"Slarrow" refers to the "slings and arrows of outrageous fortune" from Hamlet's soliloquy. Here are the chronicles of such darts and whatever attempt there may be to take arms against such a sea of troubles.

Location: Ozarks, United States

Monday, January 24, 2005

Lileks And The Evil Overlord

Lilek's piece today is another classic. It begins with an observation on Johnny Carson (who, to my mind, when funniest when a joke bombed; he was better with a failed joke than many comedians are with a successful one.) It continues with a riff on an advertisement for a new Oedipus production that oh-so-cleverly mocks the current administration. James writes:
I don’t think it occurred to the people who cooked up this campaign that it might not give everyone the same self-satisfied smirk it provided to the author of the copy. I think this one got anointed with groupthink lubricant and slid unhindered down the chute. I think they’d honestly be surprised to find that anyone objected. No, amend that: anyone who mattered. Anyone who didn’t pronounce the name of the play as OhEeedeePus. “But that could never happen. Right?” Meaning, it already has, and we all know it. One can certainly argue that a powerful leader is the cause of some countrymen’s distress, since a certain percentage of the electorate will always regard the other party as a hydra-headed tapeworm that slithered out of Satan’s hindquarters. But this is a bit more explicit and general. A powerful leader. Fails to see. That he is the cause. Of his country’s distress. Oh! So it’s about Saddam! Right?...

...This is why companies of all sorts should keep one Republican on staff, perhaps behind glass, with a small hammer on a chain nearby in case of emergency. Run this stuff past the old dinosaur now and then. Just for fun. Could help. Never know.
This bit reminds me of the wonderful Evil Overlord list. It's a nice skewering of the cliches that always defeat the bad guy who's trying to take over the world. ("Want to be an evil overlord? Don't do this....") In particular, Lileks' observation reminds me of item #12: "One of my advisors will be an average five-year-old child. Any flaws in my plan that he is able to spot will be corrected before implementation."

This is why the MSM and the cultural Left are doomed--can't even make it through item 12 of the Evil Overlord list. Death by cliche awaits. (with nasty, big, pointy teeth.)

Friday, January 21, 2005

Like Shooting Fish In A Barrel

"Redford Kicks Off Sundance on a Political Note", the headline says. Big surprise there. He was calling independent films "a voice of dissent" and was encouraging "film-makers to speak their minds." Okay, nothing big so far. But then he said this:
"This is really a festival about different voices in film that really reflect, a little more accurately, the world we live in," Redford said.
Oh, I couldn't wait to read the rest of the article when I read that. I couldn't wait to see what Redford's notion of accuracy included. I was not disappointed.

Bingo! The first film profiled is "Happy Endings" by Don Roos. It's about a counselor at an abortion clinic "who remains conflicted over her decision to have a child at a young age" (oooooo! irony! sophistication! children as props!) and a man with a gay son who dates the teenage girl who took his son's virginity (despite the whole "gay" thing.) I'm stunned. Did these people eavesdrop at my last family reunion? How else could they have so perfectly captured the world we live in!?

Oh, and of course there's this perfectly predictable piece:
Roos took a swipe at last year's battles over gay marriage when he introduced "Happy Endings." He thanked his boyfriend for supporting him through the making of the film and told the audience: "We had a very busy year threatening the sanctity of marriage."
More irony!! How does he do it?

The article concludes with, "Among the 120 other films are a range of documentaries such as 'Murderball,' about quadriplegic athletes, as well as feature films including 'The Chumscrubber' a satirical look at life in the American suburbs." Wow, quadriplegic athletes (exactly how does that work?) and suburbs satire--yep, that's calling it like it is!

If only I could be part of the heart and soul of America....

Might For Right

I was mightily impressed by the President's inaugural address yesterday. It reminded me of the best formulation I ever heard between power and morality: not might makes right, but might for right.

