Another good reason to elect ex-military people to political office

I am something of a sybarite.  Not in a big way, but in a little way.  I like two creature comforts:  a very comfortable bed (a liking that grows more important as I get older and suffer from fairly chronic insomnia) and I like to have my own bathroom, complete with all the amenities.  Give me those and a computer, and I’ll be a pretty happy person.

I read in the WSJ today, however, that a lot of the incoming Representatives (i.e., Republicans) are planning on saving money and showing their commitment to their home towns by camping out in their offices.  My first thought was, “that’s laudable.”  My second was, “I”d never do that.”  I did get a little insight into the kind of people who can make this (to me) sacrifice, though, when I read this (emphasis mine):

Earlier this month, freshman lawmakers drew lots and chose the three-room suites they and their aides will inhabit in one of three House office buildings.

For many of them, a key selling point was not proximity to the House chamber, where they’ll vote, but to the House gym, where they’ll shower.

Rep.-elect Tim Griffin, an Army reservist, stood near the gym in the Rayburn House Office Building and used some compass software on his phone to navigate the paths to potential offices.

There’s your answer, right?  After the rigors of the military, an office near a shower is tolerable.  For me, after the luxuries of suburban life, anything less than mine, mine, mine is hard to contemplate.

Watcher of Weasels, post-Thanksgiving edition

The Watchers Council members tore themselves away from their turkey and stuffing just long enough to vote on the past week’s wonderful submissions.  Here are the results (also, be sure to watch the video the Watcher included with the results):

Council Winners

Non-Council Winners

Changing American expectations

When I was a child, filling the gas tank was the cheapest part of owning a car.  Houses were also warm.  As long as my father was earning money (which wasn’t always the case), during the winter we heated our house to a comfortable 72 degrees.  Then, in 1974, the first energy crisis heat.  Gasoline got expensive, changing our car buying and our car driving habits.  And during the winter, our house went down to 68 degrees.

Fast forward almost 40 years and, while world leaders are fussing about global warming, ordinary people are contemplating alternative energy cars simply because they can’t afford to spend $120 a week to put gas in their fuel tanks.  We’ve also continued to downgrade our expectations within our homes.  My house is a toasty 62 degrees on this chilly day because the heating bills are too exorbitant otherwise.  We Americans have been scaled down.  Way down.

I’ve been thinking a lot about how the expectations a nation’s citizens have will affect political structure.  The lower the expectations, the more willing citizens are to accept heavy, top-down control.  I ruminate on that at greater length here:

As is often the case, a great American songwriter nailed it.  Alan Jay Lerner, putting words in Henry Higgins’ mouth in My Fair Lady, had him sing:

An Englishman’s way of speaking
Absolutely classifies him
The moment he talks
He makes some other Englishmen despise him

If you know you’re going to be despised no matter what, you don’t aspire, you just gracefully expire, locked forever into your own low expectations.

Life just keeps interfering with blogging *UPDATED*

I’ve got to run an errand this morning — one of those time is of the essence errands — so the best I can do is to leave you with some choice material from other bloggers.

A good start is the Anchoress (Elizabeth Scalia) on Bono and other earth worshippers.  Or, as the New Editor reports, as far as Gaia-worshippers are concerned, we have met the enemy and he is us.

Roger Simon, with a little help, distilled the essence of the Wikileaks documents.

More to follow.

Here’s some of the more I promised:  Lee Smith and J.E. Dyer on the fact that what the Wikileaks information does primarily is vindicate the conservative view of foreign policy, especially when it comes to the Middle East.

Political Animal Totems

Many American Indians (I can’t speak for all) identified animal spirit totems that helped guide the individual in life and defined who they were. Animal spirit totems also helped other individual discern qualities in individuals. Often, spirit totems were animals defined by qualities that the American Indian admired and sought to emulate, such as craftiness (coyote), power and endurance (bear) or wealth and generosity (buffalo).

So, here’s my question: what animal totems would you associate with today’s current crop of politicians?

George W. Bush always reminded me of a hawk. Sarah Palin, married to an American Indian, has openly adopted the Mama Grizzly as her totem. After watching the 2nd of her “Sarah Palin’s Alaska” series (via Comcast), I am very much convinced that President Obama’s totem is a halibut.

Does anyone else want a go?

Wikileaks — obvious, yet still dangerous, stuff spread by wicked people and useful idiots *UPDATED*

I haven’t had time (nor do I have the will) to pay close attention to the myriad revelations in the Wikileaks documents.  My overall sense, though, is that, fact-wise, there is nothing new here — or, at least, nothing new to those of us paying attention.  All of us at Bookworm Room have known that Saudi Arabia is terrified of a nuclear Iran, and I’ve posited for years that this fear would drive the non-nuclearized Arab nations closer to Israel.  For all their huffery and puffery, the Arabs have always known that Israel will not use the bomb unless provoked, whereas they fully understand that a nuclear Iran is a truly armed and dangerous rogue nation.

Speaking of rogue nations, we have also known that China has happily provided nuclear technology to any bad actor willing to pay for it.  Nothing new here.  Move along.  Don’t crowd the sidewalk.

