Saturday, April 30, 2005

A Little Iraq News

Three months after the Iraqi elections, a government is -- almost -- in place. (Informed Comment, as usual, is the place to go for details: here here and here.)

Among the new government's curiosities is a measure of power for our original man-in-Baghdad, thief liar and probable Iranian agent Ahmad Chalabi, who wound up with one of four deputy prime ministerships, as well as, of all things, the oil ministry -- at least temporarily. Chalabi's partial comeback offers a sharp contrast to the fortunes of our more recent man-in-Baghdad, Iyad Allawi, whose Iraqiya List got not a single portfolio, despite his frantic attempts to forge a Kurdish-Iraqiya block to thwart the power of the religious Shi'ites.

The latter, of course, are running the show now, with a majority of portfolios including the finance ministry. Interior (an exceptionally powerful portfolio in the Iraqi context) went to a Turkman who is a long-time member of SCIRI and hardcore supporter of its paramilitary arm, the Badr Brigades. The Kurds were mollified with something less than a quarter of the positions, including notably the foreign ministry. Prime minister Jaafari is holding down the defense job himself for the time being, until, apparently, an acceptable Sunni can be found.

That difficulty -- finding Sunnis willing to fill the few positions reserved for them, who are also acceptable to the Shi'ites -- appears to be the main reason that the entire cabinet is not yet seated, and that negotiations to finish the job are stalling. Well, that, and the fact that practically everyone in any way connected with the regime has become a bombing target.

Meanwhile, Tony Blair, whose government has done pretty well managing the British economy and even making a start on improving social services, is desperately trying to convince Labour supporters, irate with him over Iraq, not to vent their frustration by defecting to the Liberal-Democrats in the upcoming general election. With luck they'll listen to him since, by this means and by this means alone, could the amazingly lame Tories conceivably back their way into power, courtesy of Britain's first-past-the-post electoral system. The Guardian has all the gory details on the latest embarrassing revelations, along with the usual hypocritical Tory grandstanding, and Blair's sad if dogged campaign to convince the British electorate not to take out its loathing for his Iraq policy (of toadying to Bush on the war while keeping friends and allies at home in the dark) on the Party that he, more than anyone else, brought back from the dead.

And what of the U.S. involvement in all of this? Our President, in one of his exceedingly rare prime time press conferences, recently informed the nation that he thinks things are going well in Iraq.

That's comforting. I wonder if, in making that assessment, he paused to consider the fact that, since the Iraqi elections, which occasioned so much celebratory coverage and commentary here at home, 149 American soldiers have been killed. These 149 were killed, that is to say, while the political wheeling and dealing was going on that finally produced the above-reviewed results. Or I wonder if it crossed his mind that this number exceeds (by nine), the number killed during "major combat operations," back before he declared the mission accomplished, on May 1, 2003, two years ago today. I wonder if he paused to consider what lessons might lurk in the fact that getting (most of) an interim cabinet appointed, cost us more American dead than knocking down an entire dictatorship?

I hope, in any case, that the Iraqis get the rest of their cabinet appointed soon, and that it serves them well. It was dearly bought.

Monday, April 25, 2005

Protecting Privacy

It was a couple of weeks ago that Atrios alerted us all to this remarkably frank revelation of Tom DeLay's views regarding three major American institutions:
The reason the judiciary has been able to impose a separation of church and state that's nowhere in the Constitution is that Congress didn't stop them. The reason we had judicial review is because Congress didn't stop them. The reason we had a right to privacy is because Congress didn't stop them.
I must admit that the effect of such a broad and deep assault on the very foundations of the Constitutional order, was at first a bit disorienting. With the separation of church and state, judicial review and the right to privacy all under simultaneous attack by the Majority Leader, it was hard to know where to begin in mounting one's defense of what one had assumed, until recently, to be some of the most firmly established American traditions. If Mr. DeLay's purpose was to stun and immobilize the would-be defenders of the status quo by the audacity and scope of his lightening strike, he at least partly and temporarily succeeded.

After noting Mark Kleiman's timely call upon the words and spirit of Alexander Hamilton, in defense of judicial review, I contributed my own defense of the separation of church and state, citing Hugo Black's half-century-old majority opinions and, through him, Madison's and Jefferson's views on the subject. Although my own effort was no doubt inadequate in various ways, I felt secure at least in having such illustrious and ancient authorities to call upon, in defending the good old way.

But as I turn now to the problem of how to defend the right to privacy against attacks by the likes of Mr. DeLay, I find the prospect for success seems to darken significantly.

It is not that there is nothing to cite. Mr. Justice Douglas's opinion, in Griswold v. Connecticut, is a masterful thing. In defending the right of married adults to receive information about contraception without interference from the state, he convincingly illucidates how established judicial tradition has it that "specific guarantees in the Bill of Rights have penumbras, formed by emanations from those guarantees that help give them life and substance." And he backs up the application of this principle to ground a right of privacy by citing (as Mr. Justice Clark had recently done, in Mapp v. Ohio) the 19th-century Boyd v. U.S., with its ringing invocation of "the sanctity of a man's home and the privacies of life."

All this is much, but perhaps not, after all, enough. Griswold is good law, but it dates only to 1965. Mapp is only four years older. It is good to have Boyd in the background (and some pre-revolutionary English case law behind that), but it would be far better to have Jefferson and Madison, or Hamilton and Marshall. If the right of privacy were not under assault by a determined and compact ideological minority, all this would probably not matter. In due course, Griswold's assertion of a right to privacy would become what many of us had assumed it was well on its way to being -- an element of the Constitutional order nearly as sacrosanct as if it were contained in a founding document of the Republic.

But we do not live in age in which long-settled constitutional interpretations -- even ones that are so clearly in fundamental accord with the spirit of our institutions -- can grow old gracefully, slowly acquiring that aura of benevolent authority that only time can give to all human contrivances. Instead, we live in an age in which so-called "conservatives," drunk with power and heedless of the consequences, have determined to wreck as much Constitutional furniture as they can get away with, and give every indication that they will continue to do so, as long as their power lasts. And that leaves me wishing I had something weightier than young Griswold and old Boyd to throw into the breech.

For the willingness to acknowledge the authority of the reasoning in Griswold (as opposed to merely coincidentally agreeing with its outcome) truly depends on a kind of conservatism that our modern "conservatives" have forgotten (or never knew) how to practice. These DeLay Men would no doubt assert that the "privacies" of Boyd were meant to be limited to, as the decision itself says, "the sanctity of a man's home." With privacy thus sunk back into property rights (and indeed, specifically, into the property rights of the male head-of-household), there could be no question of its extending to, say, a woman's privacy in her body and its reproductive life, or a gay person's in his or her sexual intimacies.

As technology and society evolve toward ever greater complexity and interdependence, we repeatedly face the choice whether to interpret an old right as particular to the institutional form it once had -- in which case it practically shrivels and dies in the new surround -- or to see it rather as something whose outward form must expand to allow it to go where it's enduring spirit wants to take it, preserving the latter in a gradually changing shape. The scorn and contempt of our contemporary "conservatives" for the idea of a "living constitution" is nothing but their active preference for a dead one -- as though they had set out to prove Burke's most hamfisted liberal critics right, in making conservatism synonymous with the rejection of all change, no matter how gradual or just, so long as that rejection fortifies some entrenched privilege, or forestalls some genuine advancement of human freedom.