Peggy Noonan disagrees; she thought the speech was too ambitious, too "over the top." I respectfully disagree with her in this instance; I think there is just a bit too much of the calculated domestic speechwriter in her response. I sent this to her via the reader response link on the page.
Oh, Peggy. What a distressing time for you to go wobbly.

I am very thankful the President did not give a watered-down speech. First, what better time to give a strong speech than an inauguration? The hard work of cutting back the vision will certainly come as the President descends into the trenches with Congress and foreign countries. Compromises are dead ahead; if the President cannot issue a strong statement of principle now, then when?

Perhaps the speech is "over the top" for domestic consumption--which, to us, means a few uncomfortable moments until the next news cycle or speech or celebrity scandal. But surely portions of this speech will be smuggled into Iran and Syria and China and Saudi Arabia and Egypt. Indeed, it has to be strong and "over the top" to get through the filters of state tyranny and translation. But for the oppressed to know unequivocally that they have a friend in the United States of America...well, that in itself is well worth a little domestic discomfort. One does not put the fire in men's minds unless one is willing to stir the fire a little. Don't forget so quickly the lessons of Natan Sharansky.

Finally, Peggy, in the world as it is today (and has ever been), can there be such a thing as "way too much God"?
In his second term George W. Bush will not allow himself the luxury of low expectations. This will surely lead to immediate evaluations of his presidency as a failure after he leads office as people discuss (with myopic zeal) the inability to instantly fulfill all goals. But once the partisan rhetoric fades and the news cycles move on, I suspect this president will be regarded as Reagan is now. Memories love a winner.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Fantastic Piece By Varifrank

I won't spoil the surprise on this one. Just go read Varifrank now.

Monday, January 17, 2005

Beautiful Briny Sea

Well, well. It's another episode of a blue-stater trekking into deepest, darkest Red America.

Actually, I feel relatively generous towards this piece--more Lileksy than Blairlike. The writer has enough familiarity with so-called Red America (given his background) that he can at least pick out good, solid, representative quotes from people. I get the sense that the team made a genuine effort to go out and find the story instead of having the story in their heads and just looking for some warm bodies for the [insert name here] writeup.

There are a number of instances in which the authors let their biases bleed through a little--particularly the cracks about diversity and sameness--but overall the team does a decent job of letting the people they met speak for themselves. But here's the thing: pretty much all the people interviewed sounded to me like good, decent people who said plain, decent things. (In fact, it's odd to me that anybody would find these people odd or frightening, yet obviously some do.) I particularly liked Allen Stuhr and Merv Ocken who, in a few simple comments, exemplify the principles of sound conservation, the primacy of "we the people", and federalism:
"I'm the village water officer," Stuhr explained. "For more than 100 years, we've lived with arsenic in our water. It is a naturally occurring element. It isn't contamination -- it's natural."

During the Clinton administration, the Environmental Protection Agency lowered the amount of arsenic allowed in water, from 50 parts-per-billion to 10. "Now all over Nebraska, villages are having to build new water treatment plants to remove a naturally occurring element," Stuhr said, which costs "millions of dollars."

Does Washington pay? I asked.

"They'll loan us the money," Stuhr answered. "And whose money is it to begin with? And once we get the arsenic out, why, then we have a hazardous waste problem, because there is nowhere to dispose of it."

Bush would like to restore the previous standard. You might recall that many Democrats howled that Bush was willing to poison people, but in these parts, Bush's proposal was greeted as simple common sense.

Merv Ocken: "The problem comes in when you try to pass one law that will apply to everyone all across the country. In New York or Washington, certain laws might make sense. But you get out here, where there's sometimes just two people living in an entire section, and it's different."

A section is 640 acres, or one square mile.

Average population per square mile of Manhattan: 50,000.
This exchange is a real gem (and offers some insight why sometimes Red staters think about the coasters--and Europe--so infrequently and often in the same terms.) What people at the top tend to forget is that the causes they push for end up being implemented by people like Allen Stuhr; the consequences of their ideas falls on him, and he's become an expert in the issues near and dear to him in his own hometown. It's like the sea in which the bloggers swim which is full of amazing people that the "standard" nets just don't pick up.

