Scott Rubush is a recovering journalist living in West Chester, PA. He is a native of York, PA, and grew up in Cary, NC. A graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Scott has an extensive background in writing and politics. He is Publisher Emeritus of Carolina Review, and a former associate editor of the Los Angeles-based website FrontPageMagazine.com. He currently works as a grant-writer for an educational foundation in Wilmington, Del.
:: Monday, July 29, 2002 ::
Look Who's Having a Baby
Let's all congratulate FrontPage columnist, LA Daily News editorial writer, and all-around good guy Chris Weinkopf and his wife Mary Kate on the newest addition to their family! Their first child is due Jan. 1, 2003. Way to go, Chris!
Scott 7:47 PM [+] ::
WaPo Magazine on the Minuteman Missile
One of the great things about being back on the East Coast is having easy access to the dead-wood version of the Washington Post. Yesterday, the WaPo Magazine ran a really fascinating cover story on the Minuteman Missile and the logic of nuclear warfare. It completely absorbed my interest, and if you click over there yourself, be prepared to read the entire thing. Two parts of this piece in particular caught my eye. The first was an assertion that the missile gap between the US and the Soviet Union was a myth that, even when refuted, was perpetuated by John F. Kennedy and the Democrats for political purposes:
The purpose of the U-2's overflights of the Soviet Union, which were discontinued after the 1960 shootdown, was to find out if the missile gap was real. And had Gary's father been able to complete his mission, according to National Air and Space Museum historian Gregg Herken, he would have flown directly over the entire inventory of ICBMs the Soviet Union then possessed. They were sitting right out in the open at Plesetsk, as the secret Corona spy satellite program that succeeded the U-2 flights would soon confirm. All four of them.[...]
The Democrats and the Air Force, in particular, picked up the missile gap and ran with it. Stuart Symington, a Missouri senator and Democratic presidential contender, took to the Senate floor in the summer of 1958 with claims that the Soviets would have 500 ICBMs by 1960. Symington's presidential rival, John F. Kennedy, one-upped him with a missile gap speech so inflammatory--as journalist Fred Kaplan writes in The Wizards of Armageddon--that one Republican senator threatened to have the Senate galleries cleared "on the grounds that Kennedy was disclosing information harmful to national security." Kennedy would go on to trumpet the gap relentlessly as part of his successful 1960 campaign. [...]
Eisenhower left the White House in January 1961 after pointedly warning the nation of the dangers of a "military-industrial complex" and telling Congress, in his final State of the Union address, that the missile gap "shows every sign" of being fiction. Incontrovertible proof that he was right arrived as Kennedy took office. When presented with the evidence from the Corona spy satellite, as Gregg Herken reports in Counsels of War, the young president responded with "a single expletive--delivered . . . more in anger than relief."
The other part that I found interesting was a quote by a former Air Force man refuting both of the two most-widely accepted theories of how a nuclear war would play out in practice:
When he was a launch control officer, Blair explains, deterrence was defined in a very specific way. Each side was supposed to have the patience and invulnerability to absorb a surprise attack and then retaliate. "Well, that was a crock," he says. If we were planning to ride out a first strike, then why was the whole Minuteman system designed "to ensure that we got the stuff off the ground very quickly"?
Yet counterforce theories, to Blair, were equally removed from operational reality. The notion that a nuclear war might be rationally fought over an extended period--that it might involve a number of nuclear exchanges, yet result in negotiations before things really got out of hand--was never more than "pie-in-the-sky academic nonsense."
The main reason, Blair says--as military leaders have always understood "in spades"--was that in the early stages of a nuclear war, command and control systems on both sides would be extremely vulnerable to what was called "decapitation." The pilots and battle staff responsible for the airborne SAC command post, known at the time as Looking Glass, were acutely aware of the decapitation problem, Blair says. Once the bombs start falling, they used to tell him, "we're totally screwed." To make matters worse, in the early '70s it was discovered that a single high-altitude nuclear explosion would release "an intense pulse of electromagnetic energy" that would massively disrupt communications and avionics. "Planes would be falling out of the sky."
Some aspects of the command and control system could be--and subsequently were--hardened against attack. But some could not. And the system's overall vulnerability, Blair says, meant that no matter how much concrete was packed around a Minuteman missile, riding out a first strike "was not a viable basis for strategy." So what were the military planners to do?
The answer was to gear the whole war plan to "launch on warning." This was not acknowledged publicly--it was too controversial, Blair says--but insiders knew that the system was designed to force a quick decision and get the missiles out of their silos as soon as possible after learning of an enemy attack. Both sides were prepared to do this, though the Soviets didn't put their launch-on-warning system in place, Blair learned, until that scary period in the early Reagan years.
Call this deterrence if you want: You've certainly got two sides facing off, with each armed so heavily as to give the other pause. Or call it counterforce: All those missiles can be aimed at military targets and fired preemptively at any time. But to Blair, the label is beside the point. What matters is the decision to place thousands upon thousands of potential Hiroshimas on hair-trigger alert, in systems within which even a minor error carries the potential for unimaginable horror.
La Casa Rubush East is lined up and ready to move into tomorrow afternoon. Here's a look:
Okay, that's not really where I'll be living, but I'm just around the corner from that. Buahahaha! Yes, friends, I have found a two-bedroom place in Greenville, Del., just down the road from Nemours Mansion and the Dupont chemical and MBNA credit card fortunes. Can life get any more un-PC than that?
Lector: You've sold out, man...
Auctor: Hey, don't say that! It's not like I've joined a country club or anything like that...
Lector: You know you want to.
Auctor: Fine! Fine, I have sold out! What are you going to do about it?
Auctor: That's right. You'll sit back and enjoy it. So stay tuned for the latest from WASP Wonderland...
Scott 2:43 PM [+] ::
:: Friday, July 26, 2002 ::
Six Days on the Road and I've Made it Home Tonight
Shout outs are in order for the deejay in Harrisburg who played this tune just as I turned off the Penn Turnpike and onto southbound I-83 toward my (original) hometown of York tonight:
Well I pulled out of Pittsburgh rolling down the eastern seaboard
I've got me diesel wound up and she's running like a never before
There's a speed zone ahead but all right, I don't see a cop in sight
Six days on the road and I'm gonna make it home tonight [...]
My rigs a little old but that don't mean she's slow
There's a flame from her stack and the smoke's rolling black as coal
My home town's coming in sight, if you think I'm happy your right
Six days on the road and I'm gonna make it home tonight
Yes, after six days on the road, I've made it home tonight. I can't tell you how good that feels. Or, at least how good it will feel once I've had about 80 hours of sleep. Good night for now. Pics and stories from the road are on their way once I rest up and get settled here in my new home town of Wilmington, Del...
Scott 4:01 AM [+] ::
:: Tuesday, July 23, 2002 ::
Wish You Were Here, Blah, Blah, Blah
Greetings, everyone, from the Super 8 Motel in Red Lodge, Montana! I've just finished my third day on the road, and I've been all over the place since leaving Los Angeles on Saturday. My route took me through Arizona and the Grand Canyon, then up into Utah and Idaho. Then, earlier today, I turned east and passed through Yellowstone National Park.
