The Bookworm Beat 7-25-15 — the Lazy, but interesting, edition

Woman-writing-300x265As you may have gathered from the number of things we did every day on our recent trip to Virginia and environs, ours was not a restful vacation. I capped off the fatigue with a cold and, since our return, have been having a very hard time motivating myself to do anything. My theme song for the week has been Irving Berlin’s Lazy, although I’d have to add fatigue and inertia to the laziness mix:

Still, despite my laziness, I have managed to peel myself off the couch and find my way to the computer occasionally, so I do have some posts to share with you:

Made You Laugh

Before I get to the depressing stuff — and, lately, all the news seems to be depressing — I wanted to tell you about a weekly column my long-time friend Gary Buslik is starting at The Blot. I first introduced you to Gary a few years ago when I reviewed his outrageously funny book Akhmed and the Atomic Matzo Balls: A Novel of International Intrigue, Pork-Crazed Termites, and Motherhood. I’ve since read, though shamefully neglected to review, his delightful travelogue, A Rotten Person Travels the Caribbean: A Grump in Paradise Discovers that Anyplace it’s Legal to Carry a Machete is Comedy Just Waiting to Happen. In both books, and in the various travel articles of his published in anthologies, Gary’s voice is true: erudite, wry, mordant, snarky, self-deprecating, Jewish, and very, very funny.

Since Gary just launched his weekly column, there’s only one week’s worth of writing, but I think you might enjoy it: The Great Jewish Dilemma.

Yes, Martin O’Malley’s link between ISIS and climate change is crazy

Democrat presidential hopeful Martin O’Malley came in for a good deal of derision for saying that ISIS’s rise can be tied to climate change. The obvious reason this is a laughable point is because the most direct tie to ISIS’s rise is, of course, Obama’s retreat, which created a giant ISIS-sized vacuum. My friend Wolf Howling sent me an email which I think nicely summarizes the Obama/ISIS link:

A fascinating article in the NY Review of Books states that it is the Iraqi organization originally founded by Zarqawi, the utterly sadistic terrorist we sent off the mortal coil in 2006. The movement obviously survived him, and this really throws into stark relief the wages of Obama and the Left cutting and running from Iraq in 2010. ISIS is like a bacteria that survives a stunted course of antibiotics. Had we stayed in Iraq, there is no possible way that ISIS could have had a rebirth.

The author of the article tries to make sense of the rise of ISIS. You can read his ruminations. My own theory is two-fold: One, ISIS is preaching the true Salafi / Wahhabi purist doctrine that makes of the world a thing of black and white, where all things that support Allah are pure, while everything that does not is evil and can be dealt with without regards. Thus it is a draw to young Arab men. If you want to see how, here is a fascinating article by Tawfiq Hamid, a doctor who became a terrorist, who discusses the lure of Salafism / Wahhabism and all its deadly toxins.

Two, the ISIS ideology is a draw because it is utterly without bounds in its sadism or cruelty. This also is a draw to a particular segment of Arab men. It is the Lord of the Flies. It is going into a scenario where you will have the power of life, death, and pain with virtually no restrictions.

The fact is that ISIS should not be around today. My word, but Obama has so totally f**ked us in the Middle East . . . . He makes Carter look like Nixon by comparison.

I only wish I’d written that, but at least I can share it with you. So yes, O’Malley is an ignorant moron.

Still, never let it be said that the Left doesn’t protect its own, so The Atlantic has tried to throw a life saver to O’Malley: Martin O’Malley’s Link Between Climate Change and ISIS Isn’t Crazy. The article’s premise is that there’s a connection between drought and unrest. To which I say, “Well, duh!”

Any student of history knows that in primitive societies (and Muslim Middle Eastern countries are extremely primitive when it comes to food production, due to natural limitations, societal factors, and the transfer of food crops to biofuels) anything that interferes even marginally with food production has devastating effects, with war one of the most common ones.

However, as my reference to “students of history” makes clear, droughts have always happened. O’Malley wouldn’t have been a moron if he’d said “the drought they’re experiencing in the region no doubt was a contributing factor to unrest in the Syria – Iraqi region.” But instead, he had to throw in “climate change” — and what makes that so laughable is that we’ve come to the point  which climate change is responsible for everything. I’m awaiting the day when we get an article saying that Caitlyn Jenner’s unfortunate transgender habit of dressing like a male chauvinists’ dream 1950s pin-up girl is also due to climate change.

[Read more…]

A phenomenal talk about the Constitution and how to make it meaningful to America’s young people

David BobbI had the great pleasure today of attending a phenomenal talk by Prof. David Bobb, president of the Bill of Rights Institute. BRI uses original source documents to help teachers ans students understand America’s founding document and to see how it’s still relevant today. Its ultimate goal is to bring to an end our nation’s intellectual disengagement from the Constitution and to lead young people to “think the vote,” which is mindful, informed approach to elections, rather than to “rock the vote,” a mindless, drone-like approach to important issues that profoundly affect America’s young people.

Prof. Bobb could not be a better spokesman for his organization. To begin with, his bio is impressive:

David earned his Ph.D. in political science from Boston College, where he was the recipient of fellowships from the Pew, Earhart, and Bradley Foundation, as well as the Intercollegiate Studies Institute.