The whole charge of bias and groupthink revolves around the notion (to continue the net analogy) that the MSM is fishing with a net with five-inch-square holes which leads them to conclude that there are no fish smaller than five inches in the sea. When they find them, as they have in this article, they tend to treat them as exotic, unbelievable specimens. To us little fish, it's both amusing and bizarre that we're viewed with such surprise and awe and fear.

Friday, January 14, 2005

Damned If You Do...

Victor Davis Hanson once again lays out the contradictory criticisms and unreasonable expectations of opponents of Bush's policy in the Middle East. An excerpt:
Indeed, from the oscillating analyses of Iraq, the following impossible picture often emerges from our intelligentsia. It was a fatal error to disband the Iraqi army. That led to lawlessness and a loss of confidence in the American ability to restore immediate order after Saddam's fall. Yet it was also a fatal error to keep some Baathists in the newly constituted army. They were corrupt and wished reform to fail — witness the Fallujah Brigade that either betrayed us or aided the enemy. So we turned off the Sunnis by disbanding the army — and yet somehow turned off the Shiites by keeping some parts of it.

Massive construction projects were hogged by gargantuan American firms, ensconced in the Green Zone that did not engage either local Iraqi workers or small companies and thus squandered precious good will. Or, indigenous contractors proved irresponsible and unreliable, evidence for why Iraq was in such bad shape to begin with. And when we did put exclusive reliance on them, it ensured only lackadaisical and half-hearted reconstruction.

We also lost hearts and minds by using GPS bombs to obliterate houses full of killers and take out blocks of insurgents. And yet we lost hearts and minds by failing to act decisively and de facto turning over large enclaves to terrorists and Saddamites whom we were afraid to root out. Elections should have been held earlier; no, they must be delayed since they come too soon when the country is still unsecured.
I'm one of those who gets criticized for continuing to think the war is going well and that we have done a good thing in the face of all the evidence that we're "clearly" in trouble. This is part of the reason. When opponents so determinedly take a self-contradictory tack in order to criticize, I stop listening to any of them because I know they have no new information to impart to me, despite their latest data point. The litany tells me far more about them than it does about Iraq.

Naturally, the same charge applies to me too. So be it. I will continue to view the Iraq conflict as a great and generous enterprise undertaken by American heroes and our stalwart allies until history itself show me wrong. Until that day, though, I shall have little patience for those so determined to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

The Kids Are All Right

Brian Anderson writes in OpinionJournal about the rise of conservatism on college campuses which is coming, by and large, from the students. It's an excellent analysis of what's going on and why it's happening, and I'd like to highlight one point and add another. About this new generation, Anderson writes:
"American college kids grew up in an era that witnessed both communism's fall and the unchained U.S. economy's breathtaking productivity surge. They've seen that anyone willing to work hard--regardless of race or sex--can thrive in such an opportunity-rich system. 'I'm only 20, so I don't remember segregation or the oppression of women--in fact, my mother had a very successful career since I was a kid,' one student observed in an online discussion. 'I look around and don't see any discrimination against minorities or women.' Left-wing charges of U.S. economic injustice sound like so much BS to many kids today."
This, perhaps, is the crux of the generational gap; there's too great a gulf between our experiences. Older professional liberals plying their agenda do so largely on the fuel of the memories they had of when Times Were Bad and the righteousness of the struggle to Change Things. Well, they succeeded in changing things, and part of the result was to introduce new Bad Things that had a direct impact on the generation now coming of age. So the rhetoric ends up about what the older generation thinks and remembers; that makes it a little difficult to engage the younger generation as allies with the same language. (This also explains to me why some of the young who have been converted do so on such knuckleheaded themes like anti-globalization and Bush=Hitler memes.)

