Thursday, December 26, 2013

Some Reflections on Christmas

A re-post from last Christmas:

With Christmas behind, a few reflections:

It goes without saying that Christmas traditions vary era to era and family to family. (But I guess I said it anyway.) One constant, however, is the focus on the children.

Some parents, probably a plurality, create anticipation for the holiday by reading A Visit from St. Nicholas to their enraptured children. They help compose a letter to Santa or make a personal call on him at the local mall to work out an agreement on gifts. They change the car radio station from the classic rock station to the 24 hour Christmas music station, where the horns blare, the strings reach a crescendo, and Andy Williams croons, “It's the most wonderful time of the year.” (And for Andy Williams, it IS the most wonderful time of the year. It's the only time of the year that he gets  radio play anymore.) Eventually, those children grow skeptical of the claim that reindeer fly or that Santa can fit down the chimney flue.

Other parents create the anticipation for the holiday with advent calendars that countdown the days to the arrival of the Christ child. Their worship services at church begin to incorporate holiday themes. Perhaps a reading of Matthew and Luke's accounts of the birth of Jesus takes place Christmas eve or Christmas morn before exchanging gifts. The gift giving may be construed as an imitation of God's give to man or the gifts of the wise men to the infant Christ child. Later, some of these children, too, may experience a more psychologically traumatic skepticism about those accounts from Matthew and Luke to which they listened growing up.

An interesting change in the “sounds of the season” has taken place over the years. I mean the sounds on the street. I remember the sounds of carolers in the neighborhood in which I grew up. I cannot recall if this occurred every season or just the one that I still remember. One evening it moved several us to get our coats on go caroling ourselves. At least on one evening we did not make it very far. After singing outside the home of one of our friends, we received an invitation in to drink hot chocolate. Once we entered the house, our caroling itinerary ceased.

Another change in the “sounds of the season” manifests itself Christmas morning. The streets used to be a noisy place. Every Christmas morning, after the neighborhood kids opened their presents, they spilled out of their houses into the streets. Children were everywhere with footballs, baseballs, skateboards, mock firearms, remote control cars, bicycles, dolls, baby strollers, etc. Now the streets have an eerie silence. I know that kids live in my neighborhood; I see them each school day waiting at the bus stops. But Christmas morning no kids can be found anywhere.

I imagine they are sitting in front of their television screens and video game platforms or computers. Instead of skateboards, they own a Tony Hawk video simulation. Instead of creeping silently around they neighborhood with their plastic M-1 carbines, helmet, and back-packs or manipulating their G.I. Joes, they direct a platoon in Call of Duty or Halo. Instead of assembling a couple of teams for front yard foot ball, they coach an NFL franchise with Madden NFL Football. There is probably a video game out in which a young girl feeds and changes the diaper on a virtual baby instead of an actual doll. (Or else she has a REAL baby of her own.)

Its not just silent night anymore. Its silent morn.

Kids saving the world in the 1960s:

Kids saving the world in the 2000s:

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

"Lo Saturnalia--er--Merry Christmas"

Its that time again. Eating. Drinking. Music. Exchanging gifts. Decorating trees.

Its Saturnalia!

Well, maybe not. It used to be Saturnalia. But with the emergence of a small Judean religious sect and its remarkable growth in adherents in the West that far exceeded its adherents in its native land, Saturnalia is all but forgotten.

They have taken Saturn out of Saturnalia.

Saturn is the name of the Roman god of agriculture and harvest. He is associated with the goddess of plenty. The weekly time of partying, Saturday, is named for him.

Between December 17 and 23, Romans honored him with a feast. Romans decorated the trees on the grounds of their villas. They ate, drank, exchanged gifts, and made merry by saying “Lo! Saturnalia.” Slaves and their owners exchanged roles. The slaveholders served and the slaves enjoyed being served. The holiday also served as a transition into the celebration of the Dies Natalis Solis Invictis, or Birthday of the Invincible Sun. This latter festival honored the birthday of the sun god, which fell on December 25, the date of the winter solstice according to the old Julian calendar. Disagreement exists over how early and in what form worship of the sun took place.

Meanwhile, Christianity spread throughout the Roman Empire. The resurrection emerged as the most important Christian festival because of its theological importance. In addition, the Church more easily could settle on a date since the crucifixion and resurrection coincided with the Hebrew Passover Feast. Over several decades, however, the celebration of the birth of Jesus grew in importance. But the church celebrated it on different days in different parts of the empire. The Church in Rome celebrated the day on December 25, possibly based upon calculations by Pope Julius 1. As Rome grew and achieved primacy over the rest of the church in its theology and authority, the December 25 date became standard through out the Church for “Christ’s Mass.”

No direct evidence suggests that the Church authorities chose the date to obscure the pagan festivals of Saturnalia or Sol Invictus. But some church fathers noted the coincidence. Cyprian (?-258) noted “How wonderfully acted providence that on the day when that sun was born, Christ should be born.” In addition, Chrysostom wrote that “Our Lord, too, is born in the month of December. But they call it the 'Birthday of the Unconquered.' But who indeed is unconquered as our Lord?”

As Christianity spread, Christmas became intermingled with additional pagan winter celebration traditions: yule logs, mistletoe, and Christmas trees. Today it offers a syncretistic something for everyone.

So, “Lo Saturnalia.” And “Merry Christmas.”

                                                                     Its a winter solstice tree!

Saturday, December 21, 2013

The President's "Royal" Preogatives

"Nip the shoots of arbitrary power in the bud is the only maxim which can ever preserve the liberties of any people."
                                                                                     --John Adams

When we consider the idea of rights and liberties these days, the individual rights and liberties enshrined in our federal Bill of Rights most often come to mind. The creation of the Bill of Rights resulted from the concern expressed by many Americans about the newly strengthened national government created by the Constitution of 1787.

