Stubborn Facts
Stubborn Facts


User login

Subscribe via RSS


Blog Roll

Not Guilty.

I'm sure you've all heard it by now, so...


"Henry Kissinger famously said academic disputes are bitter because the stakes are so low. But here, alas, the stakes are high."

"This is a proposal that deserves serious consideration, even from people who may not like its source."

TNR likes Ron Paul's proposal for the Fed to burn $1.6tn of bonds. Not as crazy an idea as it first appears.

"The Constitution itself emphatically states that the public debt of the United States 'shall not be questioned.' "

A prelude to reconsideration Michele Bachmann

Elsewhere, I had largely dismissed Michelle Bachmann as a vanity candidate with a chronic clue deficiency problem; so far as I can tell, she never became sufficiently interesting to say anything about her in these pages. I tend to think, however, that when someone is the victim of one of Matt Taibbi's vitriolic slime jobs (see this month's Rolling Stone, which I shall not dignify with a link), serious people should pause to reconsider the slime-ee, and so this more flattering Weekly Standard profile was well-timed.


The violent video games case decided--

With a lineup no one saw coming! Scalia writes for the majority. Alito (whose presumed dissent was thought to be the hold-up) concurs, joined by the Chief. Thomas dissents, joined by Breyer.

"That, I suspect, was a straw antagonist — with no chance at all of being, “arguably, in the right”

"— and this is a straw book, which looks for tragedy in all the wrong places."

That's from Christopher Hitchens, as he executes a necessary and proper dismantling of David Mamet's cartoonish scribblings:

Propagandistic writing of this kind can be even more boring than it is irritating. For example, Mamet writes in “The Secret Knowledge” that “the Israelis would like to live in peace within their borders; the Arabs would like to kill them all.” Whatever one’s opinion of that conflict may be, this (twice-made) claim of his abolishes any need to analyze or even discuss it. It has a long way to go before it can even be called simplistic. By now, perhaps, you will not be surprised to know that Mamet regards global warming as a false alarm, and demands to be told “by what magical process” bumper stickers can “save whales, and free Tibet.” This again is not uncharacteristic of his pointlessly aggressive style: who on earth maintains that they can? If I were as prone to sloganizing as Mamet, I’d keep clear of bumper-sticker comparisons altogether.

There was a piece that Mamet wrote awhile back for the Village Voice, that effectively announced his break with liberalism--or apparently what he sees as liberalism. I pointed out the flaws then, although looking it over again, especially in light of his new book, it's clear I gave his essay substantially more praise than it deserved. The man who created Glengarry Glen Ross reduced to this cartoonish, straw man drivel? There's a tragedy, for you.

HT: Sully

AND: This, from Jordan Michael Smith, who argues that Mamet's conversion wasn't so much a break with liberalism, as just like many left-to-right conversions, he nevr really was a liberal to begin with.

"Family planning is a contentious topic, especially coming from a figure as polarizing as Gore."

"But to rile readers over a quote this dry, the headlines shouted about 'population control,' which clearly implies a bureaucratic agenda to crack down on reproductive rights. (Family planning, on the other hand, broadens reproductive rights by providing women with access to birth control, education, and other resources.)"

It's easy to see how those with a view of Gore as sinister Malthusian madman fixed in their minds could use this to start a frenzy, and Gore's own weaknesses (see below) don't help matters, but this is clearly a case of hysteria. The problem is, as pointed in the comments, Merchant makes things harder by pulling the clip. Not only does it fuel the various conspiracies, it prevents those interested in an honest debate about what Gore meant, from having sufficient evidence.

What's the matter with Al Gore?

What went wrong?

You can be a leading environmentalist and fail to pay all of your taxes. You can be a leading environmentalist and be unkind to your aged mother. You can be a leading environmentalist and squeeze the toothpaste tube from the middle, park in the handicapped spots at the mall or scribble angry marginal notes in library books. ¶ But you cannot be a leading environmentalist who hopes to lead the general public into a long and difficult struggle for sacrifice and fundamental change if your own conduct is so flagrantly inconsistent with the green gospel you profess. If the heart of your message is that the peril of climate change is so imminent and so overwhelming that the entire political and social system of the world must change, now, you cannot fly on private jets. You cannot own multiple mansions.

