, sending shards of stock and metal slicing into him, slamming his rifle into his stomach like Mike Tyson in his prime. He grunted in pain as he fell behind a log, his rifle twisted and useless.

The snipers and spotter turned, alarmed. The spotter lifted a WWII-vintage MP40 “Burp Gun” toward me as I spun; instinctively, I double-tapped him with two more rounds. He dropped out of sight over the lip of the hill, his peaked Serb army-pattern cap flipping crazily through the air, as I turned to the sniper on the right. Two more shots finished that business. The other sniper, overcome with panic as he tried to turn his bulky SVD toward me, rolled over the lip of the hill, chased by two more rounds that dug up big divots where his chest had been a thousandth of a second earlier, rolling out of sight.  I dove for the lip of the hill, to make sure he didn’t come back up, when every muscle from my butt to my neck clenched tight at the jarring racket of Sergeant Janssen’s squad’s MG3 machine gun, sounding like a jackhammer set to “puree”. They’d got him.

And suddenly, the hill was secure.

I ducked back behind the wrecked tank and grabbed my radio. “Golfball Two One…”, I started…

…and caught the end of another transmission. “…Jaguars eencomeeng; ten secohnds. Ten secohnds. Ten secohnds” a voice in a French accent repeated, seeming oddly disconnected.

Crap. They called in air support!

Out of the corner of my eye I saw the glint off the canopy of the French Jaguar fighter-bomber, and a yellow flash…

…which I didn’t have time to process. I leaped instinctively toward the first hole I could see, diving into a shell crater just as the air around me was rent by the impact of a dozen 2.75 inch rockets, their detonations joining together like ripping metal, thousands of steel fragments lacing the air above my boots in a maelstrom of angry metal that drowned out the French jet roaring overhead.

I poked my rifle out of the crater as the smoke roiled around me. Under cover of the smoke, the radio squawked “Vulture and Vulture Chick are safe. Good job, all”.

Sergeant Janssen“, I thought, peering over the edge of the crater and down the hill, teeth clenched in fear…

…which relaxed when I saw Sergeant Janssen and his eight squaddies; they’d ducked, too. Janssen waved. “Indskrænkette fransker!” he yelled.

I slithered down the slope to his position. “Er der en anden skrive i Fransker?” The squaddies laughed – as much from my atrocious Danish as from the release of tension – and, after they shook off the concussion and the close call, formed up to continue their patrol up the ridge.

Me? I walked back to the base. I safed my rifle as I got to the cut through the barbed wire around the Ukrainian position, waving to the Ukranian UN troops that guarded the perimeter.  One of the privates manning a machine-gun gave me a thumbs-up; they’d been taking fire from the snipers, too.  I returned the gesture as I walked toward the cluster of huts that was the Ukranian enclave, on my way back to the US area.

Their company sergeant-major, Yevgenii Batiukh, a crusty fortysomething who was hard-boiled enough a soldier to make R. Lee Ermey’s “Gunnery Sergeant Hartman” in Full Metal Jacket look like Andy Dick, who’d spent more time in Afghanistan than some Afghans I’d known, stepped out from behind a quonset hut, holding a bottle.

“Доброе утро, Михаил Павлович”, he grunted, his never-smiling face nodding approval.

” Добрbl Джин, сержант батюх”, I nodded back.  The faint outline of a grin creased his leathery jawline.

“В снайпера исчезла, и вашим “первой леди” была в состоянии ходить из самолета в аэропорт!”, he said, with the lift of an eyebrow and a quizzical, ironic smirk that seemed incongruous on his hawk-like sergeant-major face.  Batiukh poured shots of slivovitz into two tin, Russian-pattern canteen cups, and handed me one.  “Как ЧТО происходит?”, he said, eyeing the G3 that hung from its jungle sling around my shoulder.

I grinned back as I slammed the shot. “Я не знаю! Действительно!”.

“поп!”, he said, drawing his finger across his throat, smiling fully this time.

We shared a laugh, and I left him, walking back to my hooch, a converted Serb bureaucrat’s office, looking forward to clearing a couple days’ buildup of mud and worse off of me.

I unlocked and opened the door…and stopped short. Something wasn’t as I left it.  My hand instinctively reached toward my pistol, and I checked out the corners of the room.

I relaxed second later, as I noticed a silk blouse lying on the floor.

I cocked an eyebrow, and walked toward the back room. A pair of jeans hung from the doorknob. I opened the door.

“Hi, Hon”, Marisa said seductively, covers pulled up around her neck. “How’s your day?”

“Rough one”, I grinned, feeling not so rough at all.

She took a bottle of Croatian merlot, poured a glass, and dipped her finger in, licking it suggestively as she set it back on the chair. “I heard the First Lady and Chelsea had a hard time getting out of their plane today”.

I grinned. “Yeah, I heard that, too. Hey, aren’t you supposed to be filming?”, I said as I cleared my rifle’s action and reached to turn down the light.

“I had a day off.  And it looks like you’ve been a…dirty boy…”

UPDATE AND CLARIFICATION: I’m informed that video footage shows I was actually working as a technical writer at at a retail shelf space brokering company during Hillary and Chelsea’s trip to Tuzla, was not in fact a freelance “minder”, did not interact with the Ukranian or Danish armies – indeed, have never been to Bosnia – and had no involvement with Ms. Tomei.

I guess I miswrote…

My bad.

…To Just Plain Inexcusable

The Minnesota Monitor – the region’s Soros-funded propaganda outlet – has been doing its best, it seems, to burnish its rep as a “news” outlet; hiring Steve “Mister Furious” Perry, getting its staff to write more like reporters and less like snot-nosed polemicists, the whole thing.  Is it too little, too late?  We’ll see…

But at the end of the day, the site shows the danger of being a bought-and-paid for propaganda outlet; when its masters want propaganda distributed, truth is the first casualty.

Andy Birkey’s not a bad guy; he’s a fine writer, and he’s written some good stuff. But he covers the gay beat; while he’s no worse at Second Amendment coverage than anyone else in the local Soros/Leftymedia, this piece, frankly, starts with a basis in complete ignorance, and moves into utter fabrication.

Birkey doesn’t get far.

A National Rifle Association-backed bill is likely to be heard in the House Public Safety Committee this week, possibly Thursday. Dubbed the “Stand Your Ground” bill, HF 498 would make it easier to kill someone in self-defense.

That’s just plain wrong.

Read the bill. And then read this piece I wrote last week, in which I sum up the law-abiding citizen’s burden under current law when claiming self-defense. I spelled out the rules:

In Minnesota, if you choose and need to defend yourself or your family with lethal force, you must meet all four of the following criteria:

  1. You can’t be a willing participant in the struggle: you can’t dive into a fist-fight and then shoot your way out of it.
  2. You must reasonably fear death or “great bodily harm”: That means “a jury’s gotta buy it”.  And “great bodily harm” has a legal meaning; it means you gotta get hurt very, very badly
  3. The force you use must be reasonable under the circumstances: If the police come to your house to find a body with no knife or gun, but clutching your TV, Tivo and monitor, you might have trouble with this one.
  4. And finally, You must make every reasonable means to de-escalate the confrontation: That means you must back away from the altercation. In the home, that means you have to try to back away. There are limits, of course; if you are in a wheelchair, you’re not expected to develop superhuman strength and agility; if it’s -40 outside and there’s a howling wind and you have an infant, no jury and few prosecutors would fault you for shooting; if you have kids sleeping upstairs and your abusive ex-spouse has come through the door with a chainsaw, backing away is a very relative thing.

The bill changes nothing about the citizen’s obligation to prove that self-defense with lethal force was justified. It merely tightens up a few of the technicalities.

Let’s summarize what’s in SF446, starting in Subdivision 2 (Subd. 1 is definitions, although they’re worth reading as well)

  • It clarifies the circumstances under which defending oneself (or someone else) with lethal force is authorized. It changes current law in that it allows self-defense when someone “Reasonably Believes” (i.e. – a jury will buy it) they could sustain “substantial” or “great” bodily harm (#2 in the criteria above). These are legal terms with real meanings; we’ll get to them below. (Subdivision 2)
  • Subdivision 3 says an individual “may stand the individual’s ground in any place where the individual has a legal right to be, and may use all force and means, including deadly force, that the individual believes is required to succeed in defense. The individual may meet force with superior force, so long as the individual’s objective is defense.” In other words, as long as you have an otherwise legitimate claim of self-defense, (you meet all four of the criteria above), you are not obligated to retreat from the fight (criterion 4, above)
  • Subdivision 4 states that a homeowner may legally presume that someone (unknown to thehomeowner!) who is breaking into their house or car can be presumed to be a potentially lethal threat.
  • Subdivision 5 essentially states that the provisions above can be part of a legal claim of self-defense.

And that’s it. It means that a homeowner doesn’t have to figure in his head “if that’s a razor blade, does that mean I only have a fear of “substantial” rather than “great” bodily harm?” (Zealous prosecutors have put otherwise law-abiding citizens in jail over that in the past). It means that a homeowner doesn’t have to parse a burglar, rapist or robber’s intent when they find them in their homes (a friend of mine spent years and tens of thousands of dollars defending himself against a zealous prosecutor for shooting a warning shot at a burglar. In his or her home).

The bill would replace existing statutes that justifies the taking of life in cases where bodily harm or death is eminent, [let’s cut Birkey some slack and assume he means “imminent” – Ed.] and create a broader set of circumstances for which “shooting first” is immune criminal prosecution.

Point of order: In self-defense situations, “shooting second” can be a really bad idea. I’m not sure who in the media came up with the “Shoot First Bill” meme, but it’s kinda a dumb one.

Introduced by State Sen. Pat Pariseau, R-Farmington, and Rep. Tony Cornish, R-Good Thunder, and supported by a number of Republicans, the bill is opposed by members of law enforcement and isn’t likely to pass the DFL-controlled legislature.

Part of the concern over the bill is that it diminishes the duty to retreat — that the first line of defense is not to kill, but to get out of harm’s way if it is safe to do so.

This “concern” is purely potemkin theatrics. There is no “duty to retreat”; to claim self-defense, one must currently show a “reasonable” attempt to de-escalate the conflict. Of course, “reasonable” means reasonable to a jury, sitting in a nice, secure jury room, in daylight, after having a county prosecutor ask them, rhetorically, “don’t you think he could have gone to the second floor, or out the door?” in a nice, brightly-lit courtroom, with all the time they need to make the decision.

Attorneys also fear that the bill could give criminals a license to kill.

“This expansion of the right to use deadly force would apply equally to criminals as to law-abiding citizens,” wrote Dakota County attorney James C. Backstrom. “It would create viable self-defense claims in situations like bar fights. It could allow rival gangs to shoot at one another with impunity. With no duty to retreat, anyone could claim they were responding to a threat of serious harm and were therefore justified in killing a person.”

I’m going to emphasize the next bit rather intensely:

This would seem to be patent misleading bullshit. There is nothing in Cornish/Pariseau’s bills about repealing the first of the four criteria; “one can not be a willing participant.  There’s nothing in the bill that would change any of the other requirements – that the fear of harm and the force used must be “reasonable”, as in “must convince a jury”.  Indeed, the bill states specifically that the law-abiding shooter may only shoot where the individual has a legal right to be (see above!); it says nothing about revoking any of the qualifications for a shooting to be considered self-defense!

I will be seeking comment from County Attorney Backstrom’s office on this statement, which would seem at best to be misleading, and at worst to be flatly at odds with legal reality, and issued for purposes of poltiical propaganda.  (Indeed, Backstrom’s op-ed piece, from which the quote is drawn, would seem to be a good candidate for a serious fisking).   I’ll (try to) be charitable, here; Backstrom could be talking about far-fetched technical defenses (when lawyers say things like “could create viable cases”, it means they’re stretching and stretching hard…).

The Cornish bill would remove some of the county prosecutor’s discretion in prosecuting otherwise law-abiding gun owners; it’d take away some of the need to parse the intent of people breaking into homes and cars.

That is all.

To pass this bill off as anything else with no attempt to get the broader legal and factual context is to serve as a DFL propaganda tool, and to toss aside any claim to journalistic credibility.

(I’d love to have left a comment about this in Birkey’s post – but apparently George Soros isn’t so flush that he’ll buy them a comment engine that actually functions..)

