Tuesday, June 30, 2015

For this Supreme Court, extremism in the pursuit of the Sexual Revolution’s goals is no vice; and LGBT activists and their fellow travelers will be coming after social conservatives

…I think it's time we ask ourselves if we still know the freedoms that were intended for us by the founding fathers.

Not too long ago, two friends of mine were talking to a Cuban refuge — a businessman who had escaped from Castro — and in the midst of his story, one of my friends turned to the other and said, "We don't know how lucky we are!" And the Cuban stopped and said, "How lucky you are?! I had some place to escape to…"

And in that sentence, he told us the entire story. If we lose freedom here, there is no place to escape to. This is the last stand on earth…
Almost 50 years later, Ronald Reagan's A Time for Choosing warning of 1964 seems to have came to pass, its content unheeded by hundreds of thousands of citizens "taught" by state schools, and Rod Drehere has the depressing details (thanks to Ed Driscoll):
No, the sky is not falling — not yet, anyway — but with the Supreme Court ruling constitutionalizing same-sex marriage, the ground under our feet has shifted tectonically.

It is hard to overstate the significance of the Obergefell decision — and the seriousness of the challenges it presents to orthodox Christians and other social conservatives. Voting Republican and other failed culture war strategies are not going to save us now.

Discerning the meaning of the present moment requires sobriety, precisely because its radicalism requires of conservatives a realistic sense of how weak our position is in post-Christian America.

The alarm that the four dissenting justices sounded in their minority opinions is chilling. Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Antonin Scalia were particularly scathing in pointing out the philosophical and historical groundlessness of the majority’s opinion. Justice Scalia even called the decision “a threat to democracy,” and denounced it, shockingly, in the language of revolution.

It is now clear that for this Court, extremism in the pursuit of the Sexual Revolution’s goals is no vice. True, the majority opinion nodded and smiled in the direction of the First Amendment, in an attempt to calm the fears of those worried about religious liberty. But when a Supreme Court majority is willing to invent rights out of nothing, it is impossible to have faith that the First Amendment will offer any but the barest protection to religious dissenters from gay rights orthodoxy.

Indeed, Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito explicitly warned religious traditionalists that this decision leaves them vulnerable. Alito warns that Obergefell “will be used to vilify Americans who are unwilling to assent to the new orthodoxy,” and will be used to oppress the faithful “by those who are determined to stamp out every vestige of dissent.”

The warning to conservatives from the four dissenters could hardly be clearer or stronger. So where does that leave us?

For one, we have to accept that we really are living in a culturally post-Christian nation. The fundamental norms Christians have long been able to depend on no longer exist. To be frank, the court majority may impose on the rest of the nation a view widely shared by elites, but it is also a view shared by a majority of Americans. There will be no widespread popular resistance to Obergefell. This is the new normal.

For another, LGBT activists and their fellow travelers really will be coming after social conservatives. The Supreme Court has now, in constitutional doctrine, said that homosexuality is equivalent to race. The next goal of activists will be a long-term campaign to remove tax-exempt status from dissenting religious institutions. The more immediate goal will be the shunning and persecution of dissenters within civil society. After today, all religious conservatives are Brendan Eich, the former CEO of Mozilla who was chased out of that company for supporting California’s Proposition 8.

Third, the Court majority wrote that gays and lesbians do not want to change the institution of marriage, but rather want to benefit from it. This is hard to believe, given more recent writing from gay activists like Dan Savage expressing a desire to loosen the strictures of monogamy in all marriages. Besides, if marriage can be redefined according to what we desire — that is, if there is no essential nature to marriage, or to gender — then there are no boundaries on marriage. Marriage inevitably loses its power.

In that sense, social and religious conservatives must recognize that the Obergefell decision did not come from nowhere. It is the logical result of the Sexual Revolution, which valorized erotic liberty. It has been widely and correctly observed that heterosexuals began to devalue marriage long before same-sex marriage became an issue. The individualism at the heart of contemporary American culture is at the core of Obergefell — and at the core of modern American life.

This is profoundly incompatible with orthodox Christianity. But this is the world we live in today.