Allowing For The Best Of Intentions,

I still submit that this decision was a serious mistake. I'm no expert on these matters, but this looks hasty and haphazard to me.

ADDED: I could be wrong, though.

"If We Lose, We Riot!"

I try to avoid hasty generalizations, and hysteria, but that's the read I'm getting from this. If the Canucks had lost to say, the Maple Leafs, and I hope I'm wrong about this, but I wonder-- if there would've been so much mayhem. I doubt it.

Now, let me add that one should not cast aspersions on the whole city, or Canada as a whole, but I suspect that the rowdy element that keeps causing this mess does it for very specific reasons.

HT: Althouse

Happy Anniversary to Us!

Today marks the 5th anniversary of the opening of Stubborn Facts. Our posting quantity has rather declined in recent times, but our quality remains high, I think. We appreciate the support of all of our bloggers and commenters. Note the lovely logo seal Simon has created for us, up in the top right of the Stubborn Facts masthead (you may have to hit the reload button on your blogger, holding down the shift key as you do, to make it appear).

Sykes v. United States

“[We consider,] for the fourth time since 2007, what distinguishes 'violent felonies' under the residual clause of the Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA) from other crimes. We try to include an ACCA residual-clause case in about every second or third volume of the United States Reports. ¶ As was perhaps predictable, instead of producing a clarification of the Delphic residual clause, today’s opinion produces a fourth ad hoc judgment that will sow further confusion. Insanity, it has been said, is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results. Four times is enough. We should admit that ACCA’s residual provision is a drafting failure and declare it void for vagueness.”" Says Justice Scalia, in dissent (citations omitted).

It's The Deception

I agree with pretty much everything Megan writes here, but the real beef for me is the blatant deception--the bold faced, unneccessary lies. How did think he would get away with it? This is the stuff of seven-year olds, not forty-seven year old married Congressmen.

Yes, I know he finally came clean, and I appreciate that, but telling the truth after lying repeatedly is neither heroic, nor praiseworthy.

The Kansas City fumble

The Anchoress has a primer on what appears to be a mishandled case of a priest found to have an unseemly interest in children, although it doesn't seem to have gotten so far as direct physical abuse. You can get the full story via that link and the stories to which Elizabeth links, but the salient facts for my purposes are these: In May 2010, the principal of a Catholic school sent a memo to her diocese outlining concerns about the pastor, Fr. Ratigan. It's not clear whether the ordinary, Bp. Finn, ever saw the original report, but he did see a summary, the contents and author of which are unclear. Nor is it clear what exactly Finn did about it; the characterization offered is that he "sat on" the report, but who knows what that means? At any rate, it wasn't until more evidence washed up unbidden on the chancery's door in December that the cops were called and Ratigan was (in effect; there's more to it than this) removed.

Much of the timeline is opaque, so it's important to exercise some restraint in judging Finn's response. Nevertheless, it's hard to avoid at least a tentative judgment on the facts presented. It's beside the point that Ratigan was ultimately found to be doing something wrong; the fundamental problem is the lethargic (indeed, seemingly comatose) response.After all that has happened, how can any chancery in the country have failed to designate an office(r) to investigate claims of impropriety by priests toward children? I find it hard to believe that as many as one bishop in the United States could still be asleep at the switch on anything even close to abuse by 2010. The episcopate cannot be unaware of how much damage has been done by the abuse scandal (both eo ipso and as a result of its weaponization by enemies of the Church), so one might think that even an allegation of impropriety would rocket to the top of a bishop's docket and stay there long enough to get a sense of what is actually happening.