[snip]

David joined the Bill of Rights Institute in December 2013. Previously he was the founding director of two national centers for Hillsdale College, the Washington, D.C.-based Allan P. Kirby, Jr. Center for Constitutional Studies and Citizenship, and the Hoogland Center for Teacher Excellence, a civic education program. From 2001 to 2013 he also was lecturer in politics at Hillsdale College, where he taught courses in American politics and public policy.

David is the author of Humility: An Unlikely Biography of America’s Greatest Virtue (Thomas Nelson, 2013) and a contributing editor to The U.S. Constitution: A Reader (Hillsdale College Press, 2012). He has written articles and reviews for the Wall Street Journal, Fast Company, Washington Times, Boston Herald, and the Claremont Review of Books, among other publications. He has spoken widely to audiences in twenty-five states on topics including education reform, civic engagement, and the American Constitution.

In other words, Prof. Bobb knows his stuff and he is a natural communicator and teacher. His speaking style, something that always matters to me, is the essence of clarity. No fudging, no obfuscation, no blathering. Frankly, it was a challenge to take notes, because Prof. Bobb had no spare words or sentences in his speech. Every sentence was interesting and to the point. Since I don’t do shorthand, of necessity I had to condense some ideas and I know that I missed others. This means that, to the extent there are any errors in this post, they are definitely mine, not Prof. Bobb’s. With that warning, here goes:

If I were a more detail-oriented person, I would undoubtedly have noticed long ago that, on our one dollar bill, under the pyramid, there is a Latin inscription stating “novus ordo seclorum“:

Novus ordo seclorum

And if I were a more curious person, I would have gone online to translate that phrase. For those who, like me, don’t remember their Latin and or who aren’t too curious about our dollar bill, the phrase means “New Order Of The Ages.” It is the Founders’ announcement to the world and to posterity that they were embarking upon a grand governmental experiment, one that had never been tried before. In the Federalist papers, Alexander Hamilton noted that Americans were about to take a step no other people had taken before:

It has been frequently remarked that it seems to have been reserved to the people of this country, by their conduct and example, to decide the important question, whether societies of men are really capable or not of establishing good government from reflection and choice, or whether they are forever destined to depend for their political constitutions on accident and force.

Back in the day, then, the Founders, with a great deal of trepidation, were about to embark upon a planned government, one that would vest the maximum amount of power in the people and that, at the governmental level, would guard against the possibility of tyranny. After all, only a few years before, they had declared themselves free to part ways with England because, in their eyes, George III had become a tyrant by taking upon himself the powers of the executive, the legislature, and the judiciary. They understood that human frailty is such that no one person should ever hold that much power over others.

The unique aspect of the new Constitution was the notion — the product of one hundred years of Enlightenment thinking (powered by an increasingly humanist Christianity) — that each person comes into the world with certain rights vested in him (or her). These are not gifts from the government that the government can then take a way. Instead, when a government infringes on these inherent rights, it’s the people who have the power to destroy the government and initiate a better one — and our Constitution was intended to define that better government.

The most exceptional thing about the Constitution — which is a contract between government and the American people — is the notion of separation of powers. England, of course, led the way with that idea, wresting from the King certain powers reserved for Parliament. This was a notion that was first institutionalized in the Magna Carta; was then tested under Charles I (who lost his head for picking “King power,” rather than “People power” when asked the question “who’s in charge here?”); and was re-tested under George III, who kept his head but lost America because he too thought that he could vest in himself the full powers of government.

The Articles of Confederation, the governing document that preceded the Constitution, did not have a tripartite approach to power. It created an executive office, but had no judiciary or legislature and, significantly, it did not give the executive office the power to tax. The office had, on the one hand, too much power and, on the other hand, no way to put all that power into effect. The Constitution would do better.

At this point in his talk, in light of the upcoming 2016 election, Prof. Bobb narrowed his his focus to the executive office. He noted that, although Alexander Hamilton and James Madison, the intellectual powerhouses behind the Constitution, devoutly believed in diffuse power as a bulwark against tyranny, they also understood that, to the extent they vested power in a specific institution, that power had to be meaningful. To that end, they didn’t try to create a weak executive by splitting that power among different individuals or groups.

It was Hamilton who envisioned as president an individual who, while hedged about with constitutional safeguards, could act with “decision, activity, secrecy, and dispatch.” After all, in times of national emergency, one can’t have a committee laboriously working its way to a tame and untimely bureaucratic response.

While the president could be active, decisive, and secretive, he still had to have limitations — and control over these limitations had to be placed in an organization equally invested in protecting and advancing its power. Or, as James Madison said, “Ambition must be made to counteract ambition.” The Constitution decided that three entities, each jealously protecting its power, would ensure that no single part of that trio would be able to aggregate too much power, the inevitable path to tyranny.

At the Constitutional Convention, George Washington sat quietly in the room as the Founders hashed out the separation and balance of powers. They all knew that Washington would be president under this new Constitution, and they all trusted that this man of extraordinary rectitude and hard-won humility would not abuse that power. But they also understood that they were writing a Constitution, not for one man, but for the ages, and that there was no guarantee that another Washington would emerge any time soon — or ever.