In our revolutionary struggle with Britain, however, we did not emphasize violations of these fundamental rights by our mother country. The British king and parliament never systematically violated the fundamental rights of religion, speech, press, property, etc. Rather, the concern of the revolutionary generation was a more general threat to liberty: the threat posed by arbitrary power.

So what is arbitrary power? First, it is living in subjection to laws not of our own making. This was the whole point of the expression, "no taxation without representation." The colonists found themselves subject to tax laws that they had no say in enacting. Over the course of several years,  the British Parliament enacted many laws governing navigation, trade, revenue, and relations with the American native population that the colonists had no say in making. They had no representatives speaking for them in Parliament. In response to these claims, the ministers or their supporters argued that members of Parliament represent the whole British nation, wherever they may reside, so that the colonists are "virtually" represented.

A second aspect of arbitrary rule is that no real recourse exists to change such laws or to appeal decisions rendered under these laws. American colonists sent petitions to the King, but he more often than not refused even to receive them. The Americans turned to non-importation agreements to apply economic pressure. And then they turned to war.

This explains why revolutionary rhetoric of the colonists often made the claim that the colonists were being turned into slaves. Some historians argue that such claims revealed an "irrational" element in the colonists' ideology or simply serve as examples of literary hyperbole.

The founders did not believe that the king, his ministers, or the Parliament literally planned to enslave them and make Washington and Jefferson pick their own tobacco or wheat. They merely meant that subjection to arbitrary rule was characteristic not of independent persons, but of slaves. Slaves live under the arbitrary authority of their owners. Their masters may be kind; they may be cruel. Slaves, however, have no legal say in how they will be governed and have no real means of appeal. This is arbitrary power.

The Founders, as good Englishmen, thought that the use of arbitrary power by the king, at least, had been done away with decades before in the Glorious Revolution of 1689. The English Bill of Rights established afterwards specifically forbade the king from arbitrarily modifying laws of Parliament in the very first clause of their justification for forcing the abdication of King James II:

"By assuming and exercising a power of dispensing with and suspending of laws and the execution of laws without consent of Parliament."

Nearly 240 years after we began our revolution against arbitrary rule, we Americans seem to be gradually becoming subject to it once again.

In Congress our elected representatives repeatedly write vague laws that require administrative agencies to interpret how such laws will be executed and administrative courts to interpret them. Or our representatives intentionally delegate such authority to the bureaucratic agencies.

In the Supreme Court, justices seem "on the lookout" for cases to establish radical alterations in society through Constitutional misinterpretation and to get their names in the law journals and history textbooks.

In the White House, presidents of both parties expand the reach of their powers through the use of executive orders.

The trend is especially evident under our current President.

Without statutory authority, President Obama has changed immigration laws, drugs sentencing guidelines, and a host of other laws. The most egregious examples have occurred in the administration's attempts to shore up ACA. Most recently, Kathleen Sebelius announced a "hardship exemption" for those who lost insurance coverage that failed to qualify under the term of the ACA. Those covered by the exemption can temporarily secure insurance covered outside the state and federal exchanges. Their hardship, of course, occurred because of the ACA.

The modification was the most recent of several changes since the ACA went into effect. 

In October 2011, the administration scrapped a long-term care insurance program created by the new law, saying it was too costly and would not work.

In April of this year, the administration said that the federal exchange would not offer employees of a small business the opportunity to choose from multiple health plans in 2014.

On July 2, 2013 the White House abruptly announced a one-year delay, until 2015, in a provision that requires larger employers to offer coverage to their workers or pay penalties. 
On Nov. 2 2013, it deferred a major element of the law that would allow small businesses to buy insurance online for their employees through the federal exchange.
Apparently HHS officials, like Nancy Pelosi, failed to read the ACA to find out what was in it. 

And now the President has assumed powers traditionally known as "royal prerogatives" under monarchical regimes. This sets a dangerous precedent not only for contemporary Americans but for future generations, as later presidents will not doubt assert the same claims to such "presidential prerogatives."

We fought a revolution to win our independence from the authority of a monarch. 

America does not need another one.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

A White Christmas?

Megyn Kelly at FOX news has revved up progressives with her assertion that Santa Clause--and Jesus--were (are?) white. Ed Schultz, Jon Stewart, the Young Turks and faith bloggers at CNN and other venues all have weighed in. The relevant portions of the segment below:

Now Santa, as currently conceived, is the creation of Clement Clarke Moore, who composed the poem "A Visit from St. Nicholas." Originally published anonymously in a newspaper, the poem later appeared in book form with illustrations by F. O. C. Darley. These illustrations, as well as those by Thomas Nast and other 19th century illustrators, established our current image of Santa Claus.

Moore's poem no doubt derived partly from the Dutch folk tales of Sinterklaas.

The original St. Nicholas, however was not a fictional character, but a third century Greek Bishop of Myra in Asia Minor.

Yes, all these men were of European origins. And Europeans are conventionally described as white.

Kelly created more controversy by adding that the other important component of the Christmas season, Jesus of Nazareth, also was white.

That, of course, led to biological and  anthropological speculations about the race of Jesus. This only added more confusion to the controvery. Strictly speaking, race is a political category, not a biological one. Moreover, white is a color, not a race.

I suppose we can agree that Jesus was not a European  but,  dermatologically speaking (or at least chromatologically speaking), can be described as white. Now we could go for swarthy, not a commonly accepted palette. A well-known conservative commentator, however,  got excommunicated by the grandfather of all conservative periodicals for describing the Arab cousins of the Jews that way.

Interestingly, little has been written about the woman who kindled this seasonal sideshow, Aisha Harris. In Slate magazine, Ms. Harris disclosed the self-esteem issues she suffered as a black child in a world of white Santas. She argued for a makeover. On this point Megyn Kelley completely misrepresented the point made by Harris. Kelly implied that Harris argued that the makeover should include a dermatological transmogrification of Santa into a black man. Harris advocated nothing of the kind.