I washed up here in Red Lodge after making the breathtakingly stupid decision to leave Yellowstone at dusk on US 212 East--a road that I find out now is called Beartooth Highway. It crosses more than 60 miles of the Tetons of Northern Wyoming and Southern Montana, an area completely berift of civilization. The road climbs to an elevation of 10,974 feet above sea level. I drove it in the dark. I thought my overloaded little pickup truck was going to careen off the side, plunging me to a monumentally painful death a thousand miles from nowhere. Fortunately Saint Christopher granted me safe passage to the first town down the line. Now I must fulfill a vow to say ten Our Fathers before resting up for tomorrow's drive.
I'm planning to leave Red Lodge in the morning for Billings, MT and I-90. From there I'll continue eastward to Mount Rushmore and beyond. Stay tuned...
Scott 3:05 AM [+] ::
:: Friday, July 19, 2002 ::
Leaving Los Angeles
Lector: Didn’t you say something about a major announcement on your site about a month ago?
Auctor: Yes, I did! Thanks for reminding me, Lector.
Yes, friends, it’s time for that announcement: I’ve resigned from my post at FrontPageMag.com and will move back to the East Coast to take a new job at the Intercollegiate Studies Institute of Wilmington, Del. Depending on how the rents and commuting times work out, I’ll be living there or over the state line in my native Pennsylvania, where Philadelphia and its suburbs lay just a few short minutes away.
Lector: You’re leaving Los Angeles? You monster!
Auctor: Yeah, I’m not really thrilled about that, but it’s what I gotta do.
LA’s been great to me, too. Don’t listen to those dumb-asses who caricature the city either as a set for 90210 on one hand or a big, riot-torn ghetto on the other. Sure, both those elements exist, but the city is far bigger and far more dynamic than that. There’s enough going on that you can turn it into whatever you want it to be. For me, it’s been three or four cities in one—let’s say, one part Washington, one part Tijuana, and one part Seoul. That’s just me, though. I worked in a political-oriented job, lived in Koreatown, and knew some Spanish before I got here. All those factors shaped my experience. For someone else, it might work out a lot differently. Suffice it to say that there’s a lot to play around with. Even with my modest non-profit sector income and my straightjacket conservative imagination, I’ve had a blast in Los Angeles.
And that was totally unexpected, too. Two years ago when I accepted the job at FrontPage and moved out west, I really had no idea what I was getting into. I had never stepped foot in the state of California prior to moving here, not even for a job interview with my boss. It was a completely blind decision to pull up my stakes and come out here, but I’ve been really overwhelmed by just how well it all has worked out. I’ve worked in a very exciting role that has allowed me to come into contact with some of the country’s top opinion makers, and I’ve had the privilege of doing that while living in what I now know to be the most vibrant city in America.
As you might suspect, the decision to walk away from all that wasn’t easy—especially when I reflect on how complete an adventure I’ve had. To give you a taste, indulge me this list of things I’ve done:
--I drove cross-country for the first time, and visited half-a-dozen states I had never seen before.
--I saw the Pacific Ocean for the first time in my life.
--I moved into an apartment with a rooftop view of the Hollywood Sign.
--Once there, the first friends I made were three Salvadoran immigrants who showed me the seedy Mexi-bars of Los Angeles, got me hooked on Latin music, and taught me the secrets of grilling kick-ass carne asada.
--I also went to work with three best selling authors—David Horowitz, Peter Collier, and Richard Poe—and honed my writing, editing, and communications skills under their care.
--I traveled through the desert on I-15 to Las Vegas with Ben Kepple, who taught me how to win at blackjack and craps.
--Visited the cities of the California Coast for the first time, including San Francisco, Santa Barbara, and San Diego.
--Went to Disneyland. Bought Mickey Mouse ears.
--Helped lead a youth group at Westwood Presbyterian Church, and got far more in return—including the friendship of the other group leaders—than I ever put into it myself.
--Watched FrontPage’s web traffic grow from just a few thousands hits a month when I began to over 2.4 million page views and 27 million hits in June 2002.
--Wrote stories that later were picked up or cited throughout the nation’s media, including the Washington Times, the Wall Street Journal’s “Best of the Day,” and radio stations throughout the country.
--Commissioned and edited one of the first stories on the post-Sept. 11 campus anti-war movement—a piece written by two Carolina students that was cited in nearly all the country’s major newspapers, news-weekly magazines, and even a paper in Denmark.
--Viewed the lights of Los Angeles from a private home in the Hollywood Hills.
--Played pan nine at Hollywood Park with Kepple and a black Republican from Watts.
--Became an amateur critic of $2.99 bottles of wine.
--Chauffeured a former Speaker of the House to the airport.
--Started and gave up the study of the Czech language--twice.
--Started and gave up the study of the Korean language, but figured out how to decipher the Hangul alphabet along the way.
--Watched a Korean-language broadcast of a World Cup semifinal match at 4:30 in the morning.
--Ate Thai food for the first time.
--Ate Indian food for the first time.
--Ate sushi for the first time.
--Became a Lakers fan and cheered the team on to three NBA championships.
--Laid eyes on Yosemite Falls, and hiked to the top of the half-mile-high cliff over which the falls cascade.
“Always roaming with a hungry heart, much I have seen and known; cities of men and manners, climates, councils, governments, myself not least,” wrote Lord Tennyson. “I am a part of all that I have met. Yet all experience is an arch wherethro’ gleams that untravell’d world, whose margin fades for ever and ever when I move.”
And so it is with me.
I’ve done everything I set out to do when I moved to Los Angeles, and many things I wouldn’t even have conceived of before I came. Now I’m ready to do something else. As that Master of Happy Men Hilaire Belloc told me at the end of his Path to Rome: “Ludisti satis, edisti satis, atque bebisti; tempus abire tibi est.”
Lector: So it’s time to move on, eh? What is it, exactly, that you’ll be doing?
Auctor: I’m actually going to try doing something responsible with my life—moving closer to family and friends, while trying to enter a line of work that (I hope) will provide a good living for myself and (eventually) a family for a long time to come. Specifically I’ll be working in the development office of a conservative foundation that “educates for liberty”—which is to say that my new employer ISI trains and educates conservative college students, and places them in positions of authority in the press and government. As a major beneficiary of both their educational programs (which focus on the great works of Western Civilization) and their more practical journalism training (which brought me to LA in the first place), I’m a solid believer in what they do. I’ll be writing fundraising letters and grant proposals that I hope will bankroll their activities for many years to come.
I don’t have any strong feelings about Wilmington, Del. or the Philadelphia area in general, and my primary motivation for going there is to take this job. Still, in many ways I’m looking forward to moving there. To be sure, I have no doubt that I’ll suffer painful withdrawal from the warm, sunny climate of Southern California and the area’s proximity to beaches, mountains, deserts, and foreign cultures. I’ve really fallen in love with those things, and I’ll miss them dearly once I leave California. But my practical, rationalistic side has commandeered both my heart and my soul, and now is steering them eastward. The voice of reason says that I’ll never make much money as an editor, and that the little I do earn won’t go very far in a place with such a high cost of living. That little voice also tells me that I’ve entered my mid-20s and that I might want to settle down in a few years. While the city has been great to me as a young single guy, the little voice has me questioning the wisdom of settling in a place with such poor schools and crazy culture. And, oh yeah, I won’t miss the traffic, the smog, the crime, the LA Times, the LAPD helicopters circling at 3:00am, or the noisy-ass person who lives in the apartment above me.
