Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Culture War and Television

Over at CV, Eric has another post on the Culture War, the thesis of which (I think) is that television is at its root. He's probably right about that, but he also says:

To a large extent, America has no readily definable or identifiable "culture" before television. There were regional cultures, various class structures complete with particular ways of dressing and even accents which could enable a skilled listener under certain circumstances to discern which part of town someone came from, but no one culture.
That seems like it comes from a fairly shallow definition of culture, which concerns me because Eric is nothing like shallow.

I define "culture" as the unspoken expectations of a group for its members. "What you know everyone knows". So while I agree that television had a dramatic impact, I think it's wrong to say there was no unique American culture before that. While it's hard to distinguish our myths about the culture of our forebears from their actual culture, there is little doubt about the commonality of:
  • Freedoms of speech, press, firearms, and religion
  • "Manifest destiny" and westward expansion: gold rushes, cowboys, indians, cavalry
  • Paul Bunyan, John Henry, Bill Hickok, et al
  • The town square containing the courthouse
  • Public schools (first small, then bigger)
  • Tent revivals
  • The Civil War
  • Social mobility
  • Baseball
  • The automobile
  • Prohibition and the Great Depression
As far as the spread of culture goes, railroads and the telegraph brought people together remarkably well, as did radio. But the points above (and many others) put stamps on the culture in uniquely American ways, and took place before television had any real impact.

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Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Freedom is bad for you

I hate cigarette smoke. As an ex-smoker, I'm pretty vocal about it, too. Yeah, that's me, the guy at the table next to you who says (in my best Bill Murray), "Hey, you with the oral fixation -- the sign says no smoking." You catch more flies with Raid than honey, I always say. In truly public places, such as parks and sidewalks, a smoking ban addresses the balance between the right to smoke and the right not to breathe smoke. I'm not addressing that here.

But the great State of Illinois, and probably other States, are mulling the idea of a smoking ban for all public places, including bars and restaurants. Proponents try to cast it in terms of the health of workers, citing secondhand smoke as a health hazard. But the debate comes down to the majority getting its way. We're all supposed to want the majority to rule, right? The trouble is that this time the wrong majority is having its way over the wrong minority.

Now, I don't know whether the health effects of secondhand smoke are as bad as activists say. But for the sake of argument, I'll grant it. As I said, I hate cigarette smoke.

The debate is being fought to trick the non-smoking majority into believing that it is imposing its will on the smoking minority. But that's not what's happening at all. Smokers will still be able to smoke..

The smoking ban is indeed about the rights of the majority. This majority is made up of both smokers and non-smokers alike, and the minority is everyone else.

Did you catch that? The minority in this case are the restaurant and bar owners, a group on the order of zero in size compared to either their smoking or non-smoking customers. It is not the rights of smokers or non-smokers in question, it is the right of the majority, the roughly 100% of us who do not own restaurants, to dictate policy to the minority, the 0% of us who do.

The question would be better decided by people voting with their wallets. If restaurant and bar owners want to attract non-smoking customers like me, and want to attract non-smoking staff, and save money on air filtration and cleanup, they can go smokeless. Those wanting to allow their guests to smoke could do so.

Those pushing the ban cite employee health concerns. And yes, it's good to have clean air in the workplace. However, a smoking ban artificially limits the ability of those employees to take risks in exchange for greater reward. They, too, should be allowed to vote with their wallet, and to bargain with their employers to maximize profit, health, and customer satisfaction.

Instead, holding the vote at all increases the power of government to regulate our lives, to keep us from taking risks in search of reward. Right now it's ostensibly for our own good. But it doesn't take long for 'ostensibly' to become 'supposedly', then for 'supposedly to become 'plausibly', until finally any pro forma reference to the good of the many will suffice to impose the government's will on the few.

The Tyrant is stirring, and that scares me a lot more than secondhand smoke.

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Monday, February 26, 2007

We Apologize for Our Choices

[Edited 2/27/2007 21:00 for smoother flow, which important in a good apology]

Over at Redstate, user TBone, a member of the Cherokee nation, made a formal apology:

I Tbone, without polling anyone that I may even remotely claim to represent, do hereby "profoundly regret" that some other Indians, born in the century before last, to whom I am probably not even related, deprived Custer and a bunch of other people, and the horses they rode in on, of their civil rights to breathe. This apology is directed to those who may or may not be descended from Custer, et al, or to any other person attenuated to the Custer Victimhood Society.

