(These ideas are explicated in this sloppy manifesto)

Saturday, December 21, 2002
Merry... merriment!

About my very short Ramblin' Gamblin' Willie story The season's greetings, Mikko Ellilä writes:
Swann, I just read your funny little story:

Do you think it would be better for atheists to use the old English word Yule instead of Christmas? I've noticed most English-speaking atheists use the term Winter Solstice but I think that's a rather boring meteorological and astronomical term, not a real name for a healthy hedonistic celebration. The only words for Christmas in Nordic languages are still the pre-Christian words "joulu" in Finnish, "jõul" in Estonian, "jul" in Swedish and Norwegian etc., and the old English word Yule is obviously related to these.
I think I'm probably the wrong person to ask about this. I have opinions, but I'm not sure they're welcome or worthwhile opinions.

First, I say, "Merry Christmas!" and I make a point of saying "Merry Christmas!" as the issue becomes more controversial in the United States. But I also make a point of saying, "Bless you. Thank you." Those words, that order. I do this not because I believe I can call down the favor of a non-existent god, but because I want for people to feel blessed by the wondrous bounty of rational human life. I think I am best an egoist when I "shed grace," those words, that order, but by grace I don't mean anything unmerited, nor anything super-natural. In short, I don't think that just because the concepts of reverence have been usurped by religion that we should therefore relinquish them for our own proper use. The 'self' of my self-reverence is not my body, not my estate or pecuniary interests, but the self, the ego, the idea of my life that is my life in the most fundamental respect. The highest state of human consciousness, in my formulation, is an enduring self-adoration. Merriment is a byproduct of that, secondary but inescapable, like a cascade of orange blossoms, like the unrepeatable scent of a cascade of orange blossoms.

Second, I don't know that my atheism is all that robust. Agnostic means 'without knowledge,' and that would be more than enough to suit my needs if the damnable agnostics didn't insist on insisting that agnostic means 'unknowable.' Atheism means 'without god' and that suits me fine, except that the damnable atheists always seem to me to be saying that the universe cannot possibly be an artifact, a made thing, and I think a position like that, while possible, outstrips the evidence by a large and possibly insuperable quantity. I'm stuck between know-nothings and know-it-alls, and, even if I'm being unfair to both, I don't feel comfortable with either label. I much prefer to call myself an egoist, second because I don't worship any god outside myself, but first because I worship enduringly the god that is my self. But I complicate things further by going to Mass every week, and I can say big chunks of the Eucharist in Latin. And I spend the whole Christmas season (and much of the rest of the year) singing "Adeste fidelis" in Latin, just because I think it is an amazingly beautiful song. At the same time, when I read this from your mail:
And the day will come, when the mystical generation of Jesus, by the Supreme Being as His Father, in the womb of a virgin, will be classed with the fable of the generation of Minerva, in the brain of Jupiter. --Thomas Jefferson
I nod my head in complete agreement for both parts of the argument: To attend to apocryphal stories as anything but stories is foolish, but nevertheless some apocryphal stories, such as that of Athena/Minerva, are great stories. In any case, while I am technically an atheist, at least as regards extra-egoic gods, I am nevertheless among and of the Christians, and I don't--and don't wish to--shun or snub or exclude them.

Third, while I generally don't have much good to say about Pope Sneakoff, Intellectual Error of the Holy Church of the Undying Dead Woman, nevertheless I think this Leonard Peikoff article is pretty good:
Christmas in America is an exuberant display of human ingenuity, capitalist productivity, and the enjoyment of life.
I have no trouble at all picturing Missy Rand, all bundled up in her mink, taking in with enraptured delight the ingenuity and effervescence of the Christmas displays in the windows of Lord & Taylor in New York. Singing, laughing, skipping through streets lightly dusted with snow--the lights, the colors, the scent of pine in the air--these are the things of Christmas, and I think the right thing for an egoist to do--for this egoist anyway--is to rejoice in them.

My answer is that the delights of Christmas ought not be wasted because the season is also claimed by people who pursue nothing but misery. Peace on Earth and glad tidings to all men, egoists take the foremost.

Merry Christmas!

Brin and bear it...

My friend Mike Arst calls my attention back to the David Brin essay from Salon, though Mike should not be blamed for what I am saying here.

A very brief summary of Brin's thesis might be: "Why, movie audiences, do you revel in a fancied Romantic past of tradition, hierarchy and majestical but imaginary trappings when you are fortunate enough to live in an Enlightned present of innovation, democracy and fantastical but real technology?"

The next level of argument with Brin, which Mike calls me to even though he is not to be blamed--honest!--is this: In what way is the post-Enlightenment lack of freedom to be distinguished from the full-Feudal lack of freedom?

Digest this atrocity from before answering. Is a (possibly) statist-induced caesarian section so different from le droit de seigneur?