On top of that, there are tangible things that await me back East. I’ll be a six-hour drive from my family in Cary, NC. I’ll also be able to drive down the Delmarva Peninsula to our beach house in Chincoteague, VA. I look forward to spending summer afternoons there, fishing in the bay, or seeing the famous wild ponies while bike riding through nearby Assateague National Seashore. I’m also looking forward to being able to go to barbeques with my friends in Washington, and being able to attend Orioles games at Camden Yards—both of which I’ll be able to do with less than 90 minutes of driving.
Naw, it ain’t glamorous, and it’s nowhere near as exciting as California. But it’s my home turf, and I’m ready to get back.
So fare forward, voyagers, as this website moves with me to the East Coast. “Here between the hither and the farther shore, consider the future and the past with an equal mind.” And once I get there, stay tuned to see if it all works out.
Those of you who loaded the page last night and read my lament about how MS Word ate my post on Orwell, take heart: Word recovered the document after I restarted my computer this morning. I've replaced my fatwa for Bill Gates with my original thoughts on the Indian-born British writer, historical methodology, and postmodern scholarship. Go scroll down and have a look.
Scott 11:58 AM [+] ::
Noonan Watch: The "I's" Have It
One of the fastest ways to kill a piece of non-fiction writing is to use the first person--"I," "me," my," etc.—to nauseating excess. Those who use it lavishly have a notorious way of writing not about their subjects, but about themselves. And who cares about some stupid writer when there's a whole world to study and read about?
It is hot in New York. It is so hot that once when I had a fever a friend called and asked me how I felt and I said, "You know how dry and hot paper feels when it's been faxed? That's how I feel." And how I felt all day yesterday. It is hot. We feel as if we've been faxed.
Wow, heat! In New York! In July! That piques my interest!
Noonan's vapidity pounces on us right from the outset, but note the subtler sin she commits: the pronoun "I" appears five times in that little paragraph. Notably she also uses the verb "feel" or some conjugation thereof five times in that same little passage. That sends a very clear signal to readers: the following is an article about Peggy Noonan and her feelings! Feel the excitement!
Most people would stop reading Noonan's article at this point. In an effort to be charitable to her, I soldiered on to the second graf. There she offers this stunning observation:
I found myself fully awake at 5 a.m. yesterday and went for a walk on the Brooklyn Bridge. Now more than ever the bridge, with its silver-corded cables and dense stone casements, seems like a great gift to my city. It spans.
Get outta here! A bridge that spans? Did it span a body of water?
Alas, we find that Peggy still won't get out of the way and tell us a story. "I found myself awake..." "A great gift to my city." Pray, tell us more about yourself, Peggy...
As a practicing Christian, I believe in forgiving sinners, as Christ enjoined us, seven times 70 times. But even by that standard, Noonan pushes the limits of my patience. Go count the number of times the pronoun "I" appears in her article. I found it 76 times--in an op-ed for Crissakes. That's not even including "me," "my," or "myself." Surely this piece will not sit well with Saint Peter on the Day of Judgment. So why does this sort of vacuous nonsense keep getting the approval of the Journal's editors, week after week?
A debate over Orwell and post-modernism at the website Armed Liberal has really piqued my interest. The pseudonymous editor kicked things off by posting a passage from one of Orwell’s non-fiction writings. The gist is very similar to what Orwell wrote in 1984: “He who controls the past controls the future.” Orwell meant that as a warning against the totalitarians of his day who played fast and loose with facts in an effort to prop up their bankrupt regimes. The Armed Liberal is worried that the new assault on historical knowledge by post-modern academics could lead to a new generation of tyrants.
His readers, meanwhile, have launched into a really fascinating discussion on the nature of historical knowledge. Some of the questions they’re talking about are:
1. Do objective facts exist?
2. Does objective history exist?
3. Does post-modernism lead to totalitarianism?
Here’s my take:
1. Objective facts do exist. Even if I were to say that there is no such thing as truth, I would either a) be wrong, and objective truth would exist, or b) I would be right—but I would have just made an objectively true statement in making such a claim. Either way, objective truth wins. Since even those who would deny the existence of objective truth must cling to it in advancing their arguments, it should be evident that truth really does exist.
2. There is no such thing as a purely objective history. All history by definition is interpretive. The attempt to create a quantifiably objective account of past political events is known as political science.
This begs the question: which is superior? The objective discipline would, at first glance, appear to be obvious choice. But actually, I tend to side with history as the better of the two disciplines. Here’s a look at the methodology of each, and I’ll let you decide for yourself.
The Munich Pact offers a really interesting case study in how a political scientist and a historian would approach the study of a past event. The historian’s take would be simple: discern what actually happened (Chamberlain appeased Hitler), and draw a conclusion from it (appeasement doesn’t work.) The political scientist, on the other hand, wouldn’t be so quick to accept the historian’s conclusion. What would lead him to question this commonly accepted historical truism? The political scientist would point out that while the policies of appeasement aimed at stopping Nazi aggression may have failed at Munich, appeasement may have worked the previous 999 times it was tried. Munich may simply have been the exception to the rule. We need more research before we can say for sure. Then, the political scientist would unearth a prodigious number of appeasement case studies, quantify their similarity to the Munich Pact, and then spit back numbers indicating how often appeasement works and how often it fails.
There’s a certain appeal to that quest for accuracy, but I really think it comes at the expense of common sense. For starters, not all case studies are of equal importance. Trying to weigh a case study of appeasement in, say, Central America, isn’t as important as Munich, the one we really got burned on. The political scientist would also bring back a lot of cases where disputes existed between two rationally self-interested parties, and a compromise could have been worked out. The historian, on the other hand, is privy to the fact that not all political actors are completely rational, especially not Hitler. While I admire the political scientist’s desire to get to the truth, the historian’s eye for nuance and empirical realities makes him the more reasonable thinker.
Furthermore, I don’t think complete factual accuracy is necessary in order for a history to be worthwhile. The Gospels, for example, conflict on factual matters. (Compare the lists of Christ’s Disciples in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, and you’ll see what I mean.) Yet the heart of the matter remains firmly intact despite this minor flaw. Ditto Thucydides, the chronicler of the Peloponnesian War and author of one of the world’s oldest extant historical texts. Thucydides viewed the events of that war from a distance (he was dishonorably discharged from the Athenian Army), and his text is notorious for its factual inaccuracies. Yet the lessons he imparts—the noble example of Pericles, the excesses of democratic politics, the perils of imperialism and bellicosity—are sobering and should be read by anyone who takes public life seriously.
In short, history will never be a perfectly accurate discipline. But it does manage to cut through a lot of irrelevant crap, and place the important stuff front-and-center.