She suggested that Santa be remade into  a penguin. And in another fairly common manifestation of the journalistic ignorance of anything outside of writing, Harris identified penguins as mammals. As we can plainly see from the documentary below, penguins, even during the Christmas season are birds.

So merry Christmas, whether you believe in reindeer who can fly or penguins who cannot.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Progressives Still Not Ready for a Black President

Is America ready for a black president?

The question itself rests upon some unspoken assumptions.

First, will voters consider a black candidate for President based upon his ideology (values, policy preferences, etc.) apart from the color of his skin? (We'll set aside the complicated situation when color itself constitutes part of one's ideology.)

Second, will voters evaluate a black President in office based upon performance?

It appears that self-professed "Progressives" are still not ready for a black president.

President Barack Obama, our first black President (if we exclude Bill Clinton) has come under withering criticism from conservatives. Conservatives base their criticisms partly on ideology. They believe that  Obama's progressive ideology deviates from the Constitution and that it lacks a "fit" for the way the world really works.  They also base their criticism on his poor performance. The clumsy "Fast and Furious" gun trafficking operation, the failure to respond to the attack at Benghazi, and even the muddled roll out of his "signature accomplishment" of the  ACA suggest an administration plagued by incompetence.

Progressives attempt to shut down such criticism based upon both policy and performance with an appeal to race.  Most recently, this occurred in a piece of news "analysis" by MSNBC by Melissa Harris-Perry in which she likened the work "Obamacare" to "nigger" :

Of course, Harris-Perry's charges are hardly original. They have served as the staple of Progressive apologists for the Obama administration since its inauguration. Here is Chris Mathews:

And the second worst president of the United States, who until recently surpassed all others as THE worst, Jimmy Carter:

Perhaps once the Obama administration has run it course and Obama joins the pantheon of ex-Presidents, Progressives will be able to overcome their dermatological delusions and take an honest look at the Obama administration.

Perhaps once Americans elect a black Republican president,  Progressives will be able to assess a President through other than rose race colored glasses.

Perhaps not.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Fifty Years Ago Today . . .

Fifty years ago today, Americans got their first glimpse of the Beatles.

The Beatles had released their first album in the Spring of 1963 and it held the top selling position in Britain throughout the summer and fall. The only reason it lost its number one selling position was because the Beatles released their second album in November. The group had been unable, however, to secure a major recording company in the United States to produce and market their recordings.

Coincidentally, on the date of the release of their second album, CBS  news produced a 5 minute segment to be broadcast on its evening news broadcast on November 22, 1963. The segment was pulled, however, with the news that President Kennedy had been assassinated in Dallas, Texas that day.

On December 10, 1963 CBS finally broadcast the segment:


The segment actually resulted in the beginning of Beatlemania in the states.

A 14 year old girl in Silverspring, Md. saw the broadcast.  She called her local radio station to request the DJ to play some Beatles records. She was told the records were not available in America. The DJ promised to get his hands on  them.

The DJ dated a flight attendant (or stewardess back in 1963) at British Airways at the time and asked her to purchase some Beatles records and bring them back to the states on her next flight out. After she returned with the recordings, the DJ invited the girl down to the studio to introduce the Beatles as he cued up the most recent single, "She Loves You."

Listeners swamped the radio station with calls about the new group. The DJ soon made cassette recordings and sent them to DJ friends in Chicago and St. Louis, who inspired the same fan reactions. And so Beatlemania was born.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Pearl Harbor Day

Seventy two years ago today, the Empire of Japan launched a surprise attack on an American naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.

The attack killed over 2300 Americans and brought the United States into the war as a belligerent. Until that time, we had provided aid to the Allies through boycotts and provision of materials.

The attack and subsequent war also brought the United States onto the world stage as a much more active participant both diplomatically and politically.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Happy Thanksgiving!

Cultures throughout the world have held and continue to hold feasts at the close of the growing seasons after the final harvest. Usually these feasts involve giving thanks to whatever divine being(s) the particular cultures acknowledge. In the United States, the tradition loosely relates to the first “Thanksgiving" feast held by the English settlers at Plymouth, Massachusetts

The original one hundred or so settlers consisted of congregants of a separatist church who refused to worship in the England’s established Anglican Church. They arrived on the Mayflower in November 1620, just in time for the onset of winter. After an exploratory party located an advantageous site, the settlers came ashore that December. The site selected had been a Patuxet village that the natives abandoned after its decimation by small pox. By March 1621, however, about half of the English settlers themselves had perished from diseases contracted spread during the voyage or the harsh winter living conditions.

The new settlement took root that year with assistance from the local Wampanoag tribe. Their help had been secured through the efforts of Squanto, a Patuxet native. (Years before he had been captured and brought to England as a “specimen” by an English explorer. While living in England he learned the language. Later he found himself back in his native land. He served as a translator). That fall, after a successful harvest and hunting, a feast was held with some of the Wampanoag neighbors.

One settler preserved an account in a journal:

"Our harvest being gotten in, our governor sent four men on fowling, that so we might after a special manner rejoice together after we had gathered the fruit of our labors. They four in one day killed as much fowl as, with a little help beside, served the company almost a week. At which time, among other recreations, we exercised our arms, many of the Indians coming amongst us, and among the rest their greatest king Massasoit, with some ninety men, whom for three days we entertained and feasted, and they went out and killed five deer, which they brought to the plantation and bestowed upon our governor, and upon the captain, and others. And although it be not always so plentiful as it was at this time with us, yet by the goodness of God, we are so far from want that we often wish you partakers of our plenty."

And so a local tradition, although inconsistently practiced, began. Other parts of the English colonies celebrated their own traditions on different fall days. These gradually became unified through proclamations of the government.