That got me thinking: for what else do we need to apologize? Despite great sorrow, I came up with several things, in the spirit of tolerance and compassion out of which our good friend Tbone has stood up to speak:

We must begin by all apologizing inclusively for the injustices and oppressions for which we are collectively responsible. Perhaps we can come to consensus over some of the many examples, such as:

  • We, Americans of American descent, apologize for causing Hurricane Katrina and insisting that the Federal government follow all of its many arcane and oppressive laws when fixing the mess we had made.
  • We further apologize for not using our great magical Rovian powers to make New Orleans reappear exactly as it was once it stopped raining.
  • We, Americans of Patriotic descent, apologize for shoving down the throats of tiny schoolchoices the horrible, mean-spirited idea that they live in a nation, owe loyalty to it, and should feel anything but shame when its name is mentioned.
  • We apologize for having these schoolchoices face the flag and pledge allegiance to a piece of cloth, while mouthing the G-word right there on American soil.
  • Since the government owns the country and everyone in it, clearly forcing those poor innocent choices to speak the G-word on American soil is unconstitutional and humiliating for them, which we deeply regret.
  • We, Americans of Patriotic descent, further apologize for having a flag in the first place, and for having choices at all when there were other options we could have chosen if only we had asked our school guidance counselor to drive us to the choice doctor (who would have selflessly helped us work with our insurance company to unburden us of our choice).
  • We Conservative-Americans also apologize for insisting on lower taxes, which has resulted in enriching millions.
  • Clearly, we also need to apologize for not donating all of these ill-gotten gains to the government, its true source and owner.

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Thursday, February 22, 2007

A Moment of Silence for Chief Illiniwek

So the Chief is no more.

Will this be like what happened when we stopped saying public prayers, so as not to offend the people who believe prayers with words are so much hokum? Will we all stand for a moment of silence for the Chief, envisioning his glorious tribute to those who came before, in all its imperfection?

When the moment passes, will we shift our feet and glance awkwardly, until someone breaks the silence with an even more awkward cheer?

Welcome to the Brave New Illinois. Oh, did I say "brave"? Sorry, that wasn't meant to be a racist snipe at native American traditions. It was meant to invoke Aldous Huxley's "Brave New World", in a creative interpretation. I thought I'd better explain, so no one called me bigot for creativity's sake. What's that, my intent doesn't matter, only the imagined offense matters? How could I have been so insensitive? Let's hold a moment of silence for my insensitivity and lack of real writing skill.

[Awkward moment of silence goes here]

My land, that was awkward.

Y'know what I hope they do? I hope the entire marching band takes the field to do an interpretive dance of their own choosing. Something they each feel is appropriate, as individuals. It would be an artistic thing. Something creative.

Now if one of them just happened to do a dance that contained certain elements invoking the memory of a certain Native civilization that used to occupy this area, who could be against that?

In fact, if every one of them spontaneously broke out in glorious tribute to those fallen at Starved Rock, or took up the warpath against the hated Iroquois coming from the East, who could consider their art to offend? What kind of University would crush the creativity of young thinkers that way? Why, one of them could be the next Salvador Dali or Maya Angelou.

And being trained in the ways of close order drill, in parts they probably would do the same dance, seemingly choreographed. They might even take the next few months to make their own interpretive band uniforms. Marching regalia, you might say.

But instead, we'll have yet another moment of silence, as the world marches inexorably into the grey fog of symbolic correctness. It will be just as awkward as the other moments of silence, and just as inspirational.

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Monday, February 19, 2007

Global Warming: DECAF is the answer

An emailer to NRO came up with a deceptively simple, but elegantly robust, answer (a direct link to which I cannot find, ht Becker) to the problem of Global Warming.

The warming trend I earlier associated with George Foreman could as easily be a response to Daylight Savings Time. When will we stop the madness, destroying the planet in the name of the almighty dollar? (And don't tell me Daylight Savings Time is designed to save energy, when I know full well it's an oil company plot to deny justice to the middle class).

Now, it has been suggested that adjusting the worldwide calendar to remove the hottest month of the year in the Northern Hemisphere, August, would effectively stem the tide of climate change. Not much happens in the Southern Hemisphere, so we can continue to ignore it. However appealing August's removal is as a stopgap measure, it fails to fully engage the problem.