3. Does post-modern disregard for facts lead to totalitarianism? I would say the answer is no, at least vis a vis a causal relationship between post-modern scholarship and totalitarianism. Though many postmodern scholars may be defending Arab terrorists right now, I’d be hard pressed to think of any totalitarian regime that was rooted strictly in postmodern ideas. Dictators may have a propensity to lie, but that's something far different from the sophistry of postmodern scholarship.
The more insidious threat from totalitarian states is not to objective facts themselves, but as Orwell himself went to great lengths to demonstrate, to language. A totalitarian will take one thing (eg: a dictator, the Department of Propaganda, etc.) and call it something completely different—something affective and nice (eg: “Big Brother,” “The Ministry of Truth,” etc.)
This is where post-modern scholars such as Stanley Fish and Michel Foucault pose a real threat to our society. By driving a wedge between facts and the words we use to describe them, they have managed to corrupt the language we use to debate the future of our society. In so doing, they have literally set the terms of the debate and have therefore given themselves a head-start toward winning it. In popular terms, we know this as political correctness. It’s a cancer on our language, and poses a very tangible threat to our way of life.
Fortunately this threat is nothing new. It's as old as Plato and Gorgias; the Roman writer Tacitus decried the very same trend in a highly-quotable passage from his Histories:
The reason is always the same: lust and avarice, and a desire to change their circumstances. Still, liberty and specious words provide the pretext; and yet no one ever lusted after slavery for others and dominion for himself without using the very same cant.
Such is the nature of man that we will always have sophists and hucksters in our midst. They pose a real threat to the way we live, but we’ve seen their kind before and we can deal with them again.
You know times are lousy when the Federal Reserve Chairman takes it upon himself to offer the world moral instruction. "An infectious greed seemed to grip much of our business community,'' Parson Alan Greenspan declared Tuesday, by way of explaining our current stock-market woes, and his Senate congregation all shouted, "Hallelujah!" Whereupon the Dow sold off one more time. This is no coincidence, brothers and sisters. Ayn Rand's star pupil is widely understood to be a shrewd political operator. So when even the nation's most famous libertarian feels obliged to denounce capitalist greed, regular investors can be forgiven if they run to stuff their cash in the nearest mattress until the wrath of God, er, Washington passes.
A runaway political class that includes even Alan Greenspan is a lot more dangerous to the markets and to American prosperity than are a few crooked CEOs.
How many people have to die so that the Democrats can win seats in a mid-term election?
I found myself asking that question after reading Andrew Sullivan’s post on the prescription drug benefit that’s now being debated in Congress. Sullivan nails it:
It will…inevitably lead to an acceleration of the already steep decline in new drugs in the research pipeline. The war on the pharmaceutical industry has already led to a sharp drop in new HIV drugs in development, for example, from over 250 in 1997 to a mere 170 today - just when new research into a fast-mutating virus is needed. Other research paths will also slow. This is the trade-off when politicians decide to step in and run industries. More votes today. Fewer medicines tomorrow. And we're surprised politicians decided to screw the future?
The only part of this I would quibble with is Sullivan’s assertion that politicians are screwing “the future.” That’s not really accurate. The future is abstract and intangible, and therefore can’t be screwed.
No, the politicians are screwing real, living people. By standing in the way of HIV drug research, they’re killing HIV-infected homosexuals. By putting up new barriers to the development of drugs for cancer, Alzheimer’s, and a host of other diseases, they’re killing the elderly. And they have to keep everybody else's taxes high to do it.
To be sure, the Republicans have gotten into the act as well, but that’s only because their opposition has demagogued the issue for so long. Such are the stomach-turning ways of Washington.
Let's hope President Bush vetoes this bill before it can do any harm.
Scott 3:22 PM [+] ::
For the record, I don't see the Dems picking up more than a handful of seats, if they gain any at all. In fact, all things being equal, the GOP should pick up ten seats simply by virtue of redistricting. The Senate, meanwhile, should in theory go 60-40 over the long run because 30 states (with two Senators each, of course) voted for Bush in 2000 compared to just 20 for Gore.
Elections obviously don't take place in an issue-free vacuum, but does Gephardt really think his party can win based on the state of the economy? C’mon! Leaving aside this man’s own shady business dealings, how many people can you imagine standing in voting booths saying, "Golly gee. The economy's shit right now. Maybe it's time to elect some tax-and-spend politicians from the same party that gave us Carter and Mondale."
If the Democrats want to debate the economy, by all means bring it on. That party's views on economic issues are so bogus and so retrograde as to rival the geocentric universe or the flat-earth theory for sheer stupidity. My God, how can anyone this side of David Ricardo really believe that high taxes are good for the economy? Or that protectionism is a swell idea? Or that the value of any good is determined by something beyond supply and demand? All those idiot ideas are part of the Democratic Party's orthodoxy, and as a Republican, I'd relish the opportunity to campaign against them.
During these times of economic uncertainty, it's easy to question the workings of the market mechanism. Still, it's important to look at the big picture. My dinner tonight gave me a little epiphany as to why our system still kicks ass:
--One serving of Vermicelli: $0.35
--One serving of marinara sauce: $0.75
--A sprinkling of shredded Parmesan cheese imported from Italy: $0.10
--Bottle of Cabernet imported from Chile: $2.99
All while listening to a CD of Wynton Marsalis playing the same notes on the trumpet that serenaded the Kings of Europe two and a half centuries ago. Total cost: $4.19. That equals about roughly 20 minutes of my time at the office, on a salary that's less than that of a public school teacher. In that short span of time, our system allows even me to enjoy a standard of living that would have been the envy of world's rulers not so long ago. Bad as things get, let us never forget that in our age, we live like gods...
You know how much I hate blogger right now? I've spent the past hour trying to post this stupid little item about the stock market. Blogger ate my post twice, then the page for the publishing interface went down and wouldn't load for 25 minutes. Now, as I type, that page is up, but Blogger still won't publish what I submit.
Last week, the system went down another time. I pressed a button for "more info," and a dialogue box popped up saying simply, "The server went boom." Boom. That's it. Sorry, users. We have our heads between our asses and can't figure out what went wrong. But we're sure you have nothing better to do than sit around wanking it for the next hour and a half while we call our tech support guys over in East LA.
This level of service is unacceptable, even for a free product. I'm so ready to get off Blogger and onto something more reliable.
Alas, the alternatives are few. I tried downloading Movable Type's software last night. What a pain in the arse. After an hour of fiddling with it and trying to extract the zipped files, I still couldn't figure it out. And their help page contained so much tech-talk that it might as well have been written in Sanskrit. Grumble, grumble, grumble…
I enjoy editing this site, but these technical issues really test my patience. Does anyone out there know of a better way to do this?
When the Senate acts in unanimity you can be sure you're getting a substandard product, as with Monday's 97-to-0 bill on accounting reform. But much worse may be coming. Now is when false dogmas are born, such as the universal belief that the Great Depression was caused by the stock market crash of 1929 rather than gross policy errors originating out of Washington.
Herewith, some of the canards that are likely to harden into myths, though at the moment they merely exist as lies.
