Archive for December, 2010

What I Celebrate on December 25

December 24, 2010

In 1776, the American army lost battle after battle, being chased from New York all across New Jersey; finally reaching the Delaware River, they grabbed every boat they could find to escape across it. The British, snug in Trenton, figured they’d simply wait till the river’s winter freeze, then walk across to finish off the Americans and their impertinent revolution.

There wasn’t much left of those soldiers, a few thousand weary stragglers, many hurt, sick, poorly clothed, shoeless, hungry. (Some no doubt were gay.) Many of their enlistments were due to end in a few days. Thomas Paine, encamped with them, now wrote The American Crisis: “These are the times that try men’s souls.”

Though that famous line is often quoted, few today actually understand it. In the language of the time, “try” meant “test.”

December 25, 1776 - Painting by Emanuel Leutze

General George Washington’s soul was being tested. On the whole a failure till that point, now he was really up against it. What to do? One last roll of the dice: go for broke. On December 25, 1776, he and his men got back in those boats, back across that river, in the teeth of a snowstorm, and then marched nine miles to attack the British and their Hessian hired guns at Trenton. The bad weather spoiled the plan for a pre-dawn surprise attack. And Washington was warned that spies had probably tipped off the Brits. But there was no turning back.

A spy had in fact alerted the British commander; but he complacently ignored the message – which was found the next day in the pocket of his corpse.

We won the battle. Others are usually considered more important; yet had we failed at Trenton, the war would have ended there, with the Declaration of Independence not a beacon for humanity but a beaten idea. I hate to think how different today’s world might be.

But the 1776 Delaware crossing means even more to me than that. To me it stands for everything that is splendid about America and about the human soul.

F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote, “There are no second acts in American life.” But America is all about second acts. It’s the land of reinvention. “The New World” – the old one seemed mired in the past, and emigrants to America believed they could make a new and better one. America was humanity starting fresh.

It’s a land of people who pick themselves up off the floor and rise to their second acts – like those bedraggled men, honored be their memory, who got back into those boats on a freezing Christmas night in 1776 to make the supreme effort for a transcending ideal.

But those human qualities are not unique to this country. This striving in the face of adversity, this refusal to be beaten, this greatness of spirit, inspires my love for all humanity. And what I love especially about my own country is that it’s where these human qualities have their finest flowering, where the best in us can be most fully realized.

Happy Holidays!

The political picture

December 19, 2010

Barack Obama is the most liberal/left-wing president ever. And yet the whining of the liberal left is growing to a shrill screech.

Some of them actually say Democrats lost the 2010 elections because Obama wasn’t left-wing enough (giving up the public option on health care, for example). When in fact they lost because a majority of voters deemed Obama too left-wing. The left can’t seem to accept that they’re a minority. They cling to the fantasy that if only people voted rationally, they’d win. In fact, mainstream voters understand well enough what the left is selling. And they aren’t buying.


This pattern is repeated in the left’s ire over the recent tax deal. They feel Obama should have insisted on raising taxes on higher incomes. They ignore the inconvenient truth that clear majorities in Congress wouldn’t vote for this.

In that tax deal, Obama actually won more of the left’s agenda (extending unemployment benefits, tax breaks for working people, and in effect another stimulus) than might have been expected. Yet still the left whines and carps.

That the two parties could come together on that compromise deal is perhaps somewhat encouraging. However, this was really a case of Republicans agreeing to raid the Treasury to give Democrats goodies they covet in exchange for Dems agreeing to pillage the Treasury for things Republicans want.

Too bad the Treasury wasn’t in on the negotiations. The deal violates the first rule of holes: if you’re in one, stop digging. Given the deepening fiscal hole America is in, what we really need is for Republicans to agree to sacrifice some of what they cherish in return for Democrats agreeing to their own sacrifices. That was the essence of the recent Simpson-Bowles Commission proposals, for getting control of our spiraling national debt. Shamefully, Obama won’t touch it with a ten foot pole. So it’s no surprise that few other politicians would either.

But those politicians can’t be faulted. The blame lies with voters. Polls show solid majorities favoring deficit reduction, but those majorities evaporate when any specific cuts are at issue (except maybe foreign aid, which voters on average estimate at 24% of the budget; in fact it’s under 1%). To prevent economic disaster, we’ll have to take big whacks out of Medicare, farm subsidies, military bloat, and yes, horrors, Social Security. No more welfare for the rich.

I’m not holding my breath.




The Case for Rational Optimism

December 12, 2010

(Here, in full, is a recent review by Randy Brich — a highly gratifying review by someone who really “gets it.”):

A comment by Frank S. Robinson (author of The Case for Rational Optimism) on my review of Matt Ridley’s The Rational Optimist:  How Prosperity Evolves prompted me to request and read Robinson’s book. In an age where irrational pessimism pervades the educational and political spectrum, Robinson argues for rational optimism by drawing on a wide range of literature and applying what appears to be seriously deficient on both extremes of the political bell curve — common sense and reason.  Utilizing the central thesis that humans are more good than evil, Robinson proceeds to describe the majority of cases where, given freedom, humans have always chosen good.  According to Robinson, the freedom to choose manifested itself best 200 years ago in America — a beacon of light shining above a sea of global chaos.  However, Robinson carefully points out that even America hasn’t been, is not now and never will be perfect. But compared to other nations, America remains the best government invented by man.

A powerful treatise that may offend overly sensitive people, The Case for Rational Optimism applies the heavy weight of objective analysis to a variety of current issues, leaving no room for lightweight subjective sentiments. Slaying sacred cows like a medieval knight wasting mythical dragons, Robinson fearlessly, er, optimistically, marches into the fray armed with reason, logic and optimism and ruthlessly dispatches the emotionally-based fear so rampant in today’s modern society.

