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Monthly Archives: March 2012

Beware of the Mob

March 25th, 2012 - 11:31 am

Our Modern Lynch Mob

Democracies are in general prone to fits of the mob. Just read the Thucydidean account of the debate of Mytilene. Or watch a 1950s Western as the lynch party heads for the town jail. Fear of democratically sanctioned madness is why the Founders came up not just with classical tripartite government to check and limit power between the judicial, legislative, and executive branches, but also now generally disdained notions of allowing states to impose property qualifications for voting, the Electoral College, two senators guaranteed per state regardless of population, and senators originally selected without direct votes.

They were not concerned that under Athenian-style democracy the proverbial “people” and their populist Rottweilers in government and the press could not check the power of capital and birth, but were worried, as Juvenal later quipped, over who would police the police. So there had to be checks on the mob as well — a fickle and unpredictable force as we saw in the last eight years.

2006 Evil Guantanamo/ 2009 Good Guantanamo

Sometime around 2005, the anger of the mob over the Bush-Cheney anti-terrorism protocols peaked. Preventative detention, renditions, military tribunals, Guantanamo, Predators, wiretaps, and intercepts were all considered unlawful, unnecessary, and immoral. The Bush-Cheney “terror state” seemed capable of almost anything, as it shredded the Constitution while claiming to “protect” us from non-existent terrorists. Dick Cheney went from a respected and perennial Washington insider, given his due by both liberals and conservatives as a sober and judicious administrator over the past thirty years, to a pernicious Darth Vader.

The Left never really adduced any evidence to support its charges, but such serial attacks went largely unanswered. Candidate Barack Obama both benefited from and whipped up the venom, only as president to embrace or expand all of what he had once so vehemently denounced. He soon became predator-in-chief, increasing targeted assassinations eightfold, as he joked about them being unleashed at any potential suitors of Malia and Sasha.

The Bush-Cheney anti-terrorism policies were quietly reinvented as necessary (given that no post-9/11 plot [and there were many] had succeeded) and continue on today as if no one ever had questioned their utility or legality. The fist-shaking mob apparently decided that what was truly bad before 2009 was mostly good afterwards, or at least not bad enough to question an Obama presidency. So it threw down the torches and drifted on home, wanting the proverbial prisoner in the jail freed and canonized rather than hanged.

Today we are left with either one of two liberal assumptions: the Bush-Cheney protocols are still bad, but to continue to criticize them would now be to weaken the liberal agenda of their present adherent Barack Obama; or, why get riled over politics? —  every out-party attacks the in-party any way it can, so get over it.

Planet Warming on Hold

One of the most venomous lines of attack against George W. Bush was his supposed failure to address climate change. These were the mob days of the anguished Al Gore, still smarting over having won the popular, but not the electoral, vote in 2000, damning Bush as a liar, as he created Gore, Inc. — a near organic-growing merchandising empire of several hundred millions of dollars.

Gorism both hyped a global carbon threat and then offered the consulting and expertise to address it. His carbon footprints and “offsets” followed the medieval model of selling exemptions. In such holy work, there were no such things as conflict of interest, influence peddling, or simple bad manners. Gore rode his Earth in the Balance / Inconvenient Truth express train to a Nobel Prize, a sizable fortune — and a general impression that he had become unhinged, whether in his incarnation as a “crazed sex poodle” or a vein-bursting screaming “he lied!” mental patient.

No matter, Barack Obama came into office on the shoulders of this screaming mob. His team lectured us on the wisdom of withholding oil leases, on the desirability of European-level gas prices, and on why we must soon pay skyrocketing energy prices. Obama-sanctioned cap-and-trade passed the Democratic-held House.

And then?

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Liberal Illiberalism

March 18th, 2012 - 11:30 am

The Liberal Assault on Liberalism

Conservatives are put into awkward positions of critiquing liberal ideas on grounds that they are impractical, unworkable, or counterproductive. Yet rarely, at least outside the religious sphere, do they identify the progressive as often immoral. And the unfortunate result is that they have often ceded moral claims to supposedly dreamy, utopian, and well-meaning progressives, when in fact the latter increasingly have little moral ground to stand upon.