For every power that the Founders granted the new executive, they included an important countervailing limitation. They wanted ambitious people, so there were no term limits, but the president had to make his case to the people every four years.  They wanted visionaries, but if the visions veered into unconstitutional territory, the president could be impeached (a better end than that which Charles I experienced). They gave the president a veto over legislation, but granted Congress the power to gather together most of its force to defeat that veto. They made the president the Commander in Chief, but denied him the authority to declare war.

Significantly, the Founder explicitly denied the president “spiritual jurisdiction” over the American people. Unlike their former monarch, the King of England, there was to be no national church in America. Government was to stay out of affairs of faith. (Bookworm here, speaking on her own behalf and not trying to paraphrase Prof. Bobb: Let me add that Americans have always recognized some limits on religious practice in our borders. Historically, the most aggressive fight to limit religion was the all-out-attack on Mormon polygamy. Currently, of course, the big fight is to determine how far the government can push traditional religions by demanding that they pay for abortions or marry same-sex couples. Now, back to my attempt to summarize Prof. Bobb’s speech.)

Significantly, the goal was to make a president who was responsible to the people, but not responsible for them. His job was to mind the government and the People’s job was to mind themselves, secure in a stable framework with maximum individual freedoms.

Having summarized the Founders’ goals and the steps they took to institutionalize these goals, Prof. Bobb then looked at the situation today, which he characterizes as the inverse of the Founders’ plan. Nowadays, at townhalls across America, after a President has heard a citizen’s sad story, he’ll almost invariably say something along the lines of “I’ll help you. I’ll get my people to be in touch with you and fix your problem.” In other words, rather than being a statesman responsible for the nation and subservient to the Constitution (the Founders’ goal), the president has come to define and even supplant the Constitution.

Indeed, when polled, American students routinely say that the man (or woman) occupying the Oval Office is of greater significance than the Constitution. To them, the “will of the President” is the most powerful, significant aspect of American government. This faith in a single human, rather than in the limited office, is not the rational, reasonable approach to government that the Founders desired.

If you want to know who to blame for this situation, you only have to look back a single century to President Woodrow Wilson, one-time dean of Princeton University. While in this role, Wilson wrote disparagingly of the restrictions the Constitution placed on the president. As he saw it, natural rights and law, and the separation of powers, all of which gave a say to the unwashed masses, were bunk.

(It occurs to me, Bookworm, that Wilson’s view was the result of immigration and emancipation. A committed racist, a eugenicist, and a xenophobe, the thought of all these “inferior” people having a say in government must have appalled him. Had he lived one hundred years earlier, in a time of limited suffrage, he probably would have been less dismissive of the Constitution.  

Were Wilson alive today, he would still be completely at home on any American college campus. He believed that an educated elite knew better what would benefit the masses than those masses knew themselves. Wilson believed, as professors and journalists across America believe, that this cadre of intellectuals and fellow-traveling elites shouldn’t be bound by an antiquated document giving inherent rights to those with dirty or melanin-rich skin. If you want a good rundown of what a disgusting, fascist, racist guy Wilson was, check out Jonah Goldberg’s Liberal Fascism: The Secret History of the American Left, From Mussolini to the Politics of Change. And now back to Prof. Bobb.)

The three Republican presidents who followed Wilson (Harding, Coolidge, and Hoover) managed to restrain their ambition and, as is especially true for Coolidge, none tried to expand executive power. Franklin D. Roosevelt, though, was cut from exactly the same cloth as Wilson. Having used his government power aggressively in ways that prolonged the Depression, Roosevelt used WWII as the opportunity to create a “Second Bill of Rights,” one based not on rights inherent in all people but, instead, on government handouts. Thus, in January 1944, at the start of his fourth term as President (a little taste of tyranny there, right?), Roosevelt laid out his Second Bill of Rights (emphasis mine):

It is our duty now to begin to lay the plans and determine the strategy for the winning of a lasting peace and the establishment of an American standard of living higher than ever before known. We cannot be content, no matter how high that general standard of living may be, if some fraction of our people—whether it be one-third or one-fifth or one-tenth—is ill-fed, ill-clothed, ill-housed, and insecure.
This Republic had its beginning, and grew to its present strength, under the protection of certain inalienable political rights—among them the right of free speech, free press, free worship, trial by jury, freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures. They were our rights to life and liberty.

As our nation has grown in size and stature, however—as our industrial economy expanded—these political rights proved inadequate to assure us equality in the pursuit of happiness.

We have come to a clear realization of the fact that true individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence. “Necessitous men are not free men.” People who are hungry and out of a job are the stuff of which dictatorships are made.

In our day these economic truths have become accepted as self-evident. We have accepted, so to speak, a second Bill of Rights under which a new basis of security and prosperity can be established for all—regardless of station, race, or creed.

