Thursday, March 29, 2007

Surfeited With Sunny Optimism . . .

Patrick Deneen notes an excess of optimism at the recent Charlottesville conference:
Much as I enjoyed the fellowship of the past weekend in Charlottesville, there was a persistent and palpable animosity toward politics and government generally held by many of the participants. . . There was something of a gauzy sentimentality and even anarchic libertarianism that pervaded the sessions. As much as I admire Wendell Berry, his work does not sufficiently attend to the needs for, and demands of, politics. Indeed, I was struck by the similarity between two camps that otherwise might be thought to be polar opposites - agrarian communitarians and libertarians. Both are wildly optimistic about human nature and the ability of humans to "do their own thing" without the "interference" of politics and government.

At the dinner before the public session on Saturday, the participants were asked to name, among other things, the most despicable city in America. Among the few cities that were named (since most people forgot this requirement), one was Washington D.C. Washington D.C.??!!?? It may not be one of the world's great cities, but it is a fine city, and not the most despicable city in America. What about Las Vegas or Phoenix? Houston or Palm Beach? I have to think that Washington was named because it was the location of "Guvment," to quote Pap Finn.

I didn't really detect an excess of wild optimism or sentimental gauze, but then Deneen and I sat at different tables. Presumably ISI has conferences all the time where attendees hash out five point plans and develop political programs. I will pass on those. I may be too much of a sunny optimist, but I hold out hope that many people from that conference will meet up again. If so, Dr. Deneen should should sit next to me during one of the meals and I will treat him to a dose of pessimism so severe that doctors will have to tape his eyes open and force him to watch Pollyanna for hours on end just to balance it.

To close on a pessimistic note, I was reading Richard Hofstadter's The Paranoid Style in American Politics recently and I couldn't help noticing that even though Hofstadter was discussing fringe elements (or what he considered to be the fringe); the essay often appears to characterize the mainstream of American politics circa 2007 -- mostly among the President's diehard rightwing supporters, but also more than a few on the left:
Since what is at stake is always a conflict between absolute good and absolute evil, the quality needed is not a willingness to compromise but the will to fight things out to a finish. Nothing but complete victory will do. Since the enemy is thought of as being totally evil and totally unappeasable, he must be totally eliminated -- if not from the world, at least from the theater of operations to which the paranoid directs his attention. This demand for unqualified victories lead to the formulation of hopelessly demanding and unrealistic goals, and since these goals are not even remotely attainable, failure constantly heightens the paranoid's frustration. Even partial success leaves him with the same sense of powerlessness with which he began, and this in turn only strengthens his awareness of the vast and terrifying quality of the enemy he opposes.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007


I haven't paid much attention to Bloggingheads, which seems like yet another pointless platform for Mickey Kaus, but this exchange between Ann Althouse and Garance Franke-Ruta is fascinating. Althouse judges the behavior of the blogosphere based exclusively on how she is treated -- lefties are mean to her, and apparently have gotten under her skin. But if she thinks that nobody on the right is nasty, she is delusional. Since she still seems to support the Iraq War, that is probably the case.

What really amazes though, is the way that Althouse lost it when Franke-Ruta innocently brings up the -- and I never though I would type these words -- "Jessica Valenti Breast Controversy." After several minutes of complaining about how mean lefties are, Althouse threw a hysterical tantrum. But instead of the normal blogospheric rage, Althouse sounds like a wounded adolescent.

The web can be an extremely nasty place on all sides. Since the barriers to entry are extremly low, anyone can participate. It took about 45 minutes for me to set up my blog. It takes no time to leave a comment, and it can often be done anonymously. I have yet to be upset by any attacks upon me by other bloggers or by comments. Whenever the "Contra-Crunchys" attacked me I loved it. when "Stefanie" called me a "Soros Brownshirt" it made my day. But those attacks were lame. I have a feeling that Althouse is starting to believe that her critics have a point.

A Good Time Was Had . . .

I made it back from what will go down as one of the bestest events ever -- ISI's Liberty, Community and Place in the American tradition conference in Charlottesville, Virginia last weekend. Having traded my Newton for magic beans and failed to bring a note-pad, I lacked the means to document all of the events, but I will offer a brief impression of the event.

Allan Carlson spoke in the morning about of the transformative effect of the Second World War while a Bill Kauffman led panel in the afternoon on . . . , well Kauffman led an excellent panel in the afternoon. In between, Jeff Taylor talked about William Jennings Bryan and Alan Pell Crawford talked about Jefferson, and most everybody talked about Wendell Berry. While all of the formal talks and panels were good, from my limited experience at these events, the informal gatherings are even better. This event was no different.

The guests and speakers included Reason managing editor Jesse Walker, Chronicles contributing editor Kate Dalton Boyer, Daniels Larison and McCarthy , Caleb Stegall editor of the (much lamented) New Pantagruel.

UPDATE: I discovered via Daniel McCarthy that another conference speaker, Patrick Deneen of Georgetown has a blog.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007


Via Larison I see that the "aweosome" Matthew Yglesias is pleased to be featured in an American Conservative article about bloggers confronting "the Lobby."

Numerous commenters are less impressed than Yglesias, including Smarmy, er, Marty Peretz, who challenges the spelling of "aweosome." Looks OK to me, though. Others say essentially, "EEEEUUWWW, Pat Buchanan is another Father Coughlin! EEEUUUWWWW!"

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Housing Market of Cards . . .