What I said to Mike, and what I will say with greater clarity, in due course, is this:

There is a better argument in there and it would include all of genre art, including 'forward-looking' science fiction. And all the flavors of fatalism. And other stuff. The argument is that escape, as such, is the antithesis of engagement-with-reality, and the will-to-escape is the soil in which tyranny takes root. Whether the flight is to Star Trek (ugh!) or to Middle Earth, it is reality that is abandoned to the tyrants, who will gleefully take it uncontested.
The bottom line is that I think the Brin essay is best by omission: What he missed is much more interesting, to me at least, than what he hits...

Friday, December 20, 2002
Lott crumbles...

I saw it this way on Saturday:
In all honesty, I fully expect Trent Lott to cave. He would not be a politician if he were not first a coward. He's just waiting for the worst possible moment to flee from his principles, assuming he has any.
Say what you want about Clinton. At least he had balls...

I hope Senator Lott finds peace this Christmas. I am sure those who ganged up on him will come to regret their savagery. To feed the beast is to become in due course the food of the beast...

They eat their own, don't they?

Proving that only the last surviving cannibal will die hungry, there is this from Human Events:
Bill Frist (R.-Tenn.), reportedly the White House choice to succeed Trent Lott (R.-Miss.) as Senate majority leader, is a major shareholder in HCA, a for-profit hospital chain founded by his father and brother. HCA reportedly provides abortions to its customers.

So now Republicans face this question: If it is disqualifying for their Senate leader to make offensive remarks interpreted as endorsing an immoral policy that denied African-Americans equal rights, is it also disqualifying for their Senate leader to make money from a hospital chain that denies unborn babies the right to life?
It's not noted in the article, and Americans do their very best to never to think about it, but a massively disproportionate number of abortion victims are black. This in turn results in a much greater risk for black women of getting breast cancer, another issue American feminists trumpet in preference to noticing that Islamic women and black babies are being slaughtered. But: While the Republicans may eat their own over this, you can be sure the feminists will not...

Where are they?

Mike Schneider of American Liberty pointed me to this priceles piece of peace, reported by Reuters from Lahore, Pakistan:
Pakistan's leading rights group said on Sunday it was shocked at the public humiliation of a woman councillor beaten and paraded naked through a village on the orders of a powerful landlord.

The News on Sunday newspaper said the incident happened on December 7 in a village near Sialkot, an industrial town north of Lahore.

It said in an ordeal that lasted several hours, the woman, the widowed mother of seven, was beaten, stripped and paraded naked through the village by the landlord and his sons after she refused to back his candidate in a local election.
But wait. There's more. This is from another Reuters story:
Suspected Muslim militants have killed three young women in their homes just days after posters appeared in India's Jammu and Kashmir state ordering women to wear a veil, police say.

Two of the women, both aged 21, were shot dead in their house in Rajouri district in the south of the revolt-torn Muslim-majority state on Thursday night. The third woman, 22, was taken away and beheaded, an official said.

"There is a possibility these killings are linked with the diktat on dress code. We have sent a police party," he said.

Posters signed by a little known group, Lashkar Jabbar, appeared in Rajouri town and neighbouring villages asking women not to step out of their homes without a veil, the official said.

More than a dozen guerrilla groups are fighting Indian rule in Jammu and Kashmir, which is at the heart of more than 50 years of hostility with Pakistan. A few groups in the past have ordered women in the Kashmir valley to wear a veil, but the order was largely ignored.

The Lashkar Jabbar sprayed acid on two women in Kashir's main city, Srinagar, last year for defying its Islamic dress code.

The group then had threatened to shoot Muslim women if they failed to wear veils. It ordered women from the minority Hindu community to wear a traditional "bindi", the coloured dot on the forehead, and those in the Sikh community should cover their heads with saffron-coloured cloth.
Now, obviously, the most important issue in the feminist cosmos is whether or not female billionaires can join their male counterparts as full members in the Augusta National Golf Club. But it is unwarranted to conclude from this outsized irrelevance that feminism has been sucked into the vortex of Fermi's Paradox ("Where are they?"). To the contrary. It is surely at least as important to bemoan a tyranny of body image that is so visciously patriarchal that men not only force women to define and defend it in magazines, they then force women to buy and devour those magazines. What cads! And then there's the Glass Ceiling. And those unscrupulous car dealers who charge women more just because they were not taught how to bargain by their vicious, patriarchal fathers. And capricious, nefarious judges who might, at any random moment, deprive women of the 'choice' to commit the single most barbaric act possible to a human being. And--always, always, always--the men who won't do dishes or change diapers. How could anyone expect American feminists to spare a thought for the women of Islam, who are regularly tortured and killed in public, and who are routinely tormented and persecuted by a religion that is fundamentally anti-woman?

The fact is that the feminist movement is simply the Ladies Auxilliary of the communist movement. Crimes against women in countries communists stand a chance of taking over are bad. Forced abortions in communist China are good. And Islam is the enemy of communism's enemy, Western freedom, so the feminist movement is otherwise occupied. So don't ask, "Where are they?" In the American left as in Islam, a woman's place is in her place.