Among these are:

  • The right to a useful and remunerative job in the industries or shops or farms or mines of the nation;
  • The right to earn enough to provide adequate food and clothing and recreation;
  • The right of every farmer to raise and sell his products at a return which will give him and his family a decent living;
  • The right of every businessman, large and small, to trade in an atmosphere of freedom from unfair competition and domination by monopolies at home or abroad;
  • The right of every family to a decent home;
  • The right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health;
  • The right to adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident, and unemployment;
  • The right to a good education.

All of these rights spell security. And after this war is won we must be prepared to move forward, in the implementation of these rights, to new goals of human happiness and well-being.

America’s own rightful place in the world depends in large part upon how fully these and similar rights have been carried into practice for all our citizens. For unless there is security here at home there cannot be lasting peace in the world.

Every president since Roosevelt has actively encouraged or passively accepted the above “add-ons” to the first Ten Amendments to the Constitution.

The original purpose behind the Bill of Rights Institute was to peel away 100 years of Constitutional “add-ons” and to enable teachers to understand our actual Founding documents and to appreciate why those principles are timeless and do not need reinterpretation.  As Prof. Bobb said, most teachers love America, but they are unable to understand fully what makes this country lovable and therefore they are unable to pass that love on to their students.  Students, of course, need substance, not platitudes to realize what makes America unique and why this uniqueness is a blessing, not a Howard Zinn-esque curse.

Currently 50,000 American history teachers subscribe to BRI’s mailing list.  (Bookworm here:  I have my doubts about Marin teachers’ participation in the list, but maybe I’m unduly cynical.)  BRI sends emails to these teachers directing them to source documents (all of which are accessible through the BRI website) and giving them questions about current issues that they can ask students to debate in light of the intersection between those source documents and these current issues.  For example, immediately after the grand jury decision in Ferguson, BRI had an email on its way to America’s history teachers offering source documents and topical questions.

Prof. Bobb said correctly that high school students are routinely shortchanged because we deny them these debates.  (As I, Bookworm, often say, we teach our kids the “how” of learning, packing them with data like geese being stuffed for nice pate livers, but we routinely forget to challenge them with the “why” questions:  Why does the information we’re feeding you matter?)  Prof. Bobb and BRI want to give the kids those “why” questions and to let them use those “why” questions, in the context of our Constitution as written to piece together their world into a coherent whole.

BRI’s work is especially important at this junction in history.  This may be our last chance to reach young Americans.  When young people in the 18-24 year old age cohort were polled, only 1% said that they were worried about losing their Constitutional rights.  Mostly, in light of the relentless headlines about events in Ferguson or Baltimore, young people have lost confidence in our justice system.  Even more importantly, they believe that the justice system is irrelevant to them.  No wonder 40% of America’s young people are willing to ditch the Constitution.  (Bookworm here:  It seems appropriate to link here to my post about the way in which people have also lost faith in free market capitalism, despite the fact that the system currently failing in America isn’t free market capitalism at all, but is more akin to fascism-lite.)

For decades, our classrooms have been controlled by Howard Zinn version of history, one that says that the Founders were “evil” rich, white men who were concerned only with guns and greed.  Prof. Bobb made the completely unnerving statement that for years, every year, Zinn’s books and their spinoffs are more popular than they were the year before.

With this relentless anti-Americanism — and anti-Constitutionalism — rife in our system, young people don’t believe that our system can offer hope.  Hope lies only in the president, who is viewed as a “savior” but too easily becomes a demagogue.  (Bookworm here again:  You all remember back to 2008 with its newspaper riffs about “magic negroes” and the endless photographs of a haloed Obama.)  Moreover, despite government’s obvious failures, young people look to all government — local, state, and federal — for money, which they believe, if it rains down on them, will somehow remedy their personal ills.

Prof. Bobb sees the election of 2016 as one that pivots on constitutional issues and hopes that the crowded Republican field debates those issues in a meaningful way, without the candidates cancelling each other out.  Before Prof. Bobb started his talk, he and I discussed the fact that several of the candidates bring interesting constitutional questions to the table:  Ted Cruz wants to abolish the IRS and have a purely constitutional government; Rand Paul advocates a form of libertarianism that waivers between hardcore conservativism and, funnily enough, extreme Leftism; Ben Carson discusses the intersection between individual-responsibility and government handouts; while Carly Fiorina is attacking the crony capitalism that is morphing into fascism-lite.  Both Carson and Mike Huckabee have suggested that a president is not obligated to implement Supreme Court rulings that are blatantly unconstitutional (unlike President Obama, says Bookworm, who feels he’s not obligated to implement Supreme Court rulings he doesn’t like).

As all of us have noticed, the current president has aggregated greater power than ever before, but it’s not entirely his fault.  Congress, whether under Democrat or Republican control, meekly rolls over and allows him to go forward with blatantly unconstitutional initiatives.  Prof. Bobb says that, whenever Senators put proposed bills in the hopper, they’re supposed to attach a piece of paper explaining the Constitutional authorization for the bill.  Too often, their reasons are nonsensical (e.g., “right and proper clause”) or, even worse, they completely abdicate any responsibility — “let the Supreme Court decide.”  The ambition that Madison believed would keep the tension between the three parts of government, preventing tyranny, is gone, as lazy legislators can’t be bothered to look beyond their little club.

