Tuesday, June 28, 2005

What COULD He Have Said?

Every American must always be ready to do his patriotic duty at any time, and I've just done mine. Via telescreen, I've just watched George the Younger and Slower wrap his trembling tongue around some speechwriter's words for the benefit of the national teevee audience, as well as a detachment of The Troops in North Carolina. The Troops appeared to be a satisfied bunch. Not one Troop booed, catcalled, or made so much as a rude gesture -- at least, not one that the cameras showed me. All of them sat stolidly, and some chewed their gum. I'm guessing that El Presidente will be doing most of his "public" speaking in Imperial garrisons in the future, where he's not only physically safe, but also safe from ridicule, which tends to be a tyrant's greater fear.

"We're fighting against men with black hatred, armed with lethal weapons, who are capable of any atrocity." Oddly enough, I think that's true. And telling the truth is a fine thing; but it's important to tell the whole truth: both halves. And here's the other half: we are "men with black hatred, armed with lethal weapons, who are capable of any atrocity." True, we usually don't take up a knife and hack someone's head off, up close and personal, for the camera; instead, we flip high explosives into densely-populated cities. I know this sounds as if I'm suggesting a "moral equivalence" between Them and Us, but of course I'm not. Iraq didn't invade the United States. The United States did invade Iraq; indeed, the United States seems to have fallen into the habit of invading Iraq once every dozen years or so. There's your moral asymmetry. We're the aggressor. They're wrong, and we're even wronger.

I won't belabor Chimpy's chittering about Freedom and Terror and so forth. Obviously, he didn't believe what he was mouthing, and probably understood little enough of it. Most of the audience, I think, takes for granted that the presidential-speech boilerplate is a purely obligatory, pro forma exercise without any real meaning. By the fast-diving standards that we apply to our Dear Leaders, tonight's speech was a success; Our Glorious President managed to read "his" speech from end to end without inventing a single new word, such as disassembling.

As I sit here rambling, I am beginning to feel like a carping ingrate. What could I reasonably have expected of Bush? I like to think he might have said, "I've egregiously ill-served our country. At this moment, American military forces are retreating from Iraq as fast as possible. They'll all be home by this time next week. As the only possible decent response to the lives I've taken, the property I've destroyed, and the mega-bales of your money that I've squandered, I'm resigning my office effective tomorrow morning, and I'm getting out of your faces right now ... good night, and may God forgive most of you for electing me." Obviously, that's outside the parameters of possibility; his handlers would be unamused. He could hardly have explained clearly why American blood and treasure must be expended to pour the blessings of liberal democracy down the unreceptive throats of Araby, since no such valid explanation exists; it would be like trying to explain clearly why red is green. Or he could do what he did: support the troops rising tide of freedom tough times stay the course we're fighting evil nine-eleven wartime training blah blah blah.

I've described our current president as "stupid" many times. Tonight, as I watched him excrete his speech, it occurred to me that he may be smarter than I've given him credit for. Did you notice that smirky little half-smile that played over his lips, almost all the time he was speaking? I've seen people do that before. They tend to do that when they're compelled to say things to an audience that they know aren't true, and that they suspect the audience sees through, too. It's an exercise called "trying to keep a straight face."

We Americans import vast amounts of oil, cheap consumer goods, Mexicans, and Asian bankers' money; we export bullets and bombs (at high speed), reality teevee, IOUs, imperial pronouncements, and threats. This does not seem to me like a situation that can continue indefinitely. Everyone knows that water runs downhill. What a good thing it is for us that it will never, ever, ever reach the bottom!

Sunday, June 26, 2005

Caution: Politics AND Religion!

So, I was in church this morning. It is Sunday, after all. The sermon was an exposition of Judges chapter 18. My pastor has been on a lengthy series in Judges, and I'd guess he has another half-dozen Sundays to go in that book. As I listened to what he said, a couple of side thoughts came to me.