Is Wall Street really that dumb? Stocks tumbled today on the news "that lenders New Century Financial Corp., Accredited Home Lenders Holding Co. and General Motors Acceptance Corp.'s residential unit are facing financial problems. The Mortgage Bankers Association bolstered the belief that the struggles are widespread after it said new foreclosures surged to an all-time high in the last quarter of 2006."

I've been noticing the fragile nature of our housing economy for some time now every time I see a sign with a phone number saying something like "we buy houses." And I see those signs frequently around Knoxville. I also recently saw a commercial for Focus on Forclosure seminar which further eroded my confidence in the health of the housing market.

Perhaps it's time for me to start my own investment newsletter; where for a $200-a-month subscription fee, I can point out the obvious to my readers.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Next Question . . .

Lil Poddy: "So Chuck Hagel Gave A Press Conference . . . to declare he's not running for President . . . yet. How do you spell 'megalomaniac'?"

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Limited Liability

Via Brittney Gilbert I discovered an impassioned argument in favor of private property rights from Glen Dean:

Civil Rights Act, A Disgraceful Infringement On Private Property Rights

If you have ever had the misfortune to hear Sean Hannity speak, then you have probably heard him brag about how Republicans pushed the 1964 Civil Rights Act through Congress. The very fact that he would brag about this infringement on private property rights proves that he and many more like him are much more Republican than they are conservative.
. . .
But how can you support a federal government that has the power to tell a property owner or an employer who he or she should do business with? The whole idea completely runs opposite of the concept of liberty. . .
I'm not without sympathy to this line of argument, but there is a flaw in Dean's reasoning: Walgreens isn't a privately owned business, it's a corporation. Corporations have numerous legal privileges, but the most important is the doctrine of limited liability, which allows ownership of a corporation to be anonymous and transitory.

I used to be a docrinare libertarian -- I worked for Liberty magazine for seven years -- but when I started to think of the problem of the corporation, my beliefs began to unravel. A while back, I quoted Wendell Berry on the subject:
You would find that these organizations are organized expressly for the evasion of responsibility. They are structures in which, as my brother says, "the buck never stops." The buck is processed up the hierarchy until finally it is passed to "the shareholders," who characteristically are too widely dispersed, too poorly informed, and too unconcerned to be responsible for anything.

Limited Liability, and other privileges granted to corporations, amounts to a huge intervention in the economy. In fact, it makes the modern economy possible. It also makes corporation very powerful compared to an individual employee or customer. I think there is room for reform of our civil rights laws, but I don't see anything wrong with the government evening the odds on occasion.

Monday, March 05, 2007

K-Lo's Heartthrob

The latest issue of the American Conservative has an article by Michael Brendan Dougherty about the neocon cult around the Fox program, 24. Dougherty quotes such luminaries as John J. Miller, Cal Thomas and Ben Shapiro. Almost poignant, however, are the quotes from National Review's Kathryn Jean Lopez, who invokes Jack Bauer at the drop of a hat. K-Lo's fans will recall how her heartthrob, Rick "Churchill" Santorum was tragically turned out of by the voters of Pennsylvania last fall.

Fortunately, her fictional hero will never fail her as long as the show remains profitable, even if Dougherty expresses his disapproval.

Hysterical Perspective

A little knowledge is a dangerous thing. And then there's Victor Davis Hanson. Hanson writes,
Given all of this country's past wars involving intelligence failures, tactical and strategic blunders, congressional fights and popular anger at the president, Iraq and the rising furor over it are hardly unusual. . .
. . . consider the national mood in 1968 when the United States suffered more than 16,000 American dead in Vietnam (at that rate, we lost more troops in three months than during the entire four-year Iraqi war). In response, riots racked the country. Protesters stormed the Democratic Convention in Chicago. And a polarized country saw both Robert F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. gunned down. . . .
Optional conflicts like the Mexican War, the Philippines Insurrection, Korea and Vietnam all cost more lives than Iraq. Even our most successful wars witnessed far more lethal stupidity than seen in Baghdad. Thousands of American dead resulted from lapses like the Confederate surprise at Shiloh, Japanese surprise attacks on Pearl Harbor and the Philippines, and the German surprise attacks in the Ardennes.
What is the point in mentioning that past wars have been screwed up? Readers of The American Conservative, Chronicles, and other sources had plenty of warning about potential problems arising in an invasion of Iraq, usually with emphasis on the result of past Western occupations of Islamic countries--something that appears to be problematic. The issue now is whether the U.S. should consider to pour money, blood and credibility into what seems to be an obviously failed occupation and attempted nation building. Referring to miscalculations dating back to the War of 1812 offers little in the way of guidance.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

"Ann Coulter"

And then there's Ann Coulter, who uses a judicious combination of scare quotes, bile and insanity to smite her foes:

Even right-wingers who know that "global warming" is a crock do not seem to grasp what the tree-huggers are demanding. Liberals want mass starvation and human devastation.

Forget the lunacy of people claiming to tell us the precise temperature of planet Earth in 1918 based on tree rings. Or the fact that in the '70s liberals were issuing similarly dire warnings about "global cooling."

Simply consider what noted climatologists Al Gore and Melissa Etheridge are demanding that we do to combat their nutty conjectures about "global warming." They want us to starve the productive sector of fossil fuel and allow the world's factories to grind to a halt. This means an end to material growth and a cataclysmic reduction in wealth.

There are more reputable scientists defending astrology than defending "global warming," but liberals simply announce that the debate has been resolved in their favor and demand that we shut down all production.