One can certainly understand the joy that LGBT Americans and their supporters feel today. But orthodox Christians must understand that things are going to get much more difficult for us. We are going to have to learn how to live as exiles in our own country. We are going to have to learn how to live with at least a mild form of persecution. And we are going to have to change the way we practice our faith and teach it to our children, to build resilient communities.

It is time for what I call the Benedict Option. In his 1982 book After Virtue, the eminent philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre likened the current age to the fall of ancient Rome. He pointed to Benedict of Nursia, a pious young Christian who left the chaos of Rome to go to the woods to pray, as an example for us.

…/… Last fall, I spoke with the prior of the Benedictine monastery in Nursia, and told him about the Benedict Option. So many Christians, he told me, have no clue how far things have decayed in our aggressively secularizing world. The future for Christians will be within the Benedict Option, the monk said, or it won’t be at all.

Obergefell is a sign of the times, for those with eyes to see. This isn’t the view of wild-eyed prophets wearing animal skins and shouting in the desert. It is the view of four Supreme Court justices, in effect declaring from the bench the decline and fall of the traditional American social, political, and legal order. …/…

Monday, June 29, 2015

French Female Sex Therapist: "A Man Who Rapes a Woman Is Looking for Love"

In America, you would never hear the end of it, as she would be crucified on the public square.

Interviewed by Voici's Sophie Brugeille, Brigitte Lahaie is a former porn star turned sex therapist (most lately on RMC radio).

When asked why she speaks so much about feelings in her book with Bruno Martin, the author of Love and You! (Why Women Love While Men Lust) answers that
Even when a man rapes a woman, it is a search for love. Mind you, that in no way justifies the act. But we can not understand sexuality if it is separated from tenderness.
Dans votre livre, vous parlez beau­coup de senti­ments…

Mais parce que c’est lié ! Même un homme qui viole une femme, c’est une recherche d’amour. Atten­tion, ça ne justi­fie en rien l’acte. Mais on ne peut pas comprendre la sexua­lité si on la sépare de l’af­fect. 

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Being socialist at heart, France offers completely free Wi-Fi access at some of its popular tourist attractions and beauty spots

France is famous for its sense of tradition, like two-hour lunches, August holidays and resistance to any attempts to modernise its language 
muses Mark Johnson,
but its approach to the modern never fails to delight me either.

 … I was delighted to discover the other week … that France, being socialist at heart, does in fact offer completely free Wi-Fi access at some of its popular tourist attractions and beauty spots.

We were wandering around the lovely little park in the middle of the Place des Vosges, when we stumbled across this tiny little ‘Keep off the grass’ style sign, planted quietly and discreetly by a tree, which read ‘Paris Wi-fi’.

It was too good a moment to pass up, so we sat down on the grass, with all the other Parisians and spent a good hour tweeting and texting, while we soaked up the sun and admired the impressive, ancient architecture of one of the city’s oldest squares.

Paris Wi-Fi, as it is known, has more than 250 locations in the centre of the city, and is usually very reliable. Of course, best of all is the fact you don’t even have to buy a coffee to get online.

Friday, June 26, 2015

BREAKING: Man Decapitated by ISIS Terrorist at French Alpine Town Factory

A terrorist action in Isère has resulted in an explosion at an industrial gas factory, several wounded, and one dead, who was decapitated. Le Monde and Le Figaro report that the perpetrator, who walked inside the Saint-Quentin-Fallavier factory holding an Islamist flag, has been arrested. The dead man's head was attached to the gate along with a note in Arabic.

Fox News:
One person was decapitated and several others were injured in an apparent terror attack at a chemical factory in eastern France Friday morning, local media reported.

According to Le Dauphine newspaper, a loud explosion was reported at approximately 9:50 a.m. local time in Saint-Quentin-Fallavier, northwest of the Alpine city of Grenoble.
According to the paper, a man walked into the company's offices saying he was a member of ISIS and carrying one of the terror group's flags. After beheading a man at the company's entrance, he went into the building and set off several gas canisters.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Following Fistfights with Uber Drivers, Paris's Taxi Motorists Strike on Thursday to Protest Newcomer's Arrival in the City

I’ve been spending a lot of time in Parisian taxis recently
recalls Stephen Clarke as he discusses the Uber stiuation in France, where fistfights have broken out among the two groups.
Luckily, my latest book has attracted enough attention to get me invited to do TV and radio, and either my publisher or the production company always sends a taxi, and has one waiting for me after the show.