Here are a couple:

George Washington's Thanksgiving Proclamation (3 October 1789):

Whereas it is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor, and whereas both Houses of Congress have by their joint Committee requested me "to recommend to the People of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness. Now therefore I do recommend and assign Thursday the 26th day of November next to be devoted by the People of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being, who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be. That we may then all unite in rendering unto him our sincere and humble thanks, for his kind care and protection of the People of this Country previous to their becoming a Nation, for the signal and manifold mercies, and the favorable interpositions of his providence, which we experienced in the course and conclusion of the late war, for the great degree of tranquility, union, and plenty, which we have since enjoyed, for the peaceable and rational manner, in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national One now lately instituted, for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed; and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and in general for all the great and various favors which he hath been pleased to confer upon us. And also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech him to pardon our national and other transgressions, to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually, to render our national government a blessing to all the people, by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed, to protect and guide all Sovereigns and Nations (especially such as have shown kindness unto us) and to bless them with good government, peace, and concord. To promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the increase of science among them and Us, and generally to grant unto all Mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as he alone knows to be best. Given under my hand at the City of New York the third day of October in the year of our Lord 1789

And below is Abraham Lincoln's Thanksgiving proclamation (3 October 1863):

The year that is drawing toward its close has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften the heart which is habitually insensible to the everwatchful providence of almighty God.

In the midst of a civil war of unequaled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign states to invite and provoke their aggressions, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere, except in the theater of military conflict; while that theater has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union.

Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defense have not arrested the plow, the shuttle, or the ship; the ax has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege, and the battlefield, and the country, rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom.

No human counsel hath devised, nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the most high God, who while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy.

It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently, and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American people. I do, therefore, invite my fellow-citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next as a day of thanksgiving and praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the heavens. And I recommend to them that, while offering up the ascriptions justly due to him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to his tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners, or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the almighty hand to heal the wounds of the nation, and to restore it, as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes, to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility, and union.

In testimony whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the seal of the United Stated States to be affixed.

Thanksgiving became a federal holiday after President Franklin Roosevelt signed a joint resolution of Congress 26 December, 1941.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Atomic Ayatollahs

During the Cold War with the Soviet Union and the arms race that accompanied it, the United States periodically engaged in arms control negotiations and signed off to several arms control agreements.

One of the challenges regarding enforcement of those agreements was the ability to verify that the Soviet Union actually intended to abide by their terms. Uncertainty always remained about whether or not the Soviet Union continued to manufacture and deploy nuclear missiles and whether or not the United States possessed the means to detect such violations.

The same challenges face the United States today regarding the new agreement with Iran about their own nuclear program.

Fortunately, the State Department released this video explaining the strategy by which we will confirm that Iran abides by the terms of the new agreement:

Monday, November 25, 2013

Some Words for Martin Bashir

Occasionally politicians and pundits made some ill-considered statements about some aspect of the political scene in which they draw comparisons to morally offensive experiences from the past like slavery or the holocaust.

Sarah Palin made such a comparison at a Faith and Freedom Coalition fundraiser. She likened  the debt obligations of the United States to slavery. She was no doubt alluding to the well-known Bible verse found in Proverbs:

 "The rich ruleth over the poor, and the borrower is servant to the lender."  Proverbs 22:7 (KJV)

In a limited way that statement and, by extension, that of Sarah Palin in true. A borrower is to some extent working under duress for sake of the lender, because that is to whom the borrow must pass on some of his earnings.

Although she probably scored rhetorical points with her audience, its not a particularly apt analogy. It calls to mind 19th century American slavery, an aberration from the Anglo-American historical experience that rested on an ideological foundation of agrarianism and the degradation of a people based upon their color.

But then, Palin is hardly the first to make such a comparison. 

Hillary Clinton has used this analogy.

And Bashir himself has used this clumsy analogy.

Palin's comments, however, provoked this obscene response from MSNBC television personality Martin Bashir. Instead of explaining to his viewers why he believes Palin should not be permitted to use this analogy why he should remain free to do so, he engaged in a vile personal attack.

Whether this response has it roots in Bashir's political ideology, his misogynistic Pakistani background, or both, only he knows.

So in the spirit of the MSNBC corporate culture, here are some words for Martin Bashir:

Friday, November 22, 2013

Again, Fifty Years Ago Today

The Beatles released their second album in Britain.

Their first album, Please, Please Me, had been release in March of 1963 and after a month reached number one on the British music sales charts. It remained there for thirty weeks. What knocked the Beatles' first album out of the number one spot?

The Beatles' second album.

Reacquaint yourself with it below.

The Beatles at this time had still been unable to secure an agreement of any  major recording company to distribute their first two albums. Few in America had heard them.

Coincidentally, on this day in 1963, CBS  had scheduled to broadcast a 5 minute segment during their evening news on "Beatlemania" in Britain. CBS was forced to reschedule the segment until the following month, because of another event that happened on this day in 1963: the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

The original CBS segment below:

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Gettysburg: 150 Years Ago

Today marks the 150th anniversary of the Gettysburg Address.

Hundreds of Americans gathered on November 19, 1863 to hear President Abraham Lincoln dedicate a cemetery as the resting place for several thousand solders killed during the three day battle fought between July 1-3, 1863.

Hundreds gathered today for a reenactment of that special day.

 In only  272 words, the first Republican president of the United States reaffirmed what Jefferson perhaps unintentionally introduced in his Declaration of Independence: a proposition nation.

Other nations in the past based their national identity on a history, a homeland, a language, and a religion.

As the first new nation we lacked those characteristics that almost all other nations shared. Our origins lay in several countries of Europe and Africa. Our history was an episode in the experience of England. Our homeland  was the New World. Our language was the cultural inheritance of a now foreign country. Our religion, while largely Christian, represented dozens of divisions of that faith.

So what held us together?

The ideas of liberty, equality, and republican government.