I think a better solution to the complex problems of climate change and the worldwide decline in respect for socialism would be to simply remove the season of Summer from the calendar entirely.

Now, sophisticated readers will not fail to miss the subtlety here, that the simple hillbilly heuristic that Summer is "when it's hot out" might lead us astray. Subtle comic relief about the Southern hemisphere aside, it must be included in the discussion. After all, the scientific definition is that summer is the period between June 21 to September 21 in the Northern Hemisphere and December 21 to March 21 in the Southern Hemisphere. Therefore, a scientific solution to the problem would require that all of those months be removed from the calendar, else world calendars would become horribly incompatible.

To implement this solution, I call on all civilized countries to donate ONE MILLION ONE BILLION 2 to 5% of their Gross Domestic Product to fully fund the United Nations - Defense of Earth Calendar Action Force (UN-DECAF), which will be temporarily necessary to establish the new calendar.

Some countries which experience Summer year-round, such as Chad and Sudan, may have their calendars eliminated entirely. This may cause some concern in those countries, but they need to join the consensus on this issue. On the other hand, they've never noticed the UN Peacekeeping forces there before, so they probably would ignore them again.

And it bears repeating that we cannot expect the Southern hemisphere simply to fall off the face of the Earth. We must confront climate change directly, even if it means pretending to care what, if anything, happens in the parts of the world with counter-intuitive toilet swirls.

Not only would the new calendar allow us to claim victory over climate change, it would also bring us closer to the barbarian peoples South of the Equator, and empower the United Nations, which is what's important, after all. We must fund DECAF now, before the Earth cools on its own and it's too late.

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Friday, February 16, 2007

Symbolic Correctness and the Triumph of Bland

Yale University is embarrassed by the man for whom it is named. Boston 1775 says:

The Hartford Courant has reported that Yale University will remove a portrait of early benefactor Elihu Yale (1649-1721) from a meeting room because it “shows the wealthy merchant being waited on by a black man with a silver collar around his neck—an unmistakable symbol of bondage.” The college will hang another of its many portraits of Mr. Yale instead. (It seems there isn’t a big market for them outside New Haven.)

The University of Illinois, which was founded after Emancipation, is no less embarrassed by its symbol, and will retire Chief Illiniwek after the last home game on the men's basketball schedule. As commentator Andy Martin said in October, 2006:
Chief Illiniwek—a student who entertains at football games and dances an Indian dance at half time--and who once embodied the University of Illinois as the emblem on almost every document and artifact—is being phased out in deference to the ultimate God of our era: political correctness.
The College of William & Mary, has a controversy over another symbol, a brass cross that has been present in the Wren Chapel there since 1940. To make the chapel less unappealing to non-Christians, the cross is now available by request, rather than being removed by request. Blandness absolves us from the sin of displaying differences.

Multiculturalism, the notion that all cultures are equally valuable and must be preserved, has been turned into a new form of segregation. We must hide from ourselves any evidence of our differences, while claiming to celebrate them. And above all, we must not offend. By sanitizing symbols, the multiculturalists fight against the very diversity they claim to seek.

In a 1994 article for the Chronicles of Higher Education, Nell Irvin Painter, dealing with what she saw as a double standard for black versus white anti-Semitism, wrote:
I'm not advocating hate-speech codes or calling for protests. I am suggesting that various kinds of insult be taken with the same gravity. It is time that we reaffirmed the values of fellowship and decency by admitting that intolerance -- whether anti-Semitism, racism, or homophobia -- intimidates and injures others. Better to reach out to one another and acknowledge that any hateful invective hurts its intended targets -- and should be subject to quick condemnation. It's time to bury accusations of political correctness.
And yet, political correctness is exactly what she advocated. And the "hateful invective" that she at that time decried has now been redefined to include anything another group (or even someone who purports to speak for that group) doesn't like. Raise the spectre of offense, and there is no need to assault to gate; its owners will tear it down and ask forgiveness. Nothing is now acceptable but the bland, especially in our symbols.

The world is diverse enough. Mankind is bent on diversity, in dividing into groups and allowing each group to distinguish itself. It is innately human to pursue such distinction, and to be alternately repelled by and fascinated with our differences. Furthermore, the repulsion and fascination are inextricably linked; to suppress one is to quell the other.