My addition to this little piece is the role of abortion. Steve Horwitz, a commenter at Left2Right, anticipates that Best of the Web will cite the Roe Effect. Taranto treats the effect as the result of conservative parents not aborting their children and thereby transmitting their culture in greater numbers than liberals who had abortions might. But I still think there's something more than that.

January 22 will mark the 32nd anniversary of Roe v. Wade. The practical consequence is that for all of us alive younger than 32 or so (and I turn 30 in February), it was legal to kill us before we ever saw the light of day. It's personal. When pro-choice supporters try to explain away the fetus as mere tissue or a parasite or some stranger leeching off a woman as mere abstractions, we are the abstractions. Those of us who are alive to talk about this, naturally, come from mothers who didn't embrace those euphemisms. But it is nonetheless odd that we survive and others didn't because of a classification decision, that two fetuses at the same stage of development nevertheless have their human status and very existence dependent on the choice of another.

This, I think, is another aspect to the greater degree of conservatism of college students: it's hard to make common cause with those who would classify you as a thing in order to dispose of you, especially when they don't seem to realize the magnitude of what they do. As I continue to say, the abortion question will become even more relevant as those of us who were eligible for the procedure come into our political own.

Thursday, January 13, 2005

More Menshevik Thoughts

Thinking a little more on this Rathergate reaction, I like Stanley Kurtz's take on it in The Corner:
"Deep down, this Dan Rather business is about honor...The analogy to the Rather affair at this point is the case of the Dixie Chicks...The Dixie Chicks think people punished them for their politics. But what really upset folks wasn’t that the Chicks were against Bush or the war, it was that the Chicks said they were ashamed to be from the same state as the President–and said this to a foreign audience. That dishonored the President, the country, the state of Texas, and the South. That is why country music fans turned against the Chicks."
I believe that's a good explanation for why lots of bloggers are up in arms about the CBS report. I think that's what Hewitt wants: an official acknowledgement that CBS News was IN the wrong, not just they made mistakes, and he's trying to sustain fervor based on that righteous indignation.

As I wrote in the comments on the original Bolshevik/Menshevik post , though, I don't think that's all that reasonable to expect, nor do I see that it's particularly useful. It depends on what you want blogs to do vis-a-vis the mainstream media. If you want to bring them down, I should think you'd be perfectly happy to let them continue in their mistakes. If you wanted them to improve, then I would think the tone of your comments would not be outraged but rather wistful, like those Republicans who say they need a healthy Democratic party for competition's sake. But Hewitt's claims seem to me to be pique at the overlooking of bloggers and the refusal to acknowledge the truth about their charges. That, it seems to me, becomes a problem of self-referentialism--look at us! we're important!

Well...yeah. Bloggers are important; without them, it's quite possible that the CBS story never would have broken down the way it did. But is it necessary for this report to say that to validate it? Personally, I think it's more satisfying to chuckle that they still don't get it and lay in wait for the next big screw-up. (Then again, I'm a itty bitty fish that didn't do any of the legwork in Rathergate, so that's easy for me to say.)

At the end of the day, though, I think there are just two questions. First, did this report actually change anybody's mind (as opposed to providing political cover?) Second, is this really a victory for CBS News instead of the best of a number of bad outcomes? I suspect the answer to both questions is "no", and I think bloggers can move on knowing they had to press their opponents to standards of metaphysical certainty to avoid the plain truth. As far as I'm concerned, that's a feather in the cap of bloggers.


Hugh Hewitt today notices a particularly astute metaphor concerning how bloggers have reacted to the Rathergate report. The author divides the reactions into Bolshevik and Menshevik camps; Bolsheviks want revolution now while Mensheviks are happy to be patient and let the story play out.

