Instapun*** Archive Listing

Archive Listing
March 11, 2010 - March 4, 2010

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Not understanding the Hillary
Secretary of State gig

The worst job in the new administration?  Snake handling in foreign capitals.

DOES CAESAR EVER SERVE?  This isn't a post designed to share insights. It's the exact opposite. I simply cannot imagine how serving as Secretary of State is going to advance Hillary's career in any way. If any of you do, please let me know.

I can sort of see why Obama might offer it to her, though I'd regard it as a bad decision on his part unless he's desperately looking for cover on the likelihood that he's going to stay in Iraq despite his many promises to pull the plug. But he can't entirely escape the blame he'll receive from the far left if his policy turns out to be Bush Lite, and if he lets Hillary become the punching bag for it, he'll just look weak.

And what's in it for her? She'll have to give up her only ever elective office, so it's not likely she'd be signing up for just a year or two. Which means she'd be subjecting herself to a terrifying gauntlet of opportunities to look bad -- Iranian nuclear weapons; more disasters in Israel, possibly unthinkable ones; a ticking time bomb in Pakistan that will probably explode into chaos while bin Laden continues to elude capture; ongoing humiliations for the U.S. at the U.N.; double-dealing from the European Union, which is bound to go on no matter how much they profess to love Obama; futile negotiations with Saudi Arabia about everything, complicated by Bill's problematic financial ties to rich Arabs; the mounting threat to European peace from Russia; and the possibility of further terroristic attacks by Islamofascists in a legal and military environment considerably diluted from the national security first policy of the Bush administration. Even her occasional past hawkishness on such issues wouldn't net her much in an administration committed to talking first, second, and third before any firm response can be attempted.

Consider: if she stayed in the Senate, she'd always have the freedom to express reservations about administration policy on this, that, and the other foreigh policy crisis. As a member of the administration, she'd be a hostage to Obama's inexperience and naivete, the well demonstrated capability of the U.S. State Department to come to "own" every Secretary of State since Dean Rusk, and the unquestionable treachery of every government in the world which thinks it has something to gain at U.S. expense; i.e, all of them.

In fact, the only reason I can conceive of for Hillary entertaining such a personally disastrous appointment is, uh, patriotism. Did I just say that? But no other explanation makes any sense at all. The only one that computes is that she's thinking, "However bad the Obamessiah turns out to be, at least I'll be there to provide the only toughness, common sense, and pro-American determination to be found in this administration."

Feel free to explain where I'm wrong about this. I have no objections whatever to Hillary proving herself a patriot. It's just that I don't believe I'm seeing the whole picture somehow. Please remedy my blindness if you can.

P.S. Well, there is one horrendously Machiavellian reason I can think of, but it's such a slim chance I don't even want to mention it. So I won't. Your assignment still stands. If one of you mentions what I'm thinking about, I'll come clean. I promise.

What is the liberal
'Vision' of America?

Life as allegory rather than romance. Cool? No.

NEVER SURRENDER. I think it's a fair question. Heaven knows they've hung the "vision thing" on every Republican presidential candidate since Ronald Reagan left office. Needless to say, they've all been found wanting in this regard, and even conservatives have gnashed their teeth about their leaders' inability to describe the elusive, oh-so-necessary 'Vision' that should animate voters' desire to work for a Republican president. Which is the clearest symptom of just how dumb conservatives have gotten, with special emphasis on the intellectual wing which is so anxious to tell the rest of us how thick-headed we are in the contemporary political context.

[Excuse me. Time out for a completely private and personal tantrum about all the pseudo-intellectuals who are trying to destroy the conservative movement in the name of saving it through their superior intellectual command of governance. God damn them all to hell.]

Where was I? Oh. Vision. Not the job of a conservative, not even Reagan. As he was at pains to point out to Americans who weren't so infatuated with their own brilliance as to misunderstand everything he ever said. Vision is not the job of brainy columnists for the New York Times, the Washington Post, or even National Review. It's the job of the American people. That's the reason for the amazingly simple agenda of American conservatives: limit government to the handful of things only government can do, like defending national security, guarding the borders, negotiating treaties that benefit the American people, passing and enforcing laws that keep people from hurting each other and government from interfering in the people's right to life and pursuit of happiness.

In short, conservatism is about confining government to the smallest possible impact on the lives, ambitions, and values of the people it serves. Indeed, the foremost role of government in the conservative model is to prevent government from having a 'Vision.'  That would be an infringement of the people's right to live their own lives in a state of  liberty, autonomy, and individual aspiration. If our government has reached the state where professional conservative bureaucrats feel the need for elite, highly specialized professionals to define the conservative 'Vision' for the rest of us, the battle has already been lost. What remains is picking the flavor of the authoritarian regime they intend to impose on the ignorant, contemptible masses.

The Democrats labor under no such constraint. It has always been their position -- since FDR at any rate -- that the people are helpless, stupid victims of life and require strong, interventionist policies to keep them from screwing up their own prospects for relative (and I do mean relative) contentment. They want to be in charge. They want us to let them decide what equality means, what justice means in domestic and international affairs, what rights people have and should have vis a vis government's ability to reallocate resources from individuals to the authorities, however conceived, and they insist that we trust them to rectify every injustice claimed by every group which can organize itself into a bloc of resentful malcontents with a lobbyist presence in Washington.

Which means that the 'Vision thing' isn't a Republican or conservative problem; it's an absolute requirement for the liberal ideologues who insist they can make our lives better by letting them have more control over our lives. So what constitutes a better life in the liberal worldview? Do you have any idea? I don't.

All we've heard from Obama is the need for "change." How much change? When will things have changed enough? Do you know? Have they said? No. They haven't. We know they want more government. But when will the government be big enough to suit them? Will they ever say, "At last. The government is now big enough. No more." There's no way to answer that question because they define their policies, always, by their opposition to Republican 'laissez-faire' immorality. What are they for?