Thursday, December 19, 2002
Latest Trent Lott Deathwatch Index... down almost 200 entries to 4,630. The tide has turned. Regardless of what happens, I think we can predict with confidence that Trent Lott will never exceed a "Say WHUT?" on the American mental radar screen. What greater ignominy, to fail so utterly at ignominy...

Lost in space and time with Cain and Abel

Andrew Breese takes me to task for my remarks on the David Brin essay discussed below:
It surprises me a little to see you emphasize the Enlightenment history over the philosophy in the Tolkien essay.

I see Brin, and that essay in particular, as strenuously advancing individualism/reason/Splendor through popular culture.

It's the philosophical stuff I care about. Honestly, I don't typically care about whether each strand of Good started with the Greeks or the Italians. Unless I'm looking at history to figure our specific principles of causation or something, how does it matter to us today? History is a giant experiment, yes, and as anthro-apologists *grin* we ignore it at our peril -- but does it really matter whether historical inaccuracies (as opposed to philosophical ones) creep into Salon articles??
Okay, I'll meet Brin on his own terms. In one word no less: "Armageddon." Science fiction, action, adventure, romance, space, heroism, epic self-sacrifice--every scrap of cheesy Hollywood crap rolled up in one big cheese-ball blockbuster. The film owes so much to Robert A. Heinlein that it should pay royalties to his estate: It starts in the middle with hugely larger-than-life-yet-likeable characters, races through the intense action without a pause for breath, and dumps schmaltz by the Shuttle-load on the viewer at the end. Looked at through Brin's lenses it is simultaneously Romantic and Enlightened. Bruce Willis sacrifices his own life to preserve a tableaux of unchanging images that owes royalties to the estate of Norman Rockwell. Yet the film is so forward-looking that Ben Affleck pumps Liv Tyler full of babies--triplets, at least--right before he Shuttles off to save the world. Even the inversion of the title--'the end of the world' is the beginning of everything--tickles the Brin-bone.

But: So what?

Brin wings but doesn't bring down an idea he quotes from Lev Grossman:
"Popular culture is the most sensitive barometer we have for gauging shifts in the national mood, and it's registering a big one right now. Our fascination with science fiction reflected a deep collective faith that technology would lead us to a cyberutopia of robot butlers serving virtual mai tais. With 'The Two Towers,' the new installment of the 'Lord of the Rings' trilogy, about to storm the box office, we are seeing what might be called the enchanting of America. A darker, more pessimistic attitude toward technology and the future has taken hold, and the evidence is our new preoccupation with fantasy, a nostalgic, sentimental, magical vision of a medieval age. The future just isn't what it used to be -- and the past seems to be gaining on us."
Brin's answer to this is that most science fiction films are dystopias, which is true but irrelevant. The better answer is that 'popular culture' is the tail of the dog. "Armageddon," the blockbuster cheese-ball that missed the Earth, is only four years old. To imply that consumer response to trends in film-making owes to anything other than a susceptibility to hype is absurd. It is surely true that most Americans are dour, fatalistic, superstitious luddites some of the time. It is also true that most Americans are optimistic, rational, skeptical technophiles some of the time. It is difficult for me to discount the possibility that some significant fraction my countrymen are completely suggestible wills-o'-the-wisp, the adorable and enthusiastic Labrador Retrievers of the human race. In any case, I don't see how any more meaning than that kind of suggestibility can be imputed to their ephemeral buying patterns. "Armageddon" one day, "The Two Towers" then next. Raves about the special effects for both. And a big round of yawns for any sort of philosophy.

And, of course, since I am in league with the Greeks, I have a name for this non-philosophy philosophy: Cynicism. This would fit, actually, with Brin's critique of Romanticism, though not in any pursuit of positive values. It's a closer cousin to Nihilism, I think. And my best-ever Cynicism joke--one which I think is completely appropriate in this context--is: Ninety percent of all Cynicism is FAKE! Note that I touched twice on dogs in the preceding paragraph. This is because the Greek root of 'cynic' is kynikos, which means 'dog-like'. Whether by their appetites or their enthusiasms, dogs, especially Labradors, are very easily led.

Here is a artistic and cultural paradigm that occurred to me as I was reading Brin's essay: Cain and Abel. I shelved it last night because it is too big for what I was doing then. It is too big for what I am doing now. I intend to have a lot more to say about Cain and Abel, once I figure out what I mean.

The Cain and Abel stories we remember and tell don't bear much relation to the originals in Genesis and the Koran. We call Abel the good guy, because he was pleasing to god and because he was slaughtered by Cain, the bad guy de facto. But Abel is pleasing to God because his sacrifice is livestock, where Cain's, displeasing to God, is grain.

Why is that interesting?