Saving Your Soul

Humans have a deep-seated need to belong to something bigger.

And I’m not just talking about the Minnesota Organization of Bloggers, here. Bear with me – Ed and I were talking about this on the show on Saturday, and I’ve got this urge to elaborate. And we know how ugly that can get…


For most of history, that “something bigger” has meant “higher powers” and “eternity” – the afterlife, Heaven and Hell, Valhalla, Nirvana, whatever. Organized religion, for much of human history, has focused (or, depending on the religion and your point of view, exploited) that human need, for good (hope, charity, Haendel and Bach) or ill. Religion is a hot topic, one way or another, for most of the organized world’s people.

And part of being “part of something bigger” also means “being against something bigger and badder and on the other side”; to Christians, it’s evil in its many forms, from Satan to temptation to what-have-you.

After the left claimed God was Dead in the late 19th century, that human impetus didn’t go away, of course. People have exploited that human desire even as they denied the Higher Power that had been its focus.

Marxism replaced God with ineluctible forces of history. Lenin turned that academic notion into a pseud-messianic crusade, an overarching “something bigger” that subsumed all of Russian (and, to his warped little mind, world) society. Stalin, a former Orthodox seminarian with a keen understanding of how people work, expanded his cult of personality to Messianic proportions – lessons the likes of Mao, Castro, Kim Jong-Il, Idi Amin and Pol Pot (himself a former Buddhist monk) exploited. And of course, they replaced Evil with a variety of enemies – class enemies, countries, anti-cults, whomever.
Hitler learned from Lenin’s mistakes, and did him one better; rather than banning God and the thousands of years of communal tradition His worship brings along, he co-opted it. An atheist, he wrapped himself and his party in the traditions of German Lutheranism and the mythology of German Catholicism, and – more importantly – the overarching German notion of Volk. This concept is a hard one to explain to Americans – I minored in German, and I’m only familiar with its outer edges – but it’s an idea at the nexus of the German land, language and history; Blut und Boden (“Blood and Territory”) is a phrase as familiar to students of Volk as “Domini et filii et spiritus sanctus is to Catholics, something with a meaning far beyond the literal to the adherent. Volk goes well beyond folklore and tradition, and was a sort of meta-religious link to Germany’s pagan past, underpinning German life and faith and culture the way paganism is just behind the surface of Latin, African and Caribbean Catholicism.

And so rather than having to spend time and energy vanquishing thousands of years of folk tradition and religious teaching, all Hitler had to do was take advantage of it.

Volk aided Hitler in putting a Big Evil – Judaism – in front of the people, as well; the Volk tradition viewed life on the land as inherently more noble and valuable than life in the towns; it viewed town and city life as corrupt and ignoble. And it associated Jews with city life, and at its extremes blamed them for its ills and corruption. The Lutheran Church in Germany drew heavily on Volk tradition and mythology, while the Catholic Church of the day added its own level of anti-Semitism which, again, was ripe for Hitler’s picking in Germany and especially Poland.

But in all cases, in the USSR and Red China and Nazi Germany and to similar extents in fascist countries everywhere, there were Big Enemies to replace the ones they’d abolished.


Ed and I talked about Michelle Obama’s “Save the Nation’s Soul” speech on the Northern Alliance show last weekend (the podcast should be up soon). We called out this statement of Mrs. Obama’s:

And things have gotten progressively worse throughout my lifetime, through Democratic and Republican administrations, it hasn’t gotten better for regular folks. ….

We have lost the understanding that in a democracy, we have a mutual obligation to one another — that we cannot measure the greatness of our society by the strongest and richest of us, but we have to measure our greatness by the least of these. That we have to compromise and sacrifice for one another in order to get things done. That is why I am here, because Barack Obama is the only person in this who understands that. That before we can work on the problems, we have to fix our souls. Our souls are broken in this nation.

Ed’s response on the show was similar to what he wrote on his blog:

But it’s the notion that only Barack Obama can save our souls that is the most offensive part of the speech, by far. Government doesn’t exist to save souls; it exists to ensure domestic tranquility and provide for the common defense. If I feel my soul needs saving, the very last place I’d look (in the US) for a savior would be Washington DC or Capitol Hill. I’ll trust God and Jesus Christ with my soul, and I’m not going to mistake Barack Obama for either one.

And my first reaction was similar; “Step off, ‘Chel.  My soul is between Christ and I”.

But it’s really a lot worse than rude presumption.  It’s not just that government is a lousy place to go for moral repair.  It’s that when govenrment tries to serve as a national soul, things break and people get hurt.
Fortunately, Jonah Goldberg just wrote an entire book on the subject, and the reaction to the book sparked a really great blog,  on which he writes;

Many of the tropes of a political religion/liberal fascism are evident. He exalts unity as it’s own reward. His talk of starting new and starting over often sounds like more than merely “turning the page” on the Bush-Clinton years. It sounds a bit like starting at Year Zero.

Which was the hallmark of Lenin and Mao; the past had to be wiped away (and its practitioners, real or imagined, sent to gulags) before the future could really get underway.

But what I find most intriguing is his rhetoric of destiny and “choseness.” He often makes it sound like he has been selected by forces of providence or God or simply history for this moment. He is, in Oprah’s words, “The One.” But even more interesting, he tells voters they are the ones. “This is it,” Obama proclaimed on Super Tuesday. “We are the ones we’ve been waiting for, we are the change that we seek.” That’s pretty oracular stuff.


Such a vision is comforting because it plays upon man’s inherent desire to belong, to be protected by his fellow man and his community. “Strength in numbers” is the narcotic of all populists, the logic of all “people powered movements” as leftwing bloggers like to say (though for reasons that defy easy analysis, the left has mastered the art of casting itself as the voice of the dissidents against the oppressive, stultifying “herd mentality” even as it places the group at the top of its hierarchy of political aesthetics). This is the motivating passion behind the fascist quest for order.

Sometimes it sounds like Obama wants to talk about God’s plan when he’s talking about his own campaign for a New Order. But most times, you can see that he wants to stay on the secular side of the divide — where his white base resides — but without giving up the prophetic vision. He wants to persuade his followers, and perhaps himself, that he is elect, but he cannot do so without religious language.

There’s much more, and you should just go read it.

I get leery of the likes of Mike Huckabee (note: not “Huckajesus”.  Just…no.  Don’t) and his rhetoric – but invoking ones’ personal, transparently-visible, well-known faith (anyone who thinks Christianity has a secret agenda has been sleeping for the past 2000 years) into the White House is both limted by the Constitution and mediated by the fact that it is completely open and transparent.  Most importantly, it’s a very different thing than turning the state into its own pseudo-religion.

The Harvest Home

I was a 20 year old college kid working a grindingly-boring Sunday afternoon shift at KQDJ Radio in Jamestown, ND on February 13, 1983.

I was doing what I usually did on those boring Sunday shifts; playing records, doing homework, taking transmitter readings.

Then, the police scanner in the “newsroom” next door, which normally burbled with the desultory reports of DWIs and bar fights and traffic stops that make up the lives of most small town cops, suddenly erupted.  There’d been a shootout; officers were down; cops and sheriff’s deputies were being dispatched to Medina, a town of about 400 people about 35 miles west of Jamestown on I94.

It took hours to untangle the story, which became perhaps the most famous crime in North Dakota history, the Medina Shootout.

Two US Marshals, dispatched from Fargo to try to arrest a group of tax-protesters affiliated with the neo-Nazi-sympathetic “Posse Comitatus”, had been killed in the shootout that ensued.  Their leader, Gordon Kahl, and several others fled the scene.  The scanner reported ambulances on their way to the hospital in Jamestown bringing the wounded, which included Yorie Kahl, criticially injured by a gunshot; in one of the many ironies that day, Kahl’s life was saved by the doctor on duty in the Emergency Room that day, Dr. Evan Kostick, father of my high school pal David (himself a doctor today), and one of Jamestown’s tiny Jewish community.

News organizations in North Dakota today are remembering the 25th anniversary of the shootout – the Fargo Forum led and leads the coverage; others from the Bismark Trib pitched in; former Forum staffer James Corcoran wrote “Bitter Harvest”, the definitive book on the event, relating not only the shootout and the apocalyptic trial of the survivors, but the social sturm und drang that the event caused on the Northern Plains.


Times were brutally tough in the Dakotas in the early ’80s.  The rest of the US was slowly recovering from a recession; it’d be hard to call what happened on the Plains anything less than a depression.  What the foreclosure crisis is to the inner city today, the farm crisis of the ’80s was to the Great Plains.

Some farmers – and some of the workers whose livelihoods depended on agriculture, which in North Dakota back then accounted for pretty much every job in the place – did what human nature naturally bids some people to do; blame someone else.  And for some – like Kahl and a thin film of like-minded people – it wasn’t a big leap from “losing your farm to the bank” and “losing your farm to Jewish Bankers”.  The Times’ review of “Bitter Harvest” notes:

The book that turned his head at an early age was ”The International Jew: The World’s Foremost Problem,” and it was written by Henry Ford.

It is based on a 1918 treatise called ”The Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” which purported to be the minutes of a cabal of Russian Jews plotting to destroy Christianity and the white race and take over the world. Ford wrote ”The International Jew” in 1920, and it was not until 1929 that he finally conceded that ”The Protocols” was a fabrication concocted by czarist Russian anti-Semites.

Even so, as a young man in the 1940’s, Mr. Kahl believed it totally. He had considerable encouragement. He came of age at a time when the velvet voice of the Rev. Charles Coughlin, a Roman Catholic priest who reached into almost as many homes with his weekly radio show as Fred Allen, broadcast some of the nastiest anti-Semitic propaganda ever heard on the airwaves; when Gerald L. K. Smith established the Jew-baiting Christian Nationalist Crusade in Arkansas and gained a national following, and when Gerald Winrod, an apocalyptic fundamentalist preacher in central Kansas gained tens of thousands of adherents to a movement that came to be known as the Jayhawk Nazis.

Winrod’s son, George Gordon Winrod, kept the ministry alive.  I remember his followers leaving corrosively anti-semitic leaflets under the windshield wipers of cars in the church parking lot when I was in ninth grade.

Nobody in my circle bought into it, of course – but we all knew people for whom it rang true.  There was an audience, out there.

And they – like Kahl – weren’t necessarily easily identifiable:

When Mr. Kahl came home from World War II, he was 25 years old, and he was regarded as a hero. He had shot down 10 enemy planes as a turret gunner on B-25’s, and he had won the Silver Star, the Bronze Star, two air medals, a Presidential unit citation and two Purple Hearts. That was not all the metal he brought home. Surgeons never did get out all the shrapnel he took in the jaw, chest and hip.

So the combination of hard times and ready scapegoats found some adherents.


Kahl escaped that day; with two federal agents dead, the federal law-enforcement machinery sprung into place.  Two blocks from the house where my father still lives in Jamestown, in Stutsman County’s then-brand-new courthouse, the FBI and an alphabet soup of other federal law-enforcement agencies set up their command post; local hotels were jammed with brusque men and women in sharp suits and/or, occasionally, battledress utilities.

And they were not happy.  Rumors began to circulate; the Feds were tramping about the prairie with big, nasty boots; they were conducting no-knock raids, presuming the locals guilty until proven innocent, acting like a hostile occupying power – or so said the rumors.

The previous summer, I’d worked at KDAK, a little station in Carrington, a town of about 2,000 about 40 miles north of Jamestown.   The station had also just hired a new “News Director”, a pretty mid-20-something named Peggy Polreis who’d just come from Carrington’s newspaper.  One of my jobs had been to make her broadcast-worthy.  I did a good job.

One day, a few days after the shootout, Peggy got a tip from a source that the Feds were going to search a farmhouse near nearby Fessenden.  She arrived on the scene to find that the press were being cordoned away from a farmhouse located a solid half-mile up the road, behind a shelter belt.

Peggy slipped away from the group, and crawled – so the story went – a quarter of a mile along the shelter belt, keeping out of sight of the cops.  She was, apparently, the only non-cop to see what happened.

The police – and, as I recall, a North Dakota National Guard armored personnel carrier – had surrounded the farmhouse.  A dog darted from an outbuilding; a policeman shot the dog dead.  The gunshot sparked more gunfire, and before long the farmhouse was completely riddled with bullet holes.  Finally, the police moved in…

…to discover the farmhouse empty.