And it is for this reason that I think it might be worth the considerable trouble and expense to clarify this matter in the only way the Right will be compelled, if we are successful, to respect. Winning this or that election won't do it, for their present mode is one of permanent ideological war. Only one thing can stop them cold, and at the same time force them to show themselves to the American people for what they are. I have in mind a campaign for the passage of a Constitutional amendment to make the right to privacy as explicit, and as inviolable, as any other of our fundamental rights. Such an amendment need not, and probably should not, say much. But what it says it should say utterly without equivocation:
The right to privacy shall not be abridged without due process of law.
Let us propose something like that, and let us see where the Republican party stands on it, and where the American people do, and the real distance between those positions.

Friday, April 22, 2005

Maxims for the Age of Bush and DeLay

L'intérêt, qui aveugle les uns, fait la lumière des autres.
-- François de la Rochefoucauld

1. A politician is never more political than when urging other politicians to put politics aside.

2. Politicians who are astute students of the mechanisms for measuring the drift of public opinion take the greatest possible care to speak ill of such mechanisms at every opportunity.

3. The surest measure of the sincerity of a politician's stand on principle is the political price paid when that stand was originally taken; political costs that come due at a later date are as likely to indicate miscalculation, as courage.

4. A politician's true readiness to take positions that place his power at risk is generally in inverse proportion to his eagerness to claim credit for having done so.

5. The more emphatic a politician's denials that his actions are calculated to serve a particular vested interest, the more secure one can assume is the place of that interest in his counsels.

6. When a politician happens to be truly at odds with a certain interest group, the reasonableness and moderation of that politician's tone, when confronting that interest group, is a reliable index to the amount of political power wielded by the latter.

7. A politician's public willingness to oppose the wishes of a genuinely powerful interest group nearly always indicates a more covert willingness to do the bidding of a rival interest group.

8. What looks to be a principled defense of the rights of a particular branch or level of government is often a result of the fact that, once an interest finds itself well served by an institution, it tends to remain so for a long time.

9. Generally speaking, the trustworthiness of a journalist is in inverse proportion to his celebrity.

10. The words "some say," occurring in a piece of political journalism, indicate that the writer felt a strong need to give vent to a wholly unsupported assertion on the subject at hand -- along with a slightly stronger need to conceal this fact.

11. Elite journalists are expected to maintain a reputation for both accuracy and non-partisanship. When these goals collide, however, non-partisanship is seldom sacrificed for the sake of accuracy, for this would risk offending power, while the opposite choice risks offending only truth.

12. Other things being equal, the level of a journalist's access to those in positions of great power indicates how well that journalist can be relied upon to serve their interests.

13. The normal relationship between powerful politicians and celebrated journalists is one of mutually beneficent exchange: the politician requires votes; the journalist, notoriety; each is ideally positioned to help supply the other's wants.

14. While its relation to the truth remains a mystery, the anonymous official leak is an unfailingly reliable indicator of the political interest of the originator of the leak.

15. With official leaks, the main interest generally lies in determining whether the leak is intended to serve the political interest of the leaker, or of the leaker's patron, or both.

16. In a great many cases, an official leak is a piece of carefully prepared propaganda that is as yet too obviously such, to be defended publicly; the purpose of such a leak is to remove the taint of propaganda, by establishing a precedent.

17. Successful open conspiracies are as common as successful hidden conspiracies are rare.

18. The use of a specific deception to achieve a specific political goal is rare, for it generally requires far more self-discipline than most politicians and pundits possess; the use of innumerable lies to destroy the efficacy of the distinction between truth and falsehood, is the common coin of politics and punditry alike.

19. While the first blow is the most damaging in any fight, a reputation for attacking first can be equally damaging; thus the skillful politician or pundit will always lay the groundwork for an unprovoked ad hominem attack by accusing the target of having drawn first blood.

20. Effective attacks upon an opponent's character, when they cannot plausibly be attributed to retaliation, must be carried out by agents who can be disowned without diminishing their effectiveness; such attacks, therefore, require neither wit nor truth, but a mechanism.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Not-So-Good Times

Seems like a lot of smart people sure are worried about macroeconomic fundamentals these days. Éminence grise Paul Volker -- the former Fed chair who finally broke the back of 70's era inflation -- says that the underlying imbalances, foreign and domestic, are "as dangerous and intractable as any I can remember." Brad DeLong quotes Financial Times analyst Martin Wolf on the mutually-addictive relationship between China's exchange rate rigidity and the U.S. budget deficit, wherein he calls the current administration "arguably the most fiscally irresponsible... since the second world war ." Meanwhile, Paul Krugman sniffs the employment and inflation data, catches "a wiff of stagflation," and warns that this means "there will be no good options if something else goes wrong." (And there are plenty of candidates for that "something else.") Finally, a worried Billmon breaks out his Excel for a chart-stuffed post showing that the Asian-financed U.S. consumption binge is, ironically enough, just the local aspect a really worrisome problem of global oversaving.

But, hey, on the other hand, annuntio vobis gaudium magnum -- habemus Papam! And it's not every day you get to write a blog post saying that. Oh wait, maybe this particular papal announcement is not such a great joy after all. Sully, for one, sure ain't too pleased -- ouch!

Saturday, April 16, 2005

Tom DeLay, Political Theorist

I think Atrios was the first one to pick up this particular outburst of Tom DeLay's in the Moonie Times:
Mr. DeLay: Not zealous. I blame Congress over the last 50 to 100 years for not standing up and taking its responsibility given to it by the Constitution. The reason the judiciary has been able to impose a separation of church and state that's nowhere in the Constitution is that Congress didn't stop them. The reason we had judicial review is because Congress didn't stop them. The reason we had a right to privacy is because Congress didn't stop them.
Just so we're all clear on this, here we have the Majority Leader of the United States House of Representatives -- one of the three or four most powerful Republican officeholders in the land -- advocating the destruction (or, what amounts to the same thing, lamenting the survival) of three notable American institutions:
  • The separation of church and state
  • Judicial review
  • The right to privacy
Since Mr. DeLay is still, at this hour, Majority Leader of the House, and since no high-ranking Republican officials have come forth to condemn his words, I assume we are safe in concluding that today's G.O.P. agrees with this implicit characterization of itself as the party of theocracy, legislative tyranny, and government control of private life. I feel I owe Mr. DeLay a word of thanks: Thank you Mr. DeLay, that's very clarifying.

On the question of judicial review, Mark Kleiman has very helpfully summoned no less an authority than Alexander Hamilton (in Federalist 78) to remind Mr. DeLay that "50 to 100 years" of revisionism won't quite cover it, and also that judicial review exists, among other things, to keep Constitutionally-delegated power (such as that presently enjoyed by Mr. DeLay) from doing things it is expressly forbidden to do (such as, for instance, rewriting the Constitution at will). A simple enough lesson but one that, clearly, bears repeating -- espeially now.