Occasionally I’ve said non merci during rush hours because then it’s quicker to get the Métro rather than sit watching a traffic jam, but usually I’ve accepted the offer with gratitude. When you’ve written a book about France’s greatest-ever political figure, it’s useful to have some quiet time to mug up on dates and quotations before going on air.

  … a lifelong Parisian who told me that the rules covering taxis today are based on the code written by Napoleon for cabs in the early 19th century.

I’ve quite often wished that my taxi driver could have lashed out with a horsewhip to clear the traffic blocking a junction, but this wasn’t what he meant. He was making the point that he, like all his fellow taxi licence holders, has to obey laws, and is part of an accountable system.

By contrast, he said, the new wave of drivers working for a certain foreign app-based taxi service (that shall remain nameless), were “pirates”. Whereas a real taxi driver has to queue up at airports and can wait two hours or more before he or she’s allowed to go and pick up a fare, the “pirates” hang around and get calls within minutes from arriving passengers.

 … Things are getting so heated that there have been fights between angry taxi drivers and the touts loitering in airport arrivals areas. One taxi driver was recently knifed while sitting in his car. And all because (so the taxi drivers say) the police is doing nothing to stop the illegal taxi touting.

Which is why, this Thursday, taxi drivers will be blocking railway stations and airports in an attempt to force the government to act. If you’re planning to arrive in Paris or leave on that day, best to use underground transport and avoid some spectacular gridlock.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Black Americans seem unable to forgive America for sins committed by whites who are long dead; But many seem to support the forgiveness of a white man who murdered nine blacks last week

Needless to say, the New York Times cannot help itself but feature an (anti-gun) article by Jennifer Steinhauer that gratuitously puts the racist character of the fatal shootings at a landmark black church in Charleston to the forefront.
Lawmakers, weary from the emotional fight and ultimate failure to get a bill to enhance background checks for gun sales off the Senate floor two years ago, seem resigned to the view that if 20 small children killed at a school cannot move Congress, then nine black men and women shot dead by a white man during Bible study will not, either.
Guess what? Nine black men and women shot dead by a black person would hardly have changed the hand either, and nor would nine white men and women shot dead by a white person. So the racist is gratuitous.

Meanwhile, Barack Obama (using the slur Nigger) and Jon Stewart both drone on about America's alleged racist character.

How about listening instead (or at least also) to Dennis Prager, the author of the article, Foreigners of every race know that the U.S. is the least racist country in the world but most black Americans and the entire left deny it, and a talk show host who does not agree with the black church members' forgivenes of Dylann Roof. (More on Dennis Prager…)
First, consistent with my religion, Judaism, I do not believe that anyone but the actual victim has the right to forgive someone for the evil he has inflicted.

 … Second, I am not aware of Roof’s having repented. And even God Himself doesn’t forgive those who never repent.

 … Third, regarding whites, blacks, and crimes, we seem to inhabit a strange moral universe. Great numbers of black Americans seem to be unable or unwilling to forgive America — specifically white Americans — for sins committed by whites who are long dead. But many seem to support the forgiveness of a white man who murdered nine blacks last week. 

The families of the murdered blacks speak eloquently and movingly about preferring forgiveness to feeling anger and hate toward a man who murdered their loved ones just days ago. But millions of blacks seem to prefer feeling anger and hate toward a vast number of their fellow Americans who have never wronged them or any other black American. Indeed, most American whites don’t even have ancestors who ever wronged blacks. The truth is that the vast majority of white Americans are not racist.

 … How is it that so many people can forgive an unrepentant mass murderer a week after he murdered their child, parent, or sibling but not forgive a society that has repented, atoned, and created the best place in the world for a black human being to live?