The fact that the Wikileaks material is factually uninteresting, though, doesn’t change its spectacular capacity for being damaging.  Max Boot, I think, puts it as well as anyone can, in a post telling titled “Journalism that knows no shame“:

One can understand if the editors of the New York Times, Guardian, and Der Spiegel have no respect for the secrecy needed to wage war successfully — especially unpopular wars like those in Afghanistan and Iraq. These are, after all, the sorts of people who, over a few drinks, would no doubt tell you that diplomacy is far preferable to war-making. But it seems that they have no respect for the secrecy that must accompany successful diplomacy either. That, at least, is the only conclusion I can draw from their decision to once again collaborate with an accused rapist to publicize a giant batch of stolen State Department cables gathered by his disreputable organization, WikiLeaks.

I risk sounding like a stuffy, striped-pants diplomat myself if I say that the conduct of all concerned is reprehensible and beneath contempt. But that’s what it is, especially because the news value of the leaks is once again negligible. As with the previous releases of military reports, the WikiLeaks files only fill in details about what has generally already been known. Those details have the potential to cause acute embarrassment — or even end the lives of — those who have communicated with American soldiers or officials, but they do little to help the general public to understand what’s going on.

I urge you to read the whole thing.

In a way, these leaks give new meaning to Hannah Arendt’s famous phrase, “the banality of evil.”  She was talking about the horrible ordinariness of the Nazis, who clung to their middle class lives even as they engaged in unparalleled atrocities.  These leaks are a different banal evil:  even though the information released is known (Saudi fear of Iran) or stupid (e.g., Qaddafi’s blond nurse), making it mostly banal, the profound damage that results from these leaks (the deaths, the national humiliations, the destruction of necessary diplomatic ignorance) is profoundly evil.

I join with others in wondering why Assange is still alive.  I’m willing to bet, though, that now that it’s not just the Americans being humiliated, Assange’s days are numbered.

By the way, if you want more information about the leak’s contents and the security implications (worldwide) arising from the leaks, as well as links to good articles on the subject, you can’t do better than Melissa Clouthier’s post.

UPDATE:  A reminder that the newspapers aren’t utterly without morals or decency.  While they don’t want to exercise it when national security is at issue, they were happy to exercise it when climate change fraud was under legitimate attack.

UPDATE II:  Two excellent articles from Barry Rubin about Wikileaks.  As always, his optimism — allied with actual facts and sound analysis — is a useful antidote to the gloom and doom that characterizes most other writing on just about any subject.  Check out Spengler too.

UPDATE II:  Another “check it out” is Omri Ceren’s post on Israel and Iran as seen through the Wikileaks — and just how wrong the Obama administration was.  (As if that’s a big surprise.)

Back. Not yet in the groove, but back.

We just returned home after an eight hour journey up I-5.  Whew!  It wasn’t too terrible, though, despite the long drive.  We didn’t get stuck on the Grapevine, where a storm was brewing; the car performed perfectly; no one got sick; we had no scary traffic moments; and the kids watched the old Dick Van Dyke show, which is fun to hear, even if you can’t see what’s going on.

Barring a few glances here and there, I pretty much stayed away from the news for the whole five day weekend.  It seemed important to me to focus on family and take a break from my news obsession.  I returned as obsessed as ever but definitely feeling mentally refreshed.

I’m getting the house ready now for re-entry into normal life, and I’m assiduously avoiding the news now too.  Tomorrow morning is soon enough to break away from the Thanksgiving spirit and become acquainted again with all the ickies out there (including the Wikileaks garbage).

Until I get up and running, please feel free to treat this as an Open Thread.  Or better yet, if you haven’t already done so, enjoy reading the wonderful posts that DQ and Danny did.  I can’t thank them enough for taking the time and energy to make such thoughtful, erudite and enjoyable contributions to this blog while I was away, dining decadently on delicious turkey and other beautifully prepared Thanksgiving viands.

SADIE’S post on Iceland and the Fatal Conceit

SADIE submitted the following comment and link to one of my earlier posts, which merits its own discussion:

Iceland is drawing up a new constitution
(they’re currently using a revised Danish version)

The constitutional assembly will be made up of 25 to 31 delegates, the final number to be determined by a gender and equality ratio.

It will be made up of regular citizens elected by direct personal voting.

Anyone is eligible to stand for election, with the exceptions of the president, lawmakers and the committee appointed to organize the assembly.

They will use material from project earlier this year in which 1,000 randomly chosen Icelanders — aged 18-89 — offered their views on what should be in the constitution.

523 people are in the running. Truck drivers, university professors, lawyers, journalists and computer geeks are all among the candidates. All have been given equal air time on Icelandic radio to make their platforms known.

This is interesting to me, in light of DQ’s early comments regarding the appeal of socialism: Iceland is a tiny country, more like a small town. Its population of 300,000 is uniquely homogenous. On a trip to Iceland a number of years ago, my host pointed out Iceland’s president, seated in his car parked at the curb, reading a newspaper. More like a mayor, really. People would walk up to him and share their concerns of the day.