One can undertake a similar teaching enterprise for the principle of the separation of church and state, calling upon similarly-weighty authorities. True, the Supreme Court decisions in this tradition do happen to fall within Mr. DeLay's 50 to 100 year time for prospecitive revision of Court decisions, but, as we shall see, they have (like the prinicple of judicial review) a pretty secure chain of authority that goes all the way back to the Founders:

Here is Mr. Justice Black, writing for the majority in McCollum v. Board of Education, 1948 (footnotes deleted):
This [program for voluntary religious instruction in Illinois public schools] is beyond all question a utilization of the tax- established and tax-supported public school system to aid religious groups to spread their faith. And it falls squarely under the ban of the First Amendment (made applicable to the States by the Fourteenth) as we interpreted it in Everson v. Board of Education. There we said: 'Neither a state nor the Federal Government can set up a church. Neither can pass laws which aid one religion, aid all religions, or prefer one religion over another. Neither can force or influence a person to go to or to remain away from church against his will or force him to profess a belief or disbelief in any religion. No person can be punished for entertaining or professing religious beliefs or disbeliefs, for church attendance or nonattendance. No tax in any amount, large or small, can be levied to support any religious activities or institutions, whatever they may be called, or whatever form they may adopt to teach or practice religion. Neither a state nor the Federal Government can, openly or secretly, participate in the affairs of any religious organizations or groups, and vice versa. In the words of Jefferson, the clause against establishment of religion by law was intended to erect 'a wall of separation between Church and State."
Now this may "only" be a half-century old Supreme Court decision (and thus strictly speaking subject to Mr. DeLay's ban) but -- let's face it -- it helps to have Jefferson on your side. It helps especially when you are going to be as emphatic about this question as Justice Black is being here:
[T]he First Amendment rests upon the premise that both religion and government can best work to achieve their lofty aims if each is left free from the other within its respective sphere. Or, as we said in the Everson case, the First Amendment had erected a wall between Church and State which must be kept high and impregnable.
In the Everson decision that Justice Black cites (and for which he also wrote the majority opinion), there is a good deal more of this kind of thing, including a brief lesson on the historical background and evolution of religious liberty in America:
A large proportion of the early settlers of this country came here from Europe to escape the bondage of laws which compelled them to support and attend government favored churches. The centuries immediately before and contemporaneous with the colonization of America had been filled with turmoil, civil strife, and persecutions, generated in large part by established sects determined to maintain their absolute political and religious supremacy. With the power of government supporting them, at various times and places, Catholics had persecuted Protestants, Protestants had persecuted Catholics, Protestant sects had persecuted other Protestant sects, Catholics of one shade of belief had persecuted Catholics of another shade of belief, and all of these had from time to time persecuted Jews. In efforts to force loyalty to whatever religious group happened to be on top and in league with the government of a particular time and place, men and women had been fined, cast in jail, cruelly tortured, and killed. Among the offenses for which these punishments had been inflicted were such things as speaking disrespectfully of the views of ministers of government-established churches, nonattendance at those churches, expressions of non-belief in their doctrines, and failure to pay taxes and tithes to support them.


These practices of the old world were transplanted to and began to thrive in the soil of the new America. The very charters granted by the English Crown to the individuals and companies designated to make the laws which would control the destinies of the colonials authorized these individuals and companies to erect religious establishments which all, whether believers or non-believers, would be required to support and attend. An exercise of this authority was accompanied by a repetition of many of the old world practices and persecutions. Catholics found themselves hounded and proscribed because of their faith; Quakers who followed their conscience went to jail; Baptists were peculiarly obnoxious to certain dominant Protestant sects; men and women of varied faiths who happened to be in a minority in a particular locality were persecuted because they steadfastly persisted in worshipping God only as their own consciences dictated. And all of these dissenters were compelled to pay tithes and taxes to support government-sponsored churches whose ministers preached inflammatory sermons designed to strengthen and consolidate the established faith by generating a burning hatred against dissenters. These practices became so commonplace as to shock the freedom-loving colonials into a feeling of abhorrence. The imposition of taxes to pay ministers' salaries and to build and maintain churches and church property aroused their indignation. It was these feelings which found expression in the First Amendment. No one locality and no one group throughout the Colonies can rightly be given entire credit for having aroused the sentiment that culminated in adoption of the Bill of Rights' provisions embracing religious liberty. But Virginia, where the established church had achieved a dominant influence in political affairs and where many excesses attracted wide public attention, provided a great stimulus and able leadership for the movement. The people there, as elsewhere, reached the conviction that individual religious liberty could be achieved best under a government which was stripped of all power to tax, to support, or otherwise to assist any or all religions, or to interfere with the beliefs of any religious individual or group.

The movement toward this end reached its dramatic climax in Virginia in 1785-86 when the Virginia legislative body was about to renew Virginia's tax levy for the support of the established church. Thomas Jefferson and James Madison led the fight against this tax. Madison wrote his great Memorial and Remonstrance against the law. In it, he eloquently argued that a true religion did not need the support of law; that no person, either believer or non-believer, should be taxed to support a religious institution of any kind; that the best interest of a society required that the minds of men always be wholly free; and that cruel persecutions were the inevitable result of government-established religions. Madison's Remonstrance received strong support throughout Virginia, and the Assembly postponed consideration of the proposed tax measure until its next session.
At this point, the curious reader might be tempted to break off and have a look at Madison's Memorial and Remonstrance for herself, in which she would find, among fifteen reasons cited for the rejecting the levy in support of religion, the following:
3. Because it is proper to take alarm at the first experiment on our liberties. We hold this prudent jealousy to be the first duty of Citizens, and one of the noblest characteristics of the late Revolution. The free men of America did not wait till usurped power had strengthened itself by exercise, and entagled the question in precedents. They saw all the consequences in the principle, and they avoided the consequences by denying the principle. We revere this lesson too much soon to forget it. Who does not see that the same authority which can establish Christianity, in exclusion of all other Religions, may establish with the same ease any particular sect of Christians, in exclusion of all other Sects? that the same authority which can force a citizen to contribute three pence only of his property for the support of any one establishment, may force him to conform to any other establishment in all cases whatsoever?

5. Because the Bill implies either that the Civil Magistrate is a competent Judge of Religious Truth; or that he may employ Religion as an engine of Civil policy. The first is an arrogant pretension falsified by the contradictory opinions of Rulers in all ages, and throughout the world: the second an unhallowed perversion of the means of salvation

6. Because the establishment proposed by the Bill is not requisite for the support of the Christian Religion. To say that it is, is a contradiction to the Christian Religion itself, for every page of it disavows a dependence on the powers of this world: it is a contradiction to fact; for it is known that this Religion both existed and flourished, not only without the support of human laws, but in spite of every opposition from them, and not only during the period of miraculous aid, but long after it had been left to its own evidence and the ordinary care of Providence. Nay, it is a contradiction in terms; for a Religion not invented by human policy, must have pre-existed and been supported, before it was established by human policy. It is moreover to weaken in those who profess this Religion a pious confidence in its innate excellence and the patronage of its Author; and to foster in those who still reject it, a suspicion that its friends are too conscious of its fallacies to trust it to its own merits.