It was one of many incidents that angered, and occasionally alienated, the locals from the Feds.


How you look at the events of that winter (and the ensuing spring and summer, when the manhunt for Kahl led to a final shootout in Arkansas that left Kahl and another Christian Identity supporter dead) depends on who, and where, you were back then.

If you were a local, you knew that North Dakotans tend to be good, law-abiding people; they’ve voted Republican in pretty much every Presidential election since statehood, making them marginally less conservative than Utah.  And yet the Posse, and Christian Identity, found recruits and adherents – and it was no mystery why.  Radical fringes were no stranger to the plains; the Non-Partisan League, the Grangers, the Bund and other fevered activists had gestated in the area in response to other crises since the 1890’s.

So we weren’t surprised that some of the locals were sympathetic.  It was a minority – a small one – but it drew attention.  One of them even wrote and recorded – on a home cassette player, I think – a song praising and rooting for Kahl, during the manhunt and before the final fatal shootout in Arkansas.  It got a little play – mostly from news organizations who were reporting on the acceptance Kahl, the Posse and other extremists got from the area.

If you weren’t from the area, and didn’t understand it, it must have seemed odd.  And maybe a little scary.


Hollywood certainly knows nothing of the area, and understands less about it.  But that didn’t stop it from making a made-for-TV movie, based rather loosely on Bitter Harvest, in 1991.  Line of Duty: Manhunt in the Dakotas starred Rod Steiger as Kahl, and Michael “Family Ties” Gross as an FBI agent from New York who flew to the state to help solve the crime.

The show got the basic facts right; the names, the places (most of the show was putatively set in Jamestown), the timeline (sort of).

But the Hollywood take on the area, and the locals, was bemusingly warped.  Part of it was the Central Casting version of small-town people; although North Dakota is a place where you can hear the Fargo accent (“Yah, sure, you betcha”) in a hundred little main street cafes and bars, the show had the local farmers speaking with cornpone Arklahoma drawls.  The locals, to Hollywood, were out of Gomer Pyle or, given the sinistry of the subject matter, maybe Deliverance.

Worse?  While there was support for Kahl (and even more criticism of the Feds’ heavy-handedness, arrogance, and occasional contempt for due process in the way they carried out the manhunt in the immediate wake of the shootout), Manhunt in the Dakotas showed something that was almost an active guerilla movement, with rocks and shots aimed at passing police cars, threats, Gross (and Larry Hunt as “Chief Walters”, a composite and sympathetic Jamestown police chief) being harrassed while driving in the countryside, and – in the movie’s climactic scene – the two walking, nervous, down “Jamestown”‘s main street as the “local radio station” played the pro-Kahl song (with a cheery intro from the DJ), both of them keenly aware of the hateful gazes of the locals (by now all of them seemingly Kahl-sympathizers) boring through them both, as if they were fully-bedsheeted Klansmen scurrying through Compton.

It was crap, of course, factually (no station in the state played the song, except as news) as well as socially (Jamestown is a college town of 16,000 that hosts a state hospital, and a school for the profoundly disabled, where Kahl had little traction; Kahl’s base of support was out on the isolated drift prairie).  But it was interesting, seeing how inscrutable “flyover land” was to the people who actually produce these things, and the almost-superstitious fear the place engenders.


That part of North Dakota is a huge place in terms of the land and the sky; the human geography is much smaller.  In the 22-odd years since I left the place, whenever I meet other expats, it’s hard to go more than thirty seconds without finding a common acquaintance.

It’s the same with events.  Besides Dr. Kostick, and Peggy Polreis, I knew Darrell Graf – Medina’s police chief at the time (and Graf has actually turned up on this blog) and people in his family.  Scott Kopp was another – a guy I remember as a Stutsman County deputy who lost a finger from a Kahl shot that could have done much worse.  Another guy – a Medina cop who was on the periphery of the action – was my friend’s sister’s boyfriend (and, the last I checked, husband of about twenty years).

The internet can make you acquainted with even more people.  Scott Faul – one of the Posse members who was arrested, tried and did prison time for his role in the shootout – has a blog.

Twenty five years is a long time, even out there.  But memories are longer still.

Pull Like Mad

It’s a metaphor I’m going to beat to death in the coming week and a half. Politics is a tug of war.

And right now, the tug I’m following is within the GOP.

Although my choice for the caucuses was still up in the air as of yesterday, it was going to be between Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney. Two good friends and colleagues of mine – Dennis Prager and Ed Morrissey – endorsed Rudy and Mitt, respectively, and for reasons I fully support.

Truth be told, I was planning on caucusing for Giuliani on Super Tuesday. Not “endorsing” Giuliani, because me and my political decisions are of no interest to anyone. But for whatever it’s worth, I was going to take it to the floor for Rudy. He has the combination of executive experience, fiscal conservatism and leadership that I think this nation needs. He’d have needed his feet held to the fire about nominating constructionist judges, of course, and the national media would have done to his personal life as the regional media did to Rod Grams (but, oddly, not Bill Clinton).

But there’s been a change of plan.

I’m a movement conservative first and a Republican second. My goal is to do what it takes to move the party to the right. My prototype for this idea was the 2002 Minnesota Gubernatorial nomination; during the convention, the insurgent candidacy of conservative Brian Sullivan drove pragmatist Tim Pawlenty to the right, enough that after over a dozen ballots he was able to win the nomination and, in November, the general election. I could have, and would have, gotten behind either one, because the alternative, Roger Moe, was too awful to think about.

And so it is this year; John McCain, whatever his sins against conservatism and conservatives, would be better than any of the Tic alternatives. He launched McCain-Feingold, but even the BCRA isn’t as bad as Hillary’s “Fairness Doctrine”; he’s wrong on immigration, but Madame Putin and Barack O’Kennedy would be worse; consulting with Carl Levin on judges is bad, but not as bad as having Levin controlling the president’s actions as he would with either of the Tic contenders. And McCain is right on so many issues; spending (although he needs to get religion on taxes), the war, the Second Amendment, and many more. Perfect is the enemy of good enough – and McCain would not just be the lesser of three evils when stacked up against Madame Putin and O’Kennedy – he’s lesser in the “evil” department by head, shoulders and ankles.

But the general election is nine months away; the convention, seven; Super Di Duper Tuesday, a week and a half. Today is not the time to settle for the lesser of evils; not yet.

So I’ll be caucusing for Romney on Tuesday. I’m going to do my bit to make sure that the media coronation of their pet Republican gets a steep, snarling speed bump, courtest of the right; I’m going to give the Straight Talk Express some straight talk of my own, right into the teeth of the gale, and make damn sure Mac knows that, while I’ll work and donate and vote for him should he come out with the nomination, there is a movement here that he’ll ignore, or antagonize, at his own peril.

You listening, John?

“Bogus” Doug over at True North says:

Seriously, despite the blather, John McCain is no liberal. Neither was (umm… I mean IS… he’s not technically dead. Just pining for the fjords.) Rudy. Neither is Mitt. They’re all merely imperfect in their execution of whatever conservative perfection is supposed to be these days…

…On to Super Tuesday and the Minnesota Caucus… where I shall be politely applauding the cause of the Man from Michigan Utah Massachusetts. But I’m not going to be all lathered up about it. Nor foaming at the mouth if the zeitgeist of my fellows ends up endorsing McCain. Any other result will get the expected mockery of course. But I’ll at least get some entertainment out of it, so even that wouldn’t be a total loss.

Thorley Winston stated a thought-provoking case for JMac last fall – one that coincided with my Road to Damascus Tempe moment at the December 8 debate, where I noticed that Mac does say a lot of the right things. (Thorley – get back to blogging, man!)

Jay Reding (I add emphasis):

Sen. John McCain is an American hero, a man of great personal integrity and someone who has always stood strongly on the side of his country. He often rubs conservatives the wrong way, and his “maverick” image causes much consternation—however, when it comes right down to it a man who agrees with us 80% of the time is better than a woman who represents the worst of American politics and a man whose great rhetoric is but a cover for a fundamental lack of real-world experience. We may have our issues with John McCain, but when it comes down to the basic principles of the party: fiscal conservatism, a strong national defense and strengthening the family, McCain has his heart in the right place.

Conservatives should make their voices heard, and they should continue to push Sen. McCain towards the mainstream of the party as they have on issues like immigration. However, if McCain gets the nomination—and it seems altogether likely that he will—conservatives cannot let the perfect be the enemy of the good. John McCain will cut wasteful spending in Washington, defend our troops in Iraq and our war against radical Islamist terrorism and will continue to be a strong voice for respecting human life, born and unborn. He may not be perfect, but he can lead, and we need true leadership in Washington more than anything else.

GeeEmInEm will also be caucusing for Mitt. He promises a post soon; keep checking TvM, since whenever he writes it, it’ll be better than just about anyone else’s take on the subject.

Ed notes:

If Romney wants to build momentum and define the race in binary conservative vs moderate terms, he has to start tonight and get aggressively positive about his credentials. He has only a few days in which he can crowd McCain out of the messaging. If he can’t do that tonight and for the next five days, he will have little chance of prevailing, especially if McCain takes a big delegate lead next week.

What does McCain need to do? He needs to reach out to conservatives. He started last night with a gracious victory speech, but he needs to address the real and honest concerns on policy that conservatives still have with McCain. They need to see McCain promise to go after the Democrats with the same fervor that he went after Republicans over the years, and he has to convince them that he won’t go back on his word on border security and tax cuts. After this debate, he has to make a significant outreach effort, and CPAC would be the best place to do this.


What I find particularly hard to swallow, though — and this is not Bill’s problem — are the people who say that if Romney doesn’t make it they’ll vote Democratic rather than support McCain because McCain’s not a true conservative. Maybe not, but neither is Romney, and it seems like a strange place to draw the line. Those who hold a special grudge against McCain over immigration or McCain-Feingold are a different case. But again, everybody gets to vote how they want. Just be prepared to live with the results.

More as we get closer to the cauci.

Pulling The Ribbon

Politics in our society is a matter of compromise among different forces pulling in each direction, reaching an agreement that everyone can live with (or at least tries to, until the next election cycle).

I view politics as a tug of war. A series of tugs-of-war, really – one for each issue that’s out there, at any level, from National Security to Welfare to Cheese Price Supports. At the center of each debate is a mud pit; a ribbon in the exact center of each rope shows how well each team is doing.

My role in that tug of war is to affect that compromise by pulling to the right like there’s no tomorrow. So I pull like mad, and the ribbon over the mud thus inches a little closer to the right. Others, of course, pull against me, trying to edge the ribbon to the left. I know there’ll be a compromise; I know that the harder I pull to the right, the more people will (if I’m doing my job) be convinced to pull with me, and the farther to the right that ribbon – the “final” results of the compromise – will be.

Abortion is one of those tugs of war. When I was a kid, in 1973, the ribbon got a huge pull to the left with Roe Vs. Wade. In the past 35 years, many – from conservative evangelicals to liberal Catholics – have grabbed onto the rope from the right and pulled with all their might. And for some of us, the hope for a compromise – knowing that a complete ban was not going to happen in our lifetimes – was the hope that just one more tug would pull the ribbon just far enough so that people – maybe a majority – would see that while abortion was legal, that aborting a fetus was an act imbued with much more moral gravity than excising a wart or clipping a toenail.

In other words, the first step to an acceptable a less vile compromise would be for abortion’s supporters to realize that there is a moral dimension to abortion. It’s a realization that abortion’s most sacramentalist zealots resist, because it’d be the first step in gutting the notion that a fetus is nothing but a mass of tissue until you get a diaper on it.

Steve Chapman notes in Sunday’s Strib that there are signs the ribbon, measured by popular culture, may have moved that far (I’ve added some emphases):

Laws often alter attitudes, inducing people to accept things — such as racial integration — they once rejected. But sometimes, attitudes move in the opposite direction, as people see the consequences of the change. That’s the case with abortion.The news that the abortion rate has fallen to its lowest level in 30 years elicits various explanations, from increased use of contraceptives to lack of access to abortion clinics. But maybe the chief reason is that the great majority of Americans, even many who see themselves as prochoice, are deeply uncomfortable with it.In 1992, a Gallup/Newsweek poll found 34 percent of Americans thought abortion “should be legal under any circumstances,” with 13 percent saying it should always be illegal. Last year, only 26 percent said it should always be allowed, with 18 percent saying it should never be permitted.