Myth: CEO stock options led to telecom overinvestment. How can this be true when virtually every major company in the country uses stock options, yet we don't have groaning overcapacity in the supermarket business or kitty-food industry? Indeed, the most visible trend in the economy has been toward leaner inventories and more efficient use of resources (aka higher productivity).What happened in telecom was an aberration but not a novelty -- the same overinvestment and shake-out were seen in the early PC industry, the early auto industry, the early railroad industry, etc.
Myth: Failing to deduct an expense for management stock options "inflated" earnings and therefore stock prices. Good grief. We've been discussing this rule change for a decade now. It would be the overripe short-selling opportunity of the century if markets were somehow fooled into mispricing stocks simply because we failed to adopt a particular accounting treatment for the noncash value of options. Of course this is absurd. Coke has now joined Boeing and Winn-Dixie in adopting the proposed treatment, and others may follow. You can be sure they satisfied themselves that the market understands the resulting charge will represent a mere bookkeeping transaction with no economic substance.
Myth: Accounting fraud led to the stock-market bubble. In fact, share prices were lofted on the Internet enthusiasm of small investors. These folks, to the extent they were concerned with business realities at all, were willing to delay profits indefinitely in pursuit of a glorious expected future. This was true even of Enron, nominally an energy company until Ken Lay announced that it was going into e-business, causing the stock price to jump 26% in a single day.Enron had been a $20 stock for a decade but soon soared to 90 bucks, unrelated to any reported profits, real or fake. The price collapsed just as quickly as the bubble did, long before any accounting problems were exposed.
The late boom produced a great number of companies that aren't doing well now, and a much smaller number that have resorted to dodgy accounting in an attempt to arrest their fall. Regrettably, such behavior is not all that unusual at this point in an economic cycle. Indeed, we're not even sure the incidence of corporate scandal is any higher than normal -- i.e., that a "crisis of confidence" was ever particularly warranted.
And my favorite part:
More interesting than any of this, though, is the apparent need to lie about the origins of the bubble itself. Investors bear primary responsibility for driving up stock prices of speculative businesses and causing billions of dollars to flow into the creation of assets for which there is no demand now. Why not just say so?
Because that would offend reader sensibilities. It’s much easier to blame “Corporate America”--or, for that matter, President Bush, Dick Cheney, Ken Lay, or even Martha Stewart--for the world’s ills than it is point out the stupidity of John Q. Investor for sinking his retirement savings into stocks such as CatHair.com.
The buck-passing and Schadenfreude we’ve seen during the market downturn are nothing more than irrational human instincts, and they belie the fact that there’s cause for guarded optimism in the state of the economy. Alan Greenspan affirmed as much during his testimony on Capitol Hill yesterday. GDP still is expanding, inflation is in check, and the S&P 500 is undervalued in comparison to capitalized economic profits. Sure the dollar has fallen, and there’s always concern about another terrorist attack, but terrorists and weak currencies infect other major economies as well. That’s why I’m still bullish despite the recent carnage, and why I’ll be doubling down on the market at the first opportunity.
Speaking of new designs, some people have complained that the typeface on my blog is too small, and that they don't like the dark background. The dark colors are non-negotiable because I like them that way, but I'm willing to change the font size if someone can just show me how to adjust it in the Blogger template.
Yeah, I know I've spent the past two years working for an online news concern, but I just write and edit. Beyond that, I'm a techno-idiot. So please leave me some instructions in the comment box, and I'll do what I can to accommodate the needs of my readers.
Just got back from City Walk, where I saw the new film Reign of Fire. It was a fun movie to watch. Sure, the dialogue was forgettable, and the plot had more loose ends than a Persian rug. But still, it was an enjoyable way of spending two hours on a Monday evening.
The movie is set in England of the near-future, and depicts a world that has been overrun by dragons. Yeah, I know it's a pretty lame premise, but somehow it held my interest. Anyway, a bunch of these Britons are holed up in a monastery cowering for their lives when, conveniently enough, a group of American commandos arrive in line of tanks ready to do battle with the dragons.
Lector: This sounds like an incredibly stupid movie.
Auctor: Oh, fine, it is! But let's give the scriptwriters their due. They really tried hard to touch on some important themes, like, Anglosphere convergence, the clash between modern and pre-modern sensibilities, and even a few feminist themes.
Lector: Feminist themes?
Auctor: Yeah, at the end of the film, they have to kill the male dragon, because, somehow he's responsible for everything that went wrong.
Lector: And you're praising this part of the plot?
Auctor: No! Far from it! I'm just commending the efforts of the scriptwriters to create a movie that works both as entertainment and as social commentary.
Lector: Better they had kept their mouths shut...
Auctor: Better you kept your mouth shut...
Anyway, never mind Lector. He stayed home tonight watching old reruns of "Star Trek Voyager." He's not in the best of moods tonight. But if he had come along, he would have enjoyed himself. Sure, Reign of Fire is not going to win any Oscars, but it's a fun little movie to watch.
What an outrage. Alas, the people united will never be defeated.
Of course the Philosopher King scoffs at the cave-dwellers for their ignorance in choosing the mere flickering shadow of beauty over its highest form. At least a few others have escaped the cave and see its folly for what it really is.
Scott 7:01 PM [+] ::
After attending the Dodgers’ game and reflecting on the state of the sport for a few more days, I’m starting to have second thoughts about what I wrote.
Fact is that despite the death of Ted Williams and despite the controversial ending to last week’s All Star Game, I’m enjoying baseball more now than I have at any point since I was about eight years old.
Why is that? Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that the home team Dodgers are running stride-for-stride with the D-Backs for first place in the National League West, the best division in baseball. Or maybe I’m still in awe of last year’s World Series, which was the most exciting one I’ve seen in my lifetime (and which, best of all, the Yankees lost).
Beyond that, the reasons Kepple cites cry out for response. Let’s look at them point-by-point:
One. Quality of Play The experts on baseball tell us that we shall never see another Ted Williams, and they are right. But we shall also never see another Bob Gibson, or another Joe DiMaggio, or another Manny Mota, or another Sandy Koufax, or another (insert any of the old time greats here). They don't exist any more, not just in terms of performance, but in terms of character.
Kepple seems to be longing for a golden age that never existed and never will. If we replaced the word “baseball” with “politics” and the name “Ted Williams” with “Dwight D. Eisenhower,” we’d dismiss his rant as an unrealistic call to turn back the clock to the days of Ozzie and Harriet.
The truth is that there are a lot of inspiring players in the game today. Sammy Sosa and Orlando “El Duque” Hernandez come to mind. Both are immigrants who escaped the grinding poverty of the Third World to become stars in the United States. Meanwhile Cal Ripken, whom I’d support for President, just left the game at the end of last year. As did Mark McGwire, another titan of the game. And let’s not forget Barry Bonds, who broke the single-season home run record last year. While it’s a lot harder to like Bonds the person than some of these other players, he’s certainly no worse than Williams, who had a reputation as a grouch.
In short, the quality of play in Major League Baseball is as high as it’s ever been, and the men playing it, though crafted from the crooked timber of humanity, still give reason to inspire.