We need a root. 'Immolation' is Latinized word that means to make a sacrifice to the gods. Americans know the word best from the Vietnam war, and more than a few believe 'immolation' means to commit suicide by burning oneself to death as an act of protest. This is incorrect. Molitum in Latin means having ground grain. The Romans added in for intensification, elided that to im for euphony, and vowel-shifted the compound verb for reasons unknown, bringing forth immolatum, which to the Romans meant having sprinkled a coarse flour on the feet of a sacrificial victim. We are following tedious and boring strands of ancient ideas in order to discover some very important things about Cain and Abel:

Abel was a nomad, a shepherd following his flocks. Cain was a farmer, fixed to a plot of land. Abel was a traditionalist, doing what all his (ahem) predecessors had done before him. Cain was an innovator, doing things never done before. Abel roamed the deserts. Cain was bound to the markets of the city. Abel's wealth consisted of tangible chattels. Cain's wealth was speculative, a thing of hopes and promises. Abel was a warrior, defending his own moveable estate by combat and vengeance. Cain was a merchant, depending for his defense on specialists, with his defense often being effected by means of compensation and reconciliation.

Abel made a sacrifice of a lamb, thus establishing to God that he was a true Semite. Cain made a sacrifice of grain, demonstrating to god that he had been Hellenized. Forget the murder. The 'bad guy,' from the storyteller's point of view, always does bad things. The point of the story of Cain and Abel is this:

Abel was from Jerusalem or Mecca. Cain was from Athens.

Abel was the fixed, the unquestioning, the unchanging--and thus was favored by the fixed, unquestionable, unchangeable doctrine. Cain was the fluid, the inquisitive, the innovative--the horrifyingly Greek--and thus his offering of the fruits of agriculture, of urbanization, of task-specialization, of commerce, of speculation, of peaceful dispute resolution--his offering of all the fruits of reason--was spurned by God.

From Brin's perspective, Abel is a Romantic, a champion of tradition, of hierarchy, of vengeance. Cain is Enlightened, the advocate of reason, of democracy, of peace. From my own broader view, Abel is the East and Cain is the West.

And that whole thing is just an interpretation of a very old story, one I'm not even sure I'm finished with. There are many other interpretations, some of which tell the story from exactly the opposite direction.

What Brin seems to be saying is, "Hey Americans, stop celebrating this creepy imaginary feudalism. What you have in real life is much cooler." I agree with the sentiment, and I think Andrew does, too. Where I differ is that I don't think the remnants of the Enlightenment are doing very much to sell the power and beauty and glory of real life. And, for good or ill, the modern American consumer must be sold before he will buy. "Armageddon" does the job in its way, and Heinlein did it much better. If Tolkien has a transient appeal to contemporary audiences it may be less because they are Romantic or Eastern, the dutiful children of dutiful Abel. More likely the cause is that the children of Cain, ever scourged but ever triumphant, have failed to reproduce the fundamental beauty that is the Enlightenment, that is the West.

I don't even like 'bad guys.' Not the bad guys who displease the gods and kill their brothers, and not the bad guys who cling to the safe and comfortable past, refusing to learn and change and grow. My ideal story is about smart, talented, scrupulous people and how they pursue moral perfection by manifesting their principles in their lives. I believe in an art that embodies the Splendor of reason, of egoism, of individualism, of free commerce. An art that makes physical the passion of Evangelical Hellenism.

The point is this: If the artist is himself truly enthralled by his vision, then enthralling the audience ought to come easily.

The Trent Lott Deathwatch Index...

...stands at 4,820 this morning. The piling-on has peaked. Whatever President Bush and Lott's rivals for the majority leader position might want, the fact is that Lott only has to last another 30 hours or so to last through to the New Year. What happens to him on January 6 is another story, but it seems likely that nothing will happen to him until January 6.

And... The next new moon is January 2. This is the darkest night of the lunar month, the ideal day for a co-ordinated air and ground assault on Iraq. And the Bush administration's crack rope-a-dope disinformation team insists that the war won't go live before late January. All of this makes me wonder if there might be actual news to report after the holidays. Doesn't mean Lott would survive in the distraction, but his chances would surely improve.

And... I have the idea that this Trent Lott pile-on is the Big-Boy-Pants issue for the blowflysphere, the temper tantrum that is to prove that webloggers are just as much big babies as the mainstream media. What will it do to them should Lott make it to January 7 unpunctured? Oh, the injustice of it all...

Fantasizing reality...