Further signs?
Sentiments are even more negative among the group that might place the highest value on being able to escape an unwanted pregnancy: young people. In 2003, Gallup found, one of every three kids from age 13 to 17 said abortion should be illegal in all circumstances. More revealing yet is that 72 percent said abortion is “morally wrong.”
It helps that pro-life groups have adopted the tactics of the tug of war, if not the metaphor:
By now, prolife groups know that outlawing most abortions is not a plausible aspiration. So they have adopted a two-pronged strategy. The first is to regulate it more closely — with parental-notification laws, informed consent requirements and a ban on partial-birth abortion. The second is to educate Americans with an eye toward changing “hearts and minds.” In both, they have had considerable success.
And the biggest victory might be the change among the biggest set of hearts and “minds” involved:
Even those who insist Americans are solidly in favor of legal abortion implicitly acknowledge the widespread distaste. That’s why the Democratic Party’s 2004 platform omitted any mention of the issue, and why politicians who support abortion rights cloak them in euphemisms like “the right to choose.”
Let’s jump to a different mud-pit for a moment, on an issue that can still be just as fractious as abortion.The high-water mark of gun control was between 20 and 30 years ago. Gun control laws reached their high-water mark – the ribbon was as far to the left as it was going to go – in the early eighties, when the detritus of the first wave of gun laws hadn’t yet crumbled away; in 1983, only eight states had “shall-issue” permit laws, and many cities were flirting with Morton-Grove-like gun bans. 25 years later, gun control is electoral poison for Tics nationwide (and outside the metro in Minnesota).
That the Tics are soft-pedalling the issue at the platform level might just be a sign that even they see the ribbon has pulled far enough to the right that they need to change their approach.Like all political geologic shifts, it’s been a slow one. I remember this moment…:

But some abortion-rights supporters admit reservations. It was a landmark moment in 1995 when the prochoice author Naomi Wolf, writing in the New Republic magazine, declared that “the death of a fetus is a real death.” She went on: “By refusing to look at abortion within a moral framework, we lose the millions of Americans who want to support abortion as a legal right but still need to condemn it as a moral iniquity.”
I remember thinking then – almost 13 years ago – that this could be the first gap in the dam. And it may be another 13, or 26, or 39 years before we reallysee the fruits of this change in attitude.But that’s how national attitudes change.As in so many societal changes, technology helps:

This growing aversion to abortion may be traced to better information. When the Supreme Court legalized abortion in 1973, most people had little understanding of fetal development. But the proliferation of ultrasound images from the womb, combined with the dissemination of facts by prolife groups, has lifted the veil.
But if even that most reactionarily-left-of-center barometer of this nation, Hollywood, takes note, then maybe we’re on to something:
In the comedy movie “Juno,” a pregnant 16-year-old heads for an abortion clinic, only to change her mind after a teenage protester tells her, “Your baby probably has a beating heart, you know. It can feel pain. And it has fingernails.”
“Juno” has been faulted as a “fairy tale” that sugarcoats the realities of teen pregnancy.
That ain’t the half of it. Twin Cities’ area critics – perhaps eating their own (Juno writer Diablo Cody is the only one of their clique to make good in recent years – have called it “conservative”!

But if it’s a fairy tale, that tells something about how abortion violates our most heartfelt ideals — and those of our adolescent children. Try to imagine a fairy tale in which the heroine has an abortion and lives happily ever after.

But whatever the larger barometers – pop culture, politics, wherever – the ultimate arbiter is found in the American heart aned mind. And Chapman sees reason for hope in a small turn of emotional phrase:

The prevailing view used to be: Abortion may be evil, but it’s necessary. Increasingly, the sentiment is: Abortion may be necessary, but it’s evil.
And so, one tug at a time, the ribbon moves toward the right bank of the mud pit.

Squadron Leader ‘Jimmy’ James

I was – it should shock nobody – a big geek in elementary, junior and (most of) senior high school. I read. A lot. I had my library card maxed pretty continuously from when I got one – in 1970, at age six – until I graduated from high school.

Mostly, I was a history buff; I read pretty much every bit of history Jamestown’s library offered. Now, in reading as in everything else in life, I’m not as a rule a systematic guy. My style: I’d pick a subject, and go on a jag of from a week to several months reading about it incessantly (not unlike someone we all know). And those subjects were all over the waterfront.

But there were two threads that made the biggest impression on me, then and now.

One was Ernest Shackleton and the “Endurance” expedition of 1916-1919. Shackelton was a British explorer whose ship, Endurance, was crushed by pack ice during a hard Antarctic winter. He led his men for two solid years, surviving on the pack ice and then, as hope seemed to fade, on a couple of nearly-impossible treks across the superhumanly-turbulent South Atlantic, sailing hundreds of miles without sophisticated navigational gear in what amounted to open boats, in a climate where “dead of winter” and “heat of summer” aren’t really all that different. He made it, saving himself and his entire crew, in a feat that borders on mythic. Whenever life’s gotten difficult – or “difficult” – for me, I’ve looked back on Shackelton’s example, put my chin up, and kept on plodding.

My other big reading jones, from age 11 to maybe 16, was escape stories.

There were many, of course; during World War II, tens of thousands of Allied soldiers were held prisoner in conditions that varied from bad to atrocious, even with the protection of the Geneva Convention; all of them fared better than the Russian POWs (the USSR never signed the Geneva Convention, and neither Germany nor the USSR honored its terms with each others’ prisoners); all fared better than the concentration camp and extermination camp inmates, whose fate is a matter of shameful record.

And their stories – full of ingenuity, wit, hope, and above all endless perseverence in the face of near-impossible (and, in the case of concentration camp inmates, brutal and lethal) odds – inspired me, then and now.

Many of the stories should be household names, taught to students in our history classes as examples of the best of humanity. In 1944, the inmates of the German extermination camp at Sobibor, Poland – perhaps a thousand Jews and Russian POWs, there to work the machinery that consumed over a quarter-million lives, plotted to overwhelm and kill their guards and escape to the woods to try to meet the oncoming Soviets. A few hundred made it to the woods. A few dozen survived the German pursuit and the depredations of Polish civilians (who largely hated Jews more than Nazis). The story was made into a pretty good TV movie, of all things, in the mid-eighties, with Rutger Hauer, Alan Arkin and Joanna Pacula.

There was also the story of British Sergeant-Major John Coward, captured near Dunkirk, who escaped from several camps and infiltrated Auschwitz. He testified at Nuremberg.

But the biggest – and best-known – body of work on POW escapes was by three British authors – Paul Reid, Eric Williams and Paul Brickhill. Their work was closely related.

Brickhill, an Australian fighter pilot captured after being shot down over Tunisia in 1943, wrote Reach For The Sky, the story of Wing Commander Douglas Bader – one of Britain’s top aces in the Battle of Britain, despite having two artificial legs. Bader was the subject of many books. Held at a number of camps, including the infamous castle at Colditz (documented in Reid’s Escape from Colditz, among others), where many “high-value” and “incorrigible” habitual POWs were held, Bader still attemped several escapes, despite his “handicap”.

Williams was a navigator on a British Short “Stirling” bomber shot down early in the war. Held in a camp on the Baltic coast of Poland, he attempted several escapes (memorialized in his book The Tunnel); afterward, transferred to Stalag-Luft III near Zagan, Poland, he carried out one of the most ingenious escapes ever, chronicled in his book The Wooden Horse: he and two other POWs built a wooden vaulting horse; the other inmates carried the horse, the inmates inside, to the same spot in the compound every morning. Camouflaged under the spot was a trap door, which led to a tunnel the men dug, patiently, with kitchen knives and condensed milk cans, every day for months. Finally, Williams and his two compatriots escaped. Improbably, all three made it back to the UK – one (Oliver Philpot) via Switzerland, and Williams and his partner John Phillips via Sweden.  All three wrote books – Williams’ is the essential one (and was made into a movie in the UK in 1950, something I expect only Lileks to know…)
Williams’ feat was mentioned in the other major book on the subject, Brickhill’s The Great Escape.  Brickhill’s book – a true story – covered perhaps the greatest POW camp break of all time, which took place at the same camp, about a year later. This story isn’t unfamiliar to Americans; it was turned into a major motion picture in the sixties which, if you leave out Steve McQueen’s role completely (Americans were involved in the beginning of the escape, but were transferred to a US-only camp early in the digging), wasn’t all that inaccurate by silver screen standards.

But don’t forget Steve McQueen’s role entirely. It returns in a bit. Sort of.

The escape itself was epic in scale; the idea was to dig three tunnels – “Tom”, “Dick” and “Harry” – from the camp, allowing all 1,000+ inmates to escape. It went well beyond digging, though; the inmates – using jury-rigged, extemporized and smuggled materials – had to forge identity papers, create imitation civilian clothing, escape maps, iron rations for carrying on the road, and routes and tactics to get the escapees from the tunnel exit to freedom, for the POWs. (Brickhill was a POW at Stalag III at the time; barred from the escape by his claustrophobia, he particpated in other preparations).

And before any of that was an issue at all, they had to make the tunnels usable. Public TV’s Nova covered an archaological dig on the site of the old camp a few years ago. The soil in that part of Slaskie is thin, runny sand; Brickhill and Williams both spoke of the difficulties of digging through it, but it wasn’t until you saw it on Nova that you caught the full gravity of the engineering challenge it posed. The sand was a thin, yellow slop, resembling a combination of beach sand and diarrhea. The archeaological crew nearly lost a backhoe down a pit, when the side walls gave way; it would have been hard to build a useful sand castle in that slop. And yet, the Brits tunneled thirty feet down, building tunnels two feet wide and over 200 feet long, shored up with smuggled bunk boards and ration tins. They even built a trolley system on crude wooden rails, to ease the load of hauling the tons of sand – which then had to be distributed around the camp (it looked yellow and muddy until the sun could dry it, meaning that the inmates had to devise elaborate ruses to hide the stuff).

In the end, in March of 1944, 241 POWs entered one of the tunnels (one had been discovered, and the other used to hide sand); before the escape was discovered, 76 got out. 73 were recaptured (two Norwegian and one Dutch pilots made it to the UK); of the rest, 50 were murdered on Hitler’s orders.

I remember that story, like Shackleton’s, whenever I think something is impossible, or just too damn hard.

The above is a long, long lead-up to the actual story of this post.

The four great British POW escape books – Escape from Colditz, The Tunnel, The Wooden Horse and finally The Great Escape – all had one name in common; a young British officer, captured in the early days of the war, who attempted escape more than any known man. Steve McQueen’s motorcycle-jumping wise-cracking Yank in the Great Escape movie was said to have been loosely modeled after the real life exploits of Squadron Leader ‘Jimmy’ James, who passed away last week at age 92. S/L James particpated in the Great Escape – he was the thirtieth man through the tunnel on the night of the big break – as well as many earlier and later attempts. None of thsoe attempts got him back to the UK – he was rescued by American soldiers at the end of the war, as SS guards debated executing him and a group of other POWs that were bein held as hostages.  But all of which made him a legend among British POWs.

James was one of the few to escape execution after the Great Escape, and joined two others at the notorious death camp at Sachsenhausen, from where he made another daring escape by tunnel, only to be recaptured 10 days later.

Read the whole long, fascinating story.

And if you learn nothing else from his example, learn tenacity.

Life and Liberty

Doug Tice – who’s taken and run with “The Big Question” after Eric Black’s departure – noted something from Saturday’s NARN broadcast:

Yesterday, on one of the Saturday afternoon “Northern Alliance Radio Network” talk shows on AM 1280 The Patriot, I heard two of the the allies — I believe, Mitch Berg (from shotinthedark.info) and Captain Ed (from captainsquartersblog.com) — discussing last week’s awful Nebraska mall shooting. Their take on it was intriguing.

Doug noted that, first, I…

…insisted that nearly all mass shootings in recent years have occured in “gun-free” zones.

Not surprisingly, evidence for these assertions has been compiled and disseminated by scholar John Lott, the famed advocate of the “more guns-less crime” theory.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist – or an economist – to note that the vast preponderance of spree killings – certainly all of the ones the media brings up – take place in “gun free zones”, in academic sources like Lott, as well as, er less-academic ones:

Schools. College campuses. Government buildings. The list goes on, and on, and on. And if there are exceptions to the rule, they are often as not found in “gun-free” states.