Take a few contemporary controversies.

Radical environmentalism. When “conservation” sometime in the 1970s was redefined as “environmentalism,” the morality of the entire issue likewise changed. Most Americans had wanted clean air and water; and they were willing to pay to curb pollutants and drive more expensive, but cleaner, cars. They had no desire to see condors die off or kit foxes disappear.

But at some point, the green creed began to dictate that all species were equal to humans. Soon concern for a tiny frog or worm trumped a needed project — a dam, an irrigation canal, an oil well, or a mine — designed to alleviate human suffering. Here I am not talking about large-scale species annihilation, but rather taking a truth about wishing to protect a natural habitat and perverting it into elevating concerns for insects, amphibians, and small fish over people’s elemental struggles to exist and prosper.

When California elites shut down 250,000 acres of irrigated agriculture to divert water into the San Francisco regional delta and bay, purportedly as a remedy to help the three-inch delta smelt, they were making a loud moral statement that those who mostly had secure jobs, mostly nice homes, and well-off environments were going to destroy the jobs of those in agriculture — not just the land owner and foreman, but the agricultural workers themselves — without much worry over the consequences.

In crude terms, the ideology might be paraphrased as something like the following, “I got mine, Jack, and can’t worry about you.” Or, “You don’t interest me as much as does a tiny fish in the delta.” In truth, I would be far more worried that the town of San Joaquin had little money for basic civic services from a cutoff in irrigation water than I would a drop in the delta smelt population.

Had a tractor salesman in Mendota or an irrigator in Firebaugh had an environmental Shane to square off against the Bay Area’s hired Jack Palance, then the dispute might at least have been more equal and honest. By that, I mean surely there are environmental problems with Berkeley’s treated sewage that goes into the Bay; a particular moth larva in theory could be found to be “in danger” when the next UC environmental sciences building is envisioned; and there must be all sorts of ways to ensure the Fish and Game Department’s trucks and SUVs run only on natural gas or propane, right?

In other words, so often in matters of producing gasoline for the lower middle classes, or cutting timber to ensure affordable housing, or making sure that we have plentiful cheap asphalt to fill potholes, we forget the moral argument that such resource utilization is critical to ensure that average folks have the same sort of chance for jobs, money, and aspirations as do the more wealthy whose green religious zeal makes them absolutely insensitive to — and in truth immoral about — the concerns of others less well off.

When Steven Chu admits both that he wishes gas prices to soar to European levels and that he has no need either to drive or to own a car, then he is really saying, “I don’t have much concern for the results of my own fantasies.” Yet had his lab and assorted lasers once been put on regular 12-hour blackouts to conserve “skyrocketing” energy, then he might have worried more about the consequences of his utopianism. When Barack Obama both calls for “skyrocketing” energy prices, and on his first January day in office turns up the West Wing thermostat to tropical temperatures, then there is a sort of immorality implicit in his entire ideology. At least Jimmy Carter put on a sweater and turned down the temperature to match his malaise rhetoric. Does Al Gore think that the Mexicans, Nigerians, or Venezuelans who supply some of the jet fuel that allows him to huckster via private aircraft are kinder to Earth in the Balance when they drill than when we would in ANWR or North Dakota?

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Welcome to the California Outback

March 12th, 2012 - 7:39 am

The Attractions of the California Outback

There are drawbacks of living in the country in general, and never more so now in rural California in particular. You country readers know all the normal trivial concerns. You must pump your own water. That means monitoring the pump and pressure tank. Your sewage, is, well, your sewage. Whether you like it or not, you will eventually master cesspools, septic tanks, leach lines — and gophers, grease, roots (and everything from visitors’ flushed children’s toys to tampons). At fifty, I gave up fixing my own clogged lines and tried calling the septic service.