I submit that, in a small town, it is easier to govern in a socialistic manner whereby the “state” represents and is accountable for the electorate’s well-being. Those in need can be looked after by and held accountable to their neighbors. Those that fail to contribute can be shunned or penalized. Can this work in large, more diversified countries?

One of Friedrich Hayek’s other memorable publications (after Road to Serfdom) was The Fatal Conceit: the Errors of Socialism , in which one of the arguments he made was that socialism reflects an ingrained longing in people for the perceived simplicity and interdependency of small communities (villages or shtetls) , that have defined most of recorded human experience.

In small communities, decisions can be made by popular vote and it is easier thereby to achieve consensus. In large, diverse societies, consensus is much more difficult to achieve and government dictates must more often be imposed by force.

So, along comes Lichtenstein’s Prince Hans-Adam II, monarch of an even more homogenous (and very capitalist, with the world’s highest GDP) country /village of 35,000 people, introducing his new book, The State of the Third Millenium, as profiled in the very excellent National Review’s “Uncommon Knowledge” interview series hosted by Peter Robinson. If you aren’t yet familiar with the “Uncommon Knowledge” interviews, I highly recommend this series!

In this interview, Prince Hans-Adam II promotes the idea that societies like the U.S. or the EU have simply become too big to govern and that we should consider a decentralization of governance to more local levels where the diversity of preferences can better be accommodated. In states such as Massachusetts or Vermont, where there is a strong preference for socialism, the states can govern themselves as socialist communities whereas people are free to move to and assemble in more capitalist, free-market states such as New Hampshire. Let the best model win!

I confess to a certain appeal to this model: what if the Federal government was able to dismantle all of our social welfare programs and distribute available monies to states based on populations (like Congressional seats) to utilize as they they saw fit, based on more local needs and preferences? Wisconsin might opt to apply such resources to education, whereas New York might apply them to social welfare payments. Ditto with regard to the relationship between states and communities: why should the State dictate education instead of the local communities that know best what the needs of their students would be? We are a highly mobile society and people would have an option to change their local societies from within or move.

The Federal government, meanwhile, would be best left to concentrate on those roles that it was originally empowered to pursue, such as defense or negotiation of foreign treaties.

Is there merit to this? How could it work? I see the appeal in such a system but have trouble discerning all its implications.

For example, how could such a model accommodate the virtually certain bankruptcies of states such as California, New York and Illinois (not a matter of “if” but “when”)? Is it fair that people can feed off the benefits of socialist systems in California and simply pick-up stakes and move away to rich, capitalist states such as Texas and Arizona and let the surviving residents of their former homes absorb the penalty of their demise (while corrupting the voting bodies of their new homes with the same failed ideas from whence they left)?

Your thoughts?

Do we have free will? Does God?

One reason I ceased to believe in God was that I was taught as I was growing up that God knew everything there was to know — past, present and future.  This necessarily meant that the future could currently be known with certainty.  Thus, every apparent exercise of free will was illusory.  I might feel like I am choosing option A over option B but, in fact, God already knew I was going to choose option A and I was not at liberty to choose option B in defiance of what God already knew would happen.  Despite appearances, I did not have free will.

For that matter, neither did God.  Can you imagine what it would be like to know with absolute certainty everything you were going to do for all eternity?  How boring and pointless to travel a predetermined path, especially one you know about in advance!  How boring to know everything about the future already and to never learn anything new!  I almost felt sorry for God.

In the end, I could not accept that neither I nor God had any free will at all. 

This comes to mind now for two reasons.  A commenter a couple of days ago commented on someone he knew who swore we had no free will, but acted every moment as if he believed he had free will.  The day before that, I visited the web site of a small religious group/school that a cousin of mine is now associated with.  The group had an extensive mission statement that asserted that we have free will and that God knows everything that will happen in the future, without making any attempt to reconcile the two and without even acknowledging that the two are inconsistent. 

Anyway, on this Sunday it seems reasonable to ask those of you who do believe in God, and especially those of you who believe in both God’s knowledge of the future and man’s free will — how do you reconcile the two beliefs?  The only answer I ever got when I was young and searching for answers was that some things are beyond our understanding, an answer which was always highly unsatisfactory to me. 

While I’m at it, two other quick questions about God.  First, if God is perfect, why did he create human beings (supposedly in his likeness) who are imperfect?  Why would perfection create imperfection, or even the possibility of imperfection?  If it is our fault that we chose a path of imperfection (eating the apple, as it were), why was God angry?  He already knew what we would do when he created us.  Why did he create us to make the worng decision, not the right one?

Second, we are constantly criticizing liberals for making their case based on emotions and belief, rather than cold hard facts.  Isn’t that what believers in God do?  Isn’t it ironic that conservatives who trust in fact-based arguments in this world are more likely to believe in a non-fact-based God than liberals, who trust to their emotions and beliefs in this world but reject a belief in God as not supported by the facts? Where are the cold hard facts supporting the existence of God?  Isn’t the fact that even believers have such trouble agreeing on who/what God is compelling evidence that man created God and not the other way around?

As always, thanks in advance for your comments and I hope I have not offended anyone with these ruminations.  If so, I apologize.  Please know I am seeking, not criticizing.