I hate fantasy. Not fantasy-as-elaborate-day-dreaming, but the kind of wretched, endlessly regurgitated sword-and-sorcery crap exemplified by the books of J.R.R. Tolkien. My friend Andrew Breese send me a link to this wonderful Salon article by David Brin, yet it was all I could do to finish the damn thing, so much do I hate fantasy. But Brin, author of The Postman, among other science fiction novels, is worth the effort:
Indeed, the popularity of this formula is deeply thought-provoking. Millions of people who live in a time of genuine miracles -- in which the great-grandchildren of illiterate peasants may routinely fly through the sky, roam the Internet, view far-off worlds and elect their own leaders -- slip into delighted wonder at the notion of a wizard hitchhiking a ride from an eagle. Many even find themselves yearning for a society of towering lords and loyal, kowtowing vassals.
Brin writes with such enthusiasm for the Enlightenment that I am impelled to catalog my caveats: 'Every king a man' is a good and useful and truthful proposition, but its transmorgrification to 'every man a king' has not had happy consequences. In the same way, our once-sweet sisters have turned 'biology is not destiny' into 'biology is not anything', an 'enlightened' lie. Yet Brin points out how his contrary proposition, Romanticism, leads to Naziism and Tolkien's wretched re-fried feudalism. It leaves me thinking that Brin's binoculars are missing some lenses--that there are more paradigms for art (and culture) than Brooding Romantics versus Enlightened Pragmatists. But still, Brin sings a song I admire:
Enlightenment, science, democracy and equal opportunity are still the true rebels, reigning for just a few generations (and still imperfectly) in one or two corners of the Earth, after elite chiefs, romantic bards and magicians dominated our ancestors for maybe half a million years.
Now there's a brand new species of polical incorrectness encoded therein: Celto/Gallocentrism. There was no Athens for Brin, nor was there a Rome, notwithstanding the fact that it was the Greeks and Romans and the devolutions of Vulgate Latin that made possible the Celtic and Gallic civilizations. 'Enlightened' London gave herself a sewer system by rediscovering and reopening the sewers built in Roman Londinium before the Nazarene was born. Again we're missing lenses, I think.

But even so, the article is worth reading, and not just because I like to see fantasy being shredded.

The Christmas of the un-dead...

Four years ago today, the House of Representatives voted out articles of impeachment for President William Jefferson Clinton. I wrote a bunch of Ramblin' Gamblin' stories during the Clinton scandals. Most of them are funny, but this one, Christmas at the cemetery--with Bubba is the closest Brother Willie has ever come to unvarnished tragedy:
"The cemetery is full of tragic stories," I went on, "but not one of them is as tragic as yours. Not Macbeth, not Lear, not the drunken Bacchus, not Faust--none of those stories is as sad as yours. They might have died from their corruption, but your corruption forbade you even to live... The historians will write about the loss of your presidency and the loss of your dignity, the loss of your mansion and your family and your things, your trinkets and ornaments. They'll write about the loss of your place in history--as if that could matter in any way at all. But the tragedy of your life has nothing to do with that. Your life doesn't depend on losing your job or keeping it. You have no life. You snuffed it out--and not for power or prestige or money or love or the adulation of the uncritical masses. You killed your self, the one true spark of your life, and you did it for nothing. Not even to be seen as being the man you know you're not--for nothing."
I think this is probably true in a smaller way for Senator Trent Lott, as well. As much as I despise these men, what they stand for and what they do, still do I mourn for their lives of living-death. What a wondrous gift is the mind, and what a tragedy, to set it against itself...

Anyway, a toast to the men who did their best to rid us of a pestilence far worse than Lott. Here are a couple of cocktails, neither of which appeared on my web page. The first, Monica's song, is a campy girl-group song about the very early stages of the Clinton/Lewinsky scandal. The second, How to expose your contradiction, is a Willie story about Clinton's court-ordered flashing to establish the "identifying mark" Paula Jones said she had seen on the President's staff, so to speak. (That particular inglorious incident is also addressed in Bubba Borgia.) To the House Managers and to the Congressmen who dared to stand for something! And to Clinton and Lott, too: May they dare to live the truth!

Wednesday, December 18, 2002
Lott and liberty...

Admonishing me, seemingly, for my admiration of Trent Lott's obstinacy, John Sabotta asks:
Why should anyone refrain from calling for him to step down just because he is bravely defending a despicable principle?
It remains to be seen whether Lott is defending any sort of principle. I'm inclined to think he is not. Never has. Never will. But that doesn't seem very important to me. What is important as a matter of politics is this: Is what Lott is doing of value to those who seek liberty, irrespective of his conscious intent? And: Are the objectives of those who seek liberty advanced or retarded by their joining in the demand for his resignation?

I should say that I am much more interested in the personal and dramatic details of this story than in its political portents. As I argued in Hang tough, I think yielding to the demands of the mob is a poor idea, assuring only that the mob will make more, and more-irrational, demands. But I am an egoist first, and I think that human beings should never volunteer for their own immolation. Sabotta argues that, since Lott sullied himself by becoming a politician, he is now obliged to fall on his sword in order to "follow the rules of that game". I don't see how that follows, but, again, I don't see the importance of the argument. Are libertarians condemned to follow the rules of a game they resist, reject, condemn, denounce, and oppose? Are we just more suck-flies of the blowflysphere, with no hope that anyone will take us seriously unless we fly in formation with the rest of the carrion-eaters?