7. Because experience witnesseth that eccelsiastical establishments, instead of maintaining the purity and efficacy of Religion, have had a contrary operation. During almost fifteen centuries has the legal establishment of Christianity been on trial. What have been its fruits? More or less in all places, pride and indolence in the Clergy, ignorance and servility in the laity, in both, superstition, bigotry and persecution. Enquire of the Teachers of Christianity for the ages in which it appeared in its greatest lustre; those of every sect, point to the ages prior to its incorporation with Civil policy. Propose a restoration of this primitive State in which its Teachers depended on the voluntary rewards of their flocks, many of them predict its downfall. On which Side ought their testimony to have greatest weight, when for or when against their interest?
Perhaps that's enough to give the flavor of the thing, and to reassure one that Mr. Justice Black wasn't just blowing smoke ("legislating from the bench") here. In any event, back now to Everson, where Justice Black picks up his narrative with the contemporary reaction to Madison's words:
Madison's Remonstrance received strong support throughout Virginia, and the Assembly postponed consideration of the proposed tax measure until its next session. When the proposal came up for consideration at that session, it not only died in committee, but the Assembly enacted the famous Virginia Bill for Religious Liberty originally written by Thomas Jefferson.
Well there's a fine how-do-you-do for the DeLay's of 18th century Virginia! Not only is their Christian relief act turned down, but wiley old Madison actually gets them so wrapped around the axle that, next thing they know, they're enacting as law one of Jefferson's most polemical Enlightenment harrangues.

There's a nice little story about how Jefferson wanted three achievements put on his tombstone -- notably excluding his having been, well, President of the United States. The three are: the authorship of the Declaration of Independence (okay, that's kind of a big one), the founding of the University of Virginia (not bad, not bad) and, third, authorship of the aforementioned Virginia Declaration of Religious Liberty. So he thought this one was kind of a biggie too. Apparently, Hugo Black agreed. In Everson he quotes the preamble at length:
Almighty God hath created the mind free; that all attempts to influence it by temporal punishments, or burthens, or by civil incapacitations, tend only to beget habits of hypocrisy and meanness, and are a departure from the plan of the Holy author of our religion who being Lord both of body and mind, yet chose not to propagate it by coercions on either . . .; that to compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves, is sinful and tyrannical; that even the forcing him to support this or that teacher of his own religious persuasion, is depriving him of the comfortable liberty of giving his contributions to the particular pastor, whose morals he would make his pattern ...
Then comes a relevant bit of the actual statute:
That no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burthened, in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief.
At this point, Black has us where he wants us and, continuing in his own voice (or rather that of the court majority), moves in for the kill:
This Court has previously recognized that the provisions of the First Amendment, in the drafting and adoption of which Madison and Jefferson played such leading roles, had the same objective and were intended to provide the same protection against governmental intrusion on religious liberty as the Virginia statute.
This is followed by a flurry of citations to back up the point, but the deed is done: Black has married the 1st Amendment's establishment clause to Madison's and Jefferson's views about how the state should maintain a strict separation from religious institutions.

Even though the particular New Jersey statute under review in Everson survived, the foundation was already laid for McCollum, as Black could now pronounce the Constitutional principle that is to govern these matters in the firmest possible terms:
The First Amendment has erected a wall between church and state. That wall must be kept high and impregnable. We could not approve the slightest breach.
It may be the clap of despotic doom to the DeLay's of this world, but that's two Founders to none behind the whole separation of church and state thing -- and a pretty weighty pair of them at that. Somehow, I don't think the theocrats are equipped with much in the way of a comeback.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

More Pop Culture War

The latest salvos in the great center-left-blogospheric culture war have been exchanged:
  • Yglesias quotes a rapper named Immortal Technique (evidently a sort of Peruvian-American Chomsky with dope beats and a criminal past) to make an important point about the autonomy of the aesthetic (the old warhorses Birth of a Nation and Triumph of the Will having evidently become passé among twenty-something cultural élites). He also helpfully points out that Joe Lieberman would make a bad culture critic -- and not just because he's Joe Lieberman (which is bad enough, if you ask me), but also because he has the wrong day job.

  • Ed Kilgore says its all about the earnestly Naderite-sounding goal of regulating corporate marketing to kids, and not at all about censoring Yglesias's iPod choices. In fact, since Yglesias is a bit over 18, Kilgore won't even offer to protect him from all the record company hype that is clearly working a little too well in Matt's particular case. He also tries to snap Yglesias out of his serial Walter Mondale impersonation by offering up some actual anti-bad-culture policies, which Kilgore claims will have the effect of signaling voting parents that we aren't all a bunch of nihilists.

  • Digby forefully responds to Kilgore by saying that better V-chips and such don't cut much ice with culture-fearing parents who are too lazy or confused or whatever to use the parental tools they already have, and also that the GOP will always win on this issue because, after all, they really do want to censor stuff, and aren't afraid to say so straight out, without any Kerry-esque nuance. Digby further proposes that, if liberals want to make it clear that they have a moral backbone, it might more sense to take a principled stand on something that they are actually willing to pay a political price for -- like say the First Amendment.


I think I'm with Digby on this one. If things like a uniform ratings system represent the strongest medicine that the Kilgore-Gerstein-Sullivan wing is willing to prescribe, then we really aren't talking about much more than Clintonesque "micro-initiatives" and jawboning, neither of which I have any serious objection to.

And if Kilgore et al. seriously think that this kind of thing will be effective in the way that real censorship is effective, they should stop and contemplate the differences between Hollywood movies under the Production Code (which was real censorship, courtesy of the Catholic hierarchy and an energetic anti-Semite named Joseph Breen), and Hollywood movies under the ratings system. The latter, as I recall, had the net effect of making my friends and me wait until at least one of us sorta-kinda looked 17 before we could experience the full measure of sex and violence that movies had to offer. It was a longer wait than I wanted it to be, but I made up for it pretty quickly.

I should have said: I have no objection to micro-initiatives and jawboning -- provided they have the promised political effect of swinging some actual votes our way. It sure worked for the Big Dog, but (as Digby points out) not so much in poor Al Gore -- even though he had Frank Zappa's great nemesis at his side. In any case, making effective use of such tactics, and keeping them from backfiring, probably requires the kind of political dexterity and experience that most bloggers (including this one) don't remotely possess.

Negotiating Cultural Disturbance: The Way of The Dude

I've been following with interest the Sullivan/Yglesias debate about what, if anything, Democrats should do to distance themselves from the entertainment industry, in order to "claim some moral ground" (Sullivan) with parents concerned about how Hollywood and such might be corrupting their children. (Updates here, here, here and here.) It ain't exactly Woods versus DiMarco, but you can follow it without a TV, so it's my kind of contest.

Near as I can figure, here is the state of play after two full rounds:
  • Sullivan thinks the Dems need to acknowledge concerns about the corrupting influence of pop culture verbally and (maybe) with (unspecified) policies.

  • Yglesias thinks that verbal acknowledgment is okay as a political tactic, though he doesn't care for it personally, thinks it won't do anyone any good, and might even backfire.