Because politics, like nature, abhor a vacuum, Congress’s abdication is creating a perfect space within which an all-powerful administration has room to grow.  Without any input from “We, the People,” federal agencies are implementing Roosevelt’s Second Bill of Rights and, willy-nilly, superseding the original Bill of Rights.

We should all worry about this trend, and we should all act to educate our children, grandchildren, and friends.  So, check out the Bill of Rights Institute’s web page, where you can find source documents and useful texts, all aimed at informing the citizenry about their unique rights — rights that, once can, can probably never again be recovered.

(I sent Prof. Bobb a link to this post.  I hope he checks it out and corrects the mistakes I’m sure I’ve made.  If his busy schedule precludes doing so, let me reiterate — all mistakes are solely my responsibility.)

The right to bear arms is the only true bulwark against government tyranny and mass murder

Nicholas Kristoff is very excited about the opportunity the Newtown shootings present to advance a gun control agenda.  (By the way, have you noticed that the media narrative is that the Progressives are not politicizing a tragedy when they use it to advocate everything from gun control to higher taxes, but that the Republicans are disgustingly politicizing a tragedy when they argue it should not be used as an excuse to take mad public policy leaps.  Just sayin’….)

Second Amendment

In his latest column, Kristoff sets up a few straw men and, with child-like glee, shoots them down.  The straw man response that interested me was his cavalier dismissal of the Second Amendment:

We have the Second Amendment, which protects our right to bear arms. So don’t talk about gun control!

There’s a reasonable argument that the Second Amendment confers an individual right — to bear a musket. Beyond that, it’s more complicated. Everybody agrees on a ban on fully automatic machine guns. The question isn’t whether to limit the right to bear arms, but where to draw the line.

Mr. Kristoff, how dumb do you think your readers are?  Well, never mind that question.  To the extent you preach to the New York Times crowd, most of them are probably every bit as ill-informed, credulous, and illogical as you think they are.

Let me ask a different, more pertinent, question:  How dumb do you think the Founding Fathers were?

Revolutionary war rifle

First of all, just as a little bit of historical information, muskets weren’t the only arms available during and after the American Revolution.  Those who wanted to own arms had a broad array of weapons from which to choose.  Thus, in addition to those muskets, they also had rifles (the Tennessee mountain men were famed for their abilities with that weapon), pistols, and blunderbusses.  Yes, they were slow-loading, but what was important was that they were equal in force to the weapons the British Army used.

Putting aside Kristoff’s obvious factual error, he also does the Founders a profound disservice by saying that they were using the word “arms” as a synonym for “musket.”  In fact, “arms” referred to all weapons, swords and cannons included.  By using such a broad term, the Founders were also leaving open the possibility of new weapons.  Otherwise, they would have said, “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear muskets manufactured on or before 1791, shall not be infringed.”  Tellingly, these men, who used language with a facility and brilliance unknown today, chose not to speak with such specificity.

What Kristoff is really missing, though, isn’t the bit about the type of “arms” involved, but the reason for those arms:  “being necessary to the security of a free State.”  What the Founders were saying is that the people should always have the ability to defend themselves against aggression from their own government.  With that principle in mind, you can see where the Founders would have been happy to see citizens armed with the most sophisticated weapons available in any era — provided that those weapons match the fire-power of government weapons in the same era.

The Founders weren’t the only ones who had figured out the importance of an armed population as a bulwark against totalitarianism.  As Paul Harvey wrote back in 2000, dictators of all stripes have realized that the single greatest defense against their tyrannical goals is an armed population:

Nazi Death Camp

CONSIDER:

– In 1929 the Soviet Union established gun control. From 1929 to 1953, approximately 20 million dissidents, unable to defend themselves, were rounded up and exterminated.

– In 1911, Turkey established gun control. From 1915-1917, 1.5 million Armenians, unable to defend themselves, were rounded up and exterminated.

– Germany established gun control in 1938 and from 1939 to 1945, 13 million Jews, gypsies, homosexuals, the mentally ill, and others, who were unable to defend themselves, were rounded up and exterminated.

– China established gun control in 1935. From 1948 to 1952, 20 million political dissidents, unable to defend themselves, were rounded up and exterminated.

– Guatemala established gun control in 1964. From 1964 to 1981, 100,000 Mayan Indians, unable to defend themselves, were rounded up and exterminated.

– Uganda established gun control in 1970. From 1971 to 1979, 300,000 Christians, unable to defend themselves, were rounded up and exterminated.

– Cambodia established gun control in 1956. From 1975 to 1977, one million “educated” people, unable to defend themselves, were rounded up and exterminated.

That weapons in the people’s hands may be used for other purposes (e.g., hunting, recreation, home-defense) or misused entirely (e.g., Sandy Hook, Columbine, or Fort Hood), is irrelevant to the primary purposes behind our constitutional right to bear arms.  Individual murders have happened at all times, in all places, with all types of weapons.  The Founders weren’t naive nor were they stupid.  They fully understood that “arms” could be misused.  Nevertheless, they made a moral calculation and determined that the risk of a thousand lives lost (or even ten thousand lives lost) was much less than the risk of millions of lives lost, with many millions more reduced to slaves of the state.