Will they be content when all incomes are equal? When no one anywhere believes in God? When everyone in every nation on earth can break all the immigration laws of the United States and roost in our cities with full medical care and complete immunity from deportation on any grounds ever? Will they be happy when everyone is subject to the same incredibly expensive government-financed healthcare that has turned into a people-killing but equal rationing system in the U.K., Canada, France, and other EU nations? Will they feel us all ennobled by a mandatory unionization of all businesses, large and small, such that all small businesses die and all big businesses are too big to fail and thus become part of the government as institutional parts of an egalitarian welfare system? Does their sense of social justice extend to include every victim in the entire world, meaning that our progressive impoverishment as a nation in favor of benighted, failed countries in other parts of the world actually accords with their sense of morality, which they cannot justify in any sort of religious terms, given their secular atheism, but only to their ideological preference for punishing their own country and its citizens in the name of racial, ethnic grievances we should all accommodate based on their superior sense of political right and wrong?

How many generations back must we look to correct the sins of ancestors nobody remembers anymore, and will there ever be a day when there is no political original sin associated with being born white, or male, or of European or Celtic ancestry rather than African, Native American, hispanic, meso-American, muslim, or whoever else is endlessly owed because some crime was committed against their ancestors by our ancestors?

Will their disgust with the most effective economic system ever devised finally end when every blue-collar worker works for a union that can paralyze the economy with a single publicly recorded vote, or will it continue until every last man, jack, and boy works for the government itself and every job is paid on the basis of comparable worth, reparations owed, and affirmative action compensation for ever receding future worth?

They don't tell us where their "Vison' ends. They don't describe for us the world we will live in when all their mandates and judgments have been levied. They don't tell us what role they see even for the human race after their ferocious judgment of civilization itself has resulted in the repeal of technology in favor of snail darters, polar bears, and homosexual vegans.

Don't they owe us their 'Vision'?

I think they do. And I'll also add a footnote. The presumably missing conservative 'Vision' isn't really missing at all. It just doesn't look like a Vision because it's a romance. Conservatives believe in the beauty and pathos of individual lives, struggles against the odds, triumph in the face of daunting obstacles. These are the things which make life beautiful, exciting, inspirational, passionate, and fulfilling. Oddly enough, Hollywood agrees. For every lockstep liberal actor, there is a movie which has made that actor famous in which the plot celebrates the courage and idealism of a protagonist who refused to join the safety of the herd and instead took every conceivable risk to accomplish something brave, improbable, and important. The empty souls who play those parts in costumes and makeup are the liberals in the body politic. The movies themselves, the stories, the great romances which intensify our experience of life are the conservative vision that's supposed to be missing in action.

To put the case in brute simplicity. If you're a liberal, you probably prefer the political stylings of Viggo Mortensen to the character of Aragorn in Lord of the Rings. You're welcome to Viggo. A symbol of social justice. Is that Vision? Ha.

What will the liberal national anthem be when they have accomplished their social and legislative goals?

Thanks to Laura Beth for that  glimpse of Paradise.

Monday, November 17, 2008

The Obamatrix

BUTTERFLIES. The fabric of reality has been disrupted, violated. If the United States of America can elect Barack Obama as president, we are either living in the Twilight Zone or we are being given proof that reality itself is not what we think it is. There's plenty of precedent for questioning the reality of the reality we're told about. Here's the latest in a long line: a guy who argues quite seriously that  we're all living in a video game:

[T]he generation of a full-immersion simulation is not only feasible, but also likely some time in the next 20-30 years. So who is to say that we aren't already in one? In fact, Nick Bostrom's Simulation Argument makes a compelling case that we probably are.

The argument goes like this…

Someday, we will have the ability to generate and experience these simulations (the time at which this occurs is called the posthuman phase). And when we do, we would generate millions of them. From a logical standpoint, he says that one of three scenarios must be true:

1. We never get to the posthuman phase because we destroy ourselves.

Or do we? (Not if our wife is Claudia Black Ours is.)

2. We never get to the posthuman phase because we make a conscious decision not to pursue this technology. Personally, I throw out this scenario as unrealistic. When faced with any technology that has inherent dangers (nuclear energy, nanotech, cloning, generating energies in particle accelerators that are sufficient to create a black hole), when have we ever made a decision not to pursue it?

Sure. But bad examples are instructive. Learning can occur.

3. We do achieve posthumanism. And, since the odds that we are living in one of the millions of generated simulations is much higher than the odds that we just happen to be in a reality musing about the possibilities 20 years hence, we are most probably living in a simulation.

We all have this power. That's why Instapunk didn't die at 19.
He was every bit as doomed as Neo. Didn't die. Bug? For sure.

Therefore, if you subscribe to his logic and have an optimistic view of where we are going as a species, you have to conclude that we are probably living in a simulation. [YouTube inserts mine]

I'd add a few other points to his argument. If we're experiencing simulations, some of them at least are experiments designed to see if we can recognize that that's what they are. Everybody who's experiencing this particular simulation has already experienced at least three impossible anomalies given the understanding we're supposed to share of human history.

1. We didn't die in a nuclear war with the Soviet Union. Nothing in human history the way we were taught it explains the fact that a desperate totalitarian regime would choose to yield power rather than call down all the thunder and lightning at its command in an act of self-immolation such as Hitler wanted and tried to effect. It makes no sense. Those of us who ddn't experience that end of the world but a miracle instead are probably locked in a video game that lets us live multiple lives.

2. We didn't experience a technological armageddon on January 1, 2000. As we've even discussed here before, there's no very good explanation for that non-event. Another video game reboot we just don't remember.

3. Now we have elected the most inexperienced and unqualified president of the most powerful nation on earth ever. You'd have to go back to Caligula to find an appropriate analogy. It's Level 7 of the hardest part of the game. Are you up to it?

Yes. You are. You're in the same simulation with us, and we aways survive. It's always the others who feel the worst effects, the violence, the disease, the poverty, the genocide. We're going to be okay. Just don't lose your head. Keep looking in every nook and cranny for all the weapons, supplies, and rejuvenating good stuff it's going  to take to enable us to survive to the next level.

It's a game. It's not real. And we know what we're looking for. A simulation that wants us to go along with the loss of individual identity in favor of bureaucratic groupthink is also going to have software that doesn't quite work. Because it was written by groupthink cartoon dudes.

Don't tell me you haven't encountered the blue screen of
 death at MSNBC during the past two years. Nothing but.