We can certainly argue the premise. The numbers are on my side, but there is most certainly an argument to be had.

But Tice goes on to the more interesting question:

But anyhow, the allies didn’t stop there. Apparently following the lead of Instapundit’s Glenn Reynolds, they argued that victims or victims’ families in this situation may have grounds for a lawsuit against the mall based on the gun ban.

No doubt there will, as usual, be lawsuits, alleging various reasons for holding the mall liable for the tragedy. But the new theory (new to me, anyhow) is this: By deliberately banning otherwise permitted guns from their property, the mall managers exposed their customers to greater danger from criminal violence, since the ban ensured that no one would have the means to return fire.

Not “legally”, anyway. Fact is, if Nebraska’s law is anything like Minnesota’s, then carrying illegally in the store would have been a legal infraction, punishable by a fairly trivial fine. I’m not sure if there’d be any additional penalty to a carry permit holder actually using a permitted gun in a posted space in legal self-defense, or if a jury would ever convict them of it if they had done so. I don’t know that there’s ever been a case on the subject.

But I digress. The fact remains that the Westroads Mall had declared itself a no-gun zone – for those who follow the niceties of the law, anyway. And I, like most carry-permit holders, would have honored that request – by keeping my gun, out of there. Also myself; I don’t go where I’m not wanted, as a rule, and I don’t spend my money there, either.

Tice cuts to the, er, Big Question:

Interesting, but also puzzling.

Granting, for the sake of argument, the Lottian view that gun-free status makes a place of business more dangerous for its patrons, this lawsuit theory seems a surprising position for conservatives to take, since they presumably are defenders of private property rights.

True. (And to be perfectly accurate, I’m not entirely sure Ed shares my views on this issue; guns are pretty much my turf, among the NARN crew).

Doesn’t a property owner have a right to ban guns from his property, even if it is unwise to do so? And aren’t those who believe such a ban puts them at risk free not to enter his property?

Yes, and yes. It’s a freedom I generally exercise, too. As noted above, I rarely if ever patronize posted businesses, if there is a reasonable alternative.

Aren’t customers assuming any risk, and waiving any right to recompense, when they knowingly and voluntarily enter a gun-free zone?

I’m not aware that there is any law or precedent about this. Has there ever been a case with a:

  1. legal activity, whose practicioners are…
  2. …permitted by the state to carry out the activity with…
  3. …an object that is legal – a firearm – for the express purpose of…
  4. …defending themselves and bystanders from…
  5. …an illegal activity that also happens to be a lethal threat?

…being enjoined for matters of a shopkeeper’s pure personal preference (as opposed to an empirical hazard – which, let us not forget, doesn’t exist with concealed carry permit holders)?

I’m trying to think of any situation that’d be even analogous. Barring defibrilators from your store (they can be misused!)? Banning asthma inhalers (they can be abused)?

Here’s the, er, Big Counterquestion: Does your property right trump my right to self-preservation?

The situation seems roughly comparable to the debate over bar and restaurant smoking bans. Conservatives as a rule argue that smoking bans are improper because a property owner should be able to decide whether to allow smoking or not. People who fear secondhand smoke need not work there or take their leisure there — or so the conservative line usually goes.

By and large conservatives can be expected to respond with disdain to the idea of lawsuits based on harm from voluntary exposure to secondhand smoke.

True. But the two ideas aren’t really similar. If I’m in a bar, smell smoke, and decide I don’t like it, I (and my friends and family) can make an orderly exit with a reasonable chance of getting out alive.

If I’m in that same bar, and a spree killer stands in the doorway and starts blazing away, the decision loop is a lot tighter; neither I nor the bar owner can be reasonably assumed to have chosen this activity; it’s being inflicted on all of us against our will. The threat to my life, liberty and happiness isn’t at some hypothetical intersection of property rights and science. It is in the hands of a madman with a gun. A madman that the store owner has forbidden me to defend myself against, without (obviously, and indeed impossibly) safeguarding me and mine from him.
He’s put my right to live snugly behind his property rights.  Just as the owners of the Westroads Mall did.

And let’s not forget that while the science of secondhand smoke is very much up in the air, the science of hot lead is not.

Here are three questions — assuming, for this purpose, that both secondhand smoke and gun bans are hazardous to people voluntarily exposed to them.

Question 1: Is it possible, coherantly, to believe secondhand smoke lawsuits are ridiculous but gun-ban lawsuits make sense?

Question 2: Is coherance possible the other way around — secondhand smoke lawsuits are sensible but not gun-ban lawsuits?

Going to a bar and smoking are both voluntary activities. One may leave a bar and find a smoke-free place at ones’ leisure. One may not leave this life, metaphysics aside, to go to a different one if someone gives you secondhand lead. Being enjoined by a property owner from taking legal steps with a legal gun that one is legally permitted to carry to safeguard the life that you and yours have is a whole different level of importance.

And when you’re talking about government offices and public buildings, I think it’s even more clear-cut. The right to protect ones’ life, and ones family’s lives, exists on at least as high a moral plane as private property (and at least a plane higher than smoking).

Question 3: Again assuming the Lottian view correct, are gun bans by private businesses a market failure caused, as market failures often are, by inadequate information — in this case people’s failure to understand what really makes them unsafe? Is the mall owner’s self interest in attracting shoppers better served by what Lottians would consider the illusory safety of the advertised gun ban than by the actual safety of allowing guns?

When statistically tiny numbers of Americans were poisoned by tampered Tylenol, or sickened by tainted spinach, sales of both dropped through the floor, creating marketing nightmares for both industries.

Against that – in just two incidents in “gun-free zones” in the past year, over forty people have died. In Minnesota, ten people have died in two school shooting incidents in the past few years – all of them on “gun-free” property. I’m not sure where that places the relative odds of dying of tainted beef to being shot by a madman at a posted business or federally “gun-free” school, but I’m guessing it’s pretty daunting.

I think the market has at least partially answered Doug’s question; the vast majority of the stores that “posted” themselves in the wake of the Minnesota Personal Protection Act have quietly dropped the signs in recent years; perhaps some were swayed by the protests of people like me, who made our displeasure at the unwarranted bigotry known. The vast majority, I suspect, simply realized that the law-abiding gun owner was less a threat than the average customer, and that Wes Skoglund was a lying moron.

If it takes a lawsuit to convince the rest that my right to protect my life is on a par with their property right – or at least that trying to trump my right to survive with their property rights is an act with consequences – I think I’m willing to go with that.

Am I missing something?

UPDATE:  Of course I’m missing something!  Or at least in Minnesota, according to the panoply of lawyers in the comment section below. 

So the legal route is, at least under Minnesota law, a non-starter (I don’t know about Nebraska law), and as commenter Jay Reding points out, the market does seem to be taking care of things in Minnesota. 

And commenter JoelR notes that, since carrying ones’ legally-permitted handgun in a posted store is an infraction that might be punishable by a $25 fine in Minnesota, it’s pretty much worth committing “civil disobedience” anyway, as long as one acts legally (to say nothing of tactfully and respectfully – keeping the gun carefully concealed and not making an ass of oneself.  Which is always a good idea).

But let me emphasize; while the law would seem to hold that the stores are legally blameless for anyone getting murdered because nobody can legally carry a firearm to defend themselves, it still doesn’t make it right.  Hence, I’ll continue to avoid posted stores; less out of fear of mass-murder than out of protest against bigotry against the demonstrably law-abiding.

Like me.

How Many Fetuses Fit On The Head Of A Pin?

While I think my parents thought I might grow up to be an academic, I turned off that track bright and early. One of the things that sparked that swerve was the notion that you could – and many would-be professors do – slave away for years and years, and are still not really considered professors until they get “tenure”. Until they got tenure, life was an endless parade of crummy jobs, moving constantly, being treated like (by academic standards) crap.

I preferred the much more stable world of radio.

The point, of course, was that life on the academic track was nasty, brutish, and tenuous – until one achieved that magical state of tenure.

Which was, if nothing else (in theory) a fairly objective state. Either one had it, or one did not, and one usually knew what was required to get it. It was pretty black or white.

Some of life’s issues break out like that – with a black or white answer. Others, not so much.

And with still others, it really depends on how you come to the issue.


Abortion’s never been my biggest topic. The way I figure, if we lose the war on terror, the Planned Parenthood staff and the Pro-Life Minnesota staff are both pretty well screwed. If this nation isn’t secure, none of us will be protesting at abortion clinics; if the nation is prosperous (ergo Republican), people will be either financially secure enough to want the babies, or working too hard to have sex enough to make it an issue.

Make no mistake about it, I’m pro-life. I think abortion is wrong. A pro-“choice” dogmatist will try to read some big pathology about “wanting to control women” into that. It’s garbage, of course; with two teenagers, I realize that my odds of “controlling” anyone are slim to nil.

No, it’s because I value human life and because being pro-“choice” involves a leap of faith that I can’t justify.

That’s right. The “anti-religious” stance on abortion requires the leap.

Bear with me here.

Last week, I was reading Jeff Fecke,writing over at “Shakespeare’s Sister”, your one-stop shop for shrill, skin-deep “feminism”. Now, I’ll admit – I’ve given Fecke a hard time this last year or so; partly due to things like this, sometimes for things like this, and largely for his nonpareil skills as a single-A-league Atrios impersonator.  Sometimes I read, sometimes I ignore.

But since he refers to me (later on), I figured it was worth a read.

My memory was tripped by this Monday quote from Mark Steyn. Ordinarily you’d expect he’d be saying something about how the Muslims have taken Oberammergau,

Given the influence of John Stewart on the left’s sense of humor, in a generation no liberal will be able to dismiss an opposing idea without some sort of labored exaggeration. I may hold a telethon.

But I digress:

but on Monday, he decided to take a break, and instead defend the stalking of a 12-year-old boy and his family:

Michelle Malkin reports that the blogospheric lefties are all steamed about the wingnuts’ Swiftboating of sick kids, etc.

Sorry, no sale. The Democrats chose to outsource their airtime to a Seventh Grader. If a political party is desperate enough to send a boy to do a man’s job, then the boy is fair game. [Emphasis mine]

“Fair game.” Now where had I heard that before?

I’m tempted to answer “the same place the writer learned – or didn’t learn – about context”.

But never mind; we’re about to find out!

Back in May, my friend and then-editor at Minnesota Monitor, Robin Marty, announced she was expecting a child. It was great news for Robin and her husband Steve, and obviously those of us who know them were happy for them.Now, Robin was and is a longtime supporter of abortion rights. Something about women having the right to determine what happens in their own bodies.

Well, let’s cut the euphemism; abortion rights is the ability for women to (depending on your point of view) destroy an inconvenient (or, rarely, dangerous) tissue mass, or destroy a human that can’t quite exist outside the womb yet.

Everyone can “control what happens to their own bodies”; it’s called “wearing a rubber”, “taking precautions”, “being aware that sex has consequences”, or – heaven/goddess/physiology forfend – keeping your clothes on.

The usual response is “sex shouldn’t be tied to having kids”. And it’s there that pro-life and pro-“choice” people split.

We’ll get back to that very shortly.

Anyhow, like many pro-choice women, Robin was still able to enjoy her pregnancy, knowing that even though it was early in her term, the fetus that she carried was going, eventually, to grow into her child.This is, of course, something those of us who are pro-choice get.

I remember that moment back when my daughter was in about her 25th week, when I was almost certain she was going to be a Crock Pot. The funny part was, I felt the same thing about my son!

I’m not quite sure what Fecke means by this; as a pro-life father of two, I most definitely knew my kids were – God or physiology or blind capricious fate willing – going to grow into the vexing, voracious teenagers they are today. Does he really think that there’s something about being OK with abortion that grants some special perspective on rearing children?

I’m willing to chalk it all up to sloppy writing – Fecke is nothing if not reliably imprecise. If, on the other hand, that is what he (or any other pro-“choice” person) believes – well, I’d love to hear more.

Let’s chalk it up to “sloppy writing” and ignore the digression and move on:

I knew that at one month, two months, even four months, my daughter really didn’t exist yet.

