Books: Liberty and Tyranny

September 10, 2009

My husband is enjoying being able to discuss politics with our older son, now that he is old enough to understand and take an interest in current issues and events. At his request, I checked this book (along with Ann Coulter’s latest book) out from the public library, for them to read and discuss. When they were done, he offered them to me to read. I wasn’t interested in Coulter’s book, from what I had heard about her and the excerpts our son had read aloud.

But I took a look at Mark Levine’s book and decided it was worth reading. I even kept it two days past the due date, when I discovered I couldn’t renew it because someone else put a hold on it, so I could finish the book. (Fortunately our library only charges a dime a day per book.) I’ve considered myself a conservative for a long time, but it’s a long time since I had seen someone articulate the conservative views clearly and succinctly without indulging in sarcasm and invective.

I do have some criticisms of the book, but for the most part I thought that Levin presented the main principles of conservatism well. At first I thought some statements were made without offering examples or corroboration, but once I got into the meat of the book, he provided examples and lots of footnotes. If I were to purchase the book, I would be able to do further research into some of the areas he discusses, using the sources noted in the notes at the end of the book.

I first came to hold a conservative position in college. I happened to turn 18 in 1980, right at the start of the presidential campaign (although that first semester I was studying at Word of Life Bible Institute, where no TV or radios were allowed and I paid little attention to the outside world (they kept us much too busy anyway). By the time Reagan emerged as the Republican candidate, I had decided to transfer from WOLBI to Cedarville College (now Cedarville University), and that fall I took a required course that included an introduction to both economics and political science.

I wasn’t certain just how the Bible supported free markets as clearly as our professor said, but everything he said about free markets and limited government made sense to me. When a straw poll taken that fall at the college showed over 90% support for Reagan among the student body, I was actually surprised it wasn’t higher. How could anyone listen to what they taught us about what the Republicans stood for and what the Democrats stood for, and not choose to vote for Reagan?

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National treasure

July 4, 2009

“National treasure” was the theme of our Cub Scout day camp this summer. As I am a member of the planning committee, I spent a good deal of time thinking about what kinds of national treasures to try to work into the camp program. National parks? Natural resources? Our flag? Our history? Our people?

Mostly we focused on nature and the national parks. I spent evenings coming up with clues, then ideas where to hide the clues, and more clues to point to those hiding places. Since I didn’t work with the Scouts directly during camp, and my own son was at College for Kids instead of camp, I never did hear how well some of my clues worked out.

I figured a yellow crayon and a stone should be a fairly easy reference to Yellowstone. That one was for the youngest group; the older boys had to figure out that a picture of a bald man’s head, a feather, and a quarter were clues to “bald eagle” (the only answer that wasn’t a national park). For Mount Rushmore, they got a picture of a mountain, and three coins: a penny, a nickel, and a quarter. I was going to include a dime, then someone pointed out that it had the head of the wrong Roosevelt.

The theme for today’s July 4 parade was “Stars and Stripes Forever.” At the last Cub Scout pack meeting, some of us expressed an interest in making a float for the parade, and I was wondering if there was a way to somehow show the history of the American flag. But I was too busy with day camp to work on it. So were other parents, I guess. The boys just walked next to a trailer pulled by an old (1945) tractor, handing out ice pops to the children along the route. (Another float in the parade did display the history of the flag.)

Today we celebrate one of our nation’s greatest treasures – the commitment to liberty embodied in the Declaration of Independence. The Declaration was at once an eloquent statement of values around which the new country would form, and a bold political action that set in motion the battle for America’s self-government. Googling for more information on this historic document, I was happy to find this website at the National Archives: The Declaration of Independence: Our National Treasure.

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Books: Memorial Day

June 17, 2009

Arguments regarding the morality of “enhanced interrogation techniques” often focus on the “ticking-bomb” scenario, a hypothetical situation where a terrorist (in custody) has information regarding a plan to use WMD, possibly a nuclear bomb that will wipe out an entire city. Conservatives tend to point to the number of American lives that would be saved by using whatever means necessary to get the terrorist to talk, and that he deserves some pretty severe punishment anyway for his part in a mass murder conspiracy.

Liberals tend to point out how extremely unlikely such a scenario is, and that there is no way of knowing whether a captured suspect actually does have knowledge of the details of what is planned, or that he will tell the truth if he does speak. Using a highly unlikely scenario to justify torture of actual human beings, who may not even be complicit in the acts of terror they are being questioned about, gives too much power to government agency officials who may abuse that power. And the victims of that wrongly wielded power could someday be us.

Conservatives – who on other issues are often far more suspicious about government having too much power – prefer to err on the side of security rather than personal freedoms when it comes to the fight against terrorism. I find my sympathies more with the liberals on this one, but I also think that most people on both sides have far too little knowledge of real as opposed to hypothetical scenarios to be good judges of the matter. Personally I am glad not to have to be making those life-and-death decisions.

In the book I just finished listening to, Vince Flynn puts flesh on the hypothetical nuclear bomb scenario. Al Qaeda has managed to obtain the material needed to make the bomb, has apparently managed to smuggle it into the U.S., and plans to use it to destroy a major city. Mitch Rapp, a CIA operative, is charged with finding out the where, when, and how soon enough to avert the disaster.

Rapp’s methods are whatever it takes to get the job done, not necessarily within the parameters of what is officially allowed. Unofficially, he is granted a fair degree of latitude, because he is known to get results. And he is trusted to do what is best for the country, not for his own personal gain or satisfaction. That is, he is trusted by his boss and some others high up in the nation’s security apparatus. There are others who are adamantly opposed to him, whether for philosophical or personal reasons.