Don't you notice that it's all dumber and slower than it should be somehow? The DailyKos is a major political influence? The New York Times and the Washington Post are really written by intelligent professional journalists? Andrew Sullivan is conscious? Maureen Dowd is an example of an intelligent woman? Chris Matthews is a journalist? Keith Olbermann is a high school graduate? Please. Please! Cease being alarmed. These are all symptoms of effed up gaming software. We're living in an indescribably bizarre video game experiment, programmed by morons. Look for the Microsoft moments in everyday life. And don't forget them when you see them. That's how you survive the Obamatrix.

See you on the other side. After the reset.

Friday, November 14, 2008

American Hymn

Life just ain't the way the Dems see it.

REMEMBER THIS?  I just can't believe it's going to go down the way people are talking about it. I know I'm a dinosaur. I was there at a tiny back-country racetrack for one of the first ever showdowns between the legendary Corvette and the mysterious new predator called the Cobra. The venue was too small for both of them. The corners were too tight, the straightaways too short. Neither of the competitors was wearing the kind of shiny paint shown above. The headlights were masked with exes of black tape, and the bodies were dull with the sweatsuit primer of gym-rat sluggers who don't care how they look. They both carried too much power into the turns, their rears swinging like wild left hooks, but the longest straight went right in front of the stands, and it was awe-inspiring to see the Cobra run down and pass the Corvette with a burst of hungry, guttural acceleration that was brand new to an audience used to thrumming Austin Healeys and singing Elvas. This was low, snarling, teeth gnashing horsepower unleashed. The Americans had entered the sports car wars, and there was blood in their eye.

But that's the way it's always been. America is competition. Coke versus Pepsi. McDonald's versus Burger King. Chevy versus Ford. Mopar against all. Competition is bred into our bones. Texas versus Oklahoma on the gridiron. Boston University versus Michigan at hockey. Harvard versus Yale at football and presidents. Walmart versus K-Mart. Exxon versus Mobil. (And, yes, we understand that sometimes losers die or get pwned.) The Celtics versus the Lakers. Democrats versus Republicans. Apple versus Microsoft. East coast versus west coast. The Yankees versus absolutely everybody else in every city and state. It's all the American Way.

They say it's shutting down, that America is closing the door on capitalism. Don't you believe it. This is still America. Here's the truth of it.

Millions of American mothers let ther sons play football. It's a game in which injuries aren't just likely but inevitable. Knees, shoulders, heads. And the risks go well beyond that to include boos, derision, defeat, humiliation, and personal failure. Mothers fear ruined knees. Their sons fear the safety of the bench. Why do they do it? Why do the mothers offer up their sons? Why do the sons volunteer in such staggering numbers? The squeamish ones who really believe that we all want to be protected from every bad eventuality in life should abandon their worship of grim statistics and look at the everyday statistics. Every high school in the United States refutes their conviction that life is supposed to be safe. In America, safety can't hold a candle to cheers.

Why do conservative intellectuals struggle so with the difficulties they perceive in communicating the economic tradeoffs between risk and reward? Because they're just plain ignorant themselves. The American people understand the relationship between risk and reward perfectly well. They live it every day. Their son is a linebacker or a quarterback -- or an X-Games skateboarder, a drag racer, a motocross competitor, a junior bull rider, a Golden Gloves boxer -- and they know that the quest for victory can exact a terrible price. They do not demand an end to risk. Only that the rules be fair and equitably enforced. No matter how many pictures we see on the network news of people with their hands out, that is not the American Way. We have not become a nation of whining soccer moms who want all games to end in ties and no child to get his feelings hurt because he's no damn good at the game. That may be the way the Europeans see things, but it's not how we see things in America.

If you have any doubts about American exceptionalism, go to the nearest high school football field this Friday night. You will witness a scene you can't see anywhere else in the world. And maybe you've been taught to look down on it. But you shouldn't. Everything you own and enjoy has been purchased by the kinds of souls you will see on that football field, youngsters who understand that victory, pride, and outstanding performance really are worth the risk of humiliating defeat, broken bones, and the extreme consequence of death in a game. No other country on earth understands this so well. Your freedoms were not procured by shrewd lawyers and slick speechmakers. They were procured in the first place and protected ever since by the spirit you see on that high school football field. That spirit has made you free, it's made you rich, and it's made you complacent, because it's always always there, and you don't have to have it yourself to benefit from it.

I know it's become the fashion to belittle the unfamous people who build your houses, fix your plumbing, repair your cars, and fight your wars. You probably think they're not as smart as you are. They believe in God, they drink, they smoke, they can't do the Sunday Times crossword puzzle if they even know it exists, and they can be stampeded into fear of things they think they don't understand, like economic crises and mysterious chemical threats. But don't ever think they're fools. They're not going to let you turn government into the great eliminator of all risk in life. Whatever you think, they don't all want to work for the government. They know the extraordinary value of cheers. And they won't let you take away all the rivalries that infuse their lives with energy and excitement.

You can bail out Ford and Chevy in the short term. But if you try to turn them into state-run, can't fail bureaucracies, all the mothers and sons who make high school football possible will come for you with pitchforks. And they'll be right to do it. Because this is America. The land of the free safety and the home of the breakaway running back. (And while you're at the game you've never bothered to attend before, check out the parking lot; then tell us that Americans won't fight for GM, Ford, and Chrysler. Ain't gonna go down that way, bro.)

I know the great liberal dream is to turn America into Europe. It's not going to happen. Not in the Obama administration. Not ever. Because even as we speak, some fifteen-year-old boy is practicing to catch the game-winning touchdown, no matter how much it costs. You can bleed America all you want, but you'll never bleed that trait out of our unique and indefatigable people.


P.S. La Monica has forwarded an irresistible video that seems somehow to go with this post.

Don't ask me how. I might tell you.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

The Gathering Storm

This is not a screed. It's an attempt to be measured and objective.

INAUGURATION DAY PLUS ONE. Every U.S. president has two presidencies: the one he planned on and the one he actually gets. The second usually differs radically from the first because it is driven by events rather than plans. It may well be that President Obama is in for the rudest of shocks, a four-year term in office so dominated by foreign policy crises that they will eat up the time and energy required for massive domestic change initiatives.