  • Yglesias also thinks that Sullivan hasn't put forward any policy options short of censorship (which is true), so that unless she is advocating the latter, there is as yet nothing substantive to talk about.

  • Sullivan, meanwhile, thinks Yglesias thinks pop culture is no problem (which is probably true) and that it's wrong to charge anyone who raises these issues with advocating censorship.


Wanting to advance the debate, but preferring to deal with concrete cases, I submit the following artifact of popular culture which, to my mind, raises these issues in a particularly vivid way. Fans of the Coen brothers' movies will recognize this as an excerpt from their 1998 comedy, The Big Lebowski, one of many scenes set in a bowling alley:


VOICE

Are you ready to be fucked, man?

THE DUDE AND WALTER LOOK UP TO SEE:

QUINTANA

I see you rolled your way into the semis. Deos mio, man. Seamus and me, we're gonna fuck you up.

DUDE

Yeah well, that's just, ya know, like, your opinion, man.

QUINTANA, LOOKING AT WALTER

Let me tell you something, bendeco. You pull any your crazy shit with us, you flash a piece out on the lanes, I'll take it away from you and stick it up your ass and pull the fucking trigger til it goes "click".

DUDE

Jesus.

QUINTANA

You said it, man. Nobody fucks with the Jesus.

JESUS WALKS AWAY.

WALTER

Eight-year-olds, Dude.


For those unfamiliar with the movie, I should immediately add that Quintana (John Turturo) is identified as a former child molestor who, while bowling, sports a colorful unitard, hairnet, costume jewelry and painted nails, who licks his bowling ball provocatively before rolling, and who has a penchant for punctuating his rhetorical references to the sexual act with grinding hip thrusts.

Now I imagine I am on pretty firm ground in supposing that this scene would qualify as one that Sullivan's concerned "average" parents would find disturbing, and at least potentially corrupting of the youth. It contains four instances of the word "fuck" or its cognates, features a flamboyant sexual deviant named Jesus (pronounced in the english manner though the character is evidently hispanic), and a rather vivid verbal threat of combined murder/sodomy. It is also considered, among afficionados of the Coen's work, one of the classic scenes in the film, and is, by certain sensibilites, regarded as quite hysterically funny.

Leaving issues of censorship aside, this obviously raises the question of who is right -- the hypothetical concerned parent (or Democratic moralist), who would find the scene unacceptably disturbing and corrupting of the youth, or the Coen brothers fan, who might find it an emblematic moment from the ouevre of perhaps the most consistently excellent film makers in the last decade and a half of American cinema?

Interestingly, The Big Lebowski -- which is by the way set in Los Angeles and at least tangentially concerned with the adult entertainment industry -- has its own way of exploring these moral/aesthetic issues, as in the following exchange between the story's male and female leads (Jeff Bridges and Julianne Moore, respectively). In the scene, The Dude (Bridges) has just entered a large artist's studio, and been nearly run down by a speeding, airbound Maude (Moore), who is engaged in splashing paint on a canvas while in motion on a cable track strung along the ceiling of her loft:


MAUDE, NUDE EXCEPT FOR HER HARNESS

Does the female form make you uncomfortable, Mr. Lebowski?

DUDE, LOOKING AT MAUDE's CANVAS

Is that what that's a picture of?

MAUDE

In a sense, yes. Elfranco, my robe. My art has been commended as being strongly vaginal. Which bothers some men. The word itself makes some men uncomfortable. Vagina.

DUDE

Oh yeah?

MAUDE

Yes, they don't like hearing it and find it difficult to say. Whereas without batting an eye a man will refer to his "dick" or his "rod" or his "Johnson".

DUDE

"Johnson"?


Not only does Maude explicitly raise the issue of disturbing speech with The Dude, attempting to provoke an adverse reaction from him, but this will turn out, in the furhter unfolding of the plot, to have been a sort of test of Maude's to begin determining whether this man would be a good candidate to father her child. Yet the adverse reaction -- finding the word "vagina" disturbing -- would clearly have been the "wrong" answer to Maude's test, which apparently is designed to assess the hold of patriarchal ideology upon The Dude, whereas The Dude's somewhat bewildered (and perhaps partly stoned) equanimity evidently passes muster, as we subsequently discover, when Maude offers herself to him sexually.

Note also that the entire mis-en-scene calls attention rather provocatively to the issues of cultural-political conflict. Maude, with her polemical, non-representational art, casual nudity, relations with sexually ambiguous others, aggressively feminist sensibility, and kinky painting gear, is a virtual emblem of the artist as bearer of cosmopolitan values and transgressor of mainstream cultural norms. The Coen's thereby clearly wed the civil status of the comic vulgarity so lavishly on display in their own film to larger questions of the politics of cultural production.

The Dude's combination of unfamiliarity with, and willingness readily to adopt, esoteric vulgar terms for the male organ ("Johnson") can also be seen as an early indicator of his openness to the intellectual challenge represented by Maude's presence in his life -- and thus perhaps constitutes an additional source of perceived compatibility for Maude. Along these lines, a friend once usefully suggested that the film can be viewed as being largely concerned with The Dude's learning of new vocabulary.

The Big Lebowski, in other words, mounts its own internal argument about the nature and acceptability of disturbing speech -- one which, however, leads to conclusions that one suspects would surprise and perhaps dismay those who find the film's own speech disturbing. That the movie does this without advocating an "anything goes" or relativistic attitude toward the moral valence of speech acts is best exemplified by the character of Walter (John Goodman), who is the film's great defender of the rule-boundedness of all human action and speech, as in this scene in which he explicitly confronts villains who, indeed, claim to believe that everything is permitted:


WALTER

There's no ransom if you don't have a fucking hostage. That's what ransom is. Those are the fucking rules.

DIETER

Zere ARE no ROOLZ!

WALTER

NO RULES! YOU CABBAGE-EATING SONS-OF-BITCHES!

KIEFFER

His girlfriend gafe up her toe! She sought we'd be getting million dollars! Iss not fair!

WALTER

Fair! WHO'S THE FUCKING NIHILIST HERE! WHAT ARE YOU, A BUNCH OF FUCKING CRYBABIES?!


Notice that Walter's opening remark is clearly what Wittgenstein would have called "grammatical": Walter is calling attention to the fact that the word and concept "ransom" naturally imply the presence of a "hostage" -- that we would not ordinarily demand a "ransom" in the absence of a "hostage," for it is part of the (grammatical) essence of a ransom to imply the presence of a hostage. The "rules" Walter cites are the thus the rules of ordinary usage. The nihilists he confronts therefore represent the skeptical bent of mind, that excercises the human capacity for turning away from the conditions of the possibility of human speech, in refusing the call of the word "ransom," and instead choosing to deliberately using it outside of our ordinary language games.

This is a clearly, as Walter perceives it to be, a refusal of community on the part of the former members of Autobahn, and his quite violent response can be thought of as emblematizing the violence of anti-skepticism, driven to prolong skepticism's violence against the ordinary precisely in the effort to overcome it. In this sense, Donny's death at the end of this scene represents the tragic cost of failing to maintain the dialectical tension with skepticism, within the ordinary.