Let’s stop right here – since it does, in fact, illuminate the entire difference between the sides in this “debate”.  The overarching question is “when does life begin”; the empirical answer is “we don’t know yet”.  To the pro-life person, the response is “err on the side of life, since life is absolutely sacred”.  To the pro-choice person, it is…

…whatever it takes to support the fundamentally political thesis that undergirds the pro-“choice” movement.  In other words, a leap of faith.

Let’s start at the beginning.

A fertilized egg – without the aid of any medical intervention, either either caring for it or “terminating” it – will spontaneously abort itself, or “miscarry”, about 1/4 of the time.

And in places with no medical care whatsoever – including Minnesota, not much over 100 years ago, during our great-great-grandparents’ lifetimes – a child was 1/3 likely to die in childbirth, or within the first year thereafter.

Thus – without any aid (or assault) from medicine – a conceived egg left to its’ own devices has a 50-50 chance of becoming a living, breathing, independent human being, through a process that exists for no other reason than to create human beings, using physiology that – pleasurable and species-reinforcing side-effects aside – exists purely to create more human beings. Human beings that need some help getting started – a place to quickly evolve, we hope, from zygote to fetus to baby.

To the pro-“life” person, the implication is that one of sex’s consequences is that, if the right sperm meets the right egg, the couple – fella and dame – are entering into something that transcends either of their own lives, much less their own bodies; the creating of another human being, who will – physiology or God or remorseless chance willing – will one day be just like us, only maybe a little better. Because sex has such far-reaching, legitimately life-altering consequences, we alter our behavior accordingly – we abstain (even to the point of abjuring sex outside of marriage), or we are extra-cautious, believing as we do that a “fetus” is something that might not be “viable”, per se, but that is intended to be viable (knowing also that no “fetus” is “viable” until it can hold a job and pay its rent), and which is imbued with a moral significance by the very fact that it is intended to be human one day. Something we have no more right to extinguish for being inconvenient than a hospital has to euthanize intensive care patients (who, indeed, are often no more capable of living outside the ICU than a 18 week old fetus is of living outside the womb.
To a pro-“choice” person, the zygote is a mass of tissue until – at some hard-to-determine point that nonetheless seems to usually swerve to the side of convenience, including up to the moments before birth in all-too-many cases – it isn’t.

In summation: cohesive view about the role of reproduction in life and the ethical and place of the “fetus” in that process, versus belief in a mystical change in state from “tissue mass” to “human” that takes place…when? When the head comes out? When the “fetus” gets past the earliest point medical science has been able to sheperd a preemie to life? When government, in the infinite wisdom of a body of people who eschew studying either science of philosophy for the here-and-now noodling of the law, says it turns into a human?

Given that, wouldn’t it be much more fair to say that “given my attachment to the notion of this mystical unknown threshold, I believed she didn’t really exist yet”. Because you have no objective, empirical measurement – nothing analogous to, say, “it exists”. Such a belief is, objectively, no more grounded in fact than belief in a flat earth or Ron Paul.

And – since this post moves on to talk about thresholds for taking offense at satire – Fecke should be aware that the notion that a fetus “doesn’t exist” is no less objectionable than saying a profoundly handicapped child or a comatose person “doesn’t exist”.

Had my ex-wife suffered a miscarriage, we would have been sad, of course, but I know in my bones that we would not grieve the way we would…well, let me put it this way. I can type “if my ex-wife suffered a miscarriage.” I can’t even bring myself to type out the hypothetical that would apply to my daughter now. The mere thought makes me sick to my stomach. If anything happened to my daughter, a part of me would die, forever. I would never be the same, and I would never want to be. Had my ex suffered a miscarriage? It would have been sad, and we would have grieved for the idea of the child we’d expected.

Which is true, as far as it goes; every day of my then-wife’s pregnancy, I hoped and prayed for her health, and theirs – just as I hope God or blind cruel fate keeps the drunk drivers and diseases and random tragedies at bay for them. I hoped for this before they were born, and as they’ve grown and turned into people with personalities with whom I have three combined decades of history, it’s only grown.

But – this is rather important – that’s a matter of human nature, a sign that you are a fairly normal parent.  One has developed attachments and history with a seven year old; with a “fetus”, there are only hopes.
It’s not an objective metric about the beginning of life.

This is a roundabout way of saying that one can believe a fetus is not yet a person, and still be excited about pregnancy.

Abortion is, obviously, one of the most contentious issues there is. Like many such issues, there is a hard core of 10% on the right that wants it banned and criminalized, and 10% on the far left that wants to make it a civil sacrament. In between, there are an awful lot of shades of belief, including many – myself included – who are fundamentally libertarian, but believe personally that life begins at conception and that a “fetus” – given the fate that God or physiology or remorseless fate has in mind for at least half of them if you leave them alone – is attended with a little more moral gravity than a toenail or a plantar’s wart, and that just because God or evolution or what-have-you has set things up so that that incipient life form needs a female uterus for a few months isn’t a sign of its lack of ethical and moral weight, but a sign of how much weight the whole idea of physiology, sex, pregnancy, reproduction and men and women themselves have in the great scheme of things.

Is it a belief? Yes. Not much different than “a fetus is a blob of tissue until we really want it not to be.

Which ties us, at long last, into the real subject of this post – something that was even more contentious than the abortion issue itself, at least among regional bloggers, few months back:

And Robin was. So like any good blogger, she posted an image of the first ultrasound.

At this point, enter Tom Swift, crazy Minnesota blogger and erstwhile GOP candidate for school board in St. Paul. (I won’t link to him, and if he finds his way back here, Melissa, terminate him with extreme prejudice.) [As good a symbol of gutlessness as I’ve seen, really – Ed] He blogs under the name Swiftee, and he created an image to welcome Robin and Steve’s child into the world:

You get it? Because Robin was pro-choice, she might decide to abort the child she wrote about, so let’s get it some protection.

Not to speak for Tom Swift – a person who truly needs nobody to speak for him – but that is the most overdramatic possible reading of his point.

What was his point? Maybe that any “fetus” – not Robin’s, in particular, or not just hers – might have reason to be nervous, since the same consciousness that decides he or she is important enough to carry to birth can change his or her mind. Or maybe – given the number of people who don’t credit a fetus with “existence” until the umbilical is cut – that given the existence of partial birth abortion the “fetus” is never really safe. Maybe that a mythical, cognitive “fetus”, lacking an objective, hard-wired standard like “Tenure” that’d cause his/her parents (in general, not Rew and Smartie) to consider him/her a real person, isn’t any safer than that non-tenured professor – except the fetus isn’t going to wind up teaching freshman literature at Normandale if he/she doesn’t make the convenience cut.

Caustic, tactless and very, very pointed? Sure. Not that that’s ever really stopped anyone from ripping on commentators before.
But we’ll come back to that.

That’s not the interesting part of the story, though. Swiftee’s image got those of us on the left seething, but we let it go, primarily because we don’t want to give him the traffic. But that seething got back to local blogger Mitch Berg, who styles himself as a “reasonable conservative,” someone who believes in hitting his opponents hard, but fairly. And Mitch’s response to Swiftee was what I remembered:

Is Robin and Smarty’s baby “fair game” for satirists, given that

1. she put the ultrasound out on her public website, and
2. she and her colleagues from the “Minnesota Monitor” rentablog she “edits” have stumped for abortion on demand and partial birth abortion, and fumed and phumphered when the SCOTUS shot the procedure down?

Well, I’d say “I hope not” – but of course, in the world of internet “cartoonists”[…]pretty much everything is fair game. If there’s an unflattering or embarassing pic of yourself out there somewhere online, it’s going to pop up sooner or later, intended to dink at some belief of yours or another.

So – did Swiftee “cross a line” with his cartoon? What line? Where? In the coarse thrum of the political blogging interchange, I’m not sure there’s a line left anymore; any line one person draws is someone else’s sport to cross, and ones’ best bet is to strictly separate the personal and the public (as, indeed, I do). The one that civil people try to observe when dealing with one another…

Very Pilate-like, Mitch was. But it was that line — “fair game” — that caught my memory. Mitch styles himself as reasonable, but if you cross out the official hemming and hawing, [I’m official? Who knew? Did anyone catch my title? – Ed] Mitch’s meaning is clear: heck yes, the child of Robin and Steve is fair game. If you can make a political point by attacking the Martys, then by all means, go for it.

Well, that’s one way of looking at it.

Here’s something else I wrote about the whole flap last spring – something that reveals a lot more about my side of this flap than the bit Fecke chose to quote:

A fetus baby with a helmet. It’s kinda funny, if you don’t know the people involved. Still funny when you do, but it makes me a little uneasy. I generally prefer to keep politics impersonal. And yet it’s hard to look at, say, this (not safe for work or queasy stomachs; it’s the end-result of a “partial birth abortion”, and it’s horrific) and not want to make it very personal and not-abstract-at-all for those who support it.

One thing that most of us who favor free speech accept as a given is that nobody has a right not to be offended. Many of us – myself included, and the orthodox Catholic Tom Swift even more so – are offended by the existence of abortion, especially the partial-birth variety, via which parents not a whole lot different than Rew or Smartie could decide that the baby, as Fecke noted at the beginning of this post, “didn’t exist yet”.

Did it bother me that Swift took a photo from someone I actually know, like and respect? Of course it did. I like the Martys. I wish ’em the best; I’d be pleased as punch to bring a basket of garf rags (cloth diapers), A’nD and Desenex to the baby shower. I also think that, as people who’ve assumed the role of public figures (when Rew took on the job of editing the local sorosblog “Minnesota Monitor”) they were nuts to put any part of themselves or family life out in public. I’ve been a “public figure” of one sort or another since I started in radio when I was 16; I’ve had anti-semitic death threats (I’m not Jewish), I’ve had stalkers (and still do, although they’re really not very smart ones) – and so I keep my kids, my job, my girlfriends (when I have one) and their kids religiously out of this blog and everything else I write. Partly because anything you do put out there is “fair game”; partly because the concept of “fair game” is unfair.

Tom Swift is also a friend, someone I know and respect – but to call him a “bull in a china shop” is to underestimate a bull’s tact, as least on the blog. He’s the kind of person every pro-“choice” activist wishes would just shut up and go away.

And while I wish that the world – and its agent, in this case, Tom Swift – had left Rew and Smartie’s ultrasound pictures alone, and that this flap wouldn’t have involved two sets of friends of mine (and that puppies didn’t die, for that matter), the fact is that Swiftee was right. It was perfectly-aimed satire – and for left-leaning public figures (as Fecke is) to barber that it’s “tasteless” opens us all up to an endless dissertation about “tasteless” satire that the left defends even more blythely on principle, and with even less consideration, with counterexamples and counter-counterexamples, ad infinitum.

It sucks that it involved people I know.

Of course, it wouldn’t be a Fecke post without the jump from out-of-context to unsupportable:

What is happening to the Frosts is not unusual, and not unique. It happened to Melissa and Amanda when they had the temerity to be women with opinions who wanted to work in politics

Who had made a blogging career out of saying some things that were every bit as objectionable as Fecke finds Swiftee, and which a bunch of unpaid conservative bloggers had the “temerity” to point out to people. That’s what we do. To paint Melissa Macewan and Amanda Marcotte as hapless victims is both a crime against context and, oddly, intensely anti-feminist.

It happened to John Murtha, who had the unmitigated gall to be an anti-war ex-Marine. It’s happened over and over, and will happen over and over again.

Just ask Gennifer Flowers!

Mitch was right: there is no line anymore, at least for the right. Everyone is “fair game.”… If they can attack a woman using her own ultrasound records for the sin of being both pro-choice and an excited expectant mother, they will do it.

Leave aside Fecke’s sloppy use of the omnipresent “they”, as if right wing bloggers are part of some monolithic medusa controlled by some central brain, and the irritating victim-mongering. Let’s shoot for honesty, here (on the off-chance that any of Fecke’s audience read this) – nobody “attacked” Robin.

And if the “fetus” “doesn’t exist” as a person yet – that was Fecke’s line, remember – then where’s the attack?

I’ll ignore all criticism, by the way – I think I’ll adopt Jeff’s “I know you’re not really a person” as a defense…

Continue reading

My City Was Gone Different

I’m a relatively rare critter; a conservative who lives in the inner city.  We’ve discussed this before in this blog; there are a lot of things I like about living in Saint Paul.  And there are a lot of things about life in the ‘burbs that I dislike enough to have made the decision fairly simple. 