The Confederate Flag: Another Brick in the Leftwing Activists' (Self-Serving) Demonization of America and Rewriting of History

How correct were the Republicans to cave in on the subject of the removal of the Confederate flag?

You might be surprised to learn that the answer seems to be, not at all.

As always, the real motive of leftists — aka the drama queens — (foreign as well as American) is never principles (deeply-held or otherwise).

The real motive of left-wing activists is high dramatics. Along with a complete rewriting of American, and world, history to suit their egos.

What is at stake is the officialization of the culpability of the American republic. As well as the guilt of every citizen in the country, and indeed on the planet. All of them in need of the leftist activists' brand of healing, and their type of activist government.

Their human rights campaigns, for instance, have always been directed solely against the United States and/or the West.

The object of the attacks on the Confederate flag is nothing more than another brick in the rewriting of history so that the world's "last, best hope" (Lincoln, quoting Jefferson) becomes a reprehensible hell-hole with symbols to be likened to the Third Reich's Nazi swastika. (Quentin Tarantino called the South's slavery "Auschwitz", no less.) To be compared with the "genocide" of the Indians.

The Founding Fathers are to be rewritten as slaveholders, and Americans are to be deemed the equivalent, almost, of Nazi leaders and concentration camp kapos.

This is what Barack Obama's common core is all about. That is what they want to teach American kids.

(One detail that, strangely, is always left out by the progressives is how the Southern states, both during the antebellum slavery days and later during the Jim Crow days, is how in all cases, those governments were firmly in the hands of the Democratic Party.)

The drama queens, and their hysterics, never deserve to be humored. Even partially.

They deserve to be punched back at. Twice as hard.

(Sarah Hoyt points to a Katie McHugh post on Breitbart that notes that while Amazon has taken down all merchandise bearing the Confederate flag, it continues to sell communist merchandise, "featuring the hammer and sickle, Joseph Stalin’s mustache, all things Che Guevara, Vladimir Lenin and other colorful revolutionaries".)

As I wrote in a lengthy post on, among other things, what hate speech in the 19th century sounded like
 … such (self-serving) musings — along with comparisons of the likes of Barack Obama to such illustrious predecessors as Abraham Lincoln and Ronald Reagan — [should be dismissed] as not the fruit of intellectual investigation, analysis, and arguments but—again—as part of its incessant litany of self-congratulation.
The drama queens' only object is a form of bragging: celebrating themselves as the most intelligent people who ever lived, as the most humanistic people who ever lived, as the most tolerant people who ever lived, as the most compassionate people who ever lived. And in that perspective, all other people, all other persons, famous or not, past and present, are to be denigrated.

The rewriting of history is something that, when another generation has passed (if that much!), should allow the leftists to do away with part or all of the Constitution with the object of getting all these smiley face activists to, with "the best of intentions", become a permanent feature of government, one that intervenes in all parts of the citizen's life.

As I wrote in a lengthy post on, among other things, American Slavery and Abolitionism in the Context of World History
it is time that we own up to one basic fact:

Slavery — like poverty — in the past was ubiquitous.

Both started coming to an end (some places faster than others, but certainly all over the West) after the American Revolution and the advent of capitalism (which some of us prefer to call, simply, the free market), along with the industrial revolution in the land of their English-speaking cousins.

I.e., slavery started coming to and end in, and thanks to, the English-speaking nations.

And yet, the only slavery the nitpickers (American or foreign) condemn, revile, and wail and gnash their teeth over is slavery in the US of A. South American slavery of Africans? No, not so much. White slavery of whites (from Rome to the 19th century)? No. Arab slavery of Christians? No. Arab slavery of (other) Arabs? No. Black slavery of blacks? No. Slavery today, from the Arab world to the African continent? No. The only slavery that is rendered in apocalyptic tones—the most apocalyptic tones possible ("America's original sin"!!)—is America's. (Is it any wonder that I conclude that we are living in the era of the drama queens?)