I will close simply by citing the movie's final exchange, between The Dude and the narrator (Sam Elliot, making his second appearance in the film), a coda that beautifully allegorizes the possibilities of community within the reality of conflicting language games, including conflicts such as that over the nature of disturbing cultural materials. I think it is not too much to take the Stranger's final chuckle as a (an intentionally non-verbal) token of that comic spirit of tolerance that can bless even our most seemingly intractable symbolic/cultural conflicts, provided we can summon the will to acknowledge that, when all is said and done, the twin fact of human frailty and expressiveness is what abides:


THE STRANGER

I like your style, Dude.

DUDE

Well I like your style too, man. Got a whole cowboy thing goin'.

THE STRANGER

Thankie. . . Just one thing, Dude. D'ya have to use s'many cuss words?

DUDE

The fuck are you talking about?


THE STRANGER, CHUCKLING TO HIMSELF

Okay, have it your way.

Saturday, April 09, 2005

Doing My Part For A Biblical Constitution

Wanting to do all I can to further the cause of Judeo-Christian Constitutional Restoration I checked the historical record to make sure we have a clear sense of who among the Founding Fathers did, and who did not, support a biblically based interpretation of the Constitution.

Now, we all know that most of the Founders had accepted Jesus as their personal Savior, and could hardly have wished for anything less than a bible-centered interpretation of our country's founding documents. Sadly, however, there were a few heretics and apostates among them. For far too long, the presence of this tiny clique of unimportant anti-Christian radicals among the G_d fearing Founders has been used by liberal haters of religion to make the absurd argument that the Constitution was a product of the aetheistical Freemasonry of the so-called Enlightenment -- a completely foreign, and indeed french, theory that has no place in a bible-affirming culture such as our own.

So to combat this tendency, I've singled out some of the worst cases below, complete with the evidence I turned up of their deviations from Biblical Constitutionalism, or simply their individual lack of politico-theological correctness. I humbly suggest that, as part of the forthcoming Restoration, it would be best for the spiritual health of the nation, and especially for the innocent unborn of future generations, to arrange for the timely and unobtrusive removal of all trace of the offending personages listed here, and any others of their ilk, from the historical record of the Founding. Since they are all, in any case, minor figures, it's doubtful that they will be missed, and history will thank us for shouldering the unpleasant but long overdue task of taking out the historical garbage of this, our otherwise-unblemished Christian Nation.

Here, then, is our role of dishonor:



Sam Adams


The civil magistrate has everywhere contaminated religion by making it an engine of policy; and freedom of thought and the right of private judgment, in matters of conscience, driven from every other corner of the earth, direct their course to this happy country as their last asylum. Let us cherish the noble guests, and shelter them under the wings of a universal toleration! Be this the seat of unbounded religious freedom. She will bring with her in her train, industry, wisdom, and commerce. She thrives most when left to shoot forth in her natural luxuriance, and asks from human policy only not to be checked in her growth by artificial encouragements.

-- Speech on American Independence, 1 August 1776



Benjamin Franklin


If we look back into history for the character of present sects in Christianity, we shall find few that have not in their turns been persecutors, and complainers of persecution. The primitive Christians thought persecution extremely wrong in the Pagans, but practised it on one another. The first Protestants of the Church of England, blamed persecution in the Roman church, but practised it against the Puritans: these found it wrong in the Bishops, but fell into the same practice themselves both here and in New England. To account for this we should remember, that the doctrine of toleration was not then known, or had not prevailed in the world. Persecution was therefore not so much the fault of the sect as of the times. It was not in those days deemed wrong in itself. The general opinion was only, that those who are in error ought not to persecute the truth: But the possessors of truth were in the right to persecute error, in order to destroy it. Thus every sect believing itself possessed of all truth, and that every tenet differing from theirs was error, conceived that when the power was in their hands, persecution was a duty required of them by that God whom they supposed to be offended with heresy.

-- Letter to the London Packet, 3 June 1772


If Christian Preachers had continued to teach as Christ and his Apostles did, without Salaries, and as the Quakers now do, I imagine [Religious] Tests would never have existed; for I think they were invented, not so much to secure Religion itself, as the Emoluments of it. When a Religion is good, I conceive that it will support itself; and, when it cannot support itself, and God does not take care to support, so that its Professors are oblig'd to call for the help of the Civil Power, it is a sign, I apprehend, of its being a bad one. But I shall be out of my Depth, if I wade any deeper in Theology.

-- letter to Richard Price, 9 Oct. 1780


As to Jesus of Nazareth, my Opinion of whom you particularly desire, I think the System of Morals and his Religion, as he left them to us, the best the World ever saw or is likely to see; but I apprehend it has received various corrupting Changes, and I have, with most of the present Dissenters in England, some Doubts as to his Divinity; tho' it is a question I do not dogmatize upon, having never studied it, and think it needless to busy myself with it now, when I expect soon an Opportunity of knowing the Truth with less Trouble. I see no harm, however, in its being believed, if that Belief has the good Consequence, as probably it has, of making his Doctrines more respected and better observed; especially as I do not perceive, that the Supreme takes it amiss, by distinguishing the Unbelievers in his Government of the World with any peculiar Marks of his Displeasure.

-- letter to Ezra Stiles, 9 March 1790



George Washington


We have abundant reason to rejoice that in this Land the light of truth and reason has triumphed over the power of bigotry and superstition, and that every person may here worship God according to the dictates of his own heart. In the enlightened Age and in this Land of equal liberty it is our boast, that a man's religious tenets will not forfeit the protection of the Laws, nor deprive him of the right of attaining and holding the highest Offices that are known in the United States.

-- letter to the members of the New Church in Baltimore, 27 January 1793


I regret exceedingly that the disputes between the protestants and Roman Catholics should be carried to the serious alarming height mentioned in your letters. Religious controversies are always productive of more acrimony and irreconcilable hatreds than those which spring from any other cause; and I was not without hopes that the enlightened and liberal policy of the present age would have put an effectual stop to contentions of this kind.

-- letter to Sir Edward Newenham, 22 June 1792


If I could have entertained the slightest apprehension that the Constitution framed in the Convention, where I had the honor to preside, might possibly endanger the religious rights of any ecclesiastical society, certainly I would never have placed my signature to it; and if I could now conceive that the general government might ever be so administered as to render the liberty of conscience insecure, I beg you will be persuaded that no one would be more zealous than myself to establish effectual barriers against the horrors of spiritual tyranny, and every species of religious persecution. For you, doubtless, remember that I have often expressed my sentiment, that every man, conducting himself as a good citizen, and being accountable to God alone for his religious opinions, ought to be protected in worshipping the Deity according to the dictates of his own conscience.

-- Letter to the United Baptist Churches in Virginia, 10 May 1789


The liberty enjoyed by the people of these States, of worshipping Almighty God agreeably to their conscience, is not only among the choicest of their blessings, but also of their rights. While men perform their social duties faithfully, they do all that society or the state can with propriety demand or expect; and remain responsible to their Maker for the religion or modes of faith which they may prefer or express.