In recent years, I've been doing some extensive rethinking about the fundamental basis and justification -- or lack of justification -- of what I'll call the state. By "the state," I mean political government in any form, at any level. Obviously, this covers a lot of ground, and one state is very unlike another; but I'm thinking of a couple of fundamental things that they all have in common: a claim of moral authority from some source or other, and a related claim to a rightful monopoly on the use of force.

Statelessness (or anarchy) is a recurring theme in the book of Judges. Chapter 18 starts out like this: In those days there was no king in Israel ... , which is repeated at the beginning of chapter 19 as well. Verse 17:6 says, more familiarly, In those days there was no king in Israel; every man did what was right in his own eyes. To which might have been appended, I'd guess, the words "at best" -- I suppose it's likely that a lot of people were doing things that they knew weren't right, but were, perhaps, pleasurable or advantageous.

Back to chapter 18: after stating the kingless condition of the Hebrews, the chapter tells of the deeds of Micah, a thief (from his own mother!) and an idolator, who starts his own private little pagan religion and uses some of his ill-gotten wealth to hire a Levite as his pet priest. Eventually, some of his fellow Israelites from the tribe of Dan make the Levite a better offer, steal Micah's idols, and go set up shop somewhere else. The misdeeds described in the chapter are primarily ecclesiastical in nature, and that was the thrust of my pastor's sermon this morning.

But it got me to pondering. On the whole, the book of Judges is not especially cheerful reading for the anarchist. The Israelites are free of the state, and their behavior is quite beastly, for the most part; Judges presents a lurid catalog of brutality and wrongdoing, of theft and murder. But the Israelites did not remain stateless. Just two books over in the Bible (1 Samuel chapter 8), they demand a king, so that they can be just like the other nations of the earth, and God explicitly tells them what a terrible idea that is. They insist on acquiring a king, and the rest is history ... and, as usual, God is correct.

So, what's the answer? No state: bad. State: bad. What's the third choice? Or is there a third choice?

It seems to me that no one ever makes a really airtight argument for any political system -- for any "-ism." The anarchist seems to rely on the implicit assumption that everyone is rational, or at least that the reasonable people are more powerful than the wicked. The statist (meaning everyone who's either a Democrat or a Republican) implicitly assumes that the holders of the levers of state power are enlightened and well-motivated ... a notion not encouraged by history. The economic protectionist seems to think that Daddy Washington is un-bribable, and knows best for everyone; the free-trader has a similarly high view of Wal-mart's board of directors.

Where's our political salvation?

A Christian might say that man is corrupt and fallen, and that no system of man's devising is ever going to "work right." And he might recall the words of his master, who said (in John 16:33):

These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Why Can't I Ever Come Up With These?

I certainly wish I'd thought of this. I'll admit I was tempted to steal it. But I resisted the temptation. Let's give some credit where credit is due: one of the Poor Man's readers left it in a comment thread.

I would gladly sacrifice my son for this administration’s wars, if Dick Cheney were my son.

Yep. In a New York minute, as they say.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

The Constitution: Not Just Dead, but Fragrant

In the news: the U.S. Supreme Court, a creature of the central government, has decided -- surprise, surprise! -- that when the feds and individual states may happen to disagree about whether residents of those states might or might not be allowed to use marijuana, that those "sovereign" states can just enjoy a nice hot cup of Shut the Hell Up.

Yes, I know it's "medical" marijuana we're talking about. That's of little interest to me, and is also completely irrelevant to the political questions involved. And, to pre-empt a couple of other irrelevancies: I do not use, nor have I ever used, marijuana or any other proscribed substance; and I'm reasonably well convinced that such use is a bad idea.

So what?

Lots of things, from watching teevee to eating greasy double-bacon-cheeseburgers to buying state lottery tickets, are bad ideas. Some (fewer every year, but some) are still legal. As it happens, I also think that a network of militarized, corrupt police forces is a bad idea, too, as are the vast sums of stolen wealth that our various governments spend to finance what is alleged to be a "war on drugs," and seems instead to be one front in their war on our liberties. Yes, I'm pretty sure that drugs (meaning, primarily, the illegal ones, along with their legal "recreational" brothers, alcohol and tobacco) are a bad idea. But not every bad idea should be proscribed by law.