The Elis are hiding the offending portrait, the better to pretend that it doesn't describe their origins; the Illini will stand ready for battle with no ancient guide to lead them; and those wishing to pray at William & Mary will have to file some paperwork.

It's a small price to pay for bland.

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Tuesday, February 13, 2007

RFC for the Ethical Blogger Pledge

Recently, online communities have had their trustworthiness challenged, at the same time that Citizen Journalism has been attempting to rival traditional media as a reliable information source. Looking around, I notice that there are several lists of blogger ethics, but no real community consensus on the whole range of ethics issues related to blogging. Here, then, is a bit of a compilation and distillation. It is submitted as a request for comments. The rules are in no particular order.

Also, where to host the final Pledge is an open question at this point.

  1. I will respect the privacy of others.
    Ethical bloggers treat sources and subjects as human beings deserving of respect. Avoid publicizing the private contact information of anyone without their informed permission, even if that information is publicly available.
  2. I will make the rules of my site clear and apply them equally
    The beauty of the blog is that posters are known by the content of their character, without regard to group or class membership. State the rules openly, so that all posters are aware of them. Apply the rules the same way to all posters. Site rules may distinguish between groups, but their application should be consistent.
  3. I will not spam
    The practice of posting links to your blog on other, unrelated blogs should be punishable by the removal of all links to your blog, its removal from all search engine caches, and a stern lecture or two.
  4. I will not astroturf
    Astroturfing is the practice of generating the appearance of widespread support among ordinary people. This also applies to the group blogging "splash", in which several people collude to post related stories together at the same time, giving the appearance, at least to the search engines, that a story has greater interest among bloggers than it really has. Post the stories, link to each other, but don't pretend you aren't in it together.
  5. I will not use sock puppets
    A sock puppet is an alternate user name, typically used either to troll or astroturf.
  6. I will not be a troll
    Trolling is posting inflammatory or controversial material on a blog, either to annoy its other users or to generate the appearance of discord. A closely related tactic is mobying: posing as one aligned in spirit with the community of a blog, but making statements that are either subtly or blatantly in discord with it.
  7. I will tell the truth
    Tell the truth as you know it at the time of the post. If you turn out to be wrong, post a correction. [Update 1: I will not seek to remove posts I have made.]
  8. I will give credit where it is due
    If someone deserves a quote, quote them; if you found an interesting post by reading about it somewhere, leave a "hat tip". Attribution can be informal, but if you don't attribute you're just taking credit for information and ideas provided by others, which falls under plagiarism, copyright infringement, or intent to deceive.
  9. I will disclose any relationships between me, my sources, and our topic
    If you cannot disclose your sources, you must reveal any reason they might have to be biased, or describe their level of bias if their reasons might endanger them. If you have a financial or other relationship with a source that might color their information, disclose it. If you have a relationship of any kind with a person or group that is the topic of your post that affects your coverage of the topic, disclose that, as well. [I think this one could say "I will not hide ...", unifying all three cases]
  10. I will highlight corrections no less than the material they correct
    Corrections should be made at least as conspicuous as the initial error. If you know that others have linked to your post containing what you know to be a mistake, you have the burden of passing the correction on to them. Material should not be edited for content once published. Corrections, if they appear with the original, should be set apart as updates, not incorporated seamlessly within it. Quietly correcting typographical, grammatical, or spelling errors is a matter of choice, but the older a post is the more important it is to not to change it.

The mobying, astroturfing, trolling, and sock puppetry points probably need to be refactored somehow, perhaps as a single unified point with "I will tell the truth". In any case those points are vague and should be restated.

Joho the Blog has some interesting notes on the nature of blogs that could lead to additions.


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Sunday, February 11, 2007

The Chief

(Cross-posted at IlliniPundit)

OK, so you know what I am about to say. Well, you have a preconceived idea that I will say one of two things, and you believe that you know all about my point of view, and probably all about me, based on which one of those two directions I go. It's called templating, and if you're like me, you've got your particular Chief template locked in place. It's really, really hard to think clearly using a template, and it's even harder to listen through two: when templates clash, what is said is seldom what is heard.

We all must accept the obligation to show some amount of tolerance, sensitivity, and good faith. Some things should not be tolerated, nor should we avoid vital issues to protect each other's feelings. But each side must prepare to meet with only partial success, or even total failure. Most importantly, each must recognize that the other side is not evil, and each is genuine in its position. Given that framework, it is unlikely that either side will even want total victory.