  … See, I am not defending slavery, but what the drama queens are doing, and getting conservatives to go along with, is perpetuating historical falsehoods, along with false comparisons, such as comparing the life of a slave (but only a black slave in the United States, you understand by now, not any others) to life in today's modern world (which truly would be nothing but atrocious) while ignoring the dreary poverty that life was for most people, black as well as white, in the West as throughout the rest of the world, up until the 18th and 19th centuries.
Related: You will be made to care… about the Confederate Battle Flag by (Damned Yankee) Jazz Shaw
Some years ago … our Red State colleague Erick Erickson penned a column on a completely different subject titled You Will Be Made to Care. Erick was talking about gay marriage, but what he described was the the ever present mode of operation for the modern American Left. It’s not enough to disagree with someone when there is a difference of opinion on social issues, government policy or even the color of the sky. It’s not even sufficient to shut down the conversation, as Guy and Mary Katharine so aptly identified in End of Discussion. Those who dissent must be forced to bend a knee and participate.

 … in keeping with liberal theory, we must eliminate some piece of cloth that reminds them of their heritage, even if it has nothing to do with racism or slavery in their minds. It does to us! That requires a trigger warning, mister, and you didn’t provide us with a safe space!

And We Are The Perpetually And Righteously Offended, So You Shall Comply.

 … You must be made to care. You will be made to participate. You will take the hateful piece of cloth down (though a piece of cloth has yet to ever shoot up a church or a school) and you will denounce it. Or we will destroy you.

 … Every Southerner I know today abhors the idea of slavery and would immediately call the police if they found out about anyone keeping human beings as slaves. But they are also proud of their heritage and the many things the South represents, and for many of them the Stars and Bars is emblematic of that sense of history and pride. So maybe you can crack the politically correct whip and tear down some flags. I say go to hell. Our brothers and sisters who dwell below the Mason-Dixon are Americans first and always, but they are Southern by the Grace of God.
Update: A lot of comments on an Instapundit post are talking about how Confederate symbols are being removed in stores all over America, while communist ones remain.  ("So it is okay to have slaves if you put them in gulags or concentration camps instead of on plantations? Perhaps after a trial to make it all legal like?", "Like the Professor said, 'Communists are just Nazis with better PR.' Maybe the Confederates, who were neither Nazis nor Communists, just needed PR as good as the Communists?")

Notice a key difference between communism and the South, however. In America, slaves were owned private enterprise (the plantations); in Soviet Russia, laborers were enslaved by the state. Couldn't it be that all that we are witnessing is simply the left's good ol' hatred of capitalism (although slavery is abhorrent, needless to say, to the true free market) coupled with its love of the administrative state?

Monday, June 22, 2015

Even Wikipedia's Neil Tyson Talk Page Was Being Actively Censored Last Fall

Do you remember the story of Neil Tyson's fake George W Bush quote? The real story rapidly became how Wikipedia's liberals sprang into defense mode, with the encyclopedia's Neil Tyson Truthers aka its Pravda heirs going out and about to defend their hero and his (and their) — self-serving — viewpoint of conservatives like Dubya as clueless country bumpkins.
Wikipedia, you see, is run by editors who love facts, reason, evidence, and science. Boy do they love science. And facts. And also evidence. They LOVE those things. But they don’t adore anything as much as they adore Neil Tyson, their high priest, and unsavory facts about their shaman of science will not be tolerated.
Here is my humble (and short-lived) part (rather, a cameo) in that story.

Below are two screen shots I took on September 19, 2014 (9:26 pm).

On that evening, I attempted to add a little tidbit to the discussion on the encyclopedia itself — in vain, as we shall see: I added what I considered a rather objective comment quoting what The Federalist was saying about the Wikipedia debacle — something which, you know, might eventually be of some interest to somebody (not least if they were people who saw The Federalist as the enemy — "So that's what our enemy is thinking, and saying!") or someone concerned (or simply curious) about the website giant's reputation (Jimmy Wales, call your office). I wrote my piece (details on the content below), added a few hyperlinks (internal as well as external), and hit the "Save page" button.

What do you think is about to happen? The post will be removed the following day? After a couple of hours? After a few minutes?

No, my comment never appeared! Someone had been watching, actively watching, that page all along. (A Mr swordfish, presumably, who proceeded to trash blogs, although my blog was never mentioned, the only one mentioned — if blog is indeed the correct word for the Federalist — being the Sean Davis post). My comment was destined to blow up upon takeoff.