The national identity of other nations rests on who they were and are.

Ours rests upon what we believe.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Healthcare Rights: A Conflict of Visions

In some of the most well-known words every written, Thomas Jefferson asserted that:

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."

Jefferson never claimed originality for these words. He only claimed that they expressed the sentiments of British North Americans at the time they began their War for Independence. And he never explained exactly what they meant.

While most Americans today still share the sentiments expressed in Jefferson's timeless words, we often find ourselves divided over exactly what they mean for us today. This is especially evident in the ongoing controversy over the Affordable Care Act. This division at root a disagreement over the concept of rights.

Conservatives, when we speak about rights at all, usually establish our philosophical foundation for rights on human nature, whether this nature derives from God or simply natural processes. We see humans as possessors of life as a gift from God or nature that others may not take away. We see humans as possessors of natural liberty, or free will, that we enjoy the right to exercise without obstruction by others. And we see humans as possessors of the right to pursue happiness without interference by others. This last contention, of course, is a source of controversy in itself. Usually today we think of happiness as the psychological or emotional state that comes from acquiring whatever we happen to desire. Jefferson, however,  probably used it in its older,  traditional sense established by Aristotle over twenty centuries ago. When Aristotle wrote of happiness as the ultimate goal of human life (it is the only thing sought for itself and not for the sake of something else), he used the Greek word eudaimonia, which means thriving or flourishing. The pursuit of happiness, then, means the right of humans to seek those things which allow them to thrive or flourish, i.e., live the good life.

Notice two things. First, it is a pursuit. We possess the right to seek the good life and secure the basic natural rights of food, clothing, shelter, and even health care. But there are no guarantees. That is why  both obscure philosophers and popular self help gurus fill library and bookstore shelves with books on how to succeed or live the good life. Second, these basic rights (as well as many others that could be listed) exist as "claims" against others. We claim these rights and impose a negative duty on others to respect them. Our rights claims negate any efforts by others to take away those rights.That is why rights so conceived are sometimes called "negative claim rights."

Finally, conservatives see the Constitution as providing the legal framework for the exercise and protection of those rights. And when conflicts arise over rights claims, the laws seek to resolve those conflicting claims so that each party receive what is his due: justice.

Modern progressives begin with the same premises. They, too, see human beings as possessors of the rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. They tend, however, to conceive of happiness in its modern sense of the psychological or emotional satisfaction of desires. (Each of us manifests the "progressive" inside of us each time we say with a shrug of the shoulders, "Whatever makes you happy.")

More important, they see rights as "positive claim rights." In other words, they see rights claims as imposing a positive duty on others to provide for those rights. In essence, according to progressives, rights claims by individuals exist as claims against society as a whole to act through public institutions to satisfy those claims.

This is why the debate about health care goes way beyond any utilitarian notion of  "what works best." Even if one could prove on paper or demonstrate in actual practice which approach to health care works best, the divide will remain.

It is a conflict of visions about the rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

So Who Hasn't Signed Up for Obamacare?

The news recently has noted the embarrassingly low numbers of sign ups for insurance in the market exchanges set up by the federal government. The vast majority of those seeking health insurance so far consist of those who cannot afford it and have enrolled in Medicaid so that other citizens can purchase insurance for them with their hard earned tax dollars.

What about the Representatives and Senators who enacted the PPACA?

Let's see, in the Senate there's . . .

And in the House there's . . .

Maybe they still have not read what's in it and so cannot appreciate the benefits of PPACA.

Or maybe they have.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Let's Grow Up, Conservatives!

The previous post here at Right Detour addressed the folly about the talk of the Tea Party Movement "seceding" from the Republican Party. The Tea Party is not a party, neither can it ever establish itself as a viable party.

What is the Tea party to do?

First, maintain the message. The Tea Party message of constitutionally limited government, fiscal responsibility, and free enterprise will resonate with voters, especially when if we demonstrate how these constitutional principles serve as the means to conserve the core values of the founders of our nation--liberty and equality.

The adverse impact of PPACA has provided a good opportunity for articulating this message. The government management of the nation's health care constitutes the most egregious overreach by the government in decades, violating the principle of limited government. The government's management cannot be sustained economically, violating the principle of fiscal responsibility.  And the government's regulations regarding specific policy provisions that may be offered permits the government to wedge itself in the middle of the relationship between patient, doctor, and insurer, violating the principle of free enterprise.

And what does NOT constitute "Maintaining the Message?"

Obama's birth certificate.

Obama's college records.

Obama's impeachment.

And even most other peripheral issues such as abortion, Common Core, and immigration.

Second, the Tea Party needs to play as part of a coalition--a team if you will. Too often our zeal for a candidate who best represents our views turns into a inquisition for ideological purity. People and politics are too complicated for that.

Jenny Beth Martin, one of the founders of our movement, recently complained that the Republican Party establishment abandoned a viable candidate for the governorship of Virginia, Ken Cuccinelli.  (You can read her protest here.)  She made her point. The Republican Party establishment failed when they were needed the most. She needs to recognize, however, that the Republicans simply gave Cuccinelli  and the Tea Party a taste of their own medicine, er, tea. Too often the Tea Party, after failing to secure the election of the candidate most supportive of our views, sits at home, christens the Republican candidate a RINO,  and refuses to fund or support a Republican who fails to pass an ideological litmus test. Or some high profile Tea Party spokesperson "reads" such a politician out of the movement. (Recall what happened to Marco Rubio when he revealed his plans for immigration reform.)

And with the candidacy of Cuccinelli, the Republican Party establishment turned the tables.

When followers of Barry Goldwater expressed their disappointment over his rejection as Richard Nixon's running mate with boos and catcalls at the 1960 Republican National Convention, Goldwater did not threaten to leave the Republican Party, like Sarah Palin. He did not threaten to defund the Republican Party, like Glenn Beck. He did the threaten to start a third party, like Eric Erickson.