Count me as a Menshevik (and Soxblog too, unless Hewitt's got some e-mail confirmation.) Hewitt himself is the victim of unreasonable (and unnecessary) expectations, and as a result he's going batty. What he wants is for this report to say the bloggers were right about CBS. The report was never going to do that, though, since it was commissioned by CBS and its money (as Tony Blankley points out). Peggy Noonan echoes the point:
"Is it annoying that the panel that issued the report did not find liberal bias in the preparation and airing of the Bush National Guard story? Yes, but only that. It's not as if anyone has to be told. I hate to be cynical, and this is cynical, but the panel that produced the report was not being paid by CBS to find liberal bias. It was being paid to do the anatomy of a failure with emphasis on who did what wrong."
But the rest of Noonan's piece has it right: no matter what the report says, the reality on the ground is that the media monopoly is broken. The Tiffany network is a fake rock whether Andrew Heyward stays or goes.

The real question for bloggers is, "what now?" So many of them have been waiting for this report as vindicatino of their past efforts that they haven't quite come to grips with the fact that the wall has fallen. The report details massive failures and yet fails to confront CBS with the root causes of those failures, so bloggers can expect the MSM to continue to be deluded for a while. Bloggers may need to decide whether they want recognition and self-awareness from the fading monolith or whether they want to keep building its replacement.

This is the same question that faced open-source coders when Linux first started threatening Microsoft, and I think I see a rerun of history in the making.

Monday, January 10, 2005

Chapters of Life

This morning the members of my church laid a gentleman to rest. He was probably one of the best-loved people there. They printed his obituary in the bulletin yesterday. I learned a number of significant things about his life.

He died at age 88. He came to our area in 1978; he was retiring, at the age of 63, to the Branson area of southwest Missouri. He was a charter member of the church here. He and his wife were married 67 years. He owned a service station once--sold gas for 12 1/2 cents a gallon. He created in others, particularly the men of the church, the kind of profound appreciation that defies efforts of the human tongue to express.

There are some who would think that retiring to the Ozarks at 63 the end of life itself. But this man had a quarter century ahead of him. Those who knew him here always knew him as an old man, yet his wisdom was valued all the more. There are few venues anymore, it seems, in which the aged are appreciated for their experience and advice instead of for vain attempts to pretend they're still young. His Biblical knowledge was tempered by long years of habit and experience, making his example ever more uplifting and encouraging.

He'd been sick for the past two and a half years, and his death was announced, "he's gone home!" Despite a typo in the program, we do not weep as those who have no hope. He himself had expressed a desire to go home repeatedly--not as an expression of power or control in this world but rather just a yearning for the next. His faith was strong and specific on that point.

This was a good man whose ways and life confounded much of what we consider modern. For my part, I shall remember him, especially when confronted with the challenge that seems oh-so-new but is not. I shall remember him when I mistake the loss of easy pleasure in my life for the end of my life. And I shall remember him when pain and hardship attendeth my way and I view my lot with the arrogance of one who thinks he knows the whole story. Rest in eternal peace, Brother Wess.

Yeah. That's The Problem

USA Today has a story about why the Democrats have such a tough time talking about character.It begins with the sentence, "Imagine a Democratic presidential candidate and his allies assailing the character of the Republican nominee in ads and speeches every day for eight months."

My response to this was "what's this 'imagine' word?" Call it fourteen months, and that's exactly what we got. But perhaps the writer has a narrower definition of "allies" than I do, because she continues with, "Having trouble?" The rest of the article is how the Democrats aren't mean and tough enough to attack Republicans and how, in their innocent goodness, just can't understand why people would believe nasty lies about them in time to counteract the eeeeeevil Right.

Hogwash. Character attacks work when (a) the attack is accurate, and (b) it's an issue. Bill Clinton fulfilled (a), but the times did not fulfill (b). Attacks on George W. Bush don't work very well because he actually is a decent man, not the murdering greedy arrogant S.O.B. the attacks make him out to be. John Kerry suffered because he really did have a character problem about being steadfast and strong, and by running on his Vietnam experience he made character an issue.

