Aug 122009

The most fun to read are those criticisms of town meeting protestors that follow this pattern:

“These protestors are orchestrated by big corporations. They are spreading disinformation and lies!”

Aug 112009

Camile Paglia tries to take a liberal perspective on Obama’s healthcare gaffes, and Salon’s leftwing readers revile her in language that makes the townhall protestors sound like a mother soothing her child to sleep. One of the calmer commenters wrote:


you’re going to get thousands of letters on this one – the Drudge squad and Salon’s own paid naysayers will swarm on Paglia’s irresponsible and dishonest assessments of the healthcare fight. This article will be linked all over the place – just watch.

Not one of those clicks will be worth it. Not one. You are dismantling your own principles.

Such mindless damage this woman does, and for nothing – just to hear her own empty, airless voice.

So I decided to prove the commenter right by linking to the article myself.

Aug 102009

There is an amazing article by Josh Levin at “How is America Going to End? Five steps to totalitarian rule.” It makes a lot of good points, even going to the trouble of pointing out FDR’s authoritarian tendencies and abuses of power during the 1930s.

The truly amazing part is how it managed to put out so many words without once mentioning Barak Obama’s actions in the direction of totalitarianism. It mentions Bush & Cheney quite a bit, and gives a fairly balanced account of what they did and didn’t do in the totalitarian direction. Richard Nixon gets a mention. But there is not a word about Barak Obama’s new detention policies that go farther than Bush’s ever did, or his politicization of the Justice Department, or his takeovers and attempted takeovers of various sectors of our economy, or his intolerance of dissenting viewpoints.

How could anyone who is not a partisan hack write such an otherwise balanced account without mentioning our current President, I wondered.

Then I got to thinking that it’s not so unusual after all. Slate is well known as a leftwing magazine. Young leftwingers are not very tolerant these days. If Levin wants to be able to be allowed to work, breed, and not have others treat him like a pariah, it’s probably not something he dares to talk about directly. He needs to talk in parables and circumlocutions to get his point across.


It’s not unlike in movies made in Soviet Russia. In those I’ve seen there is (to me, at least) a surprising amount of social commentary that would probably not have got past the censors if they had discussed the topics directly. So a comedy like Kin-Dza-Dza could be criticial of a government infested with bribe-takers and abusers of power — if the action took place on another planet.

That movie is probably not the greatest example, because Kin-Dza-Dza was released in 1986 when the Soviet Union was already much more open than it had been previously. But I happen to have the movie handy, including the above part where our heroes have just reached the point when they cannot take it anymore and have decided to fight back, starting by taking down the police officer who is helping himself to bribes.

Tarkovsky’s Solaris is probably a better example. It came out in 1972, a very different time, and it, too, got by with a lot by putting the setting on another planet. That way any messages wouldn’t strike too close to home.


Another example is in the 1973 TV series that Myra and I are currently watching: “Seventeen Moments in Spring”, which takes place in Nazi Germany. The English subtitles for the narrator for Göring’s words at the point of the above screenshot say, “Our concentration camps are humane instruments to save the enemies of national-socialism. If we don’t put them in camps, there will be a mob law. In such way, they’ll be completely reformed and realize our rightness”. Even in 1973 it was probably easier and more effective to talk about that than about the GULAG system of corrective labor from the same World War II period, which had very similar methods and purposes.

I’m not sure if the movie was really intended as social commentary, though. So far what I’ve seen of it is a very patriotic movie that doesn’t seem to be getting in digs at problems that include the producers’ own country. But I wonder if a viewer, perhaps living in the same household with former inmates from the GULAG, could help but think about how their own country once did such things, too.

This sort of indirect system of social commentary is of course not just a feature of Soviet Russia. Authors and producers in other countries have sometimes had to approach issues indirectly, too. And if you consider the type of people who usually read Slate, it’s probably something that happens in our country, too. The Josh Levin article may very well be an example.

Late note:  Also cross-posted to Kino Reticulator

Aug 092009

Seth G. Jones writes in the WSJ (“Going Local: The Key to Afghanistan : The U.S.’s strategy of building a centralized state is doomed to fail in a land of tribes“) that the U.S. is making a mistake in Afghanistan by acting as though there is (or should be) a central authority to deal with. The Soviets made the same mistake.