Speaking of two sided issues, Mom taught me that "there's always an alternative". So let's see what we're all missing by getting caught in the template trap.

One of the sociological purposes of sporting events, especially those on college campuses, is to arrange a ceremonial conflict between one group and another. The football or basketball game stands in loco belli, as a substitute for war, turning some of the aggressive pressure that would otherwise exist between the groups into good-natured rivalry. Hoosiers and Boilermakers. Wolverines and Gophers vie in symbolic conflict for superiority in some contest or another, which translates to the right to claim superiority in a larger sense.

Contests of skill and sport existed in ancient times, though often of a more martial nature. Gladiators, Olympians, and other champions vied to bring glory not only for themselves, but for their group also. The contests were sometimes used as a form of diplomacy, when neither side wanted open war. Native Americans also saw the value in it:

Apart from its recreational function, lacrosse traditionally played a more serious role in Indian culture. Its origins are rooted in legend, and the game continues to be used for curative purposes and surrounded with ceremony. Game equipment and players are still ritually prepared by conjurers, and team selection and victory are often considered supernaturally controlled. In the past, lacrosse also served to vent aggression, and territorial disputes between tribes were sometimes settled with a game, although not always amicably. A Creek versus Choctaw game around 1790 to determine rights over a beaver pond broke out into a violent battle when the Creeks were declared winners. Still, while the majority of the games ended peaceably, much of the ceremonialism surrounding their preparations and the rituals required of the players were identical to those practiced before departing on the warpath.
The right to claim superiority and the notoriety that goes with victory are tacit goals of the athletic contest. For some imperceptive observers, athletic prowess can even spill over to affect academic reputation, positively or negatively. The level of success affects admissions and donations, the raison d'etre for academia and its life blood, respectively. Part of the template for the Pro-Chief side is that the Chief promotes athletic success and alumni loyalty directly, and must be kept for those reasons.

But why the Chief? Why not use some other symbol? The question misses the point completely, because it presupposes incorrectly the purpose of the Chief.

At the time of European contact, the Illiniwek Confederation (or "Confederacy", or "Nation") made the area now known as Illinois their home. Before 1700, they may have numbered between 2000 and 70,000 people, depending on which account is to be believed. After 1800, due to genocidal wars with the Iroquois and others, the Illiniwek Confederacy ceased to be a factor, and many of the tribes were completely gone.

Whether the Illiniwek were destroyed by the hand of the Iroquois, through resource scarcity, or otherwise, it is likely that the historical tsunami of European contact was a major factor in their demise. History happens. Both the Pro-Chief and the Anti-Chief carry this in their template, but in different ways. The Pro-Chief seek to honor the fallen, while the Anti-Chief seek to redress the grievance.

The Pro-Chief template appears to include a view that those who oppose the Chief are political opportunists, seeking change for its own sake, for their own egos, and to enforce political correctness. As if in confirmation, the Anti-Chief home page charges that the Chief is a "stereotypical and racist representation of Native people", implying that part of the the Anti-Chief template is that the Pro-Chief side consists of wholly unrepentant bigots. As I said, stereotyping and templating are the rule for both sides in this controversy.

A stereotype is a simplified model of a group of people who share some characteristics, often used to imply that all the members of the group share those and perhaps other characteristics. Stereotyping uses what logicians call the Fallacy of Division, in which the properties of the whole are imputed to the parts. Stereotypes are almost always in error; the question is to what degree the type does not fit, and by not fitting, insults.

In the case of the Chief we have an explicit stereotype, chosen ostensibly to glorify the ancient Illiniwek peoples. The Chief is cloistered, kept away from anything that would sully his value as an icon. The character is portrayed only at certain specific times, and to use the Chief as a cheerleader or spokesman would detract from his image. The intent is to remind those present of the honor due the great people whose name the State and University bear. The effect of the Chief portrayal is to engender in the Illinois faithful what can best be termed awe.

Through the Chief, the Illini athletic teams are connected symbolically with the Illiniwek warriors of old, and Illini fans with the rest of the ancient Illiniwek. The Chief's portrayal was intended by its creators to honor the memory of the departed Illiniwek people.

The Chief is a gift.