There are a couple of points worth noting here. American presidents almost never accomplish the laundry lists of initiatives they describe in campaigns and state of the union speeches. Like corporate CEOs, they are most successful when they focus sharply on a short list of top priorities and give them the close managerial attention needed to obtain a result something like the original intent. Typically, the best time for big domestic initiatives is the first term, when momentum can be generated during the honeymoon period every president has, to one degree or another, with congress. By the second term, presidents and congress are, also typically, weary enough with one another that the president begins to look abroad for foreign policy opportunities -- peace deals, trade treaties, and other legacy items that don't require as much interaction with Capitol Hill.

There are obviously exceptions to this pattern, but the relative stability of the Cold War era and its immediate aftermath allowed two-term presidents the luxury of putting much of the world on hold while they spent their early years in office trying to fulfill their biggest domestic campaign promises. Reagan never even met with Soviet leaders during his first term, for example, and Clinton saved the Kosovo intervention, his Irish peace initiative ands his Israeli-Palestinian negotiations for the years after he had made some progress on "it's the economy, stupid." Even George W. Bush managed to get the ball rolling on his top domestic priorities before 9/11 swept the table clean of his original agenda: His tax cuts, the "No Child Left Behind" education bill, and the new drug entitlement for seniors squeaked through in his first term.

Interestingly, the exceptions tend to prove the rule. Jimmy Carter focused disproportionately on foreign affairs -- brokering the Israel-Egypt peace treaty and destabilizing friendly dictators in Nicaragua and Iran -- with the result that Iran and unaddressed woes in the domestic economy blew up in his face and cost him a second term. George Bush the Elder spent a disproportionate amount of his one term in office turning back Saddam's invasion of Kuwait, which made him seem too remote from the lives of average Americans and caused them to vote him out in favor of Clinton.

It's clearly the hope of the Obama administration that they'll be able to repeat the Reagan-Clinton formula. A principal stated reason for Obama's determination to withdraw from Iraq, for example, is to end the distraction it represents from addressing domestic priorities. He wants to reallocate the money, time, and attention that Iraq has consumed over the past five years to improving the lives of poor and middle class Americans. His avowed intention to trade unilateral action overseas for talks and multilateral negotiations also, in this context, represents a belief that the world can still be put on hold -- stalled, if you will -- for enough time to accomplish key reforms at home.

But there's a good chance that the universal dislike of George W. Bush has caused even the smartest of the experts to miss a big, and ironic, hallmark of his presidency. The unpredictable and much despised cowboy has, to a very significant extent, done what should be impossible in the chaotic post-Cold War, post-9/11 political environment -- he has put the world on hold in such a way that it resembles the time when flare-ups could routinely be prevented from ballooning into disasters by the grim controlling caution of American and Soviet leaders determined to avoid fatal confrontations with each other.

This relative quiet in the global political environment is not like the stasis of the Cold-War. It just looks like it in an oddly reassuring way. North Korea goes rogue and then pulls back at the last minute. Iran blusters and threatens but keeps returning eventually to the circular but comforting delay of more talks with the Europeans. Hizbollah, Hamas, and other deadly firebugs in the middle east keep playing with matches but put them aside just before they light a wildfire that can't be contained. Russia flexes its muscles and makes reckless moves in eastern Europe but then ever so slowly subsides into bellicose calm. Pakistan looks ready to implode into civil war but somehow elects a fragile government to replace Musharraf, and the world's most unstable nuclear power keeps limping along. That's how the world has worked throughout most of our lives, and it's how it will keep on working, right? There is time to deal with problems in a fairly orderly way. If he's steady behind the wheel, President Obama will be able to steer us safely through it all and find the time to do the necessary things at home before events appropriate his agenda. Right?

Maybe. But probably not. When Bush leaves office, it will be like the marshal turning in his badge and riding out of Dodge City. It's the worldwide fear of how the United States will react that has kept the global pot simmering just below a boil. Even if they suspect that Bush won't call in airstrikes or a battalion of marines in response to a truly provocative act, they don't know it for sure. And so they hesitate, they think and think again, and then they wait. What are they waiting for? For Bush to be gone. As he will be in January 2009.

George W. Bush has been a one-man Cold War, the kind of stabilizing influence created by the perception of a danger that transcends local, personal rivalries and grudges. That's the irony of our current situation. And it's a truly colossal irony. Americans are tired of being not liked around the world. Obama promises to change that. He proclaims his intention to conclude the American Cold War against the world. He will no longer act hastily and unpredictably. He will put away the big stick. He will be reasonable. And we are buoyed and reaffirmed in our support for him by the fact that the world cheers when we elect him to the presidency.

Why are they cheering? Because things will slowly get better in international affairs as the civilized norms of traditional diplomacy are gradually restored to their proper place? Or because there will be a sudden sizeable window of time in which a young, naive, and inexperienced president of the United States will be trying to do too many things at once -- learn the job, staff his administration, resolve an economic crisis, and pursue an extraordinarily ambitious domestic legislative agenda -- leaving the door open for bold moves around the globe he can't possibly respond to effectively?

There are already numerous signs that it's the latter. The world is about done with waiting. They're getting ready to rumble. Maliki is preparing to push back hard against the Obama administration in Iraq. The rattle of sabers in Iran is growing ominously louder. The other players in the middle east -- Syria, Israel, the Palestinians -- are already nearly at the boiling point  The always unsubtle Russians have been signaling their intentions for months and getting bolder by the day. Movements under the surface of the uneasy relationship between Taiwan and China are threatening to erupt into sudden crisis. Add to this mix the worldwide economic uncertainty, the economic desperation caused by plunging oil prices in oil-exporting autocracies like Venezuela and Russia, and the growing instability of regimes in North Korea and Cuba, where the age and ill health of long-time dictators could cause collapse or civil war at any moment, and you have a recipe for multiple massive international crises within months or even days of Obama's inauguration.

Has anyone given much thought to Joe Biden's odd candor about the "testing" of Barack Obama? What he didn't say was that the consequences of such testing might be so serious and long-lasting that they could entirely co-opt the Obama presidency. He might find himself putting out fires around the world full-time from day one.

