Friday, August 22, 2008

The Limbo of the Infants

Reports that the Pope Benedict nullified the hypothesis of limbo are greatly exaggerated, it seems. But regardless of questions of theological doctrine, there is a limbo of the infants, and we are in it. Since time does not really have any meaning in limbo, I can't say when further dispatches will be forthcoming.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Loser Kings

Via Sadly, No! (for the second time in as many days), The Nation has what starts off as a great piece on conservative resentment. I don't know if it ends well, as I haven't read the whole thing, but I just had to put these two paragraphs up.
A sense of exclusion has haunted conservatism from the beginning, when émigrés fled the French Revolution and Edmund Burke and Joseph de Maistre took up their cause. Born in the shadow of loss--of property, standing, memory, inheritance, a place in the sun--conservatism remains a gathering of fugitives. From Burke's lament that "the gallery is in the place of the house" to William F. Buckley Jr.'s claim that he and his brethren were "out of place," the comfortable and connected have fashioned a philosophy of self-styled truancy. One might say this fusion of pariah and power has been the key to their success. As Buckley went on to write, the conservative's badge of exclusion has made him "just about the hottest thing in town."

While John Locke, Alexis de Tocqueville and David Hume are sometimes cited by the more genteel defenders of conservatism as the movement's leading lights, their writings cannot account for what is truly bizarre about conservatism: a ruling class resting its claim to power upon its sense of victimhood, arguably for the first time in history. Plato's guardians were wise; Aquinas's king was good; Hobbes's sovereign was, well, sovereign. But the best defense of monarchy that Maistre could muster in Considerations on France (1797) was that his aspiring king had attended the "terrible school of misfortune" and suffered in the "hard school of adversity."

Monday, August 11, 2008

Oh Joy! Zombie History Is on the March!

I know diddle about the conflict between Georgia and Russia, but via Balloon Juice I find that, lo and behold, it marks the return of History! Robert Kagen says so:
Historians will come to view Aug. 8, 2008, as a turning point no less significant than Nov. 9, 1989, when the Berlin Wall fell. Russia’s attack on sovereign Georgian territory marked the official return of history, indeed to an almost 19th-century style of great-power competition, complete with virulent nationalisms, battles for resources, struggles over spheres of influence and territory, and even—though it shocks our 21st-century sensibilities—the use of military power to obtain geopolitical objectives. Yes, we will continue to have globalization, economic interdependence, the European Union and other efforts to build a more perfect international order. But these will compete with and at times be overwhelmed by the harsh realities of international life that have endured since time immemorial.
Some people--who didn't have their heads up their asses gazing at the beauty of the moral law within--actually noticed that "the use of military power to obtain geopolitical objectives" was always part and parcel of globalization and economic interdependence.

It is also worth noting that "the return of history" would have a little TM after it if Kagen could copyright titles.

PS: The print at the top is "The March of History," by James W. Mah, an artist living in Vancouver. His work can be viewed and purchased here.

More Politics of Resentment

Apparently visiting your grandmother in Hawaii is the latest sign of being out of touch and fancy-pants. Anyway, this expresses my thoughts exactly:
You see, “elitism” in this country isn’t defined by how much money you have, but whether you ever enjoy your life. For instance, you can make a lot of money and not be an elitist if your work is joyless and purposeless. This is why the Waltons are considered salt-of-the-Earth types, even though they’re the richest family in the world: because the only joy they get out of life is exploiting cheap labor both here and abroad to produce and sell cheap plastic crap. And since the Waltons are such miserable people, it’s hard for the average spite voter to feel much resentment toward them, since they’re basically richer versions of themselves.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Power Over Life, Power Over Death

I thought this discussion of Hiroshima and Nagasaki was interesting, in part because of the various knots utilitarians tie themselves in, and in part because of the observation that not all violence counts as violence in the same way--violence at a distance, for example, is "less violent" than face-to-face violence.

Having taught some Mao last term, I a genuinely curious how a utilitarian would judge his leadership of China. On the one hand, some estimate that 30 million died of famine during the Great Leap Forward. On the other hand, life expectancy went from 40 years in 1950 to 70 years by the time Mao stepped down--even the Cultural revolution didn't make a dent in decreasing mortality rates--and the population of China increased from a relatively stable 400-500 million between 1851-1949 to 1.2 billion by 2000. In other words, Mao's leadership seems to have made much more life than death. If you're going to blame him for one, shouldn't you credit him for the other?

My own position on the question of criminality is probably closest to that expressed in JSG's comment:
One thing I need to add- if a military leader DOES think a war crime is necessary, then shouldn't they have the strength of convictions to stand by that decision?

In situations like this one always hears the saying "no jury would convict them". But it's amazing how few juries are ever given the opportunity to not convict people. IMO, that's a true shame, and one of the many reasons our legal system seems to be breaking down. The little people are told to trust the system and let it work... but it seems the big fish do everything possible to avoid explaining themselves in court.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

From the Mouths of Babes

Jonah Goldberg admits that capitalism is a form of statism:
I agree that capitalism is flawed and that it doesn’t provide us with a sense of meaning. However, I don’t think that is it’s flaw. I don’t want the government to provide me with meaning. I don’t want to live in a society where politics is the chief provider of “meaning” either.
I don't know how to read that as anything but a claim that capitalism is a form of government.

Oddly, he also avers to his friendly readers' complaint "that capitalism is a Marxist term we shouldn’t concede." Capitalism is a Marxist term? OK, from now on, anyone who uses the word "capitalism" shall thereby betray their Marxist tendencies.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Too Good for Us

Obama is too fit to be President.
Obama is too popular to be President.
Obama is too smart to be President.
Obama is too handsome to be President.
Obama is too good to be President.
Obama is too cool to be President.

Just shoot me.

UPDATE: Apparently, other people are on the same wavelength.

UPDATE 2: I can't possibly be expected to dissect this bit of self-parody. Turns out capitalism is our sugar-daddy, and if we don't show him some love and gratitude, he might kick us to the curb where he found us. Or something.