Thursday, October 28, 2004

Recent commentary: Proudest achievement

What is America's proudest achievement?

(published 25-Oct-2004, Appleton Post-Crescent)

Simply this: "We hold these truths to be self-evident; that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights; that among these are Life, Libery and the pursuit of Happiness; that to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed." Certainly we have made terrible mistakes through hubris; but the notion that America is to blame for the trouble in the world is arrant nonsense. What country virtually rebuilt the world after World War II? What country is living proof that Marxism was a complete and utter failure? What country is, as P. J. O'Rourke put it, "pig Satan devil," but still the place where people want to go to dental school as soon as they get their green cards? If you didn't answer "The United States of America" to the last three questions then I suggest that you up your medication level.

Recent commentary: Party communication

Which of the two national party conventions was more effective in communicating what the party has to offer?

(published 13-Sep-2004, Appleton Post-Crescent)

Is that what you think conventions are for? Nah! It's Teresa Heinz Kerry vs. Laura Bush and Bill Clinton vs. Arnold Schwarzenegger. You gotta admit that the Terminator had the best one-liner: "Don't be economic girlie-men!" Will it be "Anybody but Bush" or "Jean Francois Kerry?" – you're paying for the show. Might as well enjoy it. H. L. Mencken had it right: "Under democracy one party always devotes its chief energies to trying to prove that the other party is unfit to rule - and both commonly succeed, and are right." Some people can't stand Bush: they don't like his little smirk, or they still believe his election was rigged. Others can't stand Kerry: he's as dull as Al Gore, and they wish he'd shut up about Vietnam. The real question is this: If Clinton REALLY wanted Kerry to be President, why wait until AFTER the Republican convention for bypass surgery, eh?

Recent commentary: Issues

"What's the No. 1 issue in the presidential campaign?"

(published 23-Aug-2004, Appleton Post-Crescent)

1a) The War On Terror: The terrorists of today are like the anarchists of the Victorian era. They will go to any lengths to destroy us. They are implacable. There is no truce. They were our enemies long before 9/11. Appeasement isn't an option: they spit on our peace offerings. Withdrawing isn't an option: they will pursue us into our homes. Our only option is to do our best to defeat them utterly. 1b) The Economy: Some -- mostly Democrats -- insist it's still awful. That puts them in the uncomfortable position of having to downplay every positive thing that's happened as a result of our economic recovery after the Clinton years and 9/11. Bad economic news is good political news for them. 1c) Energy Policy: If there's any way to get OPEC to drink its oil then we go for it.

Recent commentary: Linda Ronstadt

Linda Ronstadt incited near-riot in Las Vegas July 17 by praising Michael Moore during a concert. Who was the biggest loser?

(published 2-Aug-2004, Appleton Post-Crescent)

Some would call this a "violation of freedom of speech." It isn't. She was a paid performer. I rather doubt that any complaint Ms. Rondstadt might have would get very far if she decided to sue. She would just be made to look silly. Certainly if she had said something like, "Lets not forget to support our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan and wherever they may be out there guarding democracy," the reaction would have been quite different. She might have had her membership card in the Left-Leaning Has-Been Chanteuses' guild revoked, but how important is that? As for Moore, every bit of controversy and fuss that's kicked up about his movie means more seats filled in the theatres. He couldn't care less; it's simply yet another opportunity for him to declaim against the President. Capitalism has served him well: about $105 million so far. That ain't chump change.

Recent commentary: Political midpoint

Where is the political midpoint in America?

(published 12-Jul-2004, Appleton Post-Crescent)

Right where it's always been: "Shut yer yap, leave me alone, and stop raising my blankety-blank taxes!" "Political midpoint" implies some sort of political average; but there are simply too many issues: from Iraq to milk subsidies, from Social Security to global warming, and from endangered species to gay marriage...there's no end. These political pendulums all swing at once in different directions. There's no such thing as a viewpoint that encompasses the middle of each swing. You can try to deny it but politics surrounds us, like The Force in Star Wars (think of Yoda lecturing Luke Skywalker): the streets, the air, the water, the parks, the farms, the hospitals, the paraphrase Robert Heinlein, politics is nearly as important as your own heartbeat. If you're one of those who think that other people should be controlled for their own good, these are the salad days for you.