I hope I'm wrong. But I might not be. The Obama honeymoon that begins in January could quickly turn into a nightmare for everyone. If he can talk his way out of it all as he seems to believe, good for him. But there's reason to doubt that's the way world works right now, if it ever did.

Pray for him. Or if you can't do that, pray for us.

Blogger Psychosis

STILL JUST PUNKS. This post has no real import. It's just funny. And sad. Actually, mostly sad. The way things can be in this explosive new media environment. It's a vignette, really. About Daily Pundit, alias Bill Quick, the blogger who coined the term "blogosphere" and helped usher in our grand new age. I've had some communications with him in the past, and he seemed a decent guy, but I'd lost track of him until one of the commenters here at InstaPunk checked in yesterday with this:

Today I got into a disagreement with Daily Pundit proprietor Bill Quick for having the temerity to suggest that 1) IP is a better-written blog than most; and 2) that conservatives need to be more aggressive:

His response was less than encouraging; he started by belittling this place, then by attacking me for apparently responding to a post in which he specifically called for comments.

Really, with friends like that . . .

In response to queries, he elaborated, as follows:

In my comment to Daily Pundit I was trying to make a point about conservatives being soft and not being sufficiently fierce about the language they use when attacking or defending certain policies. He apparently thought I was off-topic; I then re-commented to explain myself. Which I did pretty well, I thought. I also thought I did it in a non-personal way. His follow up said I'd insulted him. Which I hadn't. However, in the spirit of not being too big a jerk, I told him no offense intended (which was true). Now I'm wondering whether I should have!

That being said, the whole exchange was instructive for me.

The funny thing is, I don't think his posts are badly written, generally speaking. They don't have the eloquence of a lot of the stuff here, but hey that's life.

I was curious, because as I mentioned, I've had contact with Bill Quick, and so I followed the link in the comment and found that the "belittling" included traffic data for his blog, Ace of Spades, and other famous righty blogs compared to the much lower traffic figures for Instapunk. His scornful conclusion was that we don't matter because we're a ratings loser. Kind of like "Knight Rider," I guess. I thought that was funny, so I posted a jocular comment of my own based on our previous acquaintance:

Well, you’ve turned into a nasty old bugger, haven’t you?

I, for one, have never held your high traffic against you. I’ve never once compared you and Ace to Jacqueline Suzanne and Stephen King, who were after all the greatest writers of their time because their sales were so high.

Is the ACP — and all the weighty responsibilities associated with it — sapping your sense of humor? I fear so. Tell you what. Try watching a few episodes of AbFab, South Park, and House. See if your dangerously inflated amour-propre doesn’t shrink a quart or two after a few hubris-puncturing laughs. You’ll feel better for it. I promise.

Late this afternoon, I decided to visit his blog and see if he'd read or responded to my joust. But I couldn't get there. I don't mean I couldn't make a comment or access existing comments. I couldn't get to at all. Instead, I got a series of "403" error messages telling me I was "not authorized to access this site." I tried various other ways of getting there, including cutting and pasting the link from the comment that had first piqued my interest. I even ventured over to instaPundit and clicked from his blogroll. Nothing doing. So I consulted with my webmaster, who was able to access the site, and he sent me Bill Quick's response to my comment:

Well, you’ve turned into a nasty old bugger, haven’t you? [quoting me, of course]

Bite me, Punk.

I, for one, have never held your high traffic against you.

And up until your buttboy arrived here, snarking away at me and others of your betters, I didn’t hold your utter lack of any influence against you, either. In fact, I was only peripherally aware that your blog even existed - riding, as it was, on a sad ripoff from Glenn Reynolds’ original Instapundit.

Is the ACP — and all the weighty responsibilities associated with it — sapping your sense of humor? I fear so. Tell you what. Try watching a few episodes of AbFab, South Park, and House. See if your dangerously inflated amour-propre doesn’t shrink a quart or two after a few hubris-puncturing laughs. You’ll feel better for it. I promise.

Yeah, that’s the sort of soul-stirring political prose that will galvanize the masses into a new conservative revolution. Actually, my own education is not based, as yours seems to be, on a solid foundation of popular television shows.

You mock the ACP. And you’ve done - what, exactly? - to influence anything but your own bloated sense of self-regard?

Oh, that’s right. Nothing.

Okay, back to your pathetic little shithole for another dose of that corrosive envy you seem to be wallowing in. You’re banned here. I’m not going to waste any further time or prose on an irrelevant nobody. Nice try at boosting your numbers with a little blog-war, dumbass, but I’m not gonna play. [boldface mine]

Just to make things clear, no one from here started a "blog war," and the only commenter who referenced this site at DailyPundit did so on his on own hook, without any prompting from us. He was also -- you can look it up for yourselves -- both polite and conciliatory about the possibility of having given offense where he meant none.

But what's more interesting is the part where Bill Quick says, "I was only peripherally aware that your blog even existed."

Which doesn't quite square with my own records.  Quick announced six months ago that he was interested in founding a new political party to replace the failed Republican Party. He asked for volunteer contributors. I volunteered by email (under my own name but with reference to Instapunk) and received an almost immediate response, which I quote verbatim:

Hi, Bob!

I'm happily familiar with Instapunk.

I'm trying to organize this on the principles Glenn Reynolds talks about
in An Army of Davids - let it more or less self-organize within certain
broad confines.  (As an example of "confines," I turned down one
applicant who was honest upfront and asked me if there would be any
objections to an editor with a "cynical voice."  I told him he was more
than welcome to comment, but editors, at least in the early stages,
would need to be more idealistic than cynical about the overall project
- at least when they are nominally representing it.

I'd like to see this venture's web presence eventually approach the
level of Daily Kos, but from a conservative pov.  My notion right now is
to sign up as many conservative voices as I can who are interested in
pushing the project forward.  I don't expect anything of any individual
editor except that.  In this case "editor" might  be better defined as
"official contributor."