If Trent Lott resigns as majority leader of the Senate will taxes be reduced by even a penny? Will the state get out of our businesses? Out of our bedrooms? Will FBI thugs stop murdering innocents? Will America's children be released from the indoctrination centers in which they are imprisoned? Will the drug laws be repealed? Will a racially-enlightened federal government suddenly discover that the worst enemy black Americans have ever known is that self-same federal government? Is there any goal of those who seek liberty that will be advanced in any way at all by Lott's abdication?

The Republicans are whining that a weakened Lott will inhibit the implementation of their agenda. Are there any libertarians who will argue that this is a bad thing. Under the cover of the trivial chatter that affects to be news, President George Bush has announced that a goal of his second term will be to impose Rotarian Socialism on the Federal Government. State functions will be 'privatized,' which means that police powers will be sold to politically-favored campaign donors, leading eventually to endless Enron-like scandals. Where the failures of ordinary Socialism serve to denounce Socialism, the failures of Rotarian Socialism denounce Capitalism, which it superficially resembles. Are there libertarians who are in a hurry to see the state become an agent of anti-Capitalist propaganda as an unintended consequence?

Is it actually plausible to argue that Trent Lott's reluctance to resign, whether principled or truculent, is bad for the cause of human liberty?

From the other direction, making ourselves party to mob rule, even if for principled, well-intentioned reasons, is surely a mistake. We are the witches who are to be burned at the pyre, not the inconsequential Trent Lotts of the world. In the relatively free countries of the West, libertarians are often hounded and forbidden to work. In the polities where mob rule is all the rule there is, libertarians are jailed for years on end. And there is an easily-understood reason why no word of freedom ever emerges from the darkest corners of the Earth. For lovers of liberty, to feed the beast is to become in due course the food of the beast.

Conceivably, some feel the need to excoriate Lott for expressing the baldest (and therefore least insidious) kind of racism. That strikes me as counting coup, which in its aboriginal form was the baldest (and therefore most obvious) kind of mob rule. In any case, where the federal government effects a vicious racism not by segregation but by the incubus of the Welfare State--by the war on black youth that is the War on Drugs--by the inescapable plantations of ignorance created by the public school monopoly--by the unending war on marriage and family brought about by the War on Poverty--where the federal government does all that to seize and destroy the values of black Americans, making a point of spitting at a racist jackass seems like a vanity to me.

I think hanging tough is the right thing for Trent Lott to do--to preserve his dignity as man, to exercise his rights as a free moral agent and to oppose the rule of the shrieking mob. But I also think it is vain to argue that Lott's hanging tough is in some way bad for liberty or libertarians. Clearly, just the opposite is true.

Repeating Sabotta's question:
Why should anyone refrain from calling for him to step down just because he is bravely defending a despicable principle?
I don't know why a hypothetical anyone should refrain from demanding Lott's resignation, but I know why libertarians should:

Because leaving Lott where he is advances our principles, or at least impedes the advancement of those who are against our principles.

And because joining the mob, for any reason, advances a principle that is against us.

Tuesday, December 17, 2002
Hangin' tough in Pascagoula

Trent Lott, quoted in The Washington Post:
"I am the son of a shipyard worker from Pascagoula, Mississippi. I have had to fight all of my life and I am not stopping now," Lott declared.
Damn straight. If they're going to kill you, make them kill you.

There are other things to consider: As the Post says, the Bush administration has 'pulled the plug' on Lott. Should he survive despite that vote of no confidence, the Senate's position with respect to the White House will be much improved. Likewise with the race pirates, the press and the blowflysphere: If he can weather this withering, all of us will be that much safer from mobs of shrieking savages.

My opinion on Saturday was that he was gutless, and last night's demurrers on BET were not inspiring. But Lott can best silence all shrieks by being scrupulously race-neutral, which must entail always pointing out the racism of race piracy. The remarks by Justice Clarence Thomas last week on cross-burning seemed odd to me. Whatever one might have done in 1925, surely the best answer to cross-burning today is to burn more and more and more crosses, until the stunt is exposed as being utterly meaningless. Likewise, Lott should so thoroughly foreswear his racist past that he will abide not one hint of racism to pass unremarked. Ain't no zealot like a convert.

The Trent Lott Deathwatch Index is at 4,470, but it's possible the worst is over. I don't like the guy. Never have. I think most Republicans are about as bad as Lott in one way or another. But I admire guts wherever I find it, and any man who can withstand this onslaught cannot be all bad. Hang tough, Senator. "Do your worst. I will not kneel." Whatever befalls you, you won't have volunteered for it. On my planet, we call that integrity.

That's why they call it chutzpah...

