The Idiom

Can You Grok It? Free Grokistan!

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Is XP Vehicles' inflatable car just a lot of hot air?

Does anyone remember that commercial from SNL for that car made out of clay, The Adobe... The first car to break the $200 barrier!

Spokesman: These days, everyone's talking about the Hyundai, and the Yugo. Both nice cars, if you've got $3,000 or $4,000 to throw around. But, for those of us whose name doesn't happen to be Rockefeller, finally there's some good news - a car with a sticker price of $179. That's right, $179. The name of the car?

Adobe. The sassy new Mexican import that's made out of clay. German engineering and Mexican know-how helped create the first car to break the $200 barrier. At this price, you might not expect more than reliable transportation - but, brother, you get it! Extra features: like the custom contour seats, or the beverage-gripping dash. And the money you save isn't exactly small change!

"Hey, hey, we're Adobe!
The little car that's made out of clay!
We're gonna save you some money
that you can spend in some other way!
Hey, hey, we're Adobe!
Hey, hey, we're Adobe!

[ show Adobe driver get into a fender-bender. She casually steps out of the vehicle and uses her hands to mold her bumper back into its proper shape, in under six minutes! ]

Spokesman: Adobe. You can buy a cheaper car. But I wouldn't recommend it!

Announcer: Not approved for street use in some states. No warranty either expressed or implied. All sales final.

Well get a load of this:

Is XP Vehicles' inflatable car just a lot of hot air?

It's has been a while since we heard any news about the inflatable car from XP Vehicles but it seems they are still out there and still planning to take the auto industry by storm. Freshly featured on the cover of Product Design & Development (PDD), the concept vehicle that doesn't employ airbags, but rather is the airbag

BYE-BYE, BABYLON - New York Post

We are winning!!!

BYE-BYE, BABYLON - New York Post

Yet this situation seemed a pipe dream not so long ago: Iraq's security forces, serving an elected government, assume primary responsibility for the good order of their own country.

We all recall the delighted leftist claims that Iraq had entered a hopeless civil war. Wrong. That Iraqis preferred al Qaeda to us. Wrong. That Shia militias represented the people. Wrong. And that Iran would seize control. Wrong again.

Looking back over six years of good intentions, tragic errors, generosity, arrogance, partisan vituperation, painful deaths and ultimate vindication, two things strike me: the ever-resisted lesson that human affairs are more complex than academic theories claim, and the simple truth that most human beings prefer a measure of freedom to immeasurable repression.

...But other gains, too, emerged from the vilified Bush administration's actions: As we just saw in Lebanon and Iran, democracy now seems possible to populations that had almost given up.

Iran will be free one day, the only question is when. And it won't be because of President Obama's grotesque Cairo apologia.

The problem for presidents is that great changes don't conform to our political calendars. Derided for his "axis of evil" remarks, Bush now looks far wiser than Obama in the wake of North Korean threats of nuclear devastation and Iran's savage crackdown following a wildly fraudulent election (and Tehran's attack on Obama's "interference," even though our president initially defended the election results).

There is evil in the world. No matter how resistant Obama may be to learning that basic lesson, our enemies will hammer it into him.

Monday, June 29, 2009 Editorials, Political Cartoons, and Polls from Investor's Business Daily -- Thuggery 101: A Few Basics For President Editorials, Political Cartoons, and Polls from Investor's Business Daily -- Thuggery 101: A Few Basics For President

Lesson Three: The more we speak out about the harsh rule of thugs, the more oppressed people will come to respect us. Our past resistance to Ahmadinejad may help explain why the Iranian people seem to admire us more than do many in the Arab street, whose dictatorships in Saudi Arabia and Egypt we so fawningly have praised.

Lesson Four: Thugs can never be trusted — whether an Adolf Hitler or Josef Stalin of the past or the rogue's gallery of today. Ahmadinejad is lying about his peaceful plans for nuclear technology. Kim Jong Il continued his nuclear program when he promised that he would not. Syria's Bashar Assad hid his nuclear reactor under construction.

Lesson Five: Most of the world's problems are caused by a handful of thugs. Anytime one can be isolated and replaced by a consensual government, the world gets just a bit safer.

American Thinker: The Mullahs and the Tiananmen Option

American Thinker: The Mullahs and the Tiananmen Option:

Twenty years later, in another youth lead revolution this time in Iran, the fate of a young student standing up against tyranny and oppression is well known. A beautiful girl Nada, a name meaning 'voice' in Farsi, was shot and killed. The horrific image of her death went around the world. It now looks like the Iranian rulers are taking a page from the PRC playbook and will try to fully crush the revolution.

The key is to watch how far the Iranian rulers will go in following what the PLA did in the aftermath of Tiananeman Square. It will get very ugly, I think.

Internally, he PLA immediately upgraded their internal security with state-of-the-art communication systems -- thank you American and other countries selling cell phone and communication satellite capabilities to the PLA. This being the 21st Century, look for the ruling Mullahs to focus on the Internet.

Unfortunately, the Iranian regime has the will to do whatever it takes to hold on to power. It will get uglier.

Always remember

American Thinker: Bush's Domino Effect

The Bush effect is highly speculative, but there is no doubt that the Freedom Agenda has shaken up the region - to effects both bad and good. The claim that the Cairo speech had anything to do with Iran, however is patently absurd.

American Thinker: Bush's Domino Effect

While Professor Ibrahim credits what he calls the "Obama Effect" for producing the latest outbreak of reform in the Middle East, history will see something quite different: the Bush Effect. Democracy, elections, and freedom in Iraq could not fail to have an impact on the minds of Muslim moderates, especially in Iran. How does a woman or a young person in Iran manage to put up with a medieval tyranny when across the border in Iraq individuals are starting to flourish under the banner of self-determination and liberty?

Barack Obama's rather suspicious early response to the exciting and poignant cry for freedom in Iran should have finally ripped the blinders off of Obama's swooning supporters in the human rights establishment. Truth be told, never does Mr. Obama look as awkward as he does when he's forced to mouth support for "democracy" and "freedom" either at home or abroad. It's not in the nature of a socialist in other words to feel comfortable speaking about these things. Obama, like all socialists, is at his best lecturing, controlling and organizing.

Very few on the left and in the Muslim world will admit that the American liberation of Iraq was the catalyst for a beneficent domino effect in Lebanon and Iran. But they should be reminded that this was George Bush's vision from the beginning. In other words, it was Bush, despite fierce criticism, who believed in a stable Middle East built upon democratic principles. The same belief has animated the thousands of U.S. troops who have helped to implement this vision in Iraq.

Of Course We Are Superior

Let The Kid make one thing perfectly clear. He has got no problem stating that our culture is superior to the pre-modern ones. Zero, nada, zip...

Of course we are superior

Apparently Greenwald thinks I'm guilty of applying a double standard -- concern for the treatment of uniformed hostages and ambivalence toward the treatment of terrorist detainees. Well, guilty as charged. I really don't care about the rough treatment to which men like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed were subjected even for the chance of gleaning valuable information. Gilad Shalit, on the other hand, is a uniformed combatant entitled to all the rights and protections afforded by the Geneva Conventions.

The United States, Israel, and the rest of the civilized world do not target civilians, do not hide weapons in mosques, do not use our own children as human shields, do not send our own children to their deaths as suicide bombers, do not seek the extermination of an entire race of people. Terrorist groups like Hamas and Hezbollah, and the regimes that sponsor them, do. That is why we are morally superior to them, and they are morally inferior to us. And that is also why I'm confident that Gilad Shalit would give anything to have spent the last three years at Gitmo -- playing soccer, watching tv, getting three squares a day -- instead of being a prisoner of Hamas. Because even though they don't deserve it, we still treat our detainees better than terrorists treat theirs.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Machine Minds -

Let's develop AI that won't destroy us? Kid VArious is all for that!

Machine Minds -

Animals to which humans are indifferent often lose their habitats and go extinct. If an indifferent superintelligence is created, especially if it is created as software and can therefore reproduce very rapidly, humans will be similarly endangered. After all, while most minds may not care about us, all possible minds will depend upon, and thus care about, certain basic resources such as matter. Superintelligences could be designed to care about us. In this case, they would protect us from our worst mistakes, including the mistake of creating an indifferent or thoughtlessly designed superintelligence.

Extra work will be required to design such concern into an artificial mind. The Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence was founded to make sure that such work is done before it becomes necessary. I hope we have centuries. Most experts say that 20 to 50 years is more likely. Once artificial intelligence is an imminent prospect, competitive pressures will probably favor those projects that compromise safety in order to progress faster. Many projects will justify such compromises on the grounds that if they don't hurry, even more reckless competitors will develop artificial intelligence first. Similar things happen all the time, but humankind can't afford this sort of race to the bottom. We will only get one shot at this. Let's get it right the first time.

Realism and Iran: Interesting Times: Online Only: The New Yorker

From a realist, not a crazy neo-con like The Kid.

Realism and Iran: Interesting Times: Online Only: The New Yorker

In much of the punditry calling for dialogue with Iran, there’s been a strange naivete about the true nature of the regime—a confusion between the sophistication and tolerance of the Iranian people, and their rulers, who have always taken the most brutal measures to hold onto power. Some advocates of negotiation seem to think that the resistance and stupidity have all been on our side—that if only America showed a little respect for Iran, called it by its rightful name of “Islamic Republic,” stopped talking about carrots and sticks (which Iranians associate with donkeys), then Iran’s rulers would be glad to start talking. It turns out that they have more to fear from talk than we do—in fact, at the moment it’s hard to know exactly what they have to gain by it and a lot easier to see what they have to lose. Perhaps they have a keener sense of their own interests than American commentators, so obsessed with America’s own behavior, imagined.

With riot police and armed militiamen beating and, in a few reported cases, killing unarmed demonstrators in the streets of Iran’s cities, for the Obama Administration to continue parsing equivocal phrases serves no purpose other than to make it look feckless. Part of realism is showing that you have a clear grasp of reality—that you know the difference between decency and barbarism when both are on display for the whole world to see. A stronger American stand—taken, as much as possible, in concert with European countries and through multilateral organizations—would do more to improve America’s negotiating position than weaken it. Acknowledging the compelling voices of the desperate young Iranians who, after all, only want their votes counted, would not deep-six the possibility of American-Iranian talks.

Where's The U.N. On Iran? -

Every time the Kid sees a tweet coming out of Iran asking, "where's the UN?" it breaks his heart. The UN is worse than useless, it is exceptionally damaging. In his travels, Kid Various has met numerous foreigners for whom the UN has been built up in their minds as some sort of supra-national world government. An institution to be respected. An institution to be obeyed. Shattered are their dreams when they reach out to the "world community" in times of crisis - only to be met with the bone chilling silence of an organization whose main occupation is to act as accomplice to the most heinous acts of despots and tyrants.

Where's The U.N. On Iran? -

Beyond Ban, where is the rest of the U.N. on the showdown and brutal crackdown in Iran? Well, last Friday, the U.N. high commissioner for human rights, Navi Pillay, according to the U.N. News Service, "expressed concern" (though apparently not deep concern). With fastidious attention to the small print, Pillay noted that "the legal basis of the arrests that have been taking place, especially those of human rights defenders and political activists, is not clear." She may be right; the details right now are not clear. But the big picture certainly is.

What of the 15-member Security Council, which over the past three years has imposed sanctions on Iran, meant to stop its "proliferation-sensitive nuclear activities." You might suppose that with Iran's government brazenly violating these sanctions, the Security Council would take an interest in the recent tumult within the Islamic Republic. Perhaps the U.S. would be pushing the issue?

Nope. According to a Western diplomat connected with the Security Council, "Iran is not being discussed at the council right now."

Nor is the General Assembly exactly seized of the matter (as they like to say at the U.N.). The current president of the Assembly is Nicaragua's Miguel D'Escoto Brockman, a former Sandinista and current pal of the Tehran regime. In March D'Escoto made a five-day pit stop in Iran, his visit apparently bankrolled by the Iranian regime. This week he's making use of the U.N.'s headquarters in New York to host a conference on remodeling the global financial system.

Fancy that. They want freedom. Just like us | Daniel Finkelstein - Times Online

Imagine. People don't want to be enslaved!

Neo-conservatism. Now more than ever...

Fancy that. They want freedom. Just like us | Daniel Finkelstein - Times Online

Now, there is something you need to know. I am a neocon. Given all that has happened over the past ten years, I am sure my PR consultant would advise me to drop this label. But I don't employ a PR consultant. So, stubbornly, I cling on to the designation. It declares my belief in two things - that in every country in the world, wherever it may be and whatever its traditions, the people yearn for liberty, for free expression and for democracy; and that the spread of liberty and democracy (not necessarily through the barrel of a gun) is the only real way to bring peace to the world. I believe that what we are seeing on the streets of Iran now is a vindication of these neoconservative ideas.

The clue lies in a single, almost heartbreaking, detail, tucked inside the reports of Iran's presidential election. Mir Hossein Mousavi - the dry, bureaucratic insider who became the unlikely hero of the reformist protesters - is not a charismatic man. But he did one truly eloquent thing. He held hands with his wife in public. He held his wife's hand. In public.

It makes you weep for a society in which that seems daring. But it turns out that for millions of people it was the hopeful sign they had been awaiting. It was a tiny crack in the dam. It was light in the darkness, a small battery torch of light, but light all the same.

For years we have been told, we neocons, that other cultures don't want our liberty, our American freedom. Yankee go home! But it isn't true. Because millions of Iranians do want it. Yes, they want their sovereignty, and demand respect for their nation and its great history. No, they don't want foreign interference and manipulation. But they still insist upon their rights and their freedom. They know that liberty isn't American or British. It is Iranian, it is human.

This idea that the critics of neocons advanced so vociferously, that liberal democracy can't be “transplanted” on alien soil - what does it mean to the people of Iran who have thronged the streets to express their will?

Does it mean that we think the morality police is just part of Iranian culture? Just their way of doing things? For the thousands of protesters it is not. It turns out that they don't think it's right for young girls to be arrested, snatched from the streets for wearing the wrong coat. And they don't think there is a cultural defence to beating these girls until their parents arrive with a “decent” garment.

They don't think that public hangings are Iranian, either. Nor arbitrary detentions of doctors who dared to organise conferences on Aids, nor keeping human rights activists in solitary confinement, nor sentencing trade union leaders to five years in jail for trying to organise fellow workers. They don't think there is anything culturally valuable in sentencing political activists to death after secret trials lasting less than five minutes, or returning lawyers to jail again and again for opposing the death penalty or “publishing insulting material with unacceptable interpretation of Islamic rules”.

It is not part of their precious heritage that someone be charged with a capital offence for circulating a petition on women's rights. Nor that nine-year-old girls should be eligible for the death penalty, and children hanged for their crimes. There is no special Iranian will, even given their religious conservatism, that students should be flogged in public for being flirtatious, and homosexuals hanged in the streets.

Neutrality Isn’t an Option by Mark Steyn on National Review Online

Steyn skewers the president's "studied neutrality."

Neutrality Isn’t an Option by Mark Steyn on National Review Online

There’s a very basic lesson here: For great powers, studied neutrality isn’t an option. Even if you’re genuinely neutral. In the early nineties, the attitude of much of the west to the disintegrating Yugoslavia was summed up in the brute dismissal of James Baker that America didn’t have a dog in this fight. Fair enough. But over in the Balkans junkyard the various mangy old pooches saw it rather differently. And so did the Muslim world, which regarded British and European “neutrality” as a form of complicity in mass murder. As Osama bin Laden put it:

The British are responsible for destroying the Caliphate system. They are the ones who created the Palestinian problem. They are the ones who created the Kashmiri problem. They are the ones who put the arms embargo on the Muslims of Bosnia so that two million Muslims were killed.

How come a catalogue of imperial interventions wound up with that bit of scrupulous non-imperial non-intervention? Because great-power “even-handedness” will invariably be received as a form of one-handedness by the time its effects are felt on the other side of the world. Western “even-handedness” on Bosnia was the biggest single factor in the radicalization of European Muslims. They swarmed to the Balkans to support their coreligionists and ran into a bunch of Wahhabi imams moving into the neighborhood with lots of Saudi money and anxious to fill their Rolodex with useful contacts in the west. Among the alumni of that conflict was the hitherto impeccably assimilated English public (ie, private) schoolboy and London School of Economics student who went on to behead the Wall Street Journal’s Daniel Pearl. You always have a dog in the fight, whether you know it or not.

Obama's Persian Tutorial -

Obama's Persian Tutorial -

That ambivalence at the heart of the Obama diplomacy about freedom has not served American policy well in this crisis. We had tried to "cheat" -- an opening to the regime with an obligatory wink to those who took to the streets appalled by their rulers' cynicism and utter disregard for their people's intelligence and common sense -- and we were caught at it. Mr. Obama's statement that "the difference between Ahmadinejad and Mousavi in terms of their actual policies may not be as great as had been advertised" put on cruel display the administration's incoherence. For once, there was an acknowledgment by this young president of history's burden: "Either way, we were going to be dealing with an Iranian regime that has historically been hostile to the United States, that has caused some problems in the neighborhood and is pursuing nuclear weapons." No Wilsonianism on offer here.

Mr. Obama will have to acknowledge the "foreignness" of foreign lands. His breezy self-assurance has been put on notice. The Obama administration believed its own rhetoric that the pro-Western March 14 coalition in Lebanon had ridden Mr. Obama's coattails to an electoral victory. (It had given every indication that it expected similar vindication in Iran.)

Little Green Footballs - Al Qaeda Leader: If We Get Pakistan's Nukes, We'll Use Them Against the US

So wait... there are people out there who want to kill us and will use nuclear weapons if they ever get their hands on them? HOW COME THE KID WAS NOT TOLD THIS?

Little Green Footballs - Al Qaeda Leader: If We Get Pakistan's Nukes, We'll Use Them Against the US

If it were in a position to do so, Al Qaeda would use Pakistan’s nuclear weapons in its fight against the United States, a top leader of the group said in remarks aired Sunday.

That's so surprising...

Let's Talk About It

Wow. Maybe the reason Iran doesn't want to talk to us isn't because George W. Bush hurt their feelings. Maybe it's not actually in the interests of a scum-sucking regime to talk to us.

For the entire campaign and much of his presidency, Barack Obama has laid the blame for Iran’s actions on George W. Bush rather than Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Obama would, unlike Bush, engage the Iranian regime. He would bring the Sweet Voice of Reason to the dialogue. Obama’s skills at international diplomacy, so evident during his years in the Illinois state senate, would tame the terrorist-sponsoring, Holocaust-denying, Israel-threatening, election-frauding, America-is-the-Great-Satan believing president of Iran and the mullahs who support him. So long as we didn’t provoke the Iranian regime — and so long as our president spoke respectfully of it and took the obligatory subtle jabs at the U.S. in the process — all things were possible. After all, how could Ahmadinejad be unmoved by the young, sophisticated, charismatic Barack Hussein Obama, author of The Cairo Speech (already deemed by Rahm Emanuel as one of the greatest foreign policy speeches ever made by an American president)?

Quite easily, it turns out.

It may be that the problems with Iran rested not with President Bush but with the nature of the Iranian regime itself. It may be that referring to the Iranian regime, as well as the regimes of North Korea and Iraq under Saddam Hussein, as an “axis of evil” wasn’t the source of the difficulty after all. It may be that those regimes actually were and still are evil. And it may be that leaders like Ahmadinejad and Kim Jong-Il are immune to the charms of America’s 44th president. They may interpret Obama’s efforts at outreach as signs of weakness. They may decide to set the terms of debate and, later, negotiations. And they may turn out to be so unreasonable and intransigent that Obama the Logician is flummoxed when it comes to dealing with them. Maybe Obama’s effort to cast himself as the Great Reconciler and the Great Apologizer will not only fail, but prove to be counterproductive.

Giving 'Realism' a Bad Name

The whole turnaround by the Left on the issue of democracy and human rights promotion just puts the lie to the claim that they are actually interested in these issues. Their support was always tactical. It was always political. As should be self evident by the fact that large swaths of the American Left supported Stalin and Mao, who between them killed about 100 million people. People who lived in a REAL dictatorship. Not the Bush=Hitler imaginary type of dictatorship. The Long War is a progressive war against pre-modern killers who enslave their peoples. Note the distinct lack of giant paper mache puppets in the streets of Tehran these days.

But because it was waged by the "wrong people" we're now back "realism."

From the people who brought you September 11th... new and improved REALISM! Now with 60% more carnage!

Giving 'Realism' a Bad Name

Democrats were not always so tough-minded. For decades, they supported the causes of democracy and humanitarianism, regularly excoriating Republican presidents for coddling antidemocratic leaders. President Reagan was taken to task for his cozy relations with dictators like Philippine president Ferdinand Marcos (whom he eventually succeeded in moving aside), and the first President Bush was accused of fighting the first Gulf war to do the bidding of the Saudi king. Even George W. Bush, when it was politically convenient, was whipped with the lash of the Democrats' idealism. Almost all the Democratic contenders for the nomination in 2008 criticized his close relations to Pakistan's Pervez Musharraf, with considerations of realism providing him no relief. Barack Obama was no exception

...But the Iraq war--and partisan politics--gradually changed the Democrats' calculation. As conditions deteriorated in Iraq, and as many finally accepted that President Bush was in earnest about his commitment to the spread of democracy, liberals flipped. They abandoned their previous commitment to principle, condemned Bush for idealism and ideological blindness, and embraced with fervor the position they labeled realism. Realism, if the word is taken at face value, seems to mean nothing more--or less--than seeing the world as it is, without blinders or excessive hopes or fears. But in the context of the debate in recent years, it came to refer to something much more specific: It meant a cessation of all principled talk about democracy and universal rights, including their philosophical foundations, and a willingness to engage with any and all forces that could claim to have created order. Democracy, realists say, is for the long run; in the short run our job is to deal with the forces of order.

Under the sway of this view, liberals were suddenly falling all over themselves to prove their manliness by dismissing Bush's naïveté. Among commentators and intellectuals, the passionate embrace of realism went further still. The real realists--no touch of sentiment or nostalgia here--took to ridiculing democracy itself. Hadn't democracy been promoted, to no good effect, in Palestine and Lebanon? (In the latter case, President Obama seemed last week to change his tune.) A Harvard professor even wondered out loud to me how much democracy was worth, even in principle, if it had elected George W. Bush. This was the cup of academic wisdom from which many of our politicians began to drink.

Totally tactical.

Power Line - Paul Rahe: Iran's trajectory

And in keeping with "All Rahe... All the time..." Here's a post from Powerline where Prof. Rahe gives some thoughts on the Green Revolution:

Power Line - Paul Rahe: Iran's trajectory

If the authorities manage to restore order (as, I suspect, they will), the pot will nonetheless continue to boil -- unless they resort to severe repression and purge those within their own ranks who lent support, open or tacit, to the demonstrators. But if they do this, they will at the same time seriously narrow the base of the regime's support, and that will only hasten the day of reckoning. As Reuel Marc Gerecht argues in a trenchant piece in the Weekly Standard, we are witnessing a game-changing moment.

From all of this, the supporters of George W. Bush's policy in Iraq should draw consolation, for the elections that took place in that country under the American aegis contributed mightily to the discontent in Iran. The people of Iran were witness to the emergence within Iraq of a secular republic sponsored by an Iranian cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, possessed of an erudition and an authority rivalling and arguably surpassing that of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the founder of the Islamic Republic of Iran. They were witness to elections that were really free and to public debate open in ways that debate within the Islamic Republic is not. Morever, in Quom, the stronghold of the Shiite clergy, the clerics who most fully command respect have long rejected, as contrary to Shiite tradition and the interest of Islam, the path of direct clerical rule pursued by Khomeini.

Iran today looks something like England in the wake of Oliver Cromwell's death. There has been a religious revolution; it never commanded full popular support; it is now seen, even by many of its most ardent supporters, to be a failure; and there will be a scramble to attempt to sustain the polity it produced. Ordinarily, American leverage does not amount to much. In this situation, it could nonetheless be considerable. Economically Iran is on the ropes. If we keep the pressure on, following the policy of the Bush administration, the regime may in fact collapse. If, however, in the interests of stability, in the manner of the so-called "realists," the Obama administration opts to take the pressure off and, in effect, bails out Iran's bankrupt regime, it may stumble on for some years to come.

The state despotic by Mark Steyn - The New Criterion

And in addition to our own review of Prof. Rahe's important work below, here is Steyn's way better written, way more humorous review of the book:

The state despotic by Mark Steyn - The New Criterion

The professor opens his study with a famous passage from M. de Tocqueville. Or, rather, it would be famous were he still widely read. For he knows us far better than we know him: “I would like to imagine with what new traits despotism could be produced in the world,” he wrote the best part of two centuries ago. He and his family had been on the sharp end of France’s violent convulsions, but he considered that, to a democratic republic, there were slyer seductions:
I see an innumerable crowd of like and equal men who revolve on themselves without repose, procuring the small and vulgar pleasures with which they fill their souls.

He didn’t foresee “Dancing with the Stars” or “American Idol” but, details aside, that’s pretty much on the money. He continues:

Over these is elevated an immense, tutelary power, which takes sole charge of assuring their enjoyment and of watching over their fate. It is absolute, attentive to detail, regular, provident, and gentle. It would resemble the paternal power if, like that power, it had as its object to prepare men for manhood, but it seeks, to the contrary, to keep them irrevocably fixed in childhood … it provides for their security, foresees and supplies their needs, guides them in their principal affairs…

The sovereign extends its arms about the society as a whole; it covers its surface with a network of petty regulations—complicated, minute, and uniform—through which even the most original minds and the most vigorous souls know not how to make their way… it does not break wills; it softens them, bends them, and directs them; rarely does it force one to act, but it constantly opposes itself to one’s acting on one’s own … it does not tyrannize, it gets in the way: it curtails, it enervates, it extinguishes, it stupefies, and finally reduces each nation to being nothing more than a herd of timid and industrious animals, of which the government is the shepherd.

Welcome to the twenty-first century.

Indeed. And here's some more...

For Tocqueville, this is a critical distinction between America and the faux republics of his own continent. “It is in the township that the strengths of free peoples resides,” he wrote. “Municipal institutions are for liberty what primary schools are for science; they place it within reach of the people.” In America, democracy is supposed to be a participatory sport not a spectator one: In Europe, every five years you put an X on a piece of paper and subsequently discover which of the party candidates on the list at central office has been delegated to represent you in fast-tracking all those E.U. micro-regulations through the rubber-stamp legislature. By contrast, American democracy is a game to be played, not watched: You go to Town Meeting, you denounce the School Board budget, you vote to close a road, you run for cemetery commissioner.

Does that distinction still hold? As Professor Rahe argues, in the twentieth century the intermediary institutions were belatedly hacked away—not just self-government at town, county, and state level, but other independent outposts: church, family, civic associations. Today, very little stands between the individual and the sovereign, which is why schoolgirls in Dillon, South Carolina think it entirely normal to beseech Good King Barack the Hopeychanger to do something about classroom maintenance.

I say “Good King Barack,” but truly that does an injustice to ye medieval tyrants of yore. As Tocqueville wrote: “There was a time in Europe in which the law, as well as the consent of the people, clothed kings with a power almost without limits. But almost never did it happen that they made use of it.” His Majesty was an absolute tyrant—in theory. But in practice he was in his palace hundreds of miles away. A pantalooned emissary might come prancing into your dooryard once every half-decade and give you a hard time, but for the most part you got on with your life relatively undisturbed. “The details of social life and of individual existence ordinarily escaped his control,” wrote Tocqueville. But what would happen if administrative capability were to evolve to make it possible “to subject all of his subjects to the details of a uniform set of regulations”?

That moment has now arrived.

REVIEW: Soft Despotism, Democracy's Drift

A Good Synthesis of Montesquieu, Rousseau and de Tocqueville in Service of the Defense of Liberty,
June 5, 2009

Prof. Paul Anthony Rahe does service to the cause of freedom by producing a profoundly useful work entitled Soft Despotism, Democracy's Drift: Montesquieu, Rousseau, de Tocqueville and the Modern Prospect. The author attempts to explain what de Tocqueville called many years ago, "democracy's drift." Meaning its descent into a "soft despotism" of centralized administration, barely perceptible over time. Rahe seeks serious philosophical support for his libertarian conclusions by appealing to the works of three great French thinkers. Montesquieu, whose work The Spirit of the Laws reflected his study of the English national constitution and first suggested the efficacy of separation of powers. Rousseau, who was voluminous works, including the Discourse on the Origins and Foundations of Inequality Among Men, provided for an attack on individual liberty as the safeguard of societal progress, and argued that societies need to trade liberty for equality. And of course, the great de Tocqueville, in whose magnum opus, Democracy in America astutely observed the habits of the early 19th century American population and through which he developed a theory of how societies can avoid democratic drift.

It is useful to review a quote from de Tocqueville that the author puts in his conclusion:

"Certain peoples pursue liberty obstinately in the face of all sorts of perils and misfortunes. It is not the material goods that it offers them that these peoples then love in it; they consider it itself as a good so precious and so necessary that no other good console them for its loss and that they find, in tasting it, consolation for everything that occurs. Other peoples tire of it in the midst of their prosperity; they allow to be snatched from their hands without resistance: for fear of jeopardizing by such an effort the very well-being they owe to it. What do they lack with regard to remaining free? What, indeed? The taste itself for being free. Do not ask me to analyze this sublime taste, it is necessary to experience it. It enters of its own accord into the great hearts that God has prepared to receive it: it fills them, it inflames them. One must renounce making mediocre souls understand what they have never felt."

In short, de Tocqueville is stating Rahe's hypothesis that with time and prosperity, free societies allow their Liberties to be selectively chipped away, which the author sees as having been happening to the United States for the past 75 years.

Rahe breaks his book down into four distinct parts; the first three dealing with the works and political insights of the philosophers mentioned above. In this he provides a valuable service for people who are interested in *why* these philosophers are important to the history of political thought and of Liberty, but don't necessarily want to slog through the large amount of material produced by them.

In this, the author is similar to others like Karl Popper, who digested Plato and Hegel in his The Open Society and its Enemies vols I & II, Allan Bloom, who provides for an excellent review of Nietzsche in The Closing of the American Mind, and Francis Fukuyama, who does similar work for Hegel and Koejeve in The End of History and the Last Man.

The last section of "Soft Despotism..." synthesizes the political insights of these authors in support of Rahe's conclusion that democratic society essentially harbors the seeds of its own destruction. That a drift towards a centralized administrative "soft despotism" is a natural part of the life-cycle of a free society and must be actively resisted. His arguments are not new, but they are convincing, and he has done a great service by demonstrating that the fear of democratic drift is not a recent phenomenon. In fact the three great French philosophers that are the focus of this book had no trouble in discerning the possibility of it.

A key concept that runs through each of the philosopher's thought is that of "uneasiness" (inquietude) that all three mark as a characteristic of all free societies. It is this uneasiness, about one's place in society, one's future prospects (the treadmill effect to be more modern about it) that is the force that drives free men to slowly proffer up their Liberties to an administrative despotism that convinces them it can relieve their insecurities.

Rahe's remonstrances against gently accepting the administrative despotism in which one could argue we are currently living is an important clarion call for all those who are interested in the cause of Liberty. Backed up by serious political philosophy and analysis, it deserves to be widely read.

Silence Has Consequences for Iran -

You may remember Jose Maria Aznar. He was the Spanish PM who stood by the U.S. in Iraq, and whom the Spanish electorate tossed out several days after Al Qaeda murdered over 300 people in a coordinated terrorist attack, under the theory that maybe if they didn't make the primitives angry, they would would leave them alone. Well done citizens of Al Andalus!

Aznar demonstrates in the WSJ where he stands on that equation. Standing up for freedom against a pre-modern totalitarian regime in Iran and risking their anger, or remaining silent and hoping they'll go away? What a noble European.

Silence Has Consequences for Iran -

This is no time for hesitation on the part of the West. If, as part of an attempt to reach an agreement on the Iranian nuclear program, the leaders of democratic nations turn their backs on the dissidents they will be making a terrible mistake.

President Obama has said he refuses to "meddle" in Iran's internal affairs, but this is a poor excuse for passivity. If the international community is not able to stop, or at least set limits on, the repressive violence of the Islamic regime, the protesters will end up as so many have in the past -- in exile, in prison, or in the cemetery. And with them, all hope for change will be gone.

To be clear: Nobody in the circles of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei or Ahmadinejad is going to reward us for silence or inaction. On the contrary, failing to support the regime's critics will leave us with an emboldened Ahmadinejad, an atomic Iran, and dissidents that are disenchanted and critical of us. We cannot talk about freedom and democracy if we abandon our own principles.

Mark Steyn: Jacko, Sanford and weirdness | governor, state, bubble, sanford, one - Opinion - OCRegis

Leave it to Steyn to figure out how the whole Gov. Sanford fiasco relates to small government:

Mark Steyn: Jacko, Sanford and weirdness | governor, state, bubble, sanford, one - Opinion - OCRegis

But a more basic question is: Why does the minimally empowered executive of a midsize state with no particular national prominence need to be in "the bubble" in the first place?

Evidently he is. Much of the charade involved in the scandal arose from the need to throw off his "security detail": The Chevy Suburban pulling up outside the Governor's Mansion, Sanford casually tossing his running shoes, a pair of green shorts and a sleeping bag in the back, turning off the GPS locator… Although staffers kept up his ghostwritten tweet of the day on Twitter, by Monday state senators were revealing that they hadn't heard from the Governor since Thursday.

And we can't have that, can we?

...Even Charles Krauthammer on Fox News professed to be concerned at a governor wandering off incommunicado. What would happen if there was a hurricane or a terrorist attack on South Carolina? Well, I'd imagine that state agencies would muddle through to one degree of competence or another, and that the physical presence of the governor would make absolutely zero difference – any more than, on the day, George Pataki made a difference to New York's response to 9/11 (good) or Kathleen Blanco to Louisiana's response to Katrina (abysmal and embarrassing, but deriving from the state's broader political culture rather than anything Gov. Blanco did or didn't do on the big day). In a republic of limited government, the governor, two-thirds of the state legislature and the heads of every regulatory agency should be able to go "hiking the Appalachian Trail" for a lot longer than five days, and nobody would notice.

Instead, we have the governor of South Carolina resorting to subterfuge worthy of one of those Mitteleuropean operettas where the Ruritanian princess disguises herself as a scullery maid to leave the castle by the back gate for an assignation with a dashing if impoverished hussar garbed as a stable lad.

And you know what? He's totally right. Because we think that the Government should take care of us, we frightened when a Governor walks off for a few days. Nobody should be that important.

SPECIAL PREVIEW: The Abandonment of Democracy

Foreign policy expert Joshua Muravchik pens a devastating critique of the administration's abandonment of democracy promotion.

SPECIAL PREVIEW: The Abandonment of Democracy

The other reason why Obama’s tack cannot be understood merely by his impulse to be unlike Bush is that his disinterest in democracy and human rights is global. The idea of promoting these values did not originate with Bush but with Carter and Reagan, reinforced by Bill Clinton. Bush’s innovation was to apply this to the Middle East, which heretofore largely had been exempted. Repealing Bush’s legacy would have meant turning the clock back on America’s Middle East policy. But Obama scaled back democracy efforts not only there; he did it everywhere.

Thus for example, Clinton, on a first state visit to China, told reporters she would not say much about human rights or Tibet because “our pressing on those issues can’t interfere with the global economic crisis, the global climate change crisis and the security crisis.” Amnesty International declared it was “shocked and extremely disappointed” by her words. Unfazed, Clinton moved on to Russia, where she glibly presented its dictator, Vladimir Putin, with a toy “reset button” even while the string of unsolved murders of independent journalists that has marked his reign continued to lengthen.

To be sure, China and Russia are powerful countries with which Washington must do business across a range of issues, and because of their importance, all U.S. administrations have been guilty of unevenness in lobbying them to respect human rights. However, the Obama administration has downplayed human rights not only with the likes of Beijing and Moscow but also with weak countries whose governments have no leverage over America.

For example, Clinton ordered a review of U.S. sanctions against the military dictatorship of Burma because they haven’t “influenced the Burmese government.” This softening may have emboldened that junta to place opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi on trial in May after having been content to keep her under house arrest most of the last eighteen years. The government of Sudan is even weaker and more of an international pariah than Burma’s, but the Obama administration also let it be known that it was considering easing Bush-era sanctions applied against Khartoum in response to the campaign of murder and rape in Darfur. According to the Washington Post:

Many human rights activists have been shocked at the administration’s apparent willingness to consider easing sanctions on Burma and Sudan. The Obama presidential campaign was scornful of Bush’s handling of the killings in Sudan’s Darfur region, which Bush labeled as genocide, but since taking office, the administration has been caught flat-footed by Sudan’s recent ousting of international humanitarian organizations.

While it is hard to see any diplomatic benefit in soft-pedaling human rights in Burma and Sudan, neither has Obama anything to gain politically by easing up on regimes that are reviled by Americans from Left to Right. Even so ardent an admirer of the President as columnist E. J. Dionne, the first to discern an “Obama Doctrine” in foreign policy, confesses to “qualms” about “the relatively short shrift” this doctrine “has so far given to concerns over human rights and democracy.”

So from George W. Bush's second inaugural

"So it is the policy of the United States to seek and support the growth of democratic movements and institutions in every nation and culture, with the ultimate goal of ending tyranny in our world."

to the Obama administration's

"Let’s put ideology aside. That is so yesterday."

YAY! We're all Realists now!