I'm hoping that out of this initial mix of contributors and commenters,
we will begin to naturally develop an organizational structure, an
ideological stance, and, at some point down the road, an actual
political party.  But even before that, we might find ways to act as a
pressure group and a fundraising and support entity for candidates of
any party who seem to deserve our support.

Go here to log in:

Your username will be: XXXXX (case matters)
Your password will be: XXXXX- please change to something else
after you log on.

Your display name will be: XXXXX (you can change it to something
else after you log on).

I'll use the email on this letter as your official email.  You can
change it after you log on, if you'd like.

Welcome aboard!



I did post. I posted this, in fact:

First Steps

The American Conservative Party. It's a big idea. Bill Quick has to be commended for setting this monster in motion. He's asking us all to take a step back from the cut and thrust of everyday politics and think. About who we are. What we want. How we might conceivably get there.

Anyone who's seen my site,, will suspect that my whole purpose is to make trouble. That's not true. I am a real conservative. I have two credentials most of you don't have -- which is good news for you, because having my credentials would make you as old as I am. I was raised by rock-ribbed conservatives who lived through FDR and Truman, despising every minute of it, and then I went to Harvard, where I encountered a concentrated propaganda effort intended to make me hate my forebears.

It was the heart of the Vietnam era. I won't dwell on it, but I experienced the demonstrations, the mimeographed hate letters to the United States, the nonsense of tenured professors prostituting their reputations to condemn their own country for opposing the most murderous totalitatarian regime in recorded history. I participated in the draft lottery--  after my WWII vet father told me not to volunteer for a war our country didn't want to win -- and I lost. The top third of the lottery, into which I fell, was expected to be drafted. Except that year was the first in which no one was taken. The war was over when I turned nineteen.

The easy conclusion is that I missed the war. But I didn't. The Vietnam War has never gone away. I've lived to see the people who swore they'd never fight it become congressmen, senators, cabinet officials, and presidents. I've lived to see them in charge of U.S. foreign policy. And I've lived to see all the avowed draft dodgers take over the best colleges and universities in the country. There is now an entire generation in power which has never been tested against their own fear.

I went to Harvard because my father was determined that his children would be educated in the Ivy League. What he couldn't control was that I would come of age in South Jersey, where you were judged by how well and how fast you could drive. For the sum of $300 I bought a 1970 Chrysler Newport convertible and rebuilt it with a high-performance 440 engine, headers, dual exhausts, Koni shock absorbers, metallic brakes, and police pursuit radial tires. It became a 4,000-pound car that could do zero to sixty in six seconds. One night, in my hometown, I raced an IROC Camaro up the narrow main street, passing within several inches of the bridge oiver the town's river. I barely made it but I beat his ass. That's how I learned fear. And the way to conquer it.

Does all this seem off point? It isn't. Life is about fear. It's also about the difference between social acceptability and self-confidence. I'd like to suggest that politics begins with personal  experience. You learn to drive like hell, run like hell, block like hell, throw or bat like hell, or you settle for being a liberal.

Which is another way of saying that being a conservative is about aspiration. Conservatives expect more of themselves, their families, their business partners, their representatives.

As I said up top, this is only a first step. Being a conservative is not about being rich, cautious, or retiring. It's about the joy of living, even when the bureaucracy is determined to view you as a unit.

Government is not about the joy of living. It's about the joy of controlling others. And mostly, the control is designed to keep those others from seeing the weaknesses of those in charge.

The American Conservative Party should be about living. That's the ideal. Which suggests that the name might be wrong. Our mission isn't to protect, defend, hold the line, keep the faith, or other backward-moving concepts. It's about freeing people from those who would tell them exactly how to live. It's about letting the fresh air in.

I'll elaborate on this in another post. In the meantime, don't think defense. Think aspiration.

Bill didn't exactly like this post. He commented (yes, personally) that the name of the party was not up for debate. But I wrote a second post anyway:

What's in a name?

In my first post here (2/6/08) I suggested that 'American Conservative Party' might be the wrong name. Here's why I believe that and why I think it's important.

We think of ourselves as conservatives because the positions we tend to share are based on time-honored verities of American experience. We believe in limited government because the founding fathers' greatest fear was big, tyrannical government. We believe in a strong national defense because that was one of only a handful of roles the Constitution specifically assigned to the federal government. We believe there is a role for religion in public life because the original intent of the "separation of church and state" was to protect religion from government, not the other way round. We believe in the sanctity of life, particularly with respect to abortion, because there is no basis whatever in either the Constitution or our religious tradition for depriving the smallest and most helpless among us of their right to live. Our specific policy positions tend to arise fairly directly from these bedrock principles of the past. Thus, we see ourselves conserving that legacy.

But this is a fantasy, possibly a dangerous one. The reality is that almost no one alive has ever cast a vote prior to the New Deal political era that fundamentally changed the relationship between Americans and their government. Throughout our own lifetimes we have witnessed a political evolution from large, intrusive federal government to incredibly larger, almost paralyzingly intrusive government. In this context, the real conservatives are those who have resisted periodic Republican attempts to slow down this evolution or undo some of its more dramatic expansions of unconstitutional federal power.

Democrats are no longer agents of change in the American political system. They are the reactionaries, constantly promulgating the same tired old prescriptions and platitudes for every new circumstance in a rapidly changing world. That's why Clinton and Obama never really say anything in their speeches and debates. They're the ones whose message is reducible to "stay the course." If we have a problem, they will legislate an expensive federal program to put a bandaid on it. If we have a problem that can only be dealt with by a demonstration of national character and courage, like the war against Islamofascism, they will turn their backs on it, because the character which forms the backbone of the Constitution was muscled out of our system a generation ago. It is the Democrats, not the self-styled conservatives, who are clinging to a past which encompasses the entirety of almost all our lives.

Why does this matter?. Isn't it just a semantic distinction I'm drawing, a vain argument about a meaningless label? No.

There are only two kinds of political parties. There are 'club' parties which provide a refuge for members of a like-minded minority who can't bring themselves to associate with the mongrel philosophies of those in power. And there are parties which really do seek to govern by creating alliances among people and constituencies like-minded enough to work together for what they agree is most important. Which kind of party do you want to belong to? I prefer the latter because I've lived through many years when the Republican Party had, in reality, become the former. That situation only changed when a new vision opened the door to forming alliances with people old-style republicans could never have imagined in their cohort -- all those blue-collar Reagan Democrats.