Sheema Khan, chairperson of the Canadian arm of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, writing in The Toronto Globe and Mail, demonstrates just how well they understand us:
We can continue to use superficial, injurious terminology to the detriment of many. Or we can insist on using accurate language, firmly rooted in universal concepts that nourish the desire for fair and frank debate.
Her complaint is that Islamic terms-of-art like fatwa and jihad are being Westernized by subtle shadings of misuse. Tell that one to the French! A fatwa is not really a fatwa, says she, when it is subsequently revoked. And if Osama bin Laden says blowing up the World Trade Center is jihad, then he is the Weakest Link. A jihad, Khan insists, is always a defensive act. Tell that one to the Israelis...

You see, the problem is not jet planes being kamikazied (oops!) into skyscrapers. It's not non-fatwa homocide bombings in Bali or non-jihad rioters in Nigeria. The problem is that Westerners are using Arabic words in ways that imply that some Muslims are indiscriminate psychopaths avidly engaged in senseless wanton slaughter. How could anyone arrive at such a misapprehension...?

Khan is blowing smoke, but at least it's not mixed with the dust and rubble of an explosion. However, I would be happy to accomodate her. I am willing to preserve the purity of Islamic terms that have senses other than murder and vengeance, even though the West's only acquaintance with those terms, and only interest in them, comes from their use by Muslims to rationalize murder and vengeance. English is a much richer language than Arabic, after all, and Latin is bursting with terms for murder and vengeance.

So, in the interest of "accurate language, firmly rooted in universal concepts that nourish the desire for fair and frank debate":

Psychopathic Muslims: Stop slaughtering innocents.

Non-psychopathic Muslims: Either start turning the psychopaths over to the authorities or stop trying to get us to believe you are not party to their slaughter.

Islam means submission. In every sense...

But wait... It is Christmas...

...and our Christmas card is available on the web. The net version of our card gets more elaborate every year, as we add more and more links to our family pages--including our Christmas cards from prior years. I actually don't put a lot of importance to what I call "being a body"--the animal part of being a rational animal--but I love my family, and I love showing them off. Merry Christmas!

The Trent Lott Deathwatch Index...

...stands at 4,020 at this writing. The pace seems to be slowing. Could be somebody discovered it's Christmas. It could happen.

Monday, December 16, 2002
Even you, my son?

This is from Drudge:
"The best scenario is for Lott to come to the obvious conclusion himself and avoid a painful confrontation."
But I would swear it was swiped from the mouth of Marcus Junius Brutus on Ides of March Eve. Will Lott have the guts to make them draw the long knives? Sic semper tyrannis, either way. I much prefer Suetonius to Drudge.

Pollsters pile on Lott

Thoroughly unpredictable poll results from The Washington Post:
Just over half in a new poll say Trent Lott should step down as Republican leader of the Senate after his racially charged comments, while four in 10 say he should keep the job.
Now this is obviously bogus. Even with the Trent Lott Deathwatch Index standing at 3,730 as I write, some significant number of those polled surely said, "Whuh?" in reponse to the poller's questions. And so what, anyway? We live in a republic, or at least we used to. I hope the man hangs tough. Wouldn't that be a wonder, to see a Republican with a spine?

Go figure...

From The Washington Post:
First he won the popular vote; now Al Gore has won the Nielsen race as well.

NBC's Dec. 14 edition of "Saturday Night Live," hosted by the former vice president, scored the sketch show's best household ratings of the season in the top "metered" markets, and ranked as its best performance since last February (an episode hosted by Britney Spears).
On Saturday he displays a personality no one ever suspected him of having, then on Sunday he drops out of the presidential sweepstakes...

It was a mystery until today, when I heard him on the radio: He skipped his dosage on Saturday. He was back on the meds today, and back on the reservation.

Inexplicable zeitgeist strikes again!

For the second time, Andrew Sullivan seems to have lifted ideas from these pages without attribution. Is this an affirmation of his own outsized claims about the impact of the blowflysphere? Or am I seeing faces in clouds, which is what I suspect he is doing when he makes those outsized claims? You decide.

Today's equating of Trent Lott to Bernard Law seems to me to resound of work I did Saturday. Of course, Sullivan gets it all wrong, but he doesn't actually work on weekends.
Yet somehow their psyches and souls couldn't move fast enough. They could say the right words, but their records showed something else.
That much is very interesting. It unwttingly reflects the idea that made David Reisman (not-very-)famous, the notion that, to a population tuned to people rather than to principles, saying "the right words" and moving "fast enough" to keep up with The Lonely Crowd is what matters. Having done the right thing is nothing. Appearing to have done the right thing is everything. Principled people who cannot understand how Bill Clinton survived so much worse than is claimed of Lott should take note.
Soon, they became symbols of something deeply wrong with two institutions - the Catholic Church and the Republican Party. And their removal became essential for both institutions to recover.
I'm sure this is wrong in both cases, but the Senate will or will not carry out its own (white-)trash. For the Roman Catholic Church to respond to or even deign to notice pressure from the parishes, the press or the public is to betray itself utterly. In the United States and England there is a church that says the Tridentine Mass and yet encourages gay priests and gay marriages and responds to the pressures and fashions of the laity. It's called the Anglican church. That experiment doesn't need repeating; it wasn't such a boon the first time.