Recent commentary: Reading list

What are you reading right now?

(published 8-May-2004, Appleton Post-Crescent)

"The Second World War" - John Keegan. An excellent writer but in the passive-voice-is-king academic style. No direct punch to the narrative but powerful withal. "Eight Skilled Gentlemen" - Barry Hughart. The third volume in the woefully short Master Li and Number Ten Ox series of fantasy novels. Think Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson having the adventures of Indiana Jones in ancient China. Wonderfully sophisticated comedy, too. "The Great Books" - David Denby. The pushing-50 author, a movie critic for 'New York' magazine, went back to his alma mater, Columbia University, to re-take the 'Great Books' course. Denby lived a fantasy I've had for some time; and he writes beautifully about those incredible books. "Hacking Exposed" - McClure, Scambray, and Kurtz. Hair-raising exposé of what breaking into computer systems is all about -- and why no computer is safe. "Farmer Giles of Ham" - Tolkien. Marvelous medieval fairy tale complete with dragons and giants. "The Skeptic" - Terry Teachout. The definitive biography of America's most trenchant, acerbic, and iconoclastic critic, H. L. Mencken. And, yes, I have bookmarks in them all.

Recent commentary: Fallujah

Should the news media have broadcast and published images of the mutilated corpses of U.S. contractors killed in Iraq?

(published 12-Apr-2004, Appleton Post-Crescent)

If the networks don't broadcast these sorts of images (remember the decapitation of Daniel Pearl? The people in the World Trade Center choosing to jump to their deaths?) then we become too complacent; it becomes too easy to say that the murderers have a reasonable point of view. If we censor the images then we can anesthetize ourselves. The fanatics in Iraq are counting on our squeamishness. They take heart from the ignoble events in Mogadishu and think that Americans have no moral toughness. They see our high-tech weapons and sneer, believing that we would never risk our precious skins, and that if we see our noses being punched often enough that we'll cut and run. Maybe they're right. Maybe we are cowards. But George Bush isn't like Bill Clinton, thank God. I see American soldiers driving tanks into Fallujah and honoring those men by blowing the town to pieces.

Recent commentary: Constitutional Amendment

If you could add an amendment to the U.S. Constitution, what would it be?

(published 25-Mar-2004, Appleton Post-Crescent)

With a tip of the hat to Robert Heinlein, I'd add a "Plain English" Amendment. It would allow a citizen to challenge the constitutionality of any law or regulation -- federal, state, or local -- "on the grounds that it cannot be understood by a person of average intelligence." So, for example, you could challenge the federal budget on the grounds that no one ever reads the whole thing. Or challenge the income tax laws on the grounds that you have to hire an accountant to make heads or tails out of it. Either that or add an Amendment to repeal the 16th Amendment which, of course, authorized the federal income tax in the first place. Or at least pass Representative Ron Paul's bill, HR 1364, requiring every income earner to send monthly income tax checks to Uncle Sam. The federal budget would get cut in a big hurry after that!

Recent commentary: Turnout

What can be done to increase voter turnout?

(published 14-Mar-2004, Appleton Post-Crescent)

Well, we here in Wisconsin could do what California might do: give the vote to 14-year-olds. (California will be its own country by 2050 -- mark my words!) Place a controversial initiative on every ballot: same-sex marriages, money for renovating the Hadzi sculpture, requiring free beer at council meetings, stuff like that. Require mud wrestling during candidate debates. Replace the nice ladies from the League of Women Voters with dancers from BeanSnappers. Allege wide-spread vote fraud and hire a Jimmy Carter look-alike to monitor each polling place. Have a nice tear-off pizza coupon at the bottom of the ballot. Instead of an "I voted" sticker, give away an ice cream cone. A sucker. A dog biscuit. Something. Have a brat fry outside every polling place. Before each election repeal all the laws in a random category -- yeah! Like taxes -- and start fresh afterwards. Or we could require more interesting candidates.