We face a similar opportunity right now -- if we can give up licking our wounds long enough to see and grasp that opportunity. If we can just give up the notion that we are hanging grimly on to a tradition that grows fainter by the day, we might begin to understand that our real mission is to innovate a better future for our nation, its children, and its diversifying citizenry. We might also recognize that we are really the ones who have as much faith in the tools of right now and the future -- technology, global economic systems, and the potential breakthroughs of scientific research -- as we do in the philosophical roots of our history.

There are at least two significant constituencies who, if they only knew it, should be flocking to a new party with core beliefs like ours. Young people in the workforce -- between 22 and 35 -- will be the most immediate and hard-hit victims of whatever form of national health care the Reactionaries manage to pass into law. The dirty secret of all the proposals is that they will be funded by compelling the financial participation of those who are presently opting out of the existing insurance system because they are willing to accept the risk for other rewards of their own choosing. They are looking straight down the barrel of a monstrous, effective tax hike.

The same is true of whatever plan the Reactionaries eventually adopt to "save" Social Security. A dramatically increasing population of old people will be raiding the pockets of young workers at an accelerating rate. They should be with us, fighting to protect their own financial futures by forcing government to back off and seeking innovative ways to apply free-market efficiencies to both these swords of Damocles. Yet where are they while we bicker here about who's the real conservative and who we just can't bring ourselves to support in our fierce little bubble? They're cheering wildly at the utterly vacuous rhetoric of Barack Obama. They are proud to be liberal, progressive Democrats because they know Conservatives are wicked old ignorant fuddy duddies.

The other big chunk of the electorate who should belong to our party is African-Americans. It was the Democrats who trapped them in the nightmare of the welfare state in the first place, who doomed them to perpetual doubt in the workforce through the pernicious implementation of affirmative action. It is the Democrats -- and their blood alliance with the teachers unions -- that have amputated the best possible route to economic freedom and properity by preventing adoption of a voucher system that would give even poor people an opportunity to choose among competing  elementary, middle, and high schools.

And now it is everyone but the hated conservatives like us who are dealing them the most deadly body blow of all -- cutting away all the lower rungs of the economic ladder they have to climb by facilitating the influx of an endless supply of cheap labor that costs unskilled native-born Americans the ability to negotiate fair living wages with private employers. More than that, as they do manage to climb higher on that ladder, they will be compelled to fork over more and more of their newfound prosperity to an indigent immigrant population that has paid nothing like the dues which have been historically paid by African-Americans.

What's in a name? To these groups, an "American Conservative Party" is pre-branded as an irrelevant, probably backward-looking party of the club type. It doesn't matter how unfair that pre-branding is. A lifetime of liberal propaganda has convinced them they know who and what you are. Besides, it's not completely unfair. Conservatives have fostered their own delusionary culture, one that compels them to keep looking back -- to Newt, to Reagan, to Eisenhower -- and therefore denies them the energy of their faith in the future-building power of character, values, technology, and an optimistic view of the potential of the unfettered human spirit.

What if, for just a moment, everyone reading this put the word "conservative" out of mind, out of the philosophical universe altogether? If you wanted to initiate revolutionary change, rethink the systems of government and statecraft to make them more capable of unleashing the power of ordinary Americans to gain more, and more prosperous, control of their own lives, how would you go about it? Who would you campaign to attract to your side? How ambitious would your goals and aspirations be? What kind of future can you imagine in your wildest dreams?

If your answers are anything like mine, you can't even come up with an appropriate qualifying (i.e., limiting) adjective to take the place of 'conservative.' You might find yourself thinking of The American Party.

After that, I ceased getting emails from Bill Quick and the American Conservative Party, and my access dried up. It appears that he continues to toil away at his grand delusion, which is like many creations of the internet a fantasy, but the ACP ste has steering committees, sponsors, organizing committees, and lists galore.

Despite his wrath, I wish him well. But I will mildly rebuke him for assuming that this site is seeking the kind of notoriety and clout that is being so earnestly solicited by organizations like, say, the American Conservative Party. I also resist the charge that we have done, "Oh, that’s right, nothing."

It's an interesting accusation coming from such a devout conservative -- that is, one of those who believe so particularly in the inviolability and autonomy of the individual. Is it really a crime that Instapunk has chosen to embrace the value of the individual voice rather than organize and assemble compulsively to form a thundering (or whispering) herd capable of commanding the attention of media, other competing organizations, and advertising dollars?

Is it nothing that we write sincerely or satirically or dismissively about the great events of the day from decidedly individualistic perspectives? And if it is nothing, why is it nothing? Because it's objectively without value? Or because it's not of measurable value in an increasingly mass culture driven by polls, counting algorithms, sales figures, and audience share?

Well, when the fame bug bites you, your values tend to change. I suspect our biggest sin here is that our values haven't changed. We just go on doing what we do. In one of his responses to the commenter who had the unfortunate run-in with Bill Quick, CountryPunk advised him not to be dispirited because:

There are plenty of good bloggers out there, but they're mostly the ones who aren't peddling their podcasts, running for Conservative Blog of the Year, or starting their own political organizations.

Blogs are letters to the editor. When they try to be more than that, they generally wind up being nothing.

But when he wrote that, he didn't know that Bill Quick owned the monopoly on the definition of 'nothing.'

Still. We're content with our "pathetic little shithole." We're pretty proud of the kind of traffic we have. They're people worth trying to influence with good ideas and provocative questions. They think about things. Would you rather be Simon Cowell or a teacher who knows for a fact that he inspired one student to make more of his life than he would have otherwise? Elections and politicians come and go. I think we're writing about more than party politics here. But, then again, what do I know? All I have to go on is "a solid foundation of popular television shows."

As always, we'll trust you to make your own decisions about all that. And if you don't mind, we'll indulge ourselves with a small chuckle that technorati is certain not to overhear.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Armistice Day

From reality to interpretive legend to disturbing relic. The creeping amnesia of war.