Goldwater's message was "Let's grow up, conservatives."

Saturday, November 9, 2013

The Republicans: Secession and Civil War?

The Republican Party began in the mid-1850s as a third party alternative to the choices then offered to America by the traditional two-party system. Indeed, they are the only third party to replace and major party and become one of the two alternatives in our two-party system.

The ascension of the Republican Party to power in the Congress and the White House in the elections of 1860 sparked the secession crisis and subsequent American Civil War.

Now there is talk of a secession crisis within the Republican Party, as the Tea Party movement has stalled in its efforts to turn the Republicans in a more conservative direction. Sarah Palin has threatened to leave the Republican Party, disingenuously claiming that it really has left her. Glenn Beck has advocated "defunding the GOP." And Erik Erickson has hinted at that the failure to defund Obamacare will lead to a third party movement that will divide the Republicans.

Such talk is as mad as that engaged in by Southern "fire eaters" in 1860.

Our Tea Party Movement is not a party. Nor has it the makings of a party. Although ostensibly non-partisan, the Tea Party Movement has become a faction of the Republican Party. The attempt to start a third party would be disastrous for both the Republicans, the Tea Party Movement, and the country. Such a move would so weaken the Republicans as to leave the Social Democrats in control of all branches of the United States government. And whatever the nature of a new third party, it would hardly function as a viable alternative to the two major parties. So far we have been unable to establish ourselves as the dominant faction within the Republican Party. We are still working to win over the majority of Republicans to our point of view. What makes us think we have the support among the American public to warrant the creation of a new political party?

Hopefully, the talk of Palin, Beck, and Erikson is just that--talk intended to move establishment Republicans to embrace the ideas of constitutionally limited government, fiscal responsibility, and free markets. If such threats are real, than I can only concur with Alice:

The Republican establishment, though, needs to move in the direction of the Tea Party. While the Tea Party suffered some high profile embarrassments surrounding the candidacies of Christine O'Donnell, Todd Akin, and Richard Mourdock, the Tea Party was largely the impetus behind the recapture of the House of Representatives in 2010. And with the disastrous roll out of Obamacare, American voters should be more attuned than ever to the message of the Tea Party. As long as we stay on message.

What else can the establishment Republicans to stand on? The "signature accomplishment" of the Bush Administration?

Friday, November 8, 2013

Republicans in Reaction

Republicans should have seen the Obamacare Express and even the subsequent train wreck long before it occurred.

                                                         Image from

The Social Democrats first reached for control of American health care and insurance back in 1994. The Republicans thwarted that attempt. Unfortunately, they made no efforts to improve the conditions by which more Americans could secure health care without government mandates and control. And they failed to recognize that the Social Democrats intended on grasping for control of heath care and the health insurance industry as soon as they secured a majority in both houses of Congress and control of the White House.

So now what?

Without political power, efforts to "pull the plug" on Obamacare will prove futile and will likely backfire.

The recent efforts led by Ted Cruz to defund Obamacare even at the cost of shutting down the government serve as a good example. While a well-meaning stand on principles, these efforts seemed to have no idea about how repeal or defunding might actually be brought achieved. Did Republicans really believe that the Social Democrats would back down and repeal Obamacare--the "signature accomplishment" of the Obama administration? The Social Democrats knew that they had the votes to preserve the PPACA, that the Republicans in general and the Tea Party in particular would receive the blame for the government shutdown, and that furloughed government employees would receive their back pay. That is why the Social Democrats won and we conservatives lost.

The frequent calls for "nullification" from some Tea Party groups serve as another. In this case, the conservatives have the power--i.e.--control of the state legislatures, but they have abandoned their principles. While our Constitution does not endorse Obamacare and much of what Congress has enacted in the last several decades, neither does it countenance the idea of nullification. When the Constitution established the limited, enumerated powers of Congress, it intended the laws to be the supreme law of the land, beyond the jurisdiction of individual states. This is why James Madison, the man most instrumental in the adoption of the Constitution, opposed nullification. Three decades after the adoption of the Constitution, John Calhoun of South Carolina advocated an interpretive hermenuetic that empowered that states to nullify laws enacted by Congress. He called nullification a "preposterous and anarchical pretension" without one shred of support in the Constitution. Advocating nullification will not only fail, but  also will  evoke images of John Calhoun, the Confederacy, secession, and slavery.

The way to stop Obamacare is simply the strategy that proved successful in 2010:

Win the elections!

Thursday, November 7, 2013

"I'm Sorry"

The President apologized that so many Americans lost their health insurance coverage.

No wait.

The President apologized that so many Americans lost their health insurance coverage.

Monday, November 4, 2013

"We Told You so"

This is the message that the Republican Party should be communicating about Obamacare, but, of course, are not.

Remember the first attempt by the Social Democrats to take over the United States health insurance and health care system. It since has become known, at least among Republicans,  as Hillarycare. In 1993 President Clinton announced the creation of a Task Force on National Health Care Reform. As usual, a few hard cases of Americans experiencing difficulty securing the health care they needed served as the justification for a major overhaul of the whole health care system for everyone. It proved to be another case of a policy preference in search of a crisis to justify it.

He appointed First Lady Hillary Clinton to head this task force.

(You can find the text of the resulting Health Security Act here. Do not be alarmed--its much, much shorter than the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. )

We will never know if the roll out of Hillarycare would have been more successful than that of Obamacare. The legislation died in Congress. About the only thing remembered about the episode was a commercial sponsored by the Health Insurance Association of America:

The Republican Party should refresh the memories of voters by running these commercial again--perhaps prefaced with the opening lines, "We told you so."

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Tricks and Treats from the White House

Halloween "Tricks or Treats" took place at the White House this week:


 Er, I actually meant the other "Tricks or Treats"--the claims about Obamacare.