Two. Dim-Witted Owners Now, any responsible businessman knows that to survive, he must, I don't know, take in more money than he pays out. Why, then, do we see baseball team owners constantly cry poverty? They need a new stadium one week, then they need revenue sharing the next. Look. If these people can't manage with what they have, then screw 'em.
Again, I disagree. While baseball has its problems with finances and with labor disputes, I place the onus of responsibility on the player’s union. They’re the ones standing against reforms that would allow the league to cut costs and test players for steroid use. As the Wall Street Journal wrote on Friday, “it's easy to dump on Mr. Selig. But amid the clamor for his head someone should point out that the commissioner does not control baseball. Donald Fehr and his Major League Baseball Players Association do. And today they're blocking the kind of reforms that have helped restore the NFL and NBA to competitive health.”
Three. They Don't Care About the Fans. Hence ... Look. Basketball and football teams at least share one characteristic that baseball teams don't have, and that's that they care about the fans. When the Cleveland Browns left Cleveland for horrid Baltimore, the NFL sent them a team as soon as they possibly could. I don't think that would happen in baseball. And you've never heard of a players' strike threatening the NBA championship or the Super Bowl.
Uh huh. Well, what about "horrid" Baltimore, which had to wait nearly two decades to get a team after the Colts left in town in the dark of night during the early 1980s? Or Los Angeles, the second largest city in America, which has lost two teams in just the past few years and whose fans must now drive to Phoenix or San Diego or the Bay Area to watch an NFL game. What about them?
Let’s not even talk about the NBA, which recently yanked a team away from Vancouver and gave it to Memphis, and whose Charlotte Hornets are now on their way to New Orleans. Or, for that matter, the NHL, which is such a mess that I can’t even keep up with which team is where this year. I mean, my God, the Stanley Cup finals this year featured a team from Raleigh, NC. And we’re worried about baseball being screwed up?
Even the example Kepple cites is self-defeating. Sure, horrid Cleveland got another team post haste after the Browns left. But while he talks about what the NFL did when one of its teams moved away from its home city, he overlooks the fact that no Major League Baseball team has pulled up stakes and left town in 30 years. Sure, there’s talk of eliminating the Twins and the Expos, but that’s hardly a done deal. Besides, would anyone really miss them anyway? Let’s not begrudge them this misdemeanor, especially right after we’ve chided management for not taking steps to cut costs.
In short, baseball has some issues to sort out right now, and baseball will work through those issues. In the meantime, I’ll remain a devoted fan of the game.
Rest assured that I'm working diligently to bring about the Restoration, and that one day France will return to Right Reason. Next year in Paris, my friends. Next year in Paris...
UPDATE: I just saw this story about the assassination attempt on the life of French President Jacques Chirac during a Bastille Day parade. Fortunately the president is safe and didn't even learn of the fired shots until later. But what a fitting tribute to such a destructive event in human history.
Scott 4:53 PM [+] ::
Fortunately, some of the other guests came to my aid and rescued me from that Bad Dude. I escaped with my life, but I'm not sure how much longer I can hole up in Los Angeles. I might need to flee the city and go into exile soon...
Posting will be light tonight. The boy tells me that beisbol needs my help. The Great Williams has died. Commissioner Selig ended the All Star Game after 11 innings, and could cancel the World Series. The whore.
I must go to Chavez Ravine to watch the Dodgers of Los Angeles play the Diamondbacks of Arizona. I will be back tomorrow.
Scott 10:13 AM [+] ::
WSJ: "Senator Shakespeare"
I know Campaign Finance Reform makes most people's eyes glaze over, but the Wall Street Journal's editorial on the subject today is a real hoot. It's available only to WSJ subscribers, but here's a quick look:
If Washington, D.C., were a stormy heath, Senator John McCain would be King Lear, raging at what everyone else is doing to his campaign-finance reform.
Alas, King John. No sooner had he bludgeoned enough of his colleagues into passing his epic, change-the-world bill than the gods began conspiring against him. The nefarious Federal Election Committee (FEC) isn't writing tough enough rules. Fie! Both Democrats and Republicans are behaving like politicians and looking for loopholes to continue raising money. A pox on both their houses! Opponents even had the temerity to throw the legislation to the courts, which could declare chunks of it unconstitutional. What fools these mortals be! (Oops, wrong play.)
King Lear fell victim to his own tragic flaws, and we can't help but think Mr. McCain really is starting to bear some resemblance. With his military record and public standing, the Arizona Senator could be Mr. Bush's chief Congressional war counsel, someone able to teach and lead Americans on national security.
Instead, he's sublet the bulk of his influence and reputation to Common Cause and the media elite in their eternal quest to bar money from politics, also known as trying to keep water from rushing downhill. Mr. McCain may still get favorable media reviews, but to what end? His performance is bound to end in tragedy.
What I want to know about California, though, is, how much of a following does NASCAR racing have there? Seems like at least one race is held in the Golden State.
Oh, for those of you who don't know about Moon Pies (which in some Southern households is considered one of the major food groups), here's some info. Which makes me wonder -- can you buy Moon Pies in California?
Good questions! First, NASCAR seems to have a decent following here in California. I'm not a huge fan of the sport, but I have been to a minor-league race at a speedway in Irwindale, which is a suburb just east of Los Angeles. Meanwhile, I've been able to partake of simulated racing at the NASCAR Silicon Motor Speedway at the Irvine Spectrum Center, in Orange County. So NASCAR definitely is catching on out here in California, even in the LA Metro area.
As for Moon Pies? I wouldn't know. I can't eat those rotten things. I'll have to make a trip to 7-11 and find out. But dang it, those things are just wrong...**
**DISCLAIMER: The author, despite spending 15 years of his youth in North Carolina, is actually a native of Pennsylvania. His mother is a native Pennsylvanian, and he has ancestors who fought in the Union Army. His taste for Moon Pies is not to be trusted.
The left should worry about the consequences that would result if these activists were to get violent. Not simply because violence is deplorable and abhorrent, but because of the after-effects. Depending on the incident, who started it, and what exactly happened in it, it could prove to be quite harmful for their ends; just as Timothy McVeigh's bombing of the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City sounded the death knell for the militia movement. For instance, if eco-terrorists were to do something outlandish and actually hurt someone when saving the world from a new mink farm, one can imagine that the environment movement as a whole would suffer.
That's all fine and good, Kepple, but why do we need to discuss left-wing violence in the abstract? Just sitting here at my desk, I can name half a dozen incidents where the left used violent means to achieve its goals--the Seattle and Genoa anti-WTC riots, the anti-cop, anti-white race riots in Cincinnati (April 2001) and Los Angeles (1992), not to mention cold-blooded killers like the Unabomber or the Black Panthers (who murdered a friend of my boss three decades ago). That's before we even begin to discuss Stalin, Pol Pot, Mao, Fidel, or any of the other communist/far-left dictators who killed and imprisoned millions of people in their unrelenting quests for power--all with the aid and comfort of people right here in the US.
So if we're going to talk about left-wing violence, let's quit using hypotheticals and start holding the left accountable for the damage it's already done.