90 YEARS AGO. Like everyone else who remembers that today is Veteran's Day, I thank all those who have carried arms in the service of  our country, with particular emphasis on those who have served so honorably in Iraq and Afghanistan since the events of 9/11. By devoting this post to the day which began this annual commemoration, I am not ignoring those who have paid many different kinds of prices for their service in these conflicts. I am trying to remind my countrymen of a few important lessons from the past that are still relevant to our present and future rules of engagement in foreign theaters of combat.

November 11 became a sacred date in 1918 with the Armistice that concluded hostilities in World War I. Here are excerpts from an account of that day:

The final Allied push towards the German border began on October 17, 1918. As the British, French and American armies advanced, the alliance between the Central Powers began to collapse. Turkey signed an armistice at the end of October, Austria-Hungary followed on November 3.

Germany began to crumble from within. Faced with the prospect of returning to sea, the sailors of the High Seas Fleet stationed at Kiel mutinied on October 29. Within a few days, the entire city was in their control and the revolution spread throughout the country. On November 9 the Kaiser abdicated; slipping across the border into the Netherlands and exile. A German Republic was declared and peace feelers extended to the Allies. At 5 AM on the morning of November 11 an armistice was signed in a railroad car parked in a French forest near the front lines.

The terms of the agreement called for the cessation of fighting along the entire Western Front to begin at precisely 11 AM that morning. After over four years of bloody conflict, the Great War was at an end.

Colonel Thomas Gowenlock served as an intelligence officer in the American 1st Division. He was on the front line that November morning and wrote of his experience a few years later:

"On the morning of November 11 I sat in my dugout in Le Gros Faux, which was again our division headquarters, talking to our Chief of Staff, Colonel John Greely, and Lieutenant Colonel Paul Peabody, our G-1. A signal corps officer entered and handed us [a cable from Marshal Foch announcing the Armistice].

'Well - fini la guerre!' said Colonel Greely.

'It sure looks like it,' I agreed...

My watch said nine o'clock. With only two hours to go, I drove over to the bank of the Meuse River to see the finish. The shelling was heavy and, as I walked down the road, it grew steadily worse. It seemed to me that every battery in the world was trying to burn up its guns. At last eleven o'clock came - but the firing continued. The men on both sides had decided to give each other all they had-their farewell to arms. It was a very natural impulse after their years of war, but unfortunately many fell after eleven o'clock that day.

All over the world on November 11, 1918, people were celebrating, dancing in the streets, drinking champagne, hailing the armistice that meant the end of the war. But at the front there was no celebration...

After the long months of intense strain, of keying themselves up to the daily mortal danger, of thinking always in terms of war and the enemy, the abrupt release from it all was physical and psychological agony. Some suffered a total nervous collapse. Some, of a steadier temperament, began to hope they would someday return to home and the embrace of loved ones. Some could think only of the crude little crosses that marked the graves of their comrades. Some fell into an exhausted sleep. All were bewildered by the sudden meaninglessness of their existence as soldiers - and through their teeming memories paraded that swiftly moving cavalcade of Cantigny, Soissons, St. Mihiel, the Meuse-Argonne and Sedan.

What was to come next?...

Meuse-Argonne:  The largest American cemetery in Europe.
Please take the time to watch this brief video about the place.

For many, nothing would come next. American dead in World War I totaled more than 116,000. Something to remember for those who once supported our current military campaigns but have grown weary and lost patience with such an inexcusably long war -- short wars aren't automatically more efficient or brilliantly administered. Our casualties in WWI occurred in just seven months of active American combat. Those who now wish to jump-start the Afghan campaign by sending in huge numbers of American troops might pause to reflect that big armies can come to grief more catastrophically than small ones, and in the wrong kind of terrain (as Afghanistan has been since the days of Alexander the Great), big armies are actually an invitation to catastrophe.

There are other sobering reminders embedded in our mostly forgotten WWI experience. Our troops in that conflict were told they were fighting a "war to end all wars" and that their victory would "make the world safe for democracy." Victory is what they achieved, witness the facts quoted above: "Germany began to crumble from within... the Kaiser abdicated; slipping across the border into the Netherlands and exile." But there are two equally important components of a successful military campaign. The first is conquest on the battlefield. That was achieved in 1918. The second is careful negotiation of the peace and intelligent administration of its terms. This did not occur in 1918 or after.

It is possible, and even common, for politicians to lose a war at the peace table after it has been won in battle. That is precisely what happened with the Treaty of Versailles which was negotiated after the 1918 armistice. Our troops came home almost immediately, and French and English troops also stood down in short order after installing a weak democracy in Germany that never had a chance of meeting the needs of its war-devastated and divided populace.

Tumultuous events aren't over and settled just because you want them to be or because it's more convenient to pretend they are. Turning your back on complicated situations you don't have the wit or energy to deal with appropriately can get you stabbed in the back. Which is how Hitler -- in just 20 years -- turned Germany's military defeat in WWI into the single greatest threat to western democracies they'd ever experienced. Politicians transformed the sacrifice of all the World War I dead into wasted lives. In particular, the Americans died in vain. Unlike their European counterparts, they weren't fighting to restore an uneasy status quo among rival kingdoms. They were fighting for a vision of world peace, a profound change in a sick and dangerous region of the world. But their leaders didn't have the patience or the vision to carry out their part of the mission. And so the Americans, I repeat, died in vain.

We are on the brink of a very similar situation. The Democrats and their supposedly visionary standard-bearer are poised to take the military success that has been achieved thus far in Iraq and do little more with it than declare victory and "bring the boys back home." And as they openly contemplate such a potentially disastrous course, they look damn self-righteous doing it.

That's why, today, I'd ask everyone to remember future veterans in addition to those from the past and present. If we bungle the next "peace," we will all be doing our part, even if through mere laziness, to ensure a whole new generation of American dead and wounded in wars not yet dreamed of. But just because no gun has yet been fired at the soldiers in those wars doesn't mean we're not already carrying the crosses that will be placed on their graves. We are. We are the people. We are the government of the United States. We are responsible for what is done in our name. And right now we are blind to the future our votes are helping to create.

Something to think about. On Veterans Day. On Armistice Day. The day the peace that wasn't was signed.

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