Finally we have this:
This is therefore not the time for gloating or personal condemnation.

If Sullivan is borrowing from me, would that he did a better job of it...

Sunday, December 15, 2002
The regime-change will be televised...

Jazz musician Gil Scott Heron famously announced in 1974 that "The revolution will not be televised." The observation itself was wrong even then: The first--and often only--thing a revolutionary cabal does to take over a third world country is capture the radio and television stations. The left is undeservedly famous for understanding the media, this notwithstanding the fanatical Ludditism for which the left is deservedly more famous. The Clinton adminstration was often credited with a deft media savvy, that notwithstanding the massacres in Mogadishu and Waco. In any case, consider this news from England's Independent:
With an armoury including satellite imagery that can distinguish a tank from a bus, even through thick cloud, to microwave bombs that can destroy electrical and computer systems without hurting civilians, military planners preparing for war [in Iraq] are confident that any strike would be completed in little more than a week.
There are even cooler weapons than the ones discussed here, but the weaponry is not the news of the coming war. The news is: Television. This war will be quick, so Americans can watch it on television without getting bored. This war will be very hi-tech, so Americans can watch it on television with astounded delight. This war will be very precise and stunningly effective, so Americans can watch it on television without attending to the complaints of the inevitable protesters. And this war will be virtually bloodless, on our side, so that Americans can watch it on television without a second thought.

These are not virtues, or not wholly undiluted virtures, but they do betray the extent to which the Bush administration understands television in a way that neither Clinton nor anyone of the left ever has. The regime change will be televised. And the ratings will be huge...

Sullivan's travails...

What a piece of work is this vicious teenage girl! Referring to a sloppy use of the word 'fulsome' in an article about Trent Lott in Newsweek, Andrew Sullivan says:
From the dictionary:
1. Offensively flattering or insincere. See Synonyms at unctuous.
2. Offensive to the taste or sensibilities.
But this time, completely on target.
Alas, he omits the explanatory matter from that dictionary entry:
Usage Note: Fulsome is often used to mean “offensively flattering or insincere.” But the word is also used, particularly in the expression fulsome praise, to mean simply “abundant,” without any implication of excess or insincerity. This usage is etymologically justified but may invite misunderstandings in contexts in which a deprecatory interpretation could be made. The sentence I offer you my most fulsome apologies may raise an eyebrow, where the use of an adjective like full or abundant would leave no room for doubt as to the sincerity of the speaker's intentions.
The writer of the Newsweek reference made an honest mistake. No imputation of honesty can be made for Sullivan.

Welcome to the internet, Andrew. Don't even try to tell lies here.

Answering savagery...

My Ramblin' Gamblin' Willie stories are sometimes misunderstood by readers. As an example, "Where there's smoke, there's firepower" is often presumed to be about cigarettes, when in fact it's about the Clinton/Reno massacre at Waco. I've written about press pile-ons before. "The Clinton Deathwatch News" deals with events very similar to the fate that has befallen Seantor Trent Lott (without the swarm of blowflies, though). But surely no one misunderstood that one. The other media gang-up story is "Film at seven." It's one of my favorite Willie stories, and one of the most widely-propagated. I'm quite sure that no one knows the underlying story, though, because I reveal none of it.

This is where that story came from, quoting from an anniversary edition of the Queens Tribune (these events pre-date the web by quite a while):
Manes was on the phone with his psychiatrist on the night of March 12, 1986 when he grabbed a kitchen knife from a drawer at his Queens home and jabbed it into his heart.
The extract is about Donald Manes, who was then Borough President of Queens County, New York. He had been implicated in a corruption scandal, one which eventually sent hundreds of people to jail. What the Tribune account doesn't tell you is that, on the night that he killed himself, the street that Manes lived on was jammed with TV trucks, their kleig lights illuminating his darkened house. The press had been hounding him for weeks, and the stake-out at his home was continuous.

Donald Manes, requiescat in pace, took his own life. Shame was the motivation, I have no doubt. But it remains that he was being publicly and continuously shamed before all the world with an obsessive hyper-redundancy--much as Senator Lott is now. Did he deserve to answer to the accusations made against him? Yes. Did he deserve to go to jail, if convicted of those accusations? Yes. Did he deserve to be hounded into killing himself by a pack of feral dogs...?

The drama is one for the Greeks, and I don't come close to doing it justice. I don't have an answer either--although Manes would probably be alive today if he had lived on a private street. And the Lott story is different, of course. As I read the screeds and the screeches, I am reminded less of feral dogs and swarming blowflies and more of teenage girls engaged in a frenzied whispering campaign to shun someone from their clique. That I can think of these things--of wild dogs and carrion-eating insects and vicious little girls, and not think of rational human beings--is a matter of concern to me. To all of us, I think. There are worse savages than these in the world, after all, and, one way or the other, they will be answered...