Robinson’s no slouch and he takes on all comers from “America the Beautiful” to “War and Peace” and everything in between, including:

“reason and morality; living the good life; happiness as a choice; satisfaction; mind, thought and free will; why we are judgmental and should be; science, technology, and nature; love, marriage and sex; individualism and society; the problem of government; the two America’s: rich and richer; the virtues of free market capitalism; globalization, trade, growth and poverty; why corporations are not monsters of evil; don’t believe the prophets of doom; global warming and modern times. “

Arguing his case from the preponderance of evidence, Robinson concludes that freedom of choice allows humans to achieve ever increasing greater goods.  Specifically, these goods include all things that make modern man better off than his ancestors, especially increased longevity, enhanced wellness, improved environment, decreased hostility, or, to put it in simple terms a superior quality of life.  At no time in the past have humans been as well off as they are now and as other nations discover the central theme of America — that freedom equals prosperity — the overall trend toward less hostility and more cooperation becomes readily apparent.

These strong well-thought-out arguments make the book worth reading; however, I wish Robinson would have spent more time detailing the importance of inexpensive energy to America’s march toward progress.  Without access to cheap energy fueling the engines of commerce, prosperity will diminish and the quality of life will degrade, especially for the poor as they are most dependent on affordable energy.  Equally, I wish Robinson would have questioned the global warming argument more fully (a subject for a review coming soon to Nuclear Street).

Further, Robinson’s apparently naive acceptance that green energy and conservation can significantly reduce dependence on fossil fuels in a reasonable time frame contradicts the evidence I’ve seen.  Based on all the books I’ve read and reviewed it’s extremely unlikely that renewable energy sources can make much difference in the big picture in the foreseeable future.  In his free downloadable book Sustainable Energy — Without the Hot Air ,Cambridge physicist David MacKay does the heavy lifting by estimating UK’s renewable energy requirements and concludes that if the citizens do not want coal or nuclear, then they had better want a lot of windmills and pump storage facilities – each with its own attendant environmental negatives.  Accordingly, a policy that increases energy costs by taxing CO^2 emissions will hurt those who can least afford it – the poor.  As Dr. Roy Spencer points out, denying the poor their right to inexpensive energy based on an unproven theory (i.e., that feedbacks are positive) challenges even the most rational optimist that everything will turn out OK.

Kudos to Robinson for mentioning nuclear power in a positive light – something that doesn’t happen frequently enough in our modern world. When compared to fossil fuels, nuclear is the next best source of dispatchable, reliable, safe and affordable energy. With 61 new reactors under construction worldwide, none of which are in America, Robinson recognizes what other world leaders have known for quite awhile, that the time for nuclear power generation has come and America needs to get with the program.

Regardless of these few not-so-obvious shortcomings, The Case for Rational Optimism, presents a solid answer to the question no one else is asking: What good is the environment if humans don’t use it? Robinson wades in deeply and proceeds to show how free market-based systems do more good for the environment (because they can afford to spend money on protecting it) than other economies.  Finally, Robinson’s book provides an excellent introduction for anyone interested in a cogent approach to the modern world, an approach we definitely could use more of in the next few years.

(The review appeared in Nuclear Power Industry News (here’s the link). For more information about the book, please click here.)

Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, Don’t Wait

December 6, 2010

The policy: you can’t serve in the U.S. military if you have sex a certain way. Unless you (in effect) lie about it.

It was always an absurd travesty. A clear majority of the nation now opposes it. A federal judge has ruled it unconstitutional. Even a majority within the military endorses repeal.

Barry Goldwater, before his death, denounced the policy.

So why are we still dicking around over this?

A few military brass-hats wring their hands over supposed potential pitfalls. Who are they kidding? In most other nations gays have long served in uniform without anyone giving it a second thought. They serve too, everyone knows, in the U.S. military. The only issue is whether they are required to lie about it.

We’re told this is a time of war. Right – so why retain a policy that discards thousands of recruits whose skills and service we so desperately need?

All the arguments invoking “good order” in the ranks, etc., are a smokescreen, used by those who just simply don’t like gays. They feel that gays are sissies and openly allowing them to serve would somehow undermine the military’s macho-ness. That’s what it’s really about.

Most white soldiers in the past didn’t like blacks, who were allowed to serve only in exclusively black units. In 1948, President Truman ended that segregation by executive order – bang, just like that, overnight. Given the state of American race relations in 1948, that was surely a huge shock, with many white soldiers extremely hostile to serving alongside blacks. Yet the military adjusted to it, swiftly and smoothly, on the whole.

Repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” would be far less wrenching today than ending racial segregation was in 1948.

This also points up the contrast between Truman’s gutsyness and the Obama administration’s pusillanimity. I repeat, why are we still dicking around over this? Truman acted pursuant to his constitutional authority as commander-in-chief. Obama has the same authority. And meantime, again, a federal court has struck down “don’t ask, don’t tell.” The administration could have said, we agree and will implement the decision forthwith. Instead, it said, we agree with the decision yet we’re going to appeal it. So they’ll send lawyers into court to defend a stupid, morally wrong, dysfunctional and unconstitutional policy that it opposes.

They claim this is the Justice Department’s duty. That’s inexplicably disingenuous. A legal official always has discretion over what cases to pursue, or not. And the Department of Justice is subordinate to the President, who gives it its marching orders. The administration also says it would be better for this issue to be resolved by Congress than the courts. Perhaps; but as a practical matter, Congress seems unable to act. Strange that these so-called liberals have suddenly lost their appetite for judicial activism to rectify societal wrongs.

On a broader range of issues, the left is deeply disenamored of the Obama administration. For the most part I take a dim view of their attitude. But on this issue, I share their disgust with Obama.