-- To the Quakers, 1789



John Adams


We have now, it seems a National Bible Society, to propagate King James's Bible, through all Nations. Would it not be better, to apply these pious Subscriptions, to purify Christendom from the Corruptions of Christianity; than to propagate those Corruptions in Europe Asia, Africa and America!

-- letter to Thomas Jefferson, 4 November 1816


Checks and Ballances, Jefferson, however you and your Party may have derided them, are our only Security, for the progress of Mind, as well as the Security of Body. Every Species of these Christians would persecute Deists, as soon as either Sect would persecute another, if it had unchecked and unballanced Power. Nay, the Deists would persecute Christians, and Atheists would persecute Deists, with as unrelenting Cruelty, as any Christians would persecute them or one another. Know thyself, human Nature!

-- letter to Thomas Jefferson, 25 June 1813


I have long been settled in my opinion, that neither Philosophy, nor Religion, nor Morality, nor Wisdom, nor Interest, will ever govern nations or Parties against their Vanity, their Pride, their Resentment or Revenge, or their Avarice or Ambition. Nothing but Force and Power and Strength can restrain them.

-- letter to Thomas Jefferson, 9 October 1787


The human Understanding is a revelation from its Maker which can never be disputed or doubted. There can be no Scepticism, Pyrrhonism or Incredulity or Infidelity here. No Prophecies, no Miracles are necessary to prove this celestial communication. This revelation has made it certain that two and one make three; and that one is not three; nor can three be one. We can never be so certain of any Prophecy, or the fullfillment of any Prophecy; or of any miracle, or the design of any miracle as We are, from the revelation of nature, i.e. natures God that two and two are four. Miracles or Prophecies might frighten Us to lie; to say that We believe that 2 and 2 make 5. But we should not believe it. We should know the contrary.

-- letter to Thomas Jefferson, 14 September 1813


Oh! Lord! Do you think a Protestant Popedom is annihilated in America? Do you recollect, or have you ever attended to the ecclesiastical Strifes in Maryland Pennsilvania, New York, and every part of New England? What a mercy it is that these People cannot whip and crop, and pillory and roast, as yet in the U.S.! If they could they would.

-- letter to Thomas Jefferson, 18 May 1817



Thomas Jefferson


The truth is that the greatest enemies to the doctrines of Jesus are those calling themselves the expositors of them, who have perverted them for the structure of a system of fancy absolutely incomprehensible, and without any foundation in his genuine words. And the day will come when the mystical generation of Jesus, by the supreme being as father in the womb of a virgin will be classed with the fable of the generation of Minerva in the brain of Jupiter. But we may hope that the dawn of reason and freedom of thought in these United States will do away with all this artificial scaffolding, and restore us to the primitive and genuine doctrines of this the most venerated reformer of human errors.

-- letter to John Adams, 11 April 1823


The legitimate powers of government extend to such acts only as are injurious to others. But it does me no injury for my neighbour to say there are twenty gods, or no god. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg. If it be said, his testimony in a court of justice cannot be relied on, reject it then, and be the stigma on him. Constraint may make him worse by making him a hypocrite, but it will never make him a truer man. It may fix him obstinately in his errors, but will not cure them. Reason and free enquiry are the only effectual agents against error. Give a loose to them, they will support the true religion, by bringing every false one to their tribunal, to the test of their investigation. They are the natural enemies of error, and of error only.

-- Notes on the State of Virginia, 1784


Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man and his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legislative powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should "make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof," thus building a wall of separation between Church and State.

-- letter to the Danbury Baptist Association, 1 January 1802


I consider the government of the US. as interdicted by the Constitution from intermeddling with religious institutions, their doctrines, discipline, or exercises.... I do not believe it is for the interest of religion to invite the civil magistrate to direct it's exercises, it's discipline, or it's doctrines; nor of the religious societies that the general government should be invested with the power of effecting any uniformity of time or matter among them. Fasting & prayer are religious exercises. The enjoining them an act of discipline. Every religious society has a right to determine for itself the times for these exercises, & the objects proper for them, according to their own particular tenets; and this right can never be safer than in their own hands, where the constitution has deposited it.

-- letter to Rev. Samuel Miller, 23 January 1808


But I have ever thought religion a concern purely between our God and our consciences, for which we were accountable to him, and not to the priests. I never told my own religion, nor scrutinized that of another. I never attempted to make a convert, nor wished to change another's creed. I have ever judged of the religion of others by their lives, and by this test, my dear Madam, I have been satisfied yours must be an excellent one, to have produced a life of such exemplary virtue and correctness. For it is in our lives, and not from our words, that that our religion must be read. By the same test the world must judge me. But this does not satisfy the priesthood. They must have a positive, a declared assent to all their interested absurdities. My opinion is that there would never have been an infidel, if there had never been a priest. The artificial structures they have built on the purest of all moral systems, for the purpose of deriving from it pence and power, revolts those who think for themselves, and who read in that system only what is really there. These, therefore, they brand with such nick-names as their enmity chooses gratuitously to impute.

-- letter to Mrs. Samuel H. Smith, 6 August 1816


But a short time elapsed after the death of the great reformer of the Jewish religion, before his principles were departed from by those who professed to be his special servants, and perverted into an engine for enslaving mankind, and aggrandizing their oppressors in Church and State: that the purest system of morals ever before preached to man has been adulterated and sophisticated by artificial constructions, into a mere contrivance to filch wealth and power to themselves: that rational men, not being able to swallow their impious heresies, in order to force them down their throats, they raise the hue and cry of infidelity, while themselves are the greatest obstacles to the advancement of the real doctrines of Jesus, and do, in fact, constitute the real Anti-Christ.

-- To S. Kercheval, 1810


It is too late in the day for men of sincerity to pretend they believe in the Platonic mysticisms that three are one, and one is three; and yet that the one is not three, and the three are not one . . . But this constitutes the craft, the power and the profit of the priests. Sweep away their gossamer fabrics of factitious religion, and they would catch no more flies. We should all then, like the Quakers, live without an order of priests, moralize for ourselves, follow the oracle of conscience, and say nothing about what no man can understand, nor therefore believe.

-- To John Adams, 1813


The priests have so disfigured the simple religion of Jesus that no one who reads the sophistications they have engrafted on it, from the jargon of Plato, of Aristotle and other mystics, would conceive these could have been fathered on the sublime preacher of the Sermon on the Mount. Yet, knowing the importance of names, they have assumed that of Christians, while they are mere Platonists, or anything rather than disciples of Jesus.

-- To Dr. Waterhouse, 1815


On the dogmas of religion, as distinguished from moral principles, all mankind, from the beginning of the world to this day, have been quarreling, fighting, burning and torturing one another, for abstractions unintelligible to themselves and to all others, and absolutely beyond the comprehension of the human mind. Were I to enter on that arena, I should only add an unit to the number of Bedlamites.

-- To Carey, 1816: N. Y. Pub Lib., MS, IV, 409


Altho' I rarely waste time in reading on theological subjects, as mangled by our Pseudo-Christians, yet I can readily suppose Basanistos may be amusing. Ridicule is the only weapon which can be used against unintelligible propositions. Ideas must be distinct before reason can act upon them; and no man ever had a distinct idea of the trinity. It is mere Abracadabra of the mountebanks calling themselves the priests of Jesus. If it could be understood it would not answer their purpose. Their security is in their faculty of shedding darkness, like the scuttlefish, thro' the element in which they move, and making it impenetrable to the eye of a pursuing enemy, and there they will skulk.