A few months back, President Obama reassured the American people that the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act would permit all Americans to retain both their existing health insurance plans and their personal physicians.

Well, now that the roll out has begun, we know that is not true.

Thousands of Americans have now learned that the health insurance plans that the President promised they could keep--"period"--have been cancelled by their insurers because the plans lacked conformity with the provisions of the PPACA. These provisions could possibly affect the plans of 15 million Americans.

Moreover, we now know that the White House knew that the PPACA would require thousands of Americans to give up their existing coverage and doctors. NBC news in a report this week revealed the "trick" behind that "treat." You can read about it here.

And this is just the beginning.

The current controversy concerns the health insurance market for individuals only. Wait until next year when the requirements of the PPACA begin to impact over 90 million employers sponsors health insurance plans.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Have a Happy, er, Haunted Halloween

Happy or Haunted Halloween--that syncretistic season in which pagan and Christian traditions meet, offering something for everyone.

Halloween, or Hallows eve, is the evening before the celebration of All Saints Day in the Catholic Church. Hallow, of course, is an old English word meaning holy or saint, as in the passage from the Lord's Prayer “hallowed be thy name.” All Saints Day, or All Hallows, originated when when Pope Boniface IV consecrated the Pantheon at Rome to Saint Mary and all the martyrs of the church on May 13, 609. It set aside that day to remember those who died in faith. The Pope probably chose this date in an attempt to suppress a Roman pagan day of the dead called the Feast of Lemures. In this pre-Christian holiday, Roman citizens cleansed their homes of spirits of lost souls by an offering of beans. Later Pope Gregory III began a tradition of remembering the faithful dead on November 1. Many decades passed, however, before Europe more uniformly recognized this new date.

Interestingly, November 1 fell on the same day as a Celtic day of the dead festival called Samhain. This marked the end of the harvest and the beginning of the Celtic new year. The Irish recognized the day with the burning bonfires, lighting candles in hollowed out turnips, and dressing is disguise to ward off spirits of the dead. Adults and children practiced “guising” by going house to house costumed in disguise offering entertainment in return for food and money. And Celtic priests led processions to the village gates to leave food offerings to ward away spirits.

In North America this tradition continued with the lighting of pumpkins and children “guising” door to door requesting “treats” with the implied threat that a “trick” may follow if the one does not comply with the demand for a treat.

In light of the pagan origins of Halloween customs, churches have approached the day differently according to their own traditions. Some mainline Protestant denominations retain All Saint's Day on their calendar of religious holidays. Other more traditional reformed churches recognize Reformation Day instead. On October 31, 1517  Martin Luther began the Protestant Reformation by posting his protests against several practices of the Catholic Church on the door of All Saint's Church in Wittenberg.

Many American fundamentalist and Pentecostal churches who believe they derive their theology straight from the bible and know next to nothing about church history hold “Harvest Festivals.” Christians kids can avoid the pagan habit of dressing up in costumes and “trick or treating” door to door by, well, dressing up in costumes and “trick or treating” at the church gymnasium.

And then there's those churches who use the season for evangelism by creating their own versions of haunted houses . These houses usually sport the name "Tribulation House" or "Hell House" and  dramatically portray the "Good News" of the great tribulation and damnation. Below is a clip for one from a few years ago.

Personally, I participate on a strictly limited basis.

I put out  a small table.

I post a sign explaining that I had to go out of town, but that I left this large bowl of candy for all the "trick or treaters."

I urge them to be honest on only take one piece.

Then I place an empty bowl on the table and turn out the lights.

Now I am ready for Halloween

So happy Halloween! Er Lemuria. Er Samhain.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Constitution Day

Between May 25 and September 17, 1787, fifty-five men attended a convention in Philadelphia representing twelve of thirteen American states. The purpose of the convention was to propose revisions to the existing constitution called the Articles of Confederation. This original constitution loosely bound the former colonies together into a "league of friendhship." Instead, they wrote an entirely new constitution creating government like no other in the history of the world.

It is now one of the oldest written constitutions.

Happy Constitution Day!

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Profiling the Perp

It appears profiling saved another life.

Last week, James Lee DiMaggio murdered Christina Anderson and her eight year old son, Ethan, and then kidnapped sixteen year old Hannah Anderson.  DiMaggio apparently developed an emotional infatuation for the teen.

After burning the bodies of Christina and Ethan Anderson in their home, DiMaggio took off with Hannah for the back country of Idaho. At one of their camp sites, they encountered a group of hikers on horseback. FOX news has their story here.

                             The heroes of the day

The hikers immediately noticed that things did not quite look right. Hannah still wore pajamas.

"I've spent a lot of time in the back country," explained Mike Young, "and usually you don't run into someone wearing pajamas."

In addition, all their camping gear was new and they appeared to be heading in the wrong direction of their intended destination.

"They didn't fit," added Mike John. "He may have been an outdoorsman in California but he was not an outdoorsman in Idaho."


Because DiMaggio and Anderson failed to fit the profile of the typical Idaho camper, Young and John remembered them. After the hikers returned home, they saw news reports of the kidnapping and called police. The FBI subsequently spotted DiMaggio's campsite from the air and dropped in a team of agents. They confronted and killed DiMaggio.

Profiling, again, saves the day.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Psychology as Religion; Religion as Psychology

When people commit some moral offense, they often will attempt to reconcile themselves with the offended party and perhaps with God.

They acknowledge their wrong doing.

They express remorse.

They ask forgiveness from God and man.

Not so with our current crop of politicians. They never admit to moral offenses. The admission that one is a morally vicious person might very well mean an end to one's political career. Admit only to suffering from some kind of mental illness. Instead of confession and contrition, seek therapy.

Former congressman Anthony Weiner and current San Diego Mayor Robert Filner appear now as the latest poster boys for psychology as religion. Or is it religion as psychology?