Maybe Kristoff is as woefully misinformed and as intellectually un-curious as he appears.  My suspicion, though, is that he’s a man on the Left with an agenda, one that sees the unwashed masses rendered helpless so that their Ivy League educated, elite betters can impose the loving tyranny that would make this land a new Utopia.

The littlest bodies in the Rwanda genocide

(As an aside, I’ll add here that a career military man I know says that, whether they were in Africa or the Middle East, many of their efforts were to arm beleaguered citizens who were being turned into mincemeat by forces belonging to their own government.  The people there have seldom died because individuals had arms.  Instead, the various massacres and ethnic cleansing across Africa might never have happened had ordinary people been able to defend themselves against the government hordes.)

The West’s perpetual adolescence — affluence and socialism create a nation of Peter Pans who refuse to grow up

One of the things I find most distasteful about ObamaCare is its requirement that employers must provide insurance coverage for their employees’ children through their 26th year.  I don’t find this just economically wrong, I find it cosmically, morally wrong that our federal government has officially extended childhood until citizens are 26.  I cannot think of a single reason why our national policy should be to delay normal human mental and emotional maturation.  Progressives seem to have added to the Constitution, right after “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” a coda saying that being Peter Pan, the boy who never grew up, is a legitimate career goal.

I mentioned yesterday that, over the Thanksgiving weekend, I listened (and am listening to) both Joseph Ellis’s American Creation: Triumphs and Tragedies at the Founding of the Republic and David McCulloch’s 1776. One of the things that comes through so clearly in these books is that the Founding Fathers were adults, not children, and they were adults because, from a very young age, all of them had taken on adult responsibilities, whether as soldiers, surveyors, blacksmiths, booksellers, lawyers, farmers, printers, or whatever other careers the Founders pursued.  Even gentlemen farmers such as Jefferson still had myriad responsibilities for their estates and the people dependent on those estates.

That all of them took on responsibility so early was not unusual; it was the norm.  What would have struck all of them as peculiar was a world view holding that, during your peak years of childbearing, physical strength, and mental adaptability, you should lounge around the house pursuing your bliss and living off of your parents.  Necessity required the Founders to work and grow.  A combination of affluence and socialism ensures that our children can remain adolescent well into their late 20s.

Nowadays, the majority of American children stay in school until age 18.  In Colonial times, but for a few college-bound gentlemen, by 18 most would have been employed for years.  The women would already have had children and that would have been true whether they were ladies of leisure, or working women responsible for a family farm, a washing business, housework, etc.

For too many Americans, though, adulthood doesn’t even begin at 18.  The middle and upper classes send their children to college.  For $20,000 to $50,000 per year (payable by their parents or the government, either through direct grants or guaranteed loans), they attend a few classes, take some tests, meet new people, party a lot, travel (always at someone else’s expense) and generally delay taking on any real responsibility.  Many of them study subjects that will have no measurable benefit on their lives, either in terms of future income or acquired knowledge.  Only once these youngsters graduate, at 21 or 22, do some of them finally start working for real.  Some of them get married and have children.  Too many, however, continue to be adolescents:  they get low-level jobs (although it’s not always their fault in the Obama economy) and they still look to Mom and Dad for financial support and insurance.  Partying remains important.

The degree jockeys further extend their adolescence with further education.  Some actually study things that will prove remunerative (law, medicine, architecture, business, etc.), but many opt for purely academic disciplines, getting advanced degrees in History, Medieval French, Puppetry, Womyn’s Studies, etc.  They do so despite knowing that there is almost no chance that they’ll get a job in their field.  I would never make such a foolish decision with my time and money.  When I finished my undergraduate education, despite my abiding love for history, I knew I would never get a job in my field.  The grad students in the history department told me that, in my graduation year, there were only four PhD level job openings for history majors in the entire United States.  I went to law school instead.

People need to grow up.  They are just as stunted without mental maturation as they would be if a disease or dietary deficiency kept their bodies from growing properly.  I realized the truth of this when I had children.  Although I’d worked as a lawyer for many years, and had my own business, until I had children and truly had others entirely dependent upon me, I was still a kid.  Nothing I did really mattered.  When you have children, everything matters.  Your choices are suddenly monumental, since they affect not only you but a helpless human being, who needs you desperately and looks up to you with love and respect.  I definitely miss the irresponsibility of my youth, but I wouldn’t go back.  I was biologically destined to mature, and it feels right.

What triggered this post about the terrible effect of ObamaCare’s perpetual adolescence factor is an email that has been making the rounds in Britain.  Nick Crews, a British Navy retiree, apparently had a bad Christmas with his three adult children last year.  By February of this year, he couldn’t keep it bottled up any more, so he sent them an email saying that they needed to stop whining and flailing about, and needed to begin taking responsibility for their lives.  Crews is absolutely right, although I believe that, because his children were raised in a socialist nation that turns the state into a perpetual parent who feeds, clothes, and otherwise provides for the citizen-children, he’s fighting a rearguard action:

Dear All Three

With last evening’s crop of whinges and tidings of more rotten news for which you seem to treat your mother like a cess-pit, I feel it is time to come off my perch.