As one who's sympathetic to the Tory cause, I'm often inclined to say yes. After all, England nearly bankrupted itself defending the colonies during the French and Indian Wars, and in my view Parliament was completely justified in imposing taxes on North America to pay for such necessities as military defense. Plus the overblown revolutionary rhetoric of Jefferson and Patrick Henry makes me cringe the way I do when I hear Eleanor Holmes Norton talking about DC statehood. And of course, without the American Revolution, the Ancien Regime in France probably would have survived, and the world would still be safe for top hats and monocles.
Still, I can't help but agree with Bennett's conclusion:
The consequences of such a large deviation in history, so far back in time, have so many branchings that it is truly impossible to have any idea how today's world might have turned out. Therefore, I will hoist an appropriate drink (perhaps a Sam Adams lager) and toast the Glorious Fourth of July and the Declaration of Independence it celebrates, as one of the great anniversaries of liberty in the Anglosphere, with no regrets. Speculation about alternative outcomes of the past is fine for intellectual amusement, but we have our own dates with destiny ahead.
Some of us are blessed to enjoy a moment or two in life when the Gates of Heaven seem open up before us, and God Almighty reveals his handiwork to those whom he placed just a little lower than the angels.
I had one of those moments this morning while driving east along Highway 140 out of Mariposa, Calif. I broke camp in that little town this morning just after 6:00am, loaded up my truck, and set out along the winding mountain road. Between sips of gas station coffee and navigating the road’s the hairpin turns, I caught a couple glimpses of the Merced River, whose swift waters were breaking on rocks below.
“I’ll bet there are some huge trout down there,” I thought, resisting the temptation to pull over and cast the line into the water. Making the struggle harder was the sun rising over the hills ahead of me. Its light blinded me as it burst through the huge redwood trees lining the highway. It made the driving hard and slow, and a line of two or three other cars was forming behind me.
But no time to stop now. Onward.
More sips of the gas station coffee.
“I need some music.” Reaching for the CD holder, I found some Beethoven. “Violin concerto. In D. Can’t go wrong with that.”
Now with the concerto’s searching, introspective first movement blaring through the speakers, I continued along the road and sipping the coffee from its Styrofoam cup.
“Damn, I spilled some. Shoulda set it down for that last curve.”
Finishing it, I passed the entrance to Yosemite National Park. There was still more road, and still more of those redwoods trying to block the sun for me.
“At least there’s not much traffic,” I thought. It was still early, and I had made a point of getting there before the crowds. Later in the day the road would be clogged with minivans driven by grotesquely obese women hauling their whiney little children out here from some plastic suburb like Anaheim. But not now. Just me and the road, and it’s all mine, at least for a little while.
Finally the woods broke and the road poured into an open meadow. Itzhak Perlman fiddled the first few notes to the finale of that Beethoven violin concerto on the CD player. And suddenly I found myself in Yosemite Valley, looking straight ahead at Half Dome. A sheer rock face was off to the right, not far in the distance; Yosemite Falls cascaded down another granite monolith to my left.
I don’t know if it was just the coffee or what, but the rush of emotion I felt rolling into that valley this morning simply overwhelmed me.
And that was just the beginning of a really spectacular day. After parking the truck, I took the winding, 3.4-mile trail to the top of Upper Yosemite Falls. It’s steep as hell, and uses over 60 switchbacks to guide hikers up its 2700-foot vertical incline. But to see the water as it crashes over hundreds of feet of sheer rock! And that view of Yosemite Valley! Granted, I was tired, dehydrated, and really hungry by the time I got to the top. In fact, I felt like I was going to die. But having this preview of heaven right there before my eyes made that prospect really tempting.
It’s kinda funny how I washed up at the top of Yosemite Falls this weekend. I woke up Thursday morning cursing myself for not having made any plans for the Fourth of July holiday. I had been busy with a lot of other projects, and let the holiday plans slip by the wayside. Now, with the Fourth finally here, all my friends were out of town, and things were looking bleak. Sitting on the couch, I said to myself, “To hell with this. I’m going fishing.”
So I grabbed the pole and headed up to Kern County. I also found the tent and the cooler, and decided to make an overnighter of it.
But when I got to the fishing hole up at Buena Vista Lake, it had been overrun with a whole fleet of gawddamned jet skis. Plus it was hottern’ hell out there in the Central Valley. But when I woke up the next morning, I didn’t want to go back to LA. So I pulled out a map of California, and chose Yosemite over a couple other destinations, including nearby Isabella Lake, the Central Coast, and the Bay Area. Two years in California now, and I hadn’t been to Yosemite. And when would I ever get another chance to go?
So I broke camp in Kern County on Friday morning, and made it past the gates of Yosemite by lunchtime. After eating a sandwich near the banks of the Merced, I hiked the floor of Yosemite Valley. I took in views of the waterfall, plus took a hike out to Mirror Lake.
Since I was completely winging it and hadn’t made any prior reservations, camping on Yosemite grounds was out of the question. The park’s campsites where completely filled. So when it came time to leave the park yesterday, I drove west on 140 hoping to stay at one of the three or four RV parks I had passed on my way in. No luck. At the last of these parks, the manager told me to try setting up camp at the Mariposa County fairgrounds. I followed his directions, and found, as he had told me, a small RV park there. Sure, it was an hour from the gates of Yosemite, but at least I had a place to pitch my tent, grill some carne asada, and down a couple cans of Tecate beer.
And at first light this morning, the adventure began. After the hike up Yosemite Falls, I took the west 140 back through Mariposa and on to Merced, where I picked up God’s Highway, Route 99.
Okay, maybe it’s not God’s Highway, but it sure does go through God’s Country. Starting in Merced, it passes through Fresno, and then a bunch of towns depicted in Steinbeck novels—Tulare, Bakersfield, Delano, even the infamous Weed Patch, Calif. It was the first time I had driven through the country like that in eons, too. Sure, the hot sun and the endless plains got old after a while, but the San Joaquin Valley felt a little bit like home to me. If there were no road signs indicating my location, I might have mistaken Route 99 for a highway in Eastern North Carolina.
Finally, the road merged with the Five, and went over the mountains back into the LA Basin. Now I’m back in the city where my upstairs neighbor is blasting some awful music, and the little gangbangers are across the street causing trouble. But dang it, what a great weekend. Way too short of course—I never did get to pull those trout out of the Merced, or for that matter, hike even a fraction of the territory I would have liked to have covered at Yosemite. Still, it’s pretty cool how such an unpromising set of circumstances—the prospect of spending the Fourth of July alone and drinking beer on the couch all weekend—turned into something epic, even, dare I say, something divine. If only I lived all my days so completely…
The thing about growing up in a farm town in California's Central Valley, at least in the 60s and 70s, was that you couldn't avoid Okie culture. What's Okie culture? It's the culture of that Bible-Belt swath of land from western Tenessee to central Texas as filtered through the realities and circumstances of rural California. It's the southern cooking, the southern evangelical religions, and the southern customs of poor tenant farmers and laborers pushed westward down Route 66 and adapted to a new local. It's got almost nothing to do with the California of Beverly Hills, Marin County and San Francisco, and everything to do with the California of Bakersfield, Modesto, Riverside, and Salinas. [...]
Okie culture puts a heavy emphasis on independence, patriotism, stubborness, pride, personal toughness, and the maintaining of a certain stoicism in the face of defeat.