For me.

On the other hand, I can see why people live in the subs.  And – unlike both liberal new-urbanist utopians who want to change land-use policy to force people back into the city, and urban hipsters who hate the ‘burbs with a diamond-like intensity, and conservatives who want to chide all of us inner-city conservatives out into identical beige houses with nosy neighbors who piss and moan about the length of your grass – I figure “let people live and thrive wherever they want”.  I’m the last person who’s going to force people to do anything, except leave my house if they’re not invited.

Of course, being a conservative, even though I love Saint Paul (but largely detest its government), I find myself duking it out with a lot of “New Urbanist” twaddle (which should be no surprise, given so many of my neighbors are New Urban Twaddlists). 

For those of you who don’t follow the argument – the ideal of the New Urbanists is that the endless expansion of the cities is a bad thing, that a denser, more communitarian society is a better thing, that “sprawl” is the source of many ills, from environmental degradation to obesity to neoconservatism, and that we’d be better off as a society if more of us lived in high-density urban cores, sharing infrastructure and riding together on the bus and smelling each others’ cooking together and sharing “public space”, the better to get to know and love and live with each other.  Or something like that.   

Of course, part of the problem is that many of the so-called “benefits” of state-driven (as opposed to market-driven) “New Urbanism” – like the crime-reducing effects of “eyes on the street” in high-density housing – are buncombe.

But underneath it all was something that really got me wondering; why did New Urbanists adopt the city they did – the traditional Industrial Age city, with a defined “downtown” where most of the people worked, with closely-aligned industrial districts, to both of which people commuted by industrial mass-transit – as its model?  That type of city is a very new development in human society.  They developed in an era – and in the great scheme of things, it’s a very short era – when all of the things you needed for the kind of prosperity that could support a major city,  capital, infrastructure and information, were very centralized. 

Before the advent of mass capital and mass transit, cities developed differently; if you look at cities that first flourished before, say, 1835, they’re very different than later cities (and in the US, all of the major cities, including New York, really took off around or after 1800).  London, Edinburgh, Paris, Amsterdam and Berlin – the great cities of old Western Europe – didn’t really have a “downtown”, per se; there were certainly districts that drew the most attention – but before the Industrial revolution, they were very decentralized things (except for political power, of course); all of them still show the vestiges of their origins.  Particularly, in the era before mass transit, different crafts would coalesce around different neighborhoods in such cities; London and Paris and Basel and Amsterdam had streets and alleys and neighborhoods where the various artisans – goldsmiths, tinsmiths, bagel makers, butchers, brewers, coopers, boatbuilders, wheelrights, and every other kind of trade would live and work (and other merchants – carters and peddlers – would haul the products to other neighborhoods to try to sell for a profit). 

The industrial revolution changed that, moving the mass economy from a distributed peasant-and-artisan system to a centralized, capital-driven system with factories, central banks, and centralized information gathering and distribution.  Which coincided with the development of cities in America, giving most of them the tradition layout of a downtown (where the businesses, banks, government offices and newspapers were), some industrial and warehouse districts (where stuff got built and shipped), and clusters of residential neighborhoods where the entrepreneurs, management and workers lived, and from which they commuted to the downtown and industrial areas via mass transit – railroads, streetcars, subways, whatever.

It’s at about this point that history stopped, for the New Urbanists. 

Of course, that model of industry peaked between 40 and 100 years ago.  After World War II, the car, the TV and the telephone made it possible for people to live farther and farther out from the city core and still have big-city jobs (and connections to big-city things like “culture” and “information”).  That, combined with the native American desire for “elbow room” and a population of men and women that had just spent the best years of their lives living in barracks and riding on troop trains and being jammed into the holds of troop ships, led to the ‘burbs.

Ironically, it’s the New Urbanists who fit the caricature of the conservative – “standing astride history, yelling “stop” – when it comes to how cities work.  They want the world to roll back to about 1900, when cities had dense cores and sparse burbs, and people rode about on streetcars because it was the only practical way to get from, say, 42nd and Nicollet down to the Grain Exchange or the Milwaukee Road yards.

But events would seem to be passing them by – so it seemed to me.  And it’s always good to get some confirmation on this.

I spent a fascinating 53 minutes last night listening to this bit (warning – audio file) by  Joel Kotkin, author of “The City Everywhere: Urbanism in the 21st Century”, a critical look at the errors that drive new urbanism.

A potpourri of his points:

  • There’s a reason that 95% of urban growth is on the periphery
  • Nationwide, suburbs are evolving in a way similar to Hopkins (an old standalone small town that was engulfed in the ’60’s by the Minneapolis metropolis, but kept and is re-establishing its own identity as a city) or Maple Grove (which is building an ersatz urban core and identity of its own) or Bloomington (which has turned the Mall of America into a de facto downtown complete with city offices and services.
  • America’s growth is being led by immigrants – and middle class immigrants are flocking to the ‘burbs.
  • At the same time as this happens, the old-school cities – Boston, New York, San Francisco – have become too expensive for everyone but the wealthy; the middle class simply can’t afford to live on Manhattan or Georgetown or Nob Hill.  Cities, if current patterns hold, will eventually be white upper middle class enclaves interspersed with impoverished ghettoes.
  • The urban sprawl issue will eventually be a non-issue, as the ‘burbs and exurbs (think Forest Lake) and the urban-fringe countryside (think Elko/New Prague) will start to develop as stand-alone urban areas of their own.
  • Urban real estate developers who think that baby boomers are going to desert their suburban manses to live in condos downtown have “drunk the koolaid”.

The whole thing is a fascinating listen. 

The Small War, Part II

Let’s switch to Jeopardy mode for a bit:

ANSWER: “We Can’t Win”.

QUESTION: Choose from the following:

  1. “What did the left say about Vietnam?”
  2. “What did the left say about El Salvador?”
  3. “What did the left say about Afghanistan until the (real) Northern Alliance and the Special Forces rode into Kandahar?”
  4. “What does the medialeft (I conflate media and left on purpose, since in reality they’ve pretty much conflated themselves) assure us about Iraq at every opportunity?”

The answer, if you’re a discerning news consumer, is “all of the above, and then some”.


“Iraq is un-winnable”.

That is one of the left’s great current conceits. It’s only as true as the nation wants to make it, of course; all wars are winnable (or at least loseable by the other guy) – Finland beat the Soviets, at least in regulation time, in 1940 (sudden death overtime brought the Finns a limited defeat and the Soviets a very costly “victory”); British, on the other hand, conquered most of the globe with a laughably-small force; the Colonies beat the British with even less; Britain in turn held out alone against Hitler. Of course, listing these wars like that oversimplifies the issues; each of them, “impossible” as they were by conventional measures, happened for reason that make perfect sense in retrospect.

But the upshot is that there is no such thing as an “unwinnable war”. Of course, all wars can be lost.

The distinction is important, especially when you look at the history of counterinsurgencies.

I remember the NARN’s interview with Steven Vincent, the freelance journalist who made such a name for himself covering Iraq, alone and without a net (and was eventually murdered on his second tour in the country, by criminals in Basra). In our final interview with him – the last interview he gave before leaving for Iraq the second time – we talked about the differences between the approach in the American and British-controlled regions of Iraq. The American zone was, true to “Neocon” dogma, taking the all-or-nothing route; full civil democracy, the whole enchilada, immediately. The British, drawing on centuries of experience ruling huge swathes of the world and immense native populations with a tiny military and civil servant cadre, had a different approach. They made deals with unsavory people to observe, rat out and countervail other unsavory people. They co-opted one group of thugs to smack down another group of thugs. They used, even exploited, criminal disorder to their larger goal – keeping relative order in their sector. Until recently, it worked -very arguably (Vincent was murdered in Basra, along with many other people, after all). They also kept their troops out among the Iraqis of the region, intermingling, buying their supplies locally, walking around without helmets or body armor (unless events demanded them) – and until recently, when the Brits announced their intention to start withdrawing, Basra was relatively peaceful compared to the miasma of Baghdad and Anbar.

They’ve done this – winning “unwinnable” counterinsurgency wars – before. In India from the 1600s through WWII, in the pre-Revolutionary American west, and South Africa in 1900, in Borneo and Malaysia and Aden and Oman in the sixties and seventies, the Brits learned the blocking and tackling of winning insurgencies: isolate the insurgents from the locals by being among the locals, by winning civilian hearts and minds, by co-opting other elements of the local society against the insurgents (including cultivating “friendly”, if often conventionally-unsavory, warlords, in the hopes of taming them when the crisis wanes – as, indeed, they did), and, when and if needed, following the isolated insurgent into the wilderness and hunting him down and killing him, using the minimal British force possible (and relying heavily on the locals to do the dirty work; British history is crowded with colorful characters who went overseas and “went native” leading indigenous troops in the service of the King; the British special forces, the SAS and SBS, are directly descended from such characters).

As Vincent noted, that approach is foreign to modern Americans (and when I say “modern”, it’s because the distinction is important, as we’ll see in a bit); neocons demand “democracy now”; liberals pine for the moral clarity of World War II and, like Jimmy Carter, get queasy at the thought of associating with, even supporting, unsavory, often thuggish, frequently deeply ugly people to defeat people who are not, to the outside observer, a whole lot different.

And when I say the approach is “foreign to Americans”, I mean “Americans who don’t follow this nation’s history, especially”.

Lost in the palaver about the Iraq War – and the inevitable Vietnam comparisons that the left leans on to the exclusion of most rational thought when the thought of war, especially counterinsurgency war, comes up – is that a hundred years ago, the United States was the master of small wars against small, asymmetric groups of insurgents. In winning the American West against the Indians, and then in our first “imperial” wars – the Philippines in the early 1900s, Nicaragua in the ’20s and ”30s, and several others in between and beyond (up through El Salvador in the ’80s), the US won wars the way the British won the same kinds of wars all across their empire for hundreds of years, from India in the 1600s through Aden and Northern Ireland in the seventies (as related by everyone from Robert Kaplan and Max Boot to Robert Nagl:

  1. Keep our troops out among the natives – even in tiny numbers, the act of showing a presence among the civilians makes a huge difference in…
  2. …Cutting the guerillas off from the people. Make it impossible for the insurgents to get supplies, recruits and support (and, commensurately, to exert control through coercion and terror).
  3. Co-opt and exploit local institutions to help you with #2 first – and then build new institutions. This drives liberals (and, it must be fairly said, neoconservatives) crazy; surely, they reason, imposing democracy and human rights immediately must be a better thing – right? Like most ideals, it’s not always true, of course. It was a former Ranger – who’d spent a few years training for this exact kind of warfare – who introduced me to the saying “perfect is the enemy of good enough”. In many parts of the world, the only human right that matters right now is the right to not get blown up, beheaded, shot or gang-raped. Once those are taken care of, one can worry about the more finesseful rights of man.
  4. Build up the local institutions that work. Liberals – and some neoconservatives – grouse about this because it involves “picking and choosing warlords”.

It’s nothing new; we did it in the Philippines in 1900 to great effect; the desert Southwest wasn’t subdued by columns of blue-jacketed cavalry, but by small teams of Apache renegades led by tiny cadres of soldiers on long, unsupported pushes through the desert that made it impossible for the Mescaleros to carry on a regular life in the US. More recently, in El Salvador in the ’80s – a great, and successful, example of this kind of war which was also judged “un-winnable” by the mainstream left and media – there was a choice; between left-wing death squads, and right-wing death squads. The US (and the Special Forces that did the work) chose to support the right-wing death squads, on the assumption (correct, as it turned out) that they would eventually be easier to co-opt, fold into the regular military, and eventually teach the basics of human rights. The solution in El Salvador was messy, imperfect – and remains light-years better than it was during the days of unchecked insurgency, leaving the nation a functional, if imperfect, democracy. Another example – many times in Imperial Grunts Kaplan notes US Special Forces (“Green Berets”) in Afghanistan remarking that their mission is to make the locals – the Afghan Army, as well as the local warlords’ militias – look good. The goal, of course, is to build the stability that’s needed, not just for democracy to take hold (if indeed it can or will), but to deny Afghanistan to the terrorists as a safe haven again.

The good news? Once you get through the job of making the population safe from the insurgents, it can – indeed, say many of the subjects in Imperial Grunts, should – be done with many fewer troops than we currently have in Iraq.