My purpose here, though, is not to discuss the pharmacology of synthetically simulated bliss. It is, instead, to point out one more example of the extremely dead condition of the U.S. constitution, and of the order of things that the constitution was supposed to preserve. The constitution does not empower the central government to regulate the laws of "the several states," except in a few enumerated matters, such as making treaties with foreign powers and coining money. The constitutional enumeration of these exceptions is quite explicit. The other, un-authorized regulations of the states by the feds, which are as numerous as the grains of sand on a miles-long beach, are what the founders called usurpations. The founders warned incessantly of the danger that we might tolerate the usurpation of power by the central government.

And tolerate those usurpations we have; indeed, sometimes we have demanded them, when frightened by real or imagined wars, or when greedy for doles in the thousands of forms that public doles can take, or when seduced by the itch to see our fellow citizens forced to behave in ways that we find congenial. U.S. history has repeatedly demonstrated two fatal weaknesses in the idea of constitutional government. First, a constitution is a document, which obviously cannot enforce itself; its enforcement relies on the integrity of the governors, and on the courage of the governed, both of which are in notoriously short supply. Second, a constitution is neutered when the government that is supposedly limited by that constitution takes unto itself the power of saying what the constitution's words mean. I honestly doubt that the founders intended that Americans should drift along for more than two centuries without overthrowing the government at least once. Jefferson's quote about the tree of liberty requiring periodic nourishment by the blood of patriots did not, I am sure, mean that Americans should perpetually be going halfway around the world to kill and die in the furtherance of the imperial ambitions of the supervisory class. I think he was talking about the proper relationship between free Americans and their would-be supervisors.

Those who favor the continuation of pot prohibition are doubtless cheered by the feds' discovery that their word trumps that of state legislators ... but they shouldn't be. The players' lineup in Washington changes slowly, but it does change. A few decades from now, the regime may suddenly affect to discover some penumbral emanations from the Fourth Amendment such that federal laws against dope-smoking might themselves become "unconstitutional," and (of course!) the corresponding state laws would then be unacceptable, too: a Roe v. Wade deal. That will be wrong, wrong, wrong -- but no wrong-er than what's being done now. We're all getting the tyranny we deserve.

Sunday, June 05, 2005

Suggested Reading

Even though there's already a permanent link here, I'm taking a moment to note that -- unlike me -- Doug Newman has been quite productive over the past several weeks, at his site. By all means, have a look at this one. And, while you're at it, look here, here, here, here, and here, too. It's a Geocities site, with the all the ugliness that that implies, but Mr. Newman has noticed, as so few others have, the blindness of the evangelical world to Dubya's murderous stupidity and treachery. By all means, have a look.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

To Constitute or Not to Constitute

It's reported in today's news that the Dutch electorate have joined their French counterparts in rejecting the proposed European Union constitution.

Given the way our "news" is reported, it's not clear what this might mean. We are told that the candidate constitution is lengthy, and that it provides for a single "foreign minister." How much these may have had to do with its electoral rejections, or what other provisions may be present in the document, we're not told. We should be understanding of our newsreaders' problems, though; after all, there's only so much broadcast time, and of course the Runaway Bride news can't be slighted -- to say nothing of the endless vaporizing over the marvel of finding out who Deep Throat is. But that's a rant for another time.

On balance, the rejection of the EU constitution is, I think, a modestly cheerful development. The constitution is a part of a centripetal process in Europe that bears some analogizing to the process by which these united states became The United States (or, as one of my heroes at The Last Ditch often calls it, "the United State" -- singular). Now, I'm too cynical to believe that most of the Dutch electorate, or the French, were motivated by a jealous desire to preserve their remaining liberties; I suppose it probably had much more to do with a perception that EU expansion might well result in more consumers of the shrinking European social-"services" pie. Still ... regardless of the motives, I have to like the result. A little bit, anyway. For the time being, that is.