But some who speak for the ancient Illiniwek, with DNA inherited from them or not, reject the gift as an insult. They charge that the images invoked by his dance, dress, and name, the Chief casts all Native Americans as performing dances similar to his. Since his dance is superficially similar to one found in a religious ritual, they charge an implication that all such dances are similar to the Chief's, making his dance a hostile caricature. That is, they infer an intended insult. In any case, part of the offense seems to be that a white man portrays the Chief. They say by all of this that the Chief and his dance are racial and religious slurs.

The template for Chief opponents thus does not allow them to accept with grace the gift that is offered to the memory of the ancient Illiniwek. Conversely, the template for Chief supporters does not allow them see that anyone could reject such a gift. Supporters cannot understand who would deny the ancient Illiniwek the gift of being held in awed reverence, and opponents cannot understand who would pretend respect for the chance to do harm.

But the gift is not offered to those who are now rejecting it; the gift is offered to the memory of those who have made the long voyage across the river. Some slights, even insults, we simply shake off; others, we cannot. The easiest slights to shake off are the unintentional ones, especially those not even ours. Only time will tell which is stronger: the reverence with which the Chief is held, or the disdain for that reverence among those who purport to represent interests of those he symbolizes.

And only the good faith of both sides will make it possible to find an alternative to the templates now seared in place. The Pro-Chief side may have to humbly reach out to those who claim injury, noting that the gift as it has been given up to now may not have been fully appreciated by the ancient Illiniwek. And the Anti-Chief side may have to swallow its pride and, knowing that it is not perfect, accept the gift.

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Friday, February 09, 2007


No one has Integrity.

That may come as a surprise to you, but it shouldn't. It may be a surprise to you that I would start an essay about Integrity by claiming its complete absence from the world, but that absence should not be news. If you believe someone has integrity, either 1) you don't know them or 2) your definition of Integrity lacks clarity or 3) your standards for it are far too low.

Integrity, as some would say, is "doing the right thing when no one is watching". That's a useful description, but falls short as a definition. It also glosses over an alarming split in the meaning of the virtue of Integrity, and of all the virtues. The split generates a lot of confusion, and is at the heart of the culture war.

Integrity means being whole, as in "integrated", having one face in all circumstances, and putting no barrier between oneself and what one believes to be right. It is constancy. Integrity implies trustworthiness and incorruptibility, doing the right thing even at one's own disadvantage, not yielding to temptation.

While both modern American Liberals and Conservatives could probably accept those definitions, their understanding of them would be vastly different. The difference is in their respective views of Virtue. And in their opposition to each other, the Liberal and Conservative camps have each had their view of Virtue corrupted.

People often conflate Integrity with Honesty; though related, they are not synonyms, and may even conflict. To a person whose values require suppressing some piece of information, Integrity may trump Honesty. Ethics (whether for lawyers, doctors, or especially spouses) sometimes demand that we not answer a question forthrightly, which may consequently deceive.

As odd as it may seem, the Golden Rule is fundamentally about Integrity. If you have not heard, the Rule is "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you". Implicit in it is a kind of cause and effect, the Law of the Harvest: our actions, good or bad, may influence the way others treat us. The subjunctive causative ("as you would have them do") indicates a likelihood, but also further implies that we will never be able to force others to treat us as we would like to be treated. The link with Integrity is that actions at one point in time may return to haunt us at another time, or can be the basis for later reward. Our lives are seen as connected in a web of tenuous strands, sometimes invisible, but unwise to ignore.

Liberals show a tendency to "speak out" about every issue, since apparently a failure to do so can harm credibility. Actually, speaking out on every issue just makes it clear that a person values speaking out. If one toes the party line when doing so, his credibility is actually decreased, since people tend to ignore a partisan as lacking any authority.

Integrity to a liberal can loosely be said to mean constancy, but constancy of purpose, rather than constancy of action. What a person does is not as important to liberal as what he says. At least anecdotally, it seems that Integrity to a Liberal means constancy in devotion to liberal causes. I'd be more than happy to be disabused of the belief that to a Liberal, Integrity means the urge to prove oneself Liberal.

Integrity may exist in the most evil: unwilling to admit error even in their most private thoughts, their inmost demons are unleashed on the world.

At any rate, when someone is described as having "integrity", remember what that really means: always true to one's values.

There's something missing from this piece. It doesn't feel finished, but I'm going to post it anyway. Maybe someone will show me what's wrong.