Weiner resigned from Congress after admitting to sending lewd photos to female acquaintances. After " a lot of work and a whole lot of therapy," Weiner has secured forgiveness from his wife and is back as mayoral candidate for New York City.

Meanwhile on the left coast, San Diego Mayor Robert Filner has been accused of multiple cases of sexual harassment. While Democrats fought on the front lines of the Republican "war on women," Filner stayed behind the lines gawking and groping. As pressures mounted for his resignation, he did what any self-respecting politician would do: he checked into a two-week session of concentrated therapy. And now he has been released as an "outpatient."

Because their actions reveal  a character flaw--an immoral disposition, if you will--a couple of weeks of therapy will accomplish little.

Do not experience surprise when they appear in the news again.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

A Sunday Review: The Future of Conservatism

In the continuing search for insights into the meaning of conservatism, A brief review of The Future of Conservatism: From Taft to Reagan and Beyond by M. Stanton Evans.

Graduating Magnum Cum Laude in English from Yale in 1955, Evans briefly studied economics at New York University under Ludwig von Mises. He began a career in  journalism as an editor for The Freeman. In 1956, he joined William F. Buckley's National Review, where he served as associate editor from 1960-1973. At the same time he worked as the editor of the Indianapolis News . Between 1971 and 1977, he served as chairman of the American Conservatives Union, one of the oldest political action committees.

The timing of the publication is an interesting one. It was just four years after the Goldwater election disaster, yet conservatives such as Evans remained hopeful about the future of their movement owing to the election of Ronald Reagan to the governorship of California. In fact, that is the main theme of the book. Rather than a work on conservative philosophy, The Future of Conservatism looks at the political landscape and assesses the prospects of conservatism as seen in 1968. Although dated, the book provides incite into the thinking of conservative activists before the domination of the White House by Republicans begun by Reagan.

In his introduction, Evans writes that the "argument of this book is that American life today is marked by a number of changes" that indicate the coalescing of a "new sort of power grouping which, over time and through and intelligent strategy, can become the leading element of our politics."

Evans distinguishes this conservatism from the Republican Party itself. He suggests that the Republican Party of the 1960s largely reflected the views of the so-called "Eastern Establishment" that included politicians like Nelson Rockefeller, William Scranton, and even, to a lesser extent, Richard Nixon. This establishment resented the more conservative elements that rallied around Goldwater. The establishment actively worked against them right up to the party's national convention in 1964. These establishment Republicans blamed the conservative shift of the party for the landslide loss to Lyndon Johnson.

Evans argues, however, that the landslide resulted form the dynamics of the campaign itself rather than conservative ideas. He notes that in 1960, Nixon attempted to bring together a coalition of more traditional Midwestern conservatives and the more liberal northeastern Republicans. Although these wings of the party were not compatible,  Nixon nearly pulled off a victory. In contrast, Goldwater attempted to link more amenable sections: the Midwest, the South , and the West. Evans asserts that this coalition appeared very competitive against the Northeastern liberal candidate, John Kennedy. Kennedy's assassination, however, and the nomination of Lyndon Johnson changed everything. For Evans, building a coalition of this new power grouping of Midwest, West, and South remains a solid strategy. The voters in these regions appear more receptive to the message of the new conservatism.

Evans cites contemporary polling data in support of his claims about the strength of conservatism.  A 1963 Gallup poll showed a considerable 53% to 25% divide among voters in favor of the Democrats. Another poll revealed something else. When pollsters framed the question in terms of liberal vs. conservative, the divide was a much closer 51% to 49% split in favor of liberalism. It appeared that Americans identified themselves as conservative but not Republican. Evans' conclusion is that in order to win, the Republican Party must become the conservative party.

Evans sees great potential for the growth of conservative Republicans. In the 1950s and 1960s, the suburbs grew three times as fact as the urban areas. Home ownership among Americans was on the rise. Evans contends that for the most part these new property owners resent the increased taxation that funds liberal social programs. Much of the this suburban growth took place in the West and especially the South. Orange County in California had experienced an influx of new residents from the traditionally Republican Midwest, making that state politically competitive for Republicans. The growth of the suburbs around cities like Houston, Dallas, Charlotte, and Atlanta, according the Evans,  hold great promise for the growth of the Republican Party below the Mason Dixon line. The election of George Bush in 1964 from the suburbs of Houston symbolized that promise.

Goldwater's attempt to attract voters in the traditionally Democratic South led to the beginning of a political narrative from the left that continues to this day. Liberals never exhibited must angst about the so-called "racist " votes from the South as long as people cast those votes for Democratic candidates who supported the progressive initiatives of the liberal wing of  the party. Once Goldwater made inroads into the once "Solid South," suddenly liberal Democrats and their fluffers in the media discovered racist voters and began to tag the Republican Party as the party of racism and "The Old South."

While racism and the end of segregation may have contributed to the willingness of some Southern voters to abandon their traditional party, events outside the South probably made a much greater contribution. The continuing leftward lurch of the Democratic Party in the hands of the new Left helped the cause of the Republicans and it conservative wing. The urban riots, the political assassinations, the rise of the counterculture, the legalization of abortion, and economic stagnation that occurred under the Democrats convinced many Americans that the time had come for change.

Evans closes his book on an optimistic note--the rise of Ronald Reagan. Evans describes the rise of Reagan from the occasion of the 1964 televised speech on behalf of Goldwater to his ascension to the governorship of California in 1966. Reagan embodies the hopes of the Goldwater conservatives. Evans' optimistic expectations regarding Reagan, however, remain unfulfilled for over a decade. Nixon, of course, won the presidency in 1968 and in 1972. The early promise of the administration ended in the betrayal of Watergate. Only after yet another ineffective Democratic administration did the conservatives win the prize of the presidency. And 30 years passed after the Goldwater run in 1964 before the Republicans captured a majority in the House of Representatives.

M Stanton Evans