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Thinking about our flag

June 14, 2009

I realized at bedtime last night that today would be Flag Day. Too late, I realized, to go out and buy a flagpole. We have a flag, one I purchased several years ago when we lived in Michigan, but the flagpole I purchased with it stayed behind on the house when we sold it. (It was a two-piece pole and the upper piece didn’t line up quite right with the lower piece, producing an effect of the flag sagging on its pole.) Sometime between now and July 4 I need to find a good flagpole (preferably one that doesn’t require drilling holes in our aluminum siding).

My father always displayed our flag on holidays. It was an old flag, from before the entry of Alaska and Hawaii into the Union. I always felt vaguely uncomfortable about our house flying a flag with only 48 stars, and wondered if that was proper. It finally occurred to me today to look that up, and I found this answer at The Betsy Ross Homepage:

Is it appropriate to fly a flag that has fewer than 50 stars?

Yes. Official United States flags are always considered living, active flags. From the Betsy Ross flag to the present 50-star flag, any flag that at some time was the currently active flag is still considered a living flag to be accorded all due respect.

We children had our own handheld flags (not the tiny ones with about a six-inch pole but a pole well over a foot long and the flag larger than letter-size paper though I don’t remember the size exactly), and we planted them in the ground in the front yard on days such as July 4. Other than that, however, I don’t remember any particular teaching about holding the flag in special respect. It was a symbol, and as such it was not the symbol that mattered so much as what it was a symbol for.

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Books: Shadow of the Giant

December 11, 2008

While this book is certainly science fiction, science plays a relatively small role. There are light-speed colony ships heading out to establish the human race on new worlds. Unspecified new technology has ended the strategic importance of petroleum. And one of the main characters is the product of genetic manipulation, removing the normal signal to the body to stop growing and vastly increasing his intelligence – but dooming him to death in early adulthood as his heart cannot continue to support his gigantic body.

Yet that is all largely peripheral to the geopolitical currents that move through the chapters of this novel. On the futuristic Earth, the U.S. has retired from active involvement in world politics, and is content to sit quietly apart, its power in its strong economy (that is secretly financing planetary colonization in the hopes of future wealth from new trade routes). The new world powers are China and the Muslim League, with India and Russia also scheming for greater power. And then there is Peter Wiggin, the Hegemon, trying to leverage his largely ceremonial office to establish a worldwide democracy.

If there is any overarching theme in the novel, it is that humans need to stop wasting their resources (human and otherwise) fighting among themselves. The nations of the world briefly united (in Ender’s Game, the first novel of the series) against a common enemy (the space-faring “Buggers”). But now they are back to jockeying for power, using the young graduates of Battle School (the elite training program in that first book, that trained children rather than young adults in the ways of war, hoping that their very youth would make them flexible and imaginative enough to counter the alien forces arrayed against them) to plan their military operations.

Peter has a different vision for humanity. He is ruthless in his use of the tools at his disposal to accomplish his ends, but he also knows that he cannot achieve lasting peace through violent conquest. Force is used only to respond to attacks – but then it is used to overwhelm so quickly that relatively few lives will be lost, and so that enemies will recognize the futility of opposing his forces.

He knows that a government based on a particular leader cannot last, so he must establish one based on the strength of the democratic process. Starting with just a handful of fairly minor countries, he establishes the Free People of Earth, bound only by commitment to a Constitution, and the will of the people (who must choose through a plebiscite to join the FPE). If successful, it will be a one-world government, replacing the old division into warring nations. But the rule will not be dictatorial – it will resemble more the union of states that formed as the U.S.A.

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An excellent quote

October 16, 2008

Today’s wikiquote is one I will have to add to my Favorite Quotations page.

The way to combat noxious ideas is with other ideas. The way to combat falsehoods is with truth.

It was said by William O. Douglas, a name I did not recognize at all, though a quick check at wikipedia showed me that he is someone I should learn something about, as he has so far been the longest-serving justice in the history of the Supreme Court of the United States. No doubt my ignorance of him is partly due to the time when he served, from 1939 to 1975. He was too recent to be covered in our history classes (the farthest we ever got was to WWII, and that was primarily dealing with events in Europe), but retired before I was old enough to really take an interest in current events.

I find it interesting that he said that a judge’s role was not neutral, that even “the Constitution is not neutral.” Not knowing the context, my first thought was of judicial activism, a charge the conservatives today bring frequently against the liberals. Yet the next sentence sounds very much in tune with conservative thought: “[The Constitution] was designed to take the government off the backs of the people….”

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Wisdom from a futurist

October 6, 2008

I nodded with appreciation for the wikiquote for today:

It is said that power corrupts, but actually it’s more true that power attracts the corruptible. The sane are usually attracted by other things than power.

Another suggested quote, by the same person, elicited a similar reaction:

The worst mistake of first contact, made throughout history by individuals on both sides of every new encounter, has been the unfortunate habit of making assumptions. It often proved fatal.

But the name of the person to whom the quotes were attributed surprised me. David Brin? I thought he was a science fiction writer, not a historian or political theorist. But then, I might be mistaken – I couldn’t think of anything I had read by him.

So I looked him up. Yes, he’s a science fiction writer, though I’m still pretty sure I haven’t read anything by him. And I suppose there’s no reason to be surprised that a science fiction writer would have wise things to say about society – the best novels, in my opinion, are those that say something true and possibly even profound about human experience, regardless of the setting or genre.

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