It is obvious that none of you has the faintest notion of the bitter disappointment each of you has in your own way dished out to us. We are seeing the miserable death throes of the fourth of your collective marriages at the same time we see the advent of a fifth.

We are constantly regaled with chapter and verse of the happy, successful lives of the families of our friends and relatives and being asked of news of our own children and grandchildren. I wonder if you realise how we feel — we have nothing to say which reflects any credit on you or us. We don’t ask for your sympathy or understanding — Mum and I have been used to taking our own misfortunes on the chin, and making our own effort to bash our little paths through life without being a burden to others. Having done our best — probably misguidedly — to provide for our children, we naturally hoped to see them in turn take up their own banners and provide happy and stable homes for their own children.

Fulfilling careers based on your educations would have helped — but as yet none of you is what I would confidently term properly self-supporting. Which of you, with or without a spouse, can support your families, finance your home and provide a pension for your old age? Each of you is well able to earn a comfortable living and provide for your children, yet each of you has contrived to avoid even moderate achievement. Far from your children being able to rely on your provision, they are faced with needing to survive their introduction to life with you as parents.

So we witness the introduction to this life of six beautiful children — soon to be seven — none of whose parents have had the maturity and sound judgment to make a reasonable fist at making essential threshold decisions. None of these decisions were made with any pretence to ask for our advice.

In each case we have been expected to acquiesce with mostly hasty, but always in our view, badly judged decisions. None of you has done yourself, or given to us, the basic courtesy to ask us what we think while there was still time finally to think things through. The predictable result has been a decade of deep unhappiness over the fates of our grandchildren. If it wasn’t for them, Mum and I would not be too concerned, as each of you consciously, and with eyes wide open, crashes from one cock-up to the next. It makes us weak that so many of these events are copulation-driven, and then helplessly to see these lovely little people being so woefully let down by you, their parents.

I can now tell you that I for one, and I sense Mum feels the same, have had enough of being forced to live through the never-ending bad dream of our children’s underachievement and domestic ineptitudes. I want to hear no more from any of you until, if you feel inclined, you have a success or an achievement or a REALISTIC plan for the support and happiness of your children to tell me about. I don’t want to see your mother burdened any more with your miserable woes — it’s not as if any of the advice she strives to give you has ever been listened to with good grace — far less acted upon. So I ask you to spare her further unhappiness. If you think I have been unfair in what I have said, by all means try to persuade me to change my mind. But you won’t do it by simply whingeing and saying you don’t like it. You’ll have to come up with meaty reasons to demolish my points and build a case for yourself. If that isn’t possible, or you simply can’t be bothered, then I rest my case.

I am bitterly, bitterly disappointed.

Dad

Despite the letter’s harsh tone, at least one of his children said it was something she needed to hear.

In Obama’s America, a lot of parents will soon feel like writing to their children the same letter Crews wrote to his.

Public libraries are wonderful things

For our Thanksgiving drive to L.A., I went to our local library and got several books on CD.  Since our small family manages not to have any overlapping areas of interest, this is always a challenge.  One wants teenage hero spy books, another wants high school romantic dramadies (half drama, half comedy), another wants books on computer technology, and I like history books.  Fate favored me because , on the day I went to the library, the only available books on CD that would meet any of those parameters were the history books.

The kids were not amused.  In a compromise, we ended up spending half of each drive listening to the videos they got to watch from the back seat (fyi, The Simpsons is fun to listen to), and half the drive listening to David McCulloch’s 1776.  My husband was so delighted with this book that, upon our return, he put it in his own car so that he could listen to the rest of it while driving to work.

I, meanwhile, put Joseph Ellis’ American Creation: Triumphs and Tragedies at the Founding of the Republic in the CD player in my car. Since I drove about 100 miles yesterday to go to my pistol class, I was able to listen to the first disk.  It’s a delightful book, because Ellis shares my approach to American history:  it’s not about plaster saints or blinkered, evil white guys.  It’s about real people, in real time, dealing with real issues.  And yes, the Founding Fathers were special.

The Founders’ unique abilities came about by virtue of the particular historic time they occupied (what one might call the culmination of the Enlightenment), the incredible bounty of the American continent, their one hundred plus years of freedom as the British government ignored them (right up until the French-Indian War), and the education and class freedom that distinguished them from their European peers and from modern man. Despite these benefits and virtues, they still made mistakes, their personalities interfered with their decision-making, and they punted on the hard decisions because they wanted their own nation more than they wanted to free the slaves.  Those nuances are what make history interesting.

Ellis has a nice turn of phrase and a good eye for historic details, so the book is an effortless listen (or read).  I also detect in his tone a decided disdain for the Howard Zinn school of history, one that throws away the baby with the bath water.  Characterizing the Founders as racist, sexist hypocrites not only obscures their great accomplishments, it also diminishes Americans’ ability to understand their past, to control their present, and, in some small measure, to affect their future.

Listening to the book reminded me that one of the things that makes the Founders so fascinating is that they were men of truly catholic tastes.  Everything interested them.  No man from the Colonial era better exemplifies this quality than Benjamin Franklin.  (Thomas Jefferson loses first place because he was a bit too Southern elitist.)  Franklin was feted the world over for inventing the lightening rod, a device that drastically reduced a terrible scourge.  He also invented the Franklin Stove, bifocals (bless his heart), and the public library.