But here is the zinger: the censorship did not occur on Neil deGrasse Tyson's wikipedia entry. (Editorializing on an entry, for reasons good or otherwise, is entirely appropriate, after all.) The censorship occurred on Neil deGrasse Tyson's entry's talk page! Yes: his talk page! (aka https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Talk:Neil_deGrasse_Tyson&action=submit )

Talk, as in debate! Talk, as in discussion! (Remember how the left loves to tell everybody, we are so open, we are so tolerant, we are always willing to participate in debate and discussion?)

Incidentally, all talk of the fake George W Bush quote (Our God is the God who named the stars) on the talk page has been archived away. While the only mention of the word Bush on the Neil deGrasse Tyson entry has nothing to do with Tyson's mistake and failure ('In 2001, US President George W. Bush appointed Tyson to serve on the Commission on the Future of the United States Aerospace Industry and in 2004 to serve on the President's Commission on Implementation of United States Space Exploration Policy, the latter better known as the "Moon, Mars, and Beyond" commission.')

So what was it that I wrote on the talk page that was so galling? Again, I consider it to be rather neutral: first a lengthy Sean Davis quote, followed by the following description thereof (see screenshot at bottom, with cream-colored letters in left margin):
FYI, the fact that this Wiki thread exists at all has become a story of its own (or a sub-Tyson-story of its own on (guess where) The Federalist: "Religious fanatics have an odd habit of overreacting when people have the audacity to question their fanaticism," writes Sean Davis (that would refer, fairly or otherwise, to the majority of people, editors or other, on this thread); "You will bow to the religious zealots, or you will pay the price."
This was preceded by the following, lengthier quote from Sean Davis's article, Why Is Wikipedia Deleting All References To Neil Tyson’s Fabrication? (see screenshot above, with cream-colored letters in left margin):
The fact-loving, evidence-weighing, ever-objective editors of the online encyclopedia did not appreciate the inclusion of the evidence of Tyson’s fabrication. Not at all. … These lovers of science don’t actually love science, because science requires you to go where the evidence takes you, even if it goes against your original hypothesis. What many of Tyson’s cultists really like is the notion that one can become more intelligent via osmosis — that you can become as smart and as credentialed as Tyson by merely clapping like a seal at whatever he says, as long as what he says fits the political worldview of your average progressive liberal. Neil Tyson is adored by people who want the sweet feeling of smug, intellectual superiority without all the baggage of actually being intellectually superior in any way.

[Hemant] Mehta is right: if a right-wing conservative — if a skeptic of climate alarmism, for example — were accused of wholesale fabrication of evidence, he would have already been run out of town. But not Tyson. Why the disparity? That’s easy: because Tyson’s sins were committed out of a pure desire to further the common good. He believes the “right” things, which means his rather serious iniquities can be forgiven. A little fabrication can be swept under the rug so long as it’s in service of a higher agenda.
(FYI, that was the second time that a Talk comment of mine was deleted on Wikipedia.)

As Sean Davis concludes,
the censorship campaign is important because it highlights how the progressive Left acts when challenged. Revise, don’t report. Erase, don’t acknowledge. Delete, don’t debate.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

We know almost nothing of the merchants who made ancient Greece rich enough to spawn an unprecedented culture, but we know lots about the deeds of those who squandered that wealth in war

Matt Ridley has a post commemorating the 200th anniversary of Waterloo (cheers to the jaymaster): Courage and commerce -- which did more to enrich humanity.
We admire achievements in war, a negative-sum game in which people get hurt on both sides, more than we do those in commerce, where both sides win.

The Rothschild skill in trade did at least as much to bring down Napoleon as the Wellesley skill in tactics. Throughout the war Nathan Rothschild shipped bullion to Wellington wherever he was, financing not just Britain’s war effort but also that of its allies, almost single-handedly. He won’t get much mention this week.