It’s understandable that a highly centralized government like that of the Soviet Union would do that. But what excuse if there for the U.S., which supposedly is itself much more decentralized — a federal system with greater levels of autonomy at the state and local level than you see in most large countries? We ought to be the experts at dealing with systems of federated sovereignty.

But neither the current nor the past administration seem to get it. It’s probably no accident that GWB was a great centralizer at home (Homeland Security, Education) as is Barak Obama (Health Care, Manufacturing, Banking, Housing). Neither has very good decentralization skills. And if Obama doesn’t know how to work with grassroots activism at townhall meetings, he’s not going to know how to deal with local entities in Afghanistan, either.

Aug 092009

Good timing. I didn’t read the Little House books as a kid, but I read them to my kids several times when they were young, and we’ve visited some of the sites, too. This summer I got to thinking about them again. I needed a bicycling destination in southern Minnesota, and picked the Plum Creek site, which Myra and I visited for the first time.

So it was fun to find this good article at the New Yorker by Judith Thurman about Laura Ingalls Wilder and her daughter Rose. It seems there was also a chat session with the author at which readers could ask questions. It was there that I found a good summary of the complicated relationship between the two women in writing the Little House books:

QUESTION FROM GUEST: Were you able to see whether or not Laura learned from Rose’s edits?

JUDITH THURMAN: Great question. That would require a really close study of the manuscripts and the correspondence. And even then it might not be conclusive. “The First Four Years” suggests Laura could not write anywhere near as well on her own as she did with Rose. And, in fact, I think they needed each other, the odd chemistry of their closeness and distance and past, to transcend the limitations they both had.

And the article itself explains how Rose wasn’t able to write anything as well on her own without her mother’s material, either.

I wonder if Thurman isn’t a little too hard on “The First Four Years.” I did not read that one to my kids, btw — didn’t even discover it until we had read the others a couple of times. Here’s what Thurman says.

At some point soon afterward, Laura did set down the story of her experience as a bride and a young mother, but she abandoned it. That was the manuscript that was found after her death; in 1971 MacBride published it, without revisions, as “The First Four Years,” and it is now marketed as volume nine in the Little House series. But Laura’s instincts were right. The writing is prissy and amateurish; the heroine is bigoted and obsessed with money. It is too simplistic for an adult reader, and too mature for a child. In slightly more than a hundred pages, there isn’t even a glimmer of the radiant simplicity that draws one to the Little House books.

The first time I read that book I almost couldn’t stand to do it. The difficulties and unrelieved disappointments Laura and her husband faced made were too painful, especially after the wonderful childhood and adolescence. There are difficulties and disappointment in the regular Little House books, too, but they are overcome. Not so in The First Four Years, it seemed.

Yet, when I went back to read it quite a few years later, it was much easier going. Maybe we had been through a few more difficulties ourselves by then; in any case, it was a lot easier to accept and appreciate how life ended up for Laura.

I’ve often wondered if anyone else has had the same differing reactions to that particular book at different stages of his/her own life.

Aug 082009

It’s about time for us to get a new car to replace our one-and-only car, a venerable 1998 Toyota Corolla. But thanks to idiot politicians and their cash-for-clunkers program, now is a bad time to buy. Not only do we not get in on a cash-for-a-clunker deal, but we have to pay extra taxes so other people can trade in their clunkers. Not only that, but the people who ARE trading their clunkers in are causing shortages of new cars. It isn’t that we want a new car. We want a low-mileage used one. Just the same, this program is not going to drive prices down at the dealers. It isn’t going to motivate them to sharpen their pencils to sell to us.

On the other hand, I suppose if more people buy new cars instead of used, it might actually work a little bit in our favor if it causes a glut of used cars. But I expect the net result will be more to the dealers’ benefit than ours. The clunkers are going to the dumpster, and will not be going to the used car lots.

So it might be best for us to hang on to our car until just before the massive inflation that will be required to pay for all these stimulus programs starts to kick in. We’ll see.

In the meantime, the program probably does not a thing to motivate people to cut their carbon emissions. Having a fuel-efficient car does not motivate people to burn less fuel.