Before Franklin came along, libraries were reserved for rich people.  Even with the advent of the printing press, books were still expensive, and it was the fortunate man indeed who was both literate and capable of putting together a library of his own.  Now of course, we take libraries completely for granted.  In my community, we have ten public libraries, all of which are clean, well-stocked, well-maintained, and have wonderful on-line resources.

In a historical irony that Ben Franklin would fully have appreciated, modern Britain also has a splendid public library, one that includes a suburb on-line system.  The aristocrats of old might be rolling in their graves, but Ben Franklin, who was also an entrepreneur extraordinaire would especially appreciate the fact that the British library has a department devoted to business planning.  Yup.  That former bastion of intellectual and class exclusivity now has a great resource for British residents who want to see if they can make it on their own.

As a confirmed bookworm, I feel blessed to live in era that not only has public libraries, but that also puts so many resources on-line, so that one doesn’t even have to go to the library to experience the library’s benefit.  Is this the best of all possible worlds or what?

(BTW, if you’re interested in learning more about Benjamin Franklin, I highly recommend Benjamin Franklin’s own quite delightful autobiography, and Walter Isaacson’s slightly more honest look at Franklin’s life as a whole.)

Nattering nabobs of complete ignorance

During one of my endless circular drives transporting children today, I caught a minute of a phone call from one of Sean Hannity’s fans, who is nevertheless voting for Obama.  She has concluded that the Founding Fathers were entirely in favor of wealth redistribution, because they opposed the concentration of wealth in a small number of families.  Sean came back with a lot of good quotations from the Founders warning against concentrating too much power in government, but I think he failed to understand his caller’s fundamental historical ignorance.

In Old England, the concentration of wealth in a small number of families was the concentration of power in government.  Despite the fact that England was slowly moving towards a semi-republican form of government, and the fact that Glorious Revolution in 1688 had clipped the monarch’s wings, England was still ruled entirely by the hereditary aristocracy.

Almost all the power in England, and almost all the money, resided with a fairly small number of families who held that money and power by virtue of birth and heredity.  They didn’t earn it, and they didn’t achieve much benefit from investing it.  To the extent they plowed it back into society, they did so only because a sense of decency made some of them realize that it was unconscionable, in a static rural society, for the poor to be so abysmally poor.  It was only the unleashing of the economy to the twin engines of the Industrial Revolution and the massive expansion of the British Empire that saw people from non-aristocratic backgrounds begin to break into those monied and powered ranks.

What all of these nitpicky little historical facts mean is that, when the Founders warned against concentrating wealth and power in a small number of people, they were also warning against locking power in the government — and vice versa, because the two were one and the same in that era.

The beauty of America is that the potential for power and wealth is vested in each individual citizen.  All other systems, whether socialist, or aristocratic, or oligarchical or theocratic concentrate power in a small ruling class, and then keep it there.  That’s what Obama wants to do to America.  Even as he sprinkles a little economic largesse amongst the people, he intends to ensure that power flows solely to the government — and anything more un-American than that is impossible to imagine.  The Founders are rolling in their graves at the thought.

This sounds like a very good book

Over at National Review, Kathryn Lopez interviews Steven Waldman, who is an editor at BeliefNet.com, and who just wrote a new book: Founding Faith: Providence, Politics, and the Birth of Religious Freedom in America. In it, he carefully examines the way in which the Founders envisioned faith playing out in America, and the way in which people on both sides of the political divide have perverted their views. Waldman, in the interview, sounds like a cheerful, knowledgeable pragmatist, so I can imagine that the book is interesting to read. I especially like his “choose your battles” philosophy, which sounds like an attitude the Founders would espouse:

Lopez: You write, “a Christian who is not allowed to run a Bible study group on public school property is still allowed to worship in church, at home, in the car, on the street, at a rock concert, plugged into an iPod, or surfing on the Internet.” So should we tell the kid with the Bible study group to suck it up?

Waldman: I tend to think holding a Bible Study in a school is Constitutional but I’m not sure it’s an important battle for religious people to fight. The key is that the Bible study group actually happens. So if having it on school property is really the only way it’s going to occur, then they should fight it. If it’s easy enough to hold it somewhere else, they should do that. My concern is that we focus so much on getting religion into the public square that we start to think that the public square is essential to our spiritual lives. It’s not.

Where I tend to come down on the gray area cases is that some of them are Constitutionally permissible — but unwise. Just because something is allowed doesn’t make it a good idea. If religion can happen without government’s involvement, that’s preferable.

To be honest, some of my point here is simply that we should have a sense of perspective. If the Founders were here and heard about someone not being allowed to have a Bible study on public school property, I think some would side with ACLU (I’m guessing Madison and Jefferson) and some would side with the kid (probably Washington and Adams). But mostly they’d say: wow, you folks have way more religious freedom than we did, and way more than we thought you would. Congratulations! Perhaps we should just have a once-a-year holiday where we put our lawsuits aside and celebrate the great success of religious freedom. We can go back to suing each other the next day.