So I ought to prefer books about business, not bravery, because boring, bourgeois prudence gave us peace, plenty and prosperity. It was people who bought low and sold high, who risked capital, set up shop, saved for investment, did deals, improved gadgets and created jobs — it was they who raised living standards by ten or twentyfold in two centuries, and got rid of most child mortality and hunger. Though they do not risk their lives, they are also heroes, yet we have always looked down our noses at them. When did you last see an admirable businessman portrayed in a movie?

Dealing is always better than stealing, even from your enemies. It’s better than praying and preaching, the clerical virtues, which do little to fill bellies. It’s better than self-reliance, the peasant virtue, which is another word for poverty. As the economic historian Deirdre McCloskey put it in her book The Bourgeois Virtues: “The aristocratic virtues elevate an I. The Christian/peasant virtues elevate a Thou. The priestly virtues elevate an It. The bourgeois virtues speak instead of We”.

We know almost nothing of the merchants who made ancient Greece rich enough to spawn an unprecedented culture, but we know lots about the deeds of those who squandered that wealth in war. “The history of antiquity resounds with the sanguinary achievements of Aryan warrior elites,” wrote the historian of antiquity Thomas Carney. “But it was the despised Levantines, Arameans, Syrians, and Greeklings who constituted the economic heroes of antiquity.”

 … in the very same year, 1815, George Stephenson, a humble, self-taught engine-wright with an impenetrable Geordie accent (to which he probably gave the name), put together all the key inventions that — at last — made steam locomotion practicable. … The year of Waterloo was an annus mirabilis of the industrial revolution, putting Britain on course to dominate and transform the world, whether we beat Boney or not. Steam, followed by its offspring internal combustion and electricity, would catapult humankind into prosperity.

 … I do not mean to diss the Duke of Wellington, and it would miss the point to elevate Stephenson into a mythic hero. For all his brilliance, his achievements were incremental and collaborative improvements on the work of others: the work of we, not me. But Wellington’s way of changing history by killing people — while sometimes regrettably necessary — is as old as Troy, whereas Stephenson’s new way, by letting people work productively for each other, was far more momentous in the end.

Friday, June 19, 2015

We can “thank” the purveyors of the “living, breathing” Constitution for the injustice of Eminent Domain

It was ten years ago this month that the Supreme Court handed down the odious Kelo v. New London decision legitimizing the expansion of eminent domain powers to include the seizure of property for private interests 
writes Benny Huang, who counts it among the court’s worst decisions.
Not as bad as Roe v. Wade, but pretty atrocious.
Eminent domain is a fancy phrase that means nothing more than the government taking private property from its owner and putting it to public use. Eminent domain is authorized under the takings clause of the Fifth Amendment which permits governments to seize property as long as the owner is paid “just compensation,” which has been traditionally interpreted to mean market value. In other words, the government has to pay but the owner can’t refuse to sell.

For more than two centuries, “public use” was understood to mean government use. If the state wants to build a highway it doesn’t need to convince every single property owner along its path to sell. As unjust as that may sound, the alternative is unworkable.

In the Kelo case, a group of private citizens sued the City of New London, Connecticut to avoid losing their homes to Pfizer, Inc., a private company that manufactures pharmaceuticals.
Wait a second, can they do that? Surely, eminent domain doesn’t permit private companies to take people’s homes. That was the issue before the court. The legal geniuses in robes decided that yes, private companies can take your property as long as they use the government as a middle man.

Here’s how it works: a private company decides that they want to raze a few city blocks to build a new office complex. First, they ask the inhabitants to sell. If the inhabitants want too much or refuse to sell at any price, the company bypasses them and goes to city hall instead. They convince the bureaucrats that their project is the answer to all their prayers, that it will result in a lot of jobs, and most importantly, tax revenue. A single multinational corporation will probably pay more in taxes than all of those working stiffs combined. It helps if the city condemns the property first, though that’s a formality and everyone knows that the property is only being condemned because a private company is salivating over the real estate. After seizing the property, the city sells it to the corporation.

That’s the reality of eminent domain in the twenty-first century. We can “thank” the purveyors of the “living, breathing” Constitution for this injustice. The Fifth Amendment, though thoroughly unambiguous, doesn’t mean the same thing today as it did in days gone by. When the Constitution can mean anything, it means nothing.