-- To Van der Kemp, 1816


The genuine and simple religion of Jesus will one day be restored: such as it was preached and practised by himself. Very soon after his death it became muffled up in mysteries, and has been ever since kept in concealment from the vulgar eye. To penetrate and dissipate these clouds of darkness, the general mind must be strengthened by education.

-- To Van der Kemp, 1820


I am not afraid of the priests. They have tried upon me all their various batteries, of pious whining, hypocritical canting, lying and slandering, without being able to give me one moment of pain. I have contemplated their order from the Magi of the East to the Saints of the West, and I have found no difference of character, but of more or less caution, in proportion to their information or ignorance of those on whom their interested duperies were to be plaid off. Their sway in New England is indeed formidable. No mind beyond mediocrity dares there to develop itself.

-- To H. G. 1816


[T]he benevolent and sublime reformer of that religion has told us only that God is good and perfect, but has not defined him. I am, therefore, of his theology, believing that we have neither words nor ideas adequate to that definition. And if we could all, after this example, leave the subject as undefinable, we should all be of one sect, doers of good, and eschewers of evil. No doctrines of his lead to schism. It is the speculations of crazy theologists which have made a Babel of a religion the most moral and sublime ever preached to man, and calculated to heal, and not to create differences. These religious animosities I impute to those who call themselves his ministers, and who engraft their casuistries on the stock of his simple precepts. I am sometimes more angry with them than is authorized by the blessed charities which he preaches.

-- To E. Styles, 1819


The bill for establishing religious freedom, the principles of which had, to a certain degree, been enacted before, I had drawn in all the latitude of reason and right. It still met with opposition; but, with some mutilations in the preamble, it was finally passed; and a singular proposition proved that its protection of opinion was meant to be universal. Where the preamble declares, that coercion is a departure from the plan of the holy author of our religion, an amendment was proposed, by inserting the word "Jesus Christ," so that it should read, "a departure from the plan of Jesus Christ, the holy author of our religion;" the insertion was rejected by a great majority, in proof that they meant to comprehend, within the mantle of its protection, the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and Mahometan, the Hindoo, and Infidel of every denomination."

-- Autobiography, 1821



My thanks go to this site and this one for much valuable help in locating examples of the worst offenses against Biblical Constitutionalism. I am yours for the Restoration.

Friday, April 08, 2005

Why We Invaded Iraq - The Mystery Solved At Last!

Ever since it became clear that Saddam Hussein neither possessed WMD, nor helped carry out 9-11, nor provided any support to those who did, the question of why we went ahead an invaded Iraq anyway has perplexed the punditocracy no end.

All sorts of rationales have been proposed retrospectively -- love of democracy, clever politics, masterful realpolitik, what have you -- but the actual results in Iraq have tended to deflate all these theories. Two years in, the plan -- whatever it is alleged to have been -- doesn't exactly look like a raging success on the ground.

But now Richard Perle -- one of the chief intellectual architects of the war -- has finally provided a rationale that really makes sense:
There is reason to believe that we were sucked into an ill-conceived initial attack aimed at Saddam himself by double agents planted by the regime.
Yes, you heard right -- we invaded Iraq because Saddam Hussein tricked us into it.

Of course! Suddenly it all falls into place -- the shattered alliances, the lost credibility, the military overstretch, the distraction from al-Qaida, the hopping into bed with Islamic fundamentalists, the should-I-stay-or-should-I-go quagmire -- in short, the perfectly logical pattern behind every last embarrassment and setback associated with the war is suddenly revealed for all to see by Perle's astonishing flash of brilliance and worldly wisdom:

Saddam Hussein fucked us over. He double crossed us. It was a grift.

And, damn his pitiless little tyrant's heart, he is still doing it, even today, right from his death-row cell. Wild-eyed, black-mustachioed Saddam, the survivor, has been winning, and laughing up his tattered sleeve, the whole time!

Who'd have thunk it? Who, but the brilliant Perle, would even have dared to conceive of it?

Friday, April 01, 2005

Social Security - Problem Solved!

As everyone knows by now, the Social Security system is projected to experience a shortfall of revenues relative to expenditures in 2041 (according to the system's actuaries) or 2052 (according to the CBO), such that it will then only be able to pay the current level of benefits (adjusted for price inflation), as opposed to the higher (wage-indexed) level of benefits currently promised -- unless the projections, which are awfully pessimistic about the next half century of economic growth, prove to be too pessimistic, in which case never mind.

What? You didn't know all that? What's that you say? You thought Social Security was actually going broke in 2041? You thought it was going broke in 2017? You thought it was already broke, because its trust fund is full of worthless IOUs?

My goodness, where do you get such notions? It's a good thing we have responsible political and media elites to keep everything straight for us, or views like yours might become commonplace, and frighten people unnecessarily.

But, anyway, about this shortfall that will (or maybe won't) happen 40 or 50 years from now. It's really a problem we can't put off any longer. Well, strictly speaking, we could put it off for 40 or 50 years but, you know, everyone's talking about it so the rules of the blogosphere say that I have to do so too.

Now everyone also knows (well, I do anyway - what's your problem? - try reading a newspaper once in while) that there are a lot different ways to make up this projected shortfall, and that one of the ways would be to have more immigration, so as to increase the number of payroll tax paying workers relative to the number of really decrepit old Baby Boomers desperately clinging to life by their government-issue feeding tubes.

But since the extra immigrants would eventually retire as well, and start collecting Social Security of their own (the greedy bastards), we might find ourselves right back where we started in, say, 2095. And that would be very bad because, after all, 90 years go by awfully fast, and the best time to fix the roof is when the sun is shining, and you should never put off for tomorrow what you can do today, and so on.

So, really, we need a better solution. And fortunately there is one, though you might find it to be a slightly unusual suggestion at first. Here it is: more illegal immigrants!

You see, it turns out that illegal immigrants pay a ton of Social Security taxes, without ever getting a penny back because, well, they're using fake Social Security numbers and fake IDs, so they can't claim they paid in. It currently comes out to about $6 to $7 billion a year in free money for the rest of us.

So here's my modest proposal: Let in a bunch more illegal immigrants, until we have enough of them that the payroll taxes they're paying, but can never collect on, are enough to make up the shortfall in 2041 or 2052 or whenever.

This has the added benefit that, for people who really don't like immigrants, we would need a lot fewer of them to make up the shortfall than we would if we were using legal immigrants, who actually get something out of system, as well as putting something in.

So this is really an anti-immigration measure, and a social security bailout plan, combined. And it's also a free lunch for all us non-immigrants (who get our Social Security fixed up good, without having to sacrifice a single thing). And if that isn't a plan the Bush White House and the Republican Congress can get behind, I don't know what is.

As Ross Perot used to say: Problem solved!

[For some reason, this post was backdated to April 1st. Can't imagine why.]