(I do hope the article was run as an opinion piece and not a news or analysis one, though. It makes [incorrect, to my mind] judgements about the characters of Gore and Kerry that no news piece ought to make.)

Friday, January 07, 2005

Oh Please

My local paper says we should confirm Gonzales but watch him. But they base their distrust on an extraordinarily shallow understanding of events and Gonzales' actual role in the so-called "torture memos." One particular line set me off; the board said that Bush's policies of treating terrorists like terrorists "contributed to the abuses at Abu Ghraib and other other military prisons." That's just ridiculous. For reference, I'd point folks to Greyhawk's quiz today to see how much they really know about Abu Ghraib.

Will Americans Walk?

Victor Davis Hanson has a typically astute piece about how Americans are still saving the world and are being rewarded with yet more moaning and groaning. He compares our current role to the Western lawman of Hollywood legend that comes in and cleans up a town in which the residents are too foolish or yellow to do it themselves, only to hear the vicious backbiting whining from those same residents. He concludes:
All this hypocrisy has desensitized Americans, left and right, liberal and conservative. We will finish the job in Iraq, nursemaid democratic Afghanistan through its birthpangs, and continue to ensure that bandits and criminal states stay off the world's streets. But what is new is that the disenchanted American is becoming savvy and developing a long memory — and so we all fear the day is coming when he casts aside the badge, rides the buckboard out of town, and leaves such sanctimonious folk to themselves.
The US is undoubtedly the world cop (and fire department and first responders and all other kinds of emergency services.) But what happens if we decide to walk? What's going to happen if we decide we need a vacation from all this?

Novak On the Tsunami

Michael Novak has an interesting piece in National Review about a particular reaction to the tsunami. The problem is how a good God can allow (or cause) such death and destruction. Often this is really a polemical question, asked by non-theists in order to embarrass theists. Novak's take, however, turns the question on those atheists or agnostics who ask it to show that either the presence of such evil is also devastating to their worldview or that the question is an exercise in sheer oneupsmanship (and therefore quite contemptible, at least to my mind.)

I must confess I've never been particularly moved by the Problem of Evil (as opposed to being moved by the presence of evil), at least as regards the existence of God. Perhaps it's because I suspect some of my view is just shaped by limited knowledge, and I've always found it odd that we could be more moral than the One who created us. Yet I am comfortable with the question being asked, as I suspect God also is; the book of Job suggests that much to me.

Monday, January 03, 2005

On Tolerance

Hey, it's a blog post. Lately I've been more of a consumer than a producer of blog posting. Oh well, no harm done.

Before I get back into the longer pieces, I'll do a quick little analysis on one of the favorite terms that gets slung around political arguments: tolerance. For some, it seems to be the Be-All and End-All of discussion, but the concept suffers from two flaws that get overlooked in conversation.

(1) Tolerance entails dissent. One does not tolerate views with which one agrees; rather, one endorses or defends or accepts or supports those views. Sometimes the disagreement is mild, so no action is taken. Sometimes the disagreement is strong but other principles dictate that no action be taken. Tolerance, then, means to restrain oneself from taking action against views or positions with which one disagrees.

Why is that significant? Because a moment's thought will indicate that there are--must be--limits to tolerance, else there can be no political opposition or competition. Since such competition is vital to the lifeblood of a well-functioning democracy, calls for tolerance may only extend to pleas for restraint, not calls for surrender.

(2) Tolerance is not a virtue. Virtues are always proper whenever they're practiced regardless of the circumstances. It is always proper to act with love, compassion, and patience. Tolerance, however, is proper only if the action or idea being tolerated meets some minimal standard. Tolerance of slavery, for example, hardly recommends itself without some other qualifiers (and they better be damn good qualifiers, like trying to save a new country).

Whether tolerance is proper depends on the object of the attitude while virtues depend on the intention of the subject. Thus, to say that one is tolerant is not to say that one is automatically virtuous, nor does intolerance automatically mean that one is wrong about the topic in question.