 … Howard Dean … seemed unaware that it was the liberal wing of the court—Ginsburg, Souter, Breyer, Kennedy, and Stevens—who approved this monstrosity. The court’s liberals even seemed swayed by the city’s argument that more tax revenue was a public good in and of itself, and therefore seizing the property amounted to public use. While big business’s hands are not clean in this affair, it was the government, driven by its insatiable appetite for tax revenue, that yanked these people from their homes.
File it under ‘lessons learned’: the behemoth of government devours the little people first. Powerful people cut deals. These days, they don’t even have to resort to the proverbial “back room.” All business is conducted up front.

Pfizer never did build its complex in New London. The jobs and tax dollars never materialized. In 2009 it sold the property and left town, leaving a vacant lot where a tight-knit neighborhood once stood.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Waterloo: “Tell my sister I didn’t soil my pants!”

Maj. Harry Smith, a vastly experienced British officer who had fought at New Orleans and through some of the hardest battles of the Peninsular War, wrote, “I had never seen anything to compare. At Waterloo the whole field from right to left was a mass of bodies… The sight was sickening.”
Thus writes Bernard Cornwell in the New York Times. The historical novelist is the author of Waterloo: The History of Four Days, Three Armies and Three Battles.
We have witness accounts of many battles, but nothing matches the sheer volume of writing about Waterloo, and that huge archive gives us privileged glimpses of the day.

John Lewis, a British rifleman, was standing next to a man who was struck by a French musket ball: “He just said, ‘Lewis, I’m done!’ and died.” A half mile away, a French cavalryman, seeing a prostrate British officer stir, exclaimed in surprise, “Tu n’est pas mort, coquin!” and stabbed him with a lance.

Edward Macready, a 17-year-old British officer, was clutched by a friend who had just been wounded. “Is it deep, Mac?” he screamed, “Is it deep?” A Prussian conscript, not much older than Macready, wrote to his parents after the battle, “Tell my sister I didn’t soil my pants!” A French officer had his nose severed by a sword cut and cried out pathetically, “Look what they do to us!”

These are voices from a battle long ago and they bring life to callous casualty figures. Those figures were horrific. Johnny Kincaid, a British rifle officer, said that he had “never heard of a battle in which everybody was killed, but this seemed likely to be an exception.”

And it was not only men who died. After the battle, a British officer, Lt. Charles Smith, had the grim task of retrieving his unit’s dead, and while disentangling a heap of corpses found a French officer “of a delicate mould and appearance.” It was a young woman. We will never know who she was, only that Lieutenant Smith thought her beautiful. I surmise she could not bear to be parted from her lover and charged with him to her death.

 … Gen. Baron von Müffling, the Prussian liaison officer to the Duke of Wellington, watched the British line advance at the day’s end. The whole army was supposed to join that attack, but von Müffling remembered only small groups going forward, because “the position in which the infantry had fought was marked, as far as the eye could see, by a red line caused by the red uniforms of the numerous killed and wounded who lay there.” It is a terrible image, a tideline of the dead and dying.

Wellington set the tone for today’s commemorations when he wrote to a friend a month after the battle, saying, “It is quite impossible to think of glory. Both mind and feelings are exhausted. I am wretched even at the moment of victory, and I always say that next to a battle lost, the greatest misery is a battle gained. I am now just beginning to retain my natural spirits, but I never wish for any more fighting.”
Update: Courage and commerce -- which did more to enrich humanity (cheers to the jaymaster):
We admire achievements in war, a negative-sum game in which people get hurt on both sides, more than we do those in commerce, where both sides win.

 … We know almost nothing of the merchants who made ancient Greece rich enough to spawn an unprecedented culture, but we know lots about the deeds of those who squandered that wealth in war.

 … in the very same year, 1815, George Stephenson, a humble, self-taught engine-wright with an impenetrable Geordie accent (to which he probably gave the name), put together all the key inventions that — at last — made steam locomotion practicable. … The year of Waterloo was an annus mirabilis of the industrial revolution, putting Britain on course to dominate and transform the world, whether we beat Boney or not.