So who screwed up?

And why are the Democrats wrong?

Oh, heck – I guess I’ll make this three parts.

The Small War, Part I

I’m splitting this into two parts; once I started writing, I just couldn’t stop. I have a few things to establish before I get into my post proper.


Statement: Administration 2, Demcrats/media 1.

We’ll come back to that.


For those of you who think I never pay the Demcrats a complement, stand by to have your preconceptions gutted like fish: they got one (and only one) thing right about the Iraq war. I think we are getting to the point where we can fight the war with a much smaller commitment of troops in Iraq. Indeed, we might even be to the point where it might be beneficial to the conduct of the war itself.

Oh, of course the Democrats are wrong about the reasons, meaning and execution of this idea.

But again, we’ll come back to that.


There’s an old saw among those who follow military history…

…and even moreso among those who casually watch people who follow military history: that nations and their militaries always prepare for the last war.

So, it seems, do social movements.

Reading Imperial Grunts by Robert Kaplan a few months back – about the time some Democrats were pushing for a reinstatement of the draft – I saw an interesting parallel.

Kaplan chronicled the complaints of US Special Forces and Marines in places like Afghanistan, Iraq, Columbia and the Philippines that the “Big Army” (and Big Navy and Big Air Force to boot) had taken over control of operations in these countries. The problem, they told Kaplan, was that the generals who run the “Big Army” cut their leadership teeth “fighting” America’s last, least-ambiguously successful war – the Cold War (and more ambiguous successes like Grenada and Desert Storm) – who were led in their militarily formative years by men whose main mission was to avoid costly debacles like Vietnam or Mogadishu. The Cold War, of course, was a throwback to the great mass industrial wars of the 20th Century, WWI and WWII; high-tech, involving mass armies maneuvering in mass formations on a global scale, with the survival of entire nations, societies, systems, even the world itself at stake. The US military built at huge expense during that period became unstoppable in its major mission; to decimate phalanxes of tanks bulldozing across the East German border with high-tech tanks, helicopters, jets and artillery that could fight 24/7 in all weather; to interdict fleets of Soviet submarines intent on gutting sea communications with Europe reminiscent of the U-boat wolfpacks with a fleet of over a hundred impossibly-complex hunter-killer submarines; to secure the air over Europe against skies dark with MiGs with technological marvels like the F-15, the Stealth fighter and the AMRAAM missile. It might be fairly argued that just as the US military fought Vietnam wrongly – trying to treat a counterinsurgency war as a mass national crusade – that the Pentagon spent a few years fighting Afghanistan and Iraq the wrong way; trying to bring a Cold-War-era mass army to places more suited to…something else.

On the other hand, the left is also fighting its last wars. Plural.

Vietnam, of course, was the last war of the part of the left led by the likes of Kos and Air America – the reflexive “America Last” crowd. But as powerful and influential as they are in the Democrat party (and moreso in Minnesota’s DFL), they’re not really the most interesting current to examine.

The last unambiguously successful war of the Left was World War II. Led by FDR and Truman, it was the last truly national war; the last one that involved our entire society. More importantly, it was the last (and, in a sense, the first) war in our history to be morally unambiguous. For the first, and probably last, time in history, the good guys (if you leave out that whole “Stalin” thing) wore white (or olive-drab) hats, while the bad guys wore black coal-scuttle helmets. It was a war that paralleled the New Deal and much of how statist liberalism operates; registering and inducting entire swathes of society; imposing an all-encompassing order on the nation’s life; a war in which the individual was subsumed to the national will, in war as in the economy. And of course, like the lefty ideal for so many things (which is realized in so few things), it was…well, not exactly “clean”, but certainly well-defined. It had a definite end; troops marching thirty-abreast down the Champs D’Elysees, Hitler dead in a bunker, a surrender ceremony on the USS Missouri, done deal, no sticky entanglements.

Which, of course, is one of the reasons they are chanting “this war has lasted longer than World War II”. It’s the only model of success they have, when it comes to defending this nation.

And there’s a clarity – to the left – in looking back at Vietnam (from their perspective, at least); to the left, Vietnam was unambiguously wrong, inarguably unwinnable, never anything but wrong for any reason, from any perspective (easier to believe when one filters out that whole “Killing Fields” bit). In a sense, it was the anti-World War II.

The left’s dalliances with running the nation since Vietnam have been much less clear, both positively and negatively, than WWII and Vietnam. Carter’s impotent flailings at the Iranians, Clinton interventions to support humanitarian goals in Haiti, Kosovo and the Balkans, Rwanda and Somalia (although he inherited that involvement from George HW Bush) which tried to paint humanitarian happy thoughts on top of centuries-old ethnic animosities; they wound up treating unsavory people pretty much like other unsavory people without bothering to judge their differences, to very little real long-term effect (to say nothing of at least one famous, if historically minor, disaster in Mogadishu).

So there are, really, four different world views (certainly more than that, really, but I’m going to limit things to the big four) duking it out over the War on Terror right now:

  1. The fringe (and ascendant) far left, which sees all war as unambiguously wrong.
  2. The “mainstream” left, which waxes nostalgic for its own finest hour, the unambiguous moral correctness of wars like WWII, down to the level of even replicating their methods.
  3. The Administration, which after 9/11 embraced a Wilsonian, almost utopian view of the vitality of exporting democracy, seeing this as an unambiguously good thing.
  4. The Pentagon, caught between its pre-1991 status quo as a force designed to fight a huge, high-tech conventional war, its 1992-to-9/10/2001 imperative to “transform” into…something (after 2000, into a force to back up the “neocon” Wilsonian doctrine; before that, to get small fast so Clinton could cash the “Peace Dividend”), and finally after 9/11 the leader in the War on Terror

And of course, the fifth force, the one whose present Kaplan chronicles and whose history Max Boot explored; our “Unconventional Warfare” community, visible in the news today in the guise of General Petraeus and his return to nuts ‘n bolts counterinsurgency warfare, but which has been tinkering with the means to fight exactly this kind of war for half a century, frequently against bitter opposition from the “Cold War” “Big” military.

We’ll come back to that tomorrow.

What Conservatives Believe

Andrew Sullivan is my blogfather; it was reading his original blog back in early February of 2002 that prompted me to start Shot In The Dark. 

I stopped reading Sully about the time that Gay Marriage became the Most Important Issue Ever to him. 

But a decidedly non-conservative friend of mine sent me this piece, in which Sullivan asks conservatives which of (what he deems, largely correctly I think, to be) the ten overarching first principles of conservatism to which they adhere.

He follows the piece with a poll asking for people to check off which of the principles they adhere to.  Of course, that’s way too simplistic – the deeper answers are much more interesting, I think.

So let’s try it both ways.  I took the poll.  And I’m going to try to go for the real answers, too:

SULLIVAN:  The conservative believes that there exists an enduring moral order. That order is made for man, and man is made for it: human nature is a constant, and moral truths are permanent. … A society in which men and women are governed by belief in an enduring moral order, by a strong sense of right and wrong, by personal convictions about justice and honor, will be a good society—whatever political machinery it may utilize; while a society in which men and women are morally adrift, ignorant of norms, and intent chiefly upon gratification of appetites, will be a bad society—no matter how many people vote and no matter how liberal its formal constitution may be.

  • MB: I don’t know how a conservative can claim to be a conservative without believing this in some sense.  This presupposes that a society “governed by belief in an enduring moral order, by a strong sense of right and wrong, by personal convictions about justice and honor” would be a small-l liberal democracy, of course; I can’t quite pin the concepts of “enduring moral order” with benevolent dictatorship, for example, together.

SULLIVAN:  The conservative adheres to custom, convention, and continuity. … Conservatives are champions of custom, convention, and continuity because they prefer the devil they know to the devil they don’t know.

  • MB: Personally?  No.  I’m not.  In terms of a conservative society? I think there’s something to this.  But if you know me, you know that beyond my religious beliefs and my conviction that the Bears are the greatest football team every to walk the planet, that’s totally not me.

SULLIVAN:  Conservatives believe in what may be called the principle of prescription. Conservatives sense that modern people are dwarfs on the shoulders of giants, able to see farther than their ancestors only because of the great stature of those who have preceded us in time. Therefore conservatives very often emphasize the importance of prescription—that is, of things established by immemorial usage, so that the mind of man runneth not to the contrary. There exist rights of which the chief sanction is their antiquity—including rights to property, often. … The individual is foolish, but the species is wise, Burke declared. In politics we do well to abide by precedent and precept and even prejudice, for the great mysterious incorporation of the human race has acquired a prescriptive wisdom far greater than any man’s petty private rationality.

  • MB: I agree, to a point.  But if one follows that to its logical conclusion, the next Thomas Jefferson or James Madison – and it seems reasonable that the human race hasn’t spent all of its eternal ration of genius – is pretty well hosed, right?

SULLIVAN:  Conservatives are guided by their principle of prudence. … Any public measure ought to be judged by its probable long-run consequences, not merely by temporary advantage or popularity. Liberals and radicals, the conservative says, are imprudent: for they dash at their objectives without giving much heed to the risk of new abuses worse than the evils they hope to sweep away. …

  • MB: This is absolutely true, to the point of stereotype.  The true conservative is ever mindful that unintended consequences bedevil all “top-down” attempts to perfect this world.

SULLIVAN:  The only true forms of equality are equality at the Last Judgment and equality before a just court of law; all other attempts at levelling must lead, at best, to social stagnation.

  • MB: This, again, is absolutely true. Humans must be equal in the eyes of the law (not just courts, but in legislation – but that’s one of the courts’ legitimate jobs); all attempts to make individuals equal to each other in terms of merit and potential by legal or social fiat is madness.

SULLIVAN:  Human nature suffers irremediably from certain grave faults, the conservatives know. Man being imperfect, no perfect social order ever can be created. … All that we reasonably can expect is a tolerably ordered, just, and free society, in which some evils, maladjustments, and suffering will continue to lurk. … The ideologues who promise the perfection of man and society have converted a great part of the twentieth-century world into a terrestrial hell.

  • MB: I’m not sure how anyone can read any history and disagree with this.

SULLIVAN:  Conservatives are persuaded that freedom and property are closely linked. Separate property from private possession, and Leviathan becomes master of all.

  • MB: Someone tell Cy Thao.  This is an absolute.  Property makes liberty tenable.

SULLIVAN:  Conservatives uphold voluntary community, quite as they oppose involuntary collectivism. … In a genuine community, the decisions most directly affecting the lives of citizens are made locally and voluntarily. … If, then, in the name of an abstract Democracy, the functions of community are transferred to distant political direction—why, real government by the consent of the governed gives way to a standardizing process hostile to freedom and human dignity.

  • MB: To a liberal, “it takes a village to raise a child” – a noxiously-authoritarian ideal.  To a conservative, society is “a free association of equals” – the very basis of a liberal (small-l) democracy. 

SULLIVAN:  The conservative perceives the need for prudent restraints upon power and upon human passions. … It is characteristic of the radical that he thinks of power as a force for good—so long as the power falls into his hands. … A just government maintains a healthy tension between the claims of authority and the claims of liberty.

  • MB: This one got me thinking; “Tension” is a good word.  Authoritarian absolutism is anathema to most of us; libertarian absolutism is naive at best.  I pull hard to the libertarian side (you can take guy out of the Party, but you can’t take…), but the need for prudent, reasonable authority creates a conflict.  And that conflict is an inherently good thing, and it is best that it remain constant; if we “settle” the question, one way or the other, it’ll be a bad thing.  The resolution should not be the goal; the argument should be eternal.

SULLIVAN:  Permanence and change must be recognized and reconciled in a vigorous society. The conservative is not opposed to social improvement, although he doubts whether there is any such force as a mystical Progress, with a Roman P, at work in the world. … He thinks that the liberal and the radical, blind to the just claims of Permanence, would endanger the heritage bequeathed to us, in an endeavor to hurry us into some dubious Terrestrial Paradise.

  • MB: It’s one of the great themes of the past 100 years.  And again, the conflict between the two should be the goal.  I think to most real conservatives it is; “conservatives” who don’t recognize change render their beliefs irrelevant, eventually – but permanence, especially in things like moral order, is what makes progress humanly tenable.

So I think I’ve got eight complete agreements, a “mostly” and a “continuity for ye, but not for me”. 

So leave a comment, already.