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Wednesday, February 07, 2007


Virtue is an old idea, pondered since ancient times, which has fallen somewhat out of fashion in favor of Tolerance. Speak not of Virtue, even as an ideal, for to do so invites charges of hatred, bigotry, arrogance, and so on. "Bring it on!", say I, for I will speak of Virtue, not just as an ideal, but as a prerequisite for the free society that the minions of tolerance past the point of apoplexy demand.

The seven virtues are traditionally listed as Chastity, Abstinence, Liberality, Diligence, Kindness, Patience, and Humility. But there are others, including but not limited to Honesty, Prudence, Integrity, Thrift, Loyalty, and yes, Tolerance. While some elevate Abstinence or Integrity above the rest, to do is no more proper than stressing Liberality or Tolerance. All virtues have their season, and to set aside one is to set aside all.

In a 2005 Independence Day essay appearing in the WSJ, Darrin McMahon wrote about the "Pursuit of Happiness" in the Declaration of Independence. Putting that phrase in some historical context, he argues that some early American writers did see Happiness simply as enjoying a glass of wine with dinner. But as a student of Aristotle and Cicero, Thomas Jefferson would have held Virtue to be something more,
And yet it is essential to appreciate that Jefferson also held strong views on what constituted the highest source of happiness, the purest pleasure of them all. "Happiness is the aim of life," he affirmed, "but virtue is the foundation of happiness." No 18th-century Founder--whether a Christian, a classicist or a cultivator of simple pleasures--would have disagreed.

Here was the common assumption--what Jefferson called a "harmonizing sentiment"--that united Americans in their differences through the magic of e pluribus unum, making one of many. For in Christian, classical or Lockean terms, virtue at its highest meant serving one's fellow citizens, working for the public welfare, furthering the public good. It followed that virtue was the indispensable means to reconcile the conflicts of individual interest. However else they might differ in their understanding of the critical phrase, early Americans could agree that by pursuing the happiness of others, they helped to ensure their own.

Modern Liberals, a segment which apparently includes McMahon, have taken"virtue at its highest" and turned it into a definition; all virtue consists in furthering the public good. But that defies the historical context of virtue, which is the product of both self-restraint and selflessness, leaning much more heavily on the former. Invoking Aristotle on Virtue without noting self-mastery is a fatal error. He knew, 25 centuries ago, that selflessness divorced from self-restraint is no virtue.

There are many practitioners of one but not the other, dictators and child abusers alike, who spill blood in the street or torture their young for the good of the rest. Deeming their cause to be just, they feel free to commit acts of horror in its pursuit. Too many dissenting voices, too many mouths to feed? Lessons must be taught, and without self-restraint, taught they will be.

While Aristotle's "perfected self-mastery" is perhaps not the highest virtue, it is an egregious error to disregard self-restraint completely. All virtue is some combination of forgoing a short-term reward that would lead to long-term harm and accepting a burden without recompense. Without self-restraint, one cannot forgo anything.

Psychologists call turning down a short-term reward in hope of a larger one "delay of gratification". Delaying gain is not necessarily virtuous, depending on the motivation, but virtues such as Integrity, Thrift, Honesty, and of course Chastity often require delayed gratification in their practice.

But what of Liberality? Liberality, or willingness to give, is different from the other virtues in that loyalty to a greater cause, principle, or most typically, to God, gives motivation to play the part that a higher ideal requires. And yet, Liberality is like the other virtues in the exchange of one good for another, better one.

Selfless giving for the common good may be considered by some the final result of Virtue, but only as a culmination and product of the others. If one gives selflessly but without Thrift, giving money to the rich and good conversation to the poor, what virtue is that? If you feed a child a bowl of soup, but display a lack of Kindness, Humility, Patience, Abstinence, or Honesty while doing so, who profits?

And noting that Selfless Liberality is a virtue of the highest form does not imply that it is the most fundamental virtue, but quite the opposite. Selfless Liberality depends on the other virtues, for without them it is mere bribery at best. And since it depends on the other virtues, it follows a fortiori that asking others to give is not the highest virtue; it fact, it may be quite wicked.

Yet there are many who believe that anything which furthers social justice is virtuous, and anything which does not further it is not virtuous. Seeking justice is a fine thing, but excluding the other virtues, and indeed attacking those who espouse Virtue in its historical sense, is often a self-serving exercise in clinging to personal peccadilloes. If I can't convince you of anything else, at least beware of the hypocrites who demagogue on justice for the oppressed while grabbing for themselves all they can.