At night, you are on your own. (Just last night, copper thieves returned and stole again the conduit from my 15-horsepower ag pump, which had just been replaced after the last theft). But how odd to say that in 2012, as if it is 1890. At dusk, you sort of batten down the hatches against the small nocturnal stuff, like the intrusive coyotes who creep into the driveway. Or you watch for the occasional motorist who runs out of gas, sees a night light, and tries to bang on your gate at 1:00 a.m. (people who bang on gates at 1:00 a.m. usually do not belong out on the road at 1:00 a.m. and want more than gas).

The “big stuff”: well, that’s a different story altogether in the age of these copper wire thieves, meth labs, illegal immigration, and gangbangers. The outback is to California’s criminal what the back nine is to coastal golfers. Most of us cannot rely much on the “sheriff” (I wish the “Constable” Iver Johannson from the 1950s was still alive, who kept things quiet out here), and assume the degree to which we will survive a rare break-in hinges on the degree to which we have sharp-toothed dogs and access (as in quick access) to firearms. So at dark, gates are locked, dogs are out, and motion lights come on, like the medieval city gate bolted shut at dusk. Read Aeneas Tacticus for theories of defending your walls.

Then there are the “neighbors” and “associates.” I don’t mean the farmers whose ancestors reclaimed the ground from scrub in the 1880s and still man the barricades, so to speak. But a certain different sort, who likes the rural space mostly because one can do whatever one wishes with veritable impunity. That “whatever” usually means something lawless. As far as the misdemeanors, of course, who sweats them (e.g., nearby packs of pit bulls without shots or licenses, illegal trailer parks, outhouses popping up again as if it were 1920, dumping trash on the roadside in lieu of paying for garbage pickup, shooting guns behind the shed without knowledge that .22 long rifle bullets travel quite a distance, traveling fencers of stolen goods ["Hey, I'll give you a good deal on a hydraulic ram"], etc.)?

But there are more serious miscreants who migrate outside the city to build drug labs, grow pot, run crack houses, or just visit at night to shoot up things, beat up their girlfriends without worry about the neighbors, or throw out fellow gangbangers into peach orchards rather than lighted city street corners. Over the years, I have seen all of the above in these environs.

Living in the countryside of California has become sort of a gamble. Stop signs do not mean “Stop!” any more out here in rural California, but “Kinda Slow Down.” I’ve seen dozens of motorists run them.

In politically-incorrect fashion, these days I just assume there are about two or three million rural Californians who drive but have learned to do so only very recently and pilot used huge (cheap) and dangerous gas-guzzlers. At some point, the odds run out and you have a rendezvous with one. They do not speak or read English well, if at all, and often have no (official) driver’s license, no insurance, no registration, and no exact knowledge of U.S. traffic laws (I know all this politically insensitive information because five drivers have ended up in my vineyard, fled, and left their wrecked cars behind). So the navigating of rural California intersections about 6:00 p.m. when the sun sets, especially on a Friday or Saturday night, is a bit like Russian roulette. When I drive home on a Thursday or Friday evening from Palo Alto, coming off I-5 onto Manning Avenue, I expect at least to see one stop sign “ignored” — and am usually not disappointed.

I could go on, so where is the punch line of why anyone would stay out here? As one ages, one asks that question more and more.

Now, Wait a Minute …

The Roman lyric poet Horace wrote a fantasy satire about the urban mouse (urbanus mus) and his rural counterpart (rusticus mus), a morality tale about clearing your head from the flotsam and jetsam that ultimately don’t matter. Junvenal’s Third Satire too is a rant about the urban disease, the noise, and the crowds. In fact, the entire genre of pastoralism, from Theocritus onward, is a sort of romance of what was lost by moving to town, however contrived and artificial becomes the metered poetry.

The agrarian tradition from Hesiod to I’ll Take My Stand by the “twelve southern agrarians” has always made the argument that farming, the country, rural life in general, is the fabric of civilization. I tried to suggest that too in The Other Greeks, Fields Without Dreams, and The Land Was Everything. But here I’m not arguing for either political utility or moral guidance from the land.