I hope these guys are right. California really should be more conservative than it votes. Between the conservative Central Valley, the Naval yards of San Diego, and Nixon country in San Clemente and Orange County--and, if that shifty Welch guy it to be believed, Long Beach as well--there's no reason why the Golden State should have to labor under the stereotype of being a haven of granola munchers and conceited movie stars. Hell, everyone calls SoCal “The Southland,” a term straight out Lynyrd Skynyrd lyrics. I thought that was blasphemous when I first heard a radio announcer use the term after I moved here two years ago, but maybe now I have reason for second thoughts…
Doesn't the [Ninth Circuit Court] ruling [on the Pledge of Allegiance] basically square with the strict-constructionist view of the Constitution that many on the Right otherwise embrace?
Good question. I can see how one could draw that conclusion. The constitution is vexingly neutral on a number of issues concerning religion and morality. Meanwhile, in recent years, the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment has been interpreted by the courts and by many in the public as meaning that there should be a strict “wall of separation” between religion and government.
I disagree with that view, though. Here’s why:
1. The pledge is not an “establishment of religion.” Since the First Amendment was added to the constitution after its ratification, the framers themselves offer us precious little commentary on how they intended us to construe that phrase. But the way I understand it, “establishment of religion” refers to an institution—such as the Church of England, the Catholic Church, etc—which is to say, as something with a hierarchy of leadership, a body of members, and an explicit set of doctrines and beliefs. While I think the words “one nation under God” amount to more than what Eugene Volokh has termed “ceremonial deism,” I don’t believe they rise to the level of “established” religion.
2. The founders themselves did not intend to create a “wall of separation between Church and State.” This phrase from Thomas Jefferson has been construed as being representative of the framers collectively, when in fact it couldn’t be farther from the truth. The fact is that Jefferson was well to the left of a majority of the framers, and saying that his views represent those of all Americans at that time is like saying that Reps. Cynthia McKinney and Barbara Lee speak for all Americans today. In fact, one could argue that McKinney and Lee actually have a greater claim to a popular mandate now than Jefferson did during the time of the Constitutional Convention. In 1787, Thomas Jefferson was not serving as a popularly elected representative of a district in his home state of Virginia; in fact he wasn’t even living in the United States at all. Instead, Jefferson was in Paris, where he served as our country’s ambassador to France from 1785 (two years before the Constitutional Convention) till 1793 (two years after the First Amendment was ratified.). While I have enormous respect for Jefferson (especially Jefferson the architect, Jefferson the founder of the University of Virginia, and Jefferson the scholar who spoke or read six different languages), his role in the founding of America has been greatly exaggerated. I think it’s safe to say, therefore, that his phrase “wall of separation” has corrupted both the popular and the judicial understanding of America’s relationship between Church and State.
3. Those who actually framed the Constitution had a positive view of religion. In a phrase that could easily be applied to my own view of the Ninth Circuit Court’s decision, Alexander Hamilton spoke in Federalist 31 of “the batteries of infidelity” that have so “industriously leveled” the “mysteries of religion.” Meanwhile, John Jay affirmed in Federalist Two that America is indeed One Nation Under God:
With equal pleasure I have as often taken notice that Providence has been pleased to give this one connected country to one united people--a people descended from the same ancestors, speaking the same language, professing the same religion, attached to the same principles of government, very similar in their manners and customs, and who, by their joint counsels, arms, and efforts, fighting side by side throughout a long and bloody war, have nobly established general liberty and independence. [emphasis mine.]
4. If anything the Framers would have chided the court for its arrogance in even taking this case at all, a case in which it is completely unqualified to pass judgment. Certainly during this time of war, they would have argued that getting the courts involved in a controversial dispute over religion would be a source of division. Madison and Hamilton say as much in Federalist 19 in a passage discussing the inefficacy of the Swiss equivalent of the Supreme Court. In an example that’s strikingly reminiscent of last week’s ruling in San Francisco, the Swiss court ruled on one of the religious controversies of its day. Like its 21st century heir, that court too overreached, and thereby revealed its inability to impose its views on the general population while at the same time fracturing the country along religious lines:
So far as the peculiarity of their case will admit of comparison with that of the United States, it serves to confirm the principle intended to be established. Whatever efficacy the union may have had in ordinary cases, it appears that the moment a cause of difference sprang up, capable of trying its strength, it failed. The controversies on the subject of religion, which in three instances have kindled violent and bloody contests, may be said, in fact, to have severed the league. The Protestant and Catholic cantons have since had their separate diets, where all the most important concerns are adjusted, and which have left the general diet little other business than to take care of the common bailages.
The framers themselves did not intend to hand down a definitive document on religion or religious toleration when they emerged from their proceedings in Philadelphia. They had enough trouble creating a document that distributed power among the states and among the people. To the extent that they declined to answer in controversial disputes over religion, I think they were simply trying to preserve the weak and fragile union they had just created. To reach too far in such matters would have undermined almost all support for the union, which was tenuous enough at the time.
But despite their reluctance to speak on these issues, it’s a matter of historical record that the vast majority of the framers and the American people at the time of the founding viewed religion as a social good. It’s clear that they would have welcomed a simple affirmation that America is indeed “one nation under God” and that they would have frowned upon the Ninth Circuit Court’s ruling as both an act of hubris and a source of needless acrimony.
DISCLAIMER: The author scored an abysmal 149 on the LSAT when he took it last October, confining him to a life of windbag punditry (and abject poverty) instead of a lucrative career in law. The author's opinions on legal matters, therefore, are to be taken not just with a grain of salt, but also with some wedges of lime and a few stiff shots of tequila.
Scott 10:43 PM [+] ::
The Billboard charts are crammed full of the vulgar and violent these days, with lyrics celebrating every pathology under the sun, plus a couple of pathologies that apparently were hiding under bridges. Among the best-selling: the new Korn album, "Untouchables," which is a carnival of high dudgeon and hate, and the third album by Cam'ron, a rapper who's scored big with "Come Home With Me," a thoroughly vile depiction of whores, drugs and venereal disease. Most notably there's Eminem, whose latest, is a potty-mouthed soap opera of dysfunction and hostility. [...]
But from the nation's culture commentators, not a peep has been heard. Nobody is organizing a boycott or picketing radio stations or even thundering in editorials. There's been, in fact, a resounding silence from Eminem's critics, even those who rose to condemn his previous release, "The Marshall Mathers LP," two years ago. One of the most reliable fonts of umbrage wasn't even aware that Eminem had a new album out.
The War on Terror, as this article says, has drowned out people on both sides of culture wars. But it’s worth mentioning that carping about foul-mouthed louts like Eminem is old news, too. American pop culture has spent the past 40 years in a race to the bottom, and the back-n-forth between Hollywood and the Jerry Falwell crowd had gotten formulaic and boring. Plus, thanks to file-sharing and a hard-headed refusal to adjust its sclerotic business model, the record industry had been on its last legs even before Sept. 11. The war has now made the industry even less relevant.
On a side note, though, how encouraging is it to see the Washington Post becoming a standard-bearer for cultural conservatism?