The society and nation of justice and liberty we all seek to become must be built on a foundation of people. These people must behave in ways which do not violate each other's rights. That kind of order cannot be imposed, but must flow freely from them. We must become people who love Virtue, who thirst for it, who would rather fail than succeed without it. And thirsting for it, we will succeed; but first, we must agree on what it is.

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Monday, February 05, 2007

Global Warming: Blame George

The Wikipedia article on global warming contains a plot of temperature vs. CO2 levels for the last 650,000 years. Now, it isn't my intention to suggest that Wikipedia is either biased or unbiased, in error or authoritative. But that article does raise the question: what other items correlate well to the rise in temperatures over the last several decades?

To the untrained eye, the plot of CO2 and temperature on recent geological time (the last million years -- a geological coffee break) show that temperature changes have actually tended to precede CO2 changes. It's difficult to see how later events cause earlier ones, but fortunately we have scientists and the UCS to explain these things to us.

Over the time period during which we have evidence, even stronger correlates to the apparent spike in global temperature include:

  1. The number of satellites in orbit (None prior to BG 10, but about 4000 in AG 55)
  2. The number of available television channels (None prior to BG 10, but about 500 in AG 55)
  3. The number of descendants of George Foreman (No DGFs before BG 10, but over 10 in AG 55 )

Note: to study this relationship more carefully, the Georgian system of dates was developed by researchers at the Academy. Years were designated "Before George" (BG) or "After George" (AG), with the year G centered on what was formerly known as 1949, when Mr. Foreman was born.

It is clear that the number of satellites in orbit is in a loosely coupled cause-effect loop with the number of cable channels, which has been funded in a small but significant part by George Foreman. His boxing career and infomercials have had a direct effect on the number of pay-per-view channels and all-night cable telecasts. Indirectly these have led to even more cable channels and satellites as a wave of copycats has pushed the acceptance and demand for the technology.

More work is needed to determine the precise relationship between Mr. Foreman and climate change. No experts have even yet been offered grants to study the phenomenon, nor have votes been taken, so no scientific raw data is available. The data that have been compiled may confirm that Mr. Foreman is partially to blame for Global Warming, including increased hurricane activity that may have led to hurricane Katrina decimating New Orleans.

As stunning as these new revelations are, it is equally surprising that a ban on Mr. Foreman's famed grill, at least under laboratory conditions and for the purposes of further study, has not been proposed. It can only be that the combined forces of political correctness and the Bush Administration's intolerance of scientific advancement have suppressed this information.

It would be irresponsible to do nothing, knowing as much as we do. To sit on our hands while the rapidly increasing number of descendants of George increases, causing even more damage to the planet, is not an option. We must act, before history judges us.

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Friday, February 02, 2007

What's in a Name?

If you're running for President, name recognition is very important. Just ask Mark Foley (via Classical Values):

Local Florida lawmaker Mark Foley has withdrawn his name from consideration for the 2008 presidential nomination, his hometown newspaper reported recently. "It's just no use," Councilman Foley complained. "Everyone thinks I'm that other Mark Foley who solicited underage congressional pages in Washington DC and then blamed it on alcoholism." Foley repeatedly grumbled that, "my campaign just can't overcome that other Mark Foley's name recognition factor."
Anderson Cooper is not Paris Hilton, even though they lack a first name between them. And yet (according to Fox is claiming that they are the same. Neither of them is running for President, a development about which we are all relieved. Well, perhaps not engravers, who would be very busy with plaques reading "President Hilton Slept Here".

A man who is a presidential hopeful, Senator Barack H. Obama (D-IL) has a hard time keeping people from spelling his name "Osama", and and harder time keeping people from spelling out his middle name, which is "Hussein". Not that there's anything wrong with that, really. As Juliet says to Romeo:
'Tis but thy name that is my enemy;--
Thou art thyself, though not a Montague.
What's Montague? It is nor hand, nor foot,
Nor arm, nor face, nor any other part
Belonging to a man. O, be some other name!
What's in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet;
So Romeo would, were he not Romeo call'd,
Retain that dear perfection which he owes
Without that title:--Romeo, doff thy name;
And for that name, which is no part of thee,
Take all myself.
Not really much of a point, here. It's just a namey day today. Must be the weather.

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