Friday, March 30, 2012

Definition of "conservative": a libertarian's view

Yesterday I started a Facebook thread challenging my liberal friends to define conservatism. The responses are a good read (check them out), but I thought it only fair to provide a definition of my own:


Photo source: Addicting Information

Conservatism is a political philosophy based on skepticism of both the abilities and motives of human beings. Conservatives therefore oppose institutions that have been designed by (fallible) human reason, in favor of institutions that evolved gradually over hundreds and thousands of years.

Most conservatives are inimical to government solutions to society's problems because these solutions rely on the ability of bureaucrats to make decisions for millions of strangers. Even if a bureaucrat had the vast knowledge and superior reasoning necessary to make those decisions, which he doesn't, he could not be trusted with the power that would be necessary to implement them. Being human, he would be naturally susceptible to abuse and corruption. Far better to leave things to the traditional and more-or-less decentralized institutions of church, family, and marketplace, and to the individual.

(There is a strain of conservative that, in contrast, is fine with using the power of the state to strengthen the authority of traditional institutions: it’s just a matter of having the right people in charge of the state. They are backbenchers, outside both the leadership and the mainstream of the conservative movement, but they do exist.)

Some activities, by their nature, must be carried out by government, so we have to have one. But since humans cannot be trusted with power, governmental authority should be limited to enumerated powers and subject to checks and balances. Federalism is the ideal form of government because solutions evolve via trial, error, and competition between the states, rather than being designed and imposed from above.

These ideas were prominent in the thinking of the Founding Fathers, hence the reverence for those worthy gentlemen. Madison put it best in The Federalist #51, where he wrote, “If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself. A dependence on the people is, no doubt, the primary control on the government; but experience has taught mankind the necessity of auxiliary precautions.”

The modern conservative agenda, to reign in the Federal Government where it has usurped powers rightfully belonging to states, churches, families, markets, and individuals, flows logically from this philosophy.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Obama's War on Women

I’ve seen a great deal in my Facebook news feed about a Republican “War on Women” that consists of minor GOP politicians sponsoring crackpot legislation with no chance of passing. I thought it was time to call attention to the real War on Women -- the one with actual consequences:


Bureau of Labor Statistics, The Unemployment Situation, January 2009
Bureau of Labor Statistics, The Unemployment Situation, February 2012
Energy Information Administration, Gasoline and Diesel Fuel Update
US Treasury, The Debt to the Penny and Who Holds It
US Census Bureau, Monthly Population Estimates for the United States: April 1, 2010 to February 1, 2012
US Census Bureau, Monthly Population Estimates for the United States: April 1, 2000 to December 1, 2010, Pages Published 1936-2011

Monday, March 26, 2012

Rally for Religious Freedom

As I wrote previously (Liberty and the Pill, March 3, 2012), it is a violation of religious freedom to require someone who objects to contraception on religious grounds to pay for other people to use it. To protest the Obama Administration’s attempt to do just that, on Friday I attended the Rally for Religious Freedom on the Boston Common.

Here’s a gallery:

A beautiful day in Boston...


Great turnout...


The Santorum people tried to trick me into making an anti-Romney video, but I caught on...


Edward Wagner, Carolyn Crilly, & Christine Morabito. Carolyn told me, “This contraception mandate is actually anti-woman because it is saying that our fertility is like a blob of malignant cells that needs to be taken care of.” Edward thinks the Democrats are overreaching on this issue. “The Democrats are going to cease to be a viable party,” he said. “In the long run, the Democrats are digging their own grave.”...





Father Jeremy Paulin OMV from the Oblates at St. Clement's Eucharistic shrine on Boylston Street in Boston...


Hey, Obama: Which part don't you understand?...




What it’s all about…


Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Yes, Massachusetts, there really are Republicans

As Presidential politics dominate the headlines, we shouldn’t lose sight of the many state elections coming up in November. As Thomas Jefferson wrote, “It is not by the consolidation or concentration of powers, but by their distribution that good government is effected. Were not this great country already divided into States, that division must be made that each might do for itself what concerns itself directly and what it can so much better do than a distant authority.”

Photo Source: Desiree Awiszio

Last night I attended the kickoff for Republican Marty Lamb’s campaign to be State Representative from the Massachusetts 8th Middlesex District (Holliston, Hopkinton, Southborough, and part of Westborough). I first met Marty in 2010 during his campaign to unseat Congressman Jim McGovern. Marty did not win the contest, but as the first credible challenger to McGovern in many years, he caused the Democrat Party to expend time and resources in Massachusetts that otherwise could have gone elsewhere. If Marco Rubio and Rand Paul were the Allied Armies invading the beaches at Normandy, Marty was the French Underground, sabotaging and harassing the enemy behind his own lines. I was impressed that Marty not only carried a copy of the U.S. Constitution at all times, but could explain it at length.

This video I recorded in 2010 is still timely and demonstrates Marty’s ability to inspire loyalty in the people around him.