I understand that everything takes time. I understand that bishops have much to do and little time in which to do it. I also understand that sometimes there is smoke without fire: Allegations turn out to be false, suspicions turn out to be groundless. What I don't understand is the lack of any sense of urgency. I don't expect bishops to personally undertake the investigation any more than I expect Presidents to personally lead Seal Team Six into battle or join the cast of CSI:Feds; Cadfael was the sleuth, not Prior Robert, who had better things to do. But I do expect them to have well-oiled processes in their chanceries for expeditiously investigating claims and determining whether they are false, groundless, and so on. Rambling, ramshackle, and ad hoc processes run by remote control from the chancery won't suffice any more. I don't expect the system to be perfect; I don't expect it to be airtight, with no cases falling through the cracks; but I do expect there to be a system. There should be an office in every diocese designated to investigate and manage complaints of abuse, and the officer in charge should meet with the bishop regularly to give an overview. I think that it's perfectly feasible that every complaint should have had at least a tentative evaluation within a month—interviews with the involved parties and a recommendation for further investigation or not.1

And who knows—perhaps it happened just like that in Kansas City. Bp. Finn was handed at least a summary indicating that there could be a problem; I would like to know what happened next, beyond the bland abstraction that he "sat on it." (That sounds a lot like media-speak for "if we ask questions the answers might destroy our narrative.") But we can ground a tentative judgment on two key data that we do know: We know that the diocese was notified in May 2010, and we know that it had taken no action by December 2010. Whatever happened between those dates was, clearly, insufficient. If the chancery had done nothing by December, the situation was not being actively handled with the level of concern, attention, and dispatch that one would have expected ten years of this scandal to have beaten into the bishops.

Crossposted at MP

  1. 1. The Federal Speedy Trial Act, 18 U.S.C. §§ 3161 et seq., supplies an instructive comparison. Broadly, the act requires that a trial begin within seventy days of an indictment, which must in turn be filed within thirty days of the arrest. See, e.g., Zedner v. United States, 547 U.S. 489 (2006). It seems reasonable to treat section 3161's understanding of "speedy" as a benchmark for "expeditious." Given today's technology, thirty days is long enough to make a tentative assessment; three months and some change is long enough to reach a conclusion. Any reasonable process should have suspended or cleared Ratigan by the end of August. And think about the consequences of delay! An innocent priest has a cloud hanging over him, and a guilty one is left in a position to do more harm.


No, Ms. Broussard (or ABC copyeditor), you are not interested, or uninterested; because you have skin in the game, however, you are not disinterested. Disinterested = lacking a stake in the game, impartial ("my interests will not be harmed either way"); uninterested = lacking curiosity about, giving no attention to, or having involvement in ("football is not among my interests").

Amazingly, this controversy consumes nearly two and a quarter pages of MW's usage dictionary, so it can't be so easily tossed aside as a straightforward malaprop. Fowler's 3d observes that the construction of the word is open to the "uninterested" meaning, and that it's making a strong bid for legitimacy in current usage, even though (as Garner's ODAUS observes) "[l]eading writers and editors almost unanimously reject" the fad. On the other hand, MW suggests that the distinction was carved out out by American writers in the late 19th century. I think that is a little dubious, but we can say that at least a century of tradition supports the "impartial"/"lacking a stake in the outcome" usage, and that ought to settle it.

But there is an affirmative and practical reason to insist on strict usage on this point. If disinterested and uninterested are allowed to fuse and become redundant synonyms, the usefulness of the English language is diminished, even if in a small way; our stock of valuable distinctions is reduced by one more word. It should be possible for a writer to use the one he means and have his meaning clearly understood. For this reason if none other, we should insist on stomping out the use of "disinterested" as a pretentious variant of "uninterested."

"Sarah Palin made me do it!"

She's so forceful!

She has "forc[ed] reporters to rely primarily on rumor to determine what her next stop might be"; she has "forc[ed] anyone trying to cover it to engage in a cartoon-ish, medium-speed bus chase."

Yah! You're forced to give chase! Take some responsibility for your choices, children.


In the comments: Jacob says:

This was weak. I suppose you're entitled to glib fanboy posts every once in a while for your favorite gal, but I've come to expect more.

I'm not the one chasing her around the countryside and crying about how she's forcing me to do so; in this situation, who's the fanatic really? The link, by the way, is to an old comment I posted at Donklephant in October '08:

I find the whole concept of Palin being a net drag on the ticket tough to reconcile with reality. If he’d picked anyone but Palin, McCain would have been dead in the water; it may not do enough to unite the party behind him, but that was a minimum requirement. It should not escape notice that the crowds follow Palin, not McCain; that became viscerally clear when they started doing seperate rallies. If it’s driven a tiny number of the aristocratic wing of the party away from the ticket, so be it; that’s a shame, but could we at least pretend that we live in the real world, the real world where David Brooks has looking for any reason to vote for Obama for sixteen months and George Will was looking for any excuse at all to vote against McCain? And while it’s true that Palin’s approval rating has fallen, that’s to be expected in light of a vicious campaign of personal destruction waged by the media against a woman that most Americans didn’t know until recently. The bottom line is that picking Palin is the only smart thing McCain has done in the last six months. To suggest otherwise—still less to make her the scapegoat for why, in an election season that is incredibly tough for the GOP, a factor that was known long before Palin was picked, long before McCain won the nomination, indeed, long before Iowa—is an utterly absurd claim.

I'd say that that diagnosis still holds up, but in any event, it hardly supports the "fanboy" charge.

Weekend open thread

Care and feeding of your conservative

What does it mean to be a conservative? It's been on my mind; Bitmaelstrom had a blog post, and Sen. Richard Lugar an op/ed; I wouldn't have identified myself as such when I lived in Britain, and in another place, I said this week that I feel culturally and temperamentally out of step with many of those with whom I share the label. Essentially, I have been pondering what we mean by the word in the context of 21st Century America.

Earlier in the year, I suggested a glib formulation of the creed: "To be a conservative, it seems to me, is to be for the traditional over the novel, the proven over the risky; for doubt over certainty; for the wisdom of all generations over the conceits of the current one; for yesterday's experience over today's guesses." Today I want to build on Dexter Perkins' 1957 essay Conservatism in America in offering a more elaborate sketch of at least one component of American conservatism.

Perkins offered five broad comments on conservatism, suggesting three negative definitions and two positive ones. Conservatism in America, he argued, is not:

(1) Reactionism. The reactionary wishes to turn back the clock, "nullifying what has already been accomplished." While conservastism in America "may desire to see legislation repealed which … has been unsuccessful in practice," Perkins thinks that "it is much more typical of the American political method to stop and digest reform rather to overturn it."

(2) Stand-pat-ism. Conservatism does not stand against progress, but against discontinuous and theory-based change. It restrains the pace and direction of change, preferring the organic, the incremental, and the experiential. American conservatism cheerily embraces "measures which ... will increase the general atmosphere of stability and make less likely the violent assaults upon the existing order which, by temperament, he is likely to dread." Tradition is "not just a conservative force, but rather a principle that ensures the continuity and identiy of the same attitude through successive generations."1

(3) A necessary or essential fruit of religion. While this point is often missed today, Perkins argues that while "there is a sense in which religion may give support to conservatism," "it is by no means true that the religious spirit always expresses itself in this way," observing that most of the major reform movements of American history to that time had been religiously motivated.

Perkins argues that there are two key elements to the American conservative point of view:

(4) A "not altogether sanguine view of human nature," a rather treacly circumlocution meaning no more than this: The American conservative sees men as they are—weak, selfish, sinful, and so on—rather than as idealizing them,2 or, worse yet, believing them to be perfectable. And naturally, she insists that systems must be built with this understanding.3 Quoad this point, the modifier "American" may be superfluous (is that not bedrock for all conservatives, at least in Christendom?), and many things follow from this view. The one with which I most closely identify is Perkins' suggestion that the conservative is apt to "have only a limited faith in the rule of the masses." While the conservative would not deny "the validity of the general principle of popular government," and while American culture demands a certain rhetorical obeisance to democracy, the conservative "would, almost invariably, hedge that government with restrictions, … limit its powers," and "find ways to prevent the impulse of the moment from dominating the political scene." The conservative fears direct democracy and unconstrained majority rule—anything that "gives a transient majority the right to 'tamper … with the main pillars of the state,'" and will typically think of herself as a republican rather than a democrat.4 (Eventually, a long-percolated post on this subject will appear in these pages.)

(5) Similarly, the conservative doubts "that government could make over the social pattern or cure the dominant social evils." While America lacks a class or caste system, inequalities exist, especially economic inequalities, and the conservative thinks that that will not change "despite the efforts of legislators and statesmen" to the contrary, for as Edmund Burke warned, "those who attempt to level never equalize."5 He does not conceive of government "as an agency of social change." This is by no means to say, however, that conservatives are necessarily for small or feeble government—two distinct views which, I fear, are often conflated today—as many libertarians seem to be. The conservative realizes that it's sometimes necessary "to bring authority to bear, not to alter but to protect the existing order," invoking government to withstand rather than to promote social change. (Hayek—a libertarian although he sniffed at the label—actually thought this a weakness of conservatives, complaining that we "are inclined to use the powers of government to prevent change or to limit its rate to whatever appeals to the more timid mind."6)

What can be said for Perkins' points?

  • We might qualify number five. We would surely accept WFB's recognition of libertarianism's influence on the adoption by modern American conservatism of the credo that "[i]t is the job of centralized government (in peacetime) to protect its citizens' lives, liberty and property. All other activities of government tend to diminish freedom and hamper progress. The growth of government(the dominant social feature of this century) must be fought relentlessly."7 Conservatives must therefore realize the point made a few moments ago: Small government is not a synonym for weak government (cf. SF: About Ron Paul (Sept. 8, 2007)). Conservatives should seek a small but muscular government—"a government of adequate powers," in Paulsen's helpful phrase8—fully capable of accomplishing its legitimate ends, but held within those walls. Compare ibid. (arguing that government should intervene minimally, and that the federal government in particular should use as light a touch as possible) with SF: Regulation (April 6, 2009).
  • We might question whether number one is not outdated. Perkins wrote in 1957, before the full scale of the mistakes with which he thought conservatives had become sanguine was realized. Today, many of us take seriously the idea of rolling back of the size and scope of government, especially the federal government. Nevertheless, his point is well-taken. The reactionary is often a mirror-image of the revolutionary, discounting the stresses on society of radical change. Conservatism is as much about method as results: We fear radical discontinuities in se, not merely their use to impose an unfortunate political agenda, although that, too, is feared, and rightly so. (This is one of the points at which conservatives and the Ron Paul revolutionaries part ways.) Thus, while some of us would roll back many of the things Perkins implies conservatives will accept, I think that those of us who are properly formed in the conservative spirit have a deep sense of unease about doing so. We accept the stresses of such a change not because they are good but because it is a necessary evil.

We could say more on this general theme, and articulate it as either a sixth item or a qualification to number two. While I agree that conservatism is not stand pat-ism, we should confess that it is the commonest political operationalization of the "turtle disposition"—a woman is unlikely to have conservative politics unless she first has "conservative instincts," in Russell Kirk's wording. Conservatism isn't so much a system of thought (indeed, it is skeptical of systems of thought per se) as it is an instinct, a mood, a disposition, or to reappropriate Marvin Meyers' phrase, a persuasion: It is, at root, a proclivity for what is over what might be, for stability over radical change, and for tradition over innovation. While conservatism by no means opposes gradual, evolutionary change in light of experience, it fears sudden, radical change, especially when the change is rooted in abstract theory rather than concrete experience.