Autonomy is a reason to live out here. In the old days I used to dream of the promised day when the nearby town’s sewage and water might send a line this way, or perhaps the gas company might install a lateral that would end the need for the ugly propane tank. Not now.

In short, I am not so confident of today’s unionized city employee to guarantee steady water, gas, or sewage service as I was forty years ago (e.g., the local town’s manhole cover plates were recently stolen by its own city workers). I’d prefer to do it myself. My fears of high speed rail (the first rail leg to Charles Manson’s home in Corcoran is routed about eight miles from here) are not just the waste, the destruction of farmland, spiraling costs, and probable low ridership, but the specter of text-messaging unionized drivers at the helm (cf. the light rail wreck in Los Angeles). I’m not a survivalist nut, but just prefer to curb as much as possible reliance on what used to be unimpeachable utilities. (But when the power goes out, I’ve noticed that with an outdoor grill, fireplace, a well, and a hand pump providing plenty of water for the toilets, one can survive a few hours in ease without electricity.)

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The Gaseous Policies of Barack Obama

March 5th, 2012 - 12:05 pm

“They” Did It (Again)!

There are no “oil men” in the White House. So the Obamites cannot, as in the past, blame Halliburton, BP, or Exxon for rigging gas prices out of the Oval Office. Which leads to the question: why then are prices now climbing when the Bush-oil company connection is no longer the narrative? The new answer? “Wall Street” (e.g., the fat-cat bankers, corporate jet owners, those who don’t know when not to profit, etc.) raised prices.

But if true, who let them get away with that? The Chinese, who are scrounging every barrel they can on the world market? The Indians, who follow suit? Maybe it’s the Obama administration Treasury that has borrowed $5 trillion in three years, not only eroding the buying power of the world-traded dollar but also sending a message to oil producers that even more debt is coming and their petrodollars will only be worth less and less?

Or perhaps it is growing world tension, as in Iran, that caused the panic? But then who snubbed the Green revolution in Iran in the spring of 2009, sought “outreach” and “reset” with the theocracy, and leveled five serial demands to stop Iranian enrichment (or else!) to the point that Iran no doubt understood 2009-2012 was a once-in-a-lifetime exempt window of opportunity to get the bomb and to control the Gulf?

To paraphrase William Tecumseh Sherman, Obama might as well rail at the wind. The administration’s current panic mode arises because we are nearing $5 a gallon. (I just filled up two miles away in West Selma, with a supposed 21% unemployment rate and a per capita income of about $14,000, and the price today was $4.27.) It is only early March. Obama may blame Wall Street, but he is savvy enough to do the following calculus: by August, people will want to drive more than they do in March; the Chinese will suddenly not wish to buy less oil this summer; he has no federal leases that he approved in January 2009 that will be coming on line after three-and-a-half years; Volts will not be going into hyper-production mode; and prices will only go up just as the campaign and the weather heat up. There is about an hour’s worth of Obama administration past quotes on gas prices that should make some interesting campaign ads.

High Gas Prices Are Good Bad

So what exactly is the administration’s reaction to skyrocketing gas prices? That should be an absurd question — except that we know administration officials are either on record as indifferent to the high cost of gasoline, or in fact hoping for higher prices.

Consider also the cancellation of the Keystone pipeline; the restrictions of new federal oil leases in the West, Alaska, offshore, and in the Gulf; Obama’s prior promises that energy prices would skyrocket because of his efforts to enact cap and trade; his boast to help Brazil out by importing its new offshore oil finds; his worries only over the abrupt rate of gas increases in 2011 rather than his desire for gradual, steadier escalation; Energy Secretary Chu’s various statements that high prices were not such a concern and indeed that he wished to see gas reach European levels (e.g., $8-10 a gallon); Interior Secretary Salazar’s insistence that even $10 gas would not open up new federal oil lands; and on and on.

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