Aug 082009

Lenore Skenazy is the chronicler of the movement to keep kids out of the outdoors except when closely supervised by hovering parents. A recent episode was titled, “Outrage of the Week: “We LOVE Seeing Children Outside (But Not Under Age 16).” It was about a housing development in Colorado that forbad children from playing outside, unsupervised, until they reached age 16. The ban has since been rescinded, to some extent, but there are still extreme elements of our society who do not want children taking on any kind of responsibility at all for their own well-being. These people are numerous enough to give Ms Skenazy no end of things to write about.

But suppose kids are kept off the streets, out of the playgrounds, and out of the yards. What are they supposed to do? Sit inside and watch television? Because some of these same types of people don’t want children reading old books, either. I learned from Walter Olsen in City Journal (by way of Banned for your Safety on LiveJournal) that Congress passed a book ban last year. (“The New Book Banning“)

It’s hard to believe, but true: under a law Congress passed last year aimed at regulating hazards in children’s products, the federal government has now advised that children’s books published before 1985 should not be considered safe and may in many cases be unlawful to sell or distribute. Merchants, thrift stores, and booksellers may be at risk if they sell older volumes, or even give them away, without first subjecting them to testing—at prohibitive expense. Many used-book sellers, consignment stores, Goodwill outlets, and the like have accordingly begun to refuse new donations of pre-1985 volumes, yank existing ones off their shelves, and in some cases discard them en masse.

No Leviathan Anklebiter award for the Consumer Products Safety Division. Banned for your Safety and Walter Olesen each get one, though.

Aug 082009

One of the great thing about government ownership of the means of production is that development doesn’t need to be held back by environmental constraints. Take the nationalization of GM and Chrysler, for example. Now that a powerful government monopoly owns large portions of those two companies, they are able to walk away from responsibility for their polluted properties. (Detroit Free Press article here.) It’s not quite the same as what happened around the Sea of Azov, but there are significant similarities.

Ford, which is in a very different relationship to these same monopolists, still bears responsibility for its environmental problems. Dirty capitalists like that should expect to pay the price.

It’s not just the environment. It should also be pointed out that the same process of nationalization can also help us deal with our health care problems.

Aug 082009

Usually when politicians talk out of both sides of their mouths, they don’t do both sides at the same time. But here’s what one of our country’s political leaders said in a campaign speech last Thursday, as reported by the AP. This must be what he meant when he said, “I have a gift, Harry.”

Appealing across party lines, Obama told the Democratic audience that leaders must listen to their opponents and disagree with civility. He pointed to Virginia’s two most recent governors, Democrats Mark Warner and Tim Kaine, the former now a senator and the latter Obama’s hand-picked Democratic National Committee chairman.

“We want to make sure that we listen to other people’s ideas. We’re going to bring labor and business together,” he said….

He pointed to massive financial challenges and an exploding deficit he said he inherited from Republican President George W. Bush.

“That was gift-wrapped and waiting for me,” Obama said. “I don’t want the folks who created the mess do a lot of talking. I want them to get out of the way so we can clean up the mess. I don’t mind cleaning up after them, but don’t do a lot of talking.”

Last I heard, there was a bit of disagreement on just who created the mess and how. But it’s not clear whether that part of that disagreement is one where we want to listen to other peoples’ ideas or where we want them to shut up and not do a lot of talking.

Aug 082009

I usually don’t bother getting in touch with my U.S. Representative or Senators any more. But I thought I would send a note to Rep. Mark Schauer to encourage him to conduct one of those town hall meetings so his constituents can go and protest the Democrat health care plans. I’d even give him an advance summary of what I’d say if I’d get a chance at the microphone:

  • Our current health care system needs reform
  • It is neither right nor acceptable that so many people cannot afford health care insurance or health care.
  • We need separation of health care and state for the same reasons we need separation of church and state. A complete separation is not possible given the 1st two points, but we need to maximize personal and family choice and minimize government intrusion into our bedrooms, dining rooms, and sick rooms.
  • The plans proposed recently do not do this. Quite the opposite.

But it looks like I can’t send him an e-mail without figuring out what the plus-four number is for my zip code and putting it in a web form. I refuse to take part in demeaning activities like that, so screw it. I’d be glad to put my street address on my note, but not go through this.

And anyway, sometimes it’s better to let our representatives work in ignorance and then find themselves blindsided when they don’t understand where their constituents are coming from.