The reason for that, I think, is that the conservative has only a limited faith in one individual's intelligence. We recognize "[t]he fallibility and limited reach of human reason."9 Whereas the rationalist-modernist10 is "courage[ous] and confiden[t]," prepared "to let change run its course even if we cannot predict where it will lead."11 By contrast, the conservative realizes that society is a richly interconnected and reticulated thing, and, as I fretted in 2007, "[t]o alter any part of a densely interlinked system is to set off reverberations that cannot be predicted with effects that may be undesirable, will likely become irrevocable, and may ultimately be deleterious." Human wisdom cannot possibly know every invisible string that holds a society together, that holds up the good and holds down the bad.12 Who knows what will happen if we remove this one straw from the Kerplunk tower? Who knows how far things will go if we pull this one loose thread? 13

Thus, in number 4, we see an affirmative reason for conservative approbation for the Constitution, and our concomitant opposition to its alteration by things like the Seventeenth Amendment and reform of the electoral college. But that is not quite all. As I have implied, the conservative is instinctively skeptical of broad change because we suspect that one man cannot possibly foresee the consequences of change. This does not appreciably change if we substitute one generation for one man. This is why the river of tradition, a metaphor I developed last month in this post, is an appealing figure, I think: While rocks in the river may have been thrown in by an individual, conservatives are happier once they have been washed clean and ground smooth by the approbation of tradition.

There is much more that could be said; I am particularly remiss in saying nothing about private property and its central role in the conservative worldview. (Fred Thompson tied it nicely to the limits of government: "A dollar belongs in the pocket of the person who earns it, unless the government has a compelling reason why it can use it better." Russell Kirk observed that conservatives believe that "property and freedom are inseparably connected, and that economic leveling is not economic property"; the experience of the twentieth century, as Justice Scalia noted in Economic Affairs as Human Affairs, 4 Cato Journal 703 (1985), supplies ample proof that where economic liberty —"property"—is disregarded, political liberty—"freedom"—soon goes the same way, and vice versa.) But those are thoughts for another day; for now, I offer the thoughts above.

Post facto:
MP: Altar bells and keeping faith with tradition (Nov. 10, 2011)

  1. 1. Yves Congar, The Meaning of Tradition 2 (2004).
  2. 2. Cf. Federalist no. 51.
  3. 3. For this reason among others, I insist that whether or not John Gall was a conservative, Systemantics—particularly its axiom that systems aligned with the incentives of the people that they will operate on and be operated by will sometimes work but that systems cutting against the motivational grain will work poorly if at all—is a deeply conservative text.
  4. 4. Cf. Federalist no. 10; Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America ch. 8 (Mayer, ed. 1969).
  5. 5. Reflections on the Revolution in France 187 (Harv. Classics Lib. ed. 1967); cf. William F. Buckley, National Review Mission Statement, no. 2 (1955): "The profound crisis of our era is, in essence, the conflict between the Social Engineers, who seek to adjust mankind to conform with scientific utopias, and the disciples of Truth, who defend the organic moral order. We believe that truth is neither arrived at nor illuminated by monitoring election results, binding though these are for other purposes, but by other means, including a study of human experience."
  6. 6. Friendrich Hayek, Why I am not a conservative, no. 3 (1960).
  7. 7. Buckley, supra, no. 1.
  8. 8. Michael Stokes Paulsen, A Government of Adequate Powers, 31 Harv. J. L.& P.P. 991 (2008)
  9. 9. Clinton Rossiter, Conservatism in America 64-66 (2d ed. 1966).
  10. 10. In several previous posts, most recently this one, I have conflated Oakshott's rationalist with Pius X's modernist.
  11. 11. That's Hayek's flattering description (Why I Am Not a Conservative, supra, no. 3); a less flattering take is found in Michael Oakeshott's towering Rationalism in Politics, from which I have often borrowed in these pages.
  12. 12. Cf. Hayek, supra, no. 5.
  13. 13. In this regard, Paul VI's warning in Humanae Vitae was prophetic: Who, Paul aside, would have predicted the consequences of pulling so seemingly innocuous a thread as reliable birth control?

Recent comments

Advertisements does not endorse the content of any advertisement

Featured Movie


Syndicate content

Who's online

There are currently 0 users and 2 guests online.