If elected to the State Legislature, Marty promises to build on his work with New Jobs for Massachusetts to remove the obstacles to job creation that the state government puts in the path of Bay State businesses. You can read more about Marty on his Facebook page.

Several other GOP candidates for state office came last night to show Marty their support.

Sarah Schultz ( is running for State Senator from the 2nd Middlesex and Norfolk District (Holliston, Hopkinton, Ashland, Medway, Framingham, Natick and Franklin). Her platform is the Three Es – Economy, Education, and Ethics.

Attorney Steven Glovsky says, “I am eager to apply my understanding of both people and the law to the work of the Governor's Council” in approving nominations for state judgeships. Steven is running in the 2nd District, which runs south from Wayland to the Rhode Island border (Here's Steven's Facebook Page).

Consultant Dean Cavaretta (, candidate for State Senator in the Middlesex and Worcester district (Shirley through Westborough) says, “I 'm running because my opponent rarely says ‘no’ to the Beacon Hill Machine…I will be an independent voice to close tax loopholes. I'll support ending corporate welfare for connected CEOs, and crony stimulus for big banks or wasteful programs. All of it has made this Great Recession longer and more painful.”

These candidates are worth a closer look. Check out their websites and Facebook pages and, if you like what you see, please be generous with your time and financial support.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Sports Illustrated, Feminism, and my Forthcoming Novel

In concert with the annual release of the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue, the media is barraging us with articles about feminists on the warpath. These feminists are determined to overthrow our notion of beauty and the portrayal of women in the media. A typical such article, “Sex, lies and media: New wave of activists challenge notions of beauty” appeared this weekend on an organization that shares a parent company with…Sports Illustrated.
The article is rife with cliche statements like
They receive weekly action alerts on how to spread the message, from calling out sexist Super Bowl ads on social media...or talking to men in their lives about the social impact of the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition.
The research to come out in the last 10 years shows just how damaging this idea of self-objectification is, the idea that your value of self-worth is dependent on the amount of sexual attractiveness you have to the outside world.
While I don't want anyone talking to me about the social impact of the Swimsuit Edition, I do enjoy articles like this. They always have very beautiful women in them. I suppose an unattractive woman can’t be a spokesperson for this cause: it would sound like sour grapes.

In any case, the heroine of my forthcoming novel, a lady wrestler named Cheri Tarte, doesn’t share the feminists' view of the world. In this excerpt, she is having dinner with the protagonist, Gimbel O’Hare. The opinions expressed are those of the characters. I neither endorse them nor dispute them:

          Her green eyes told him that she enjoyed the ribs, that she knew he was fascinated by her enjoyment, and that she enjoyed that too. She held his gaze as she gnawed on a bone. Finally she said, “You can watch me eat, but if you’d rather look at my breasts, that’s okay too. There may be some barbecue sauce on them.”
          “Don’t you mind?”
          “A little barbecue sauce never hurt anyone.”
          “No, I meant your breasts.”
          “They don't hurt anyone either - most of the time. And no, I don't mind if you look.”
          “You're not like other women.”
          Cheri Tarte took that as a compliment. “Most women are afraid they won’t measure up,” she said through a mouthful of pork. “I’m not. I’m definitely not like those feminists who object to being judged on their looks. They insist on being judged solely on their intellectual accomplishments, but their great intellects haven’t figured out the truth about men and women.”
          “I’m handicapped with a good intellect myself,” Gimbel replied. “What truth you mean?”
          “In spite of the claims of the feminists to the contrary, men and women are pretty evenly matched in intelligence. The war between them has to be fought with other weapons.”
          “Is it a war then?”
          She freed a piece of meat from her teeth with a fingernail. “War is the natural state in any relationship: man and woman, boss and employee, corpse and necrophiliac. Okay, maybe not the last one, but when two living people come into contact, there is going to be a fight to see who’s in charge.”
          “If intellect doesn’t decide who’s in charge, what does?”
          “Sex,” she said.
          Gimbel thought about it. “I need you to explain that too.”
          “Your intellect really is a handicap, Gimbel. Don't you see how guys act around beautiful women?”
          “When there’s a beautiful woman around, I’m not paying attention to other guys.”
          “See what I mean? A pretty smile or a sinful pair of legs and the rest of the world fades to black. We have something you want. That makes us powerful.”
          “Some women don’t have a pretty smile or a sinful pair of legs. Aren’t you being unfair to them?”
          “Nature is being unfair to them; she distributes her gifts unevenly. But every woman gets something – she should use it. Instead, the feminists hide their assets under bulky sweaters and prison haircuts. Then they gather once a month for a book club in some wealthy suburban living room where they nibble petits fours and complain that they're oppressed. Of course they're oppressed. What do they expect, when they throw away their most potent weapon? They convince themselves they’re victims, so that is what they become.”

You'll have to buy the book to find out if Gimbel agrees with her. Like my blog, it's called Full Asylum. Available soon – watch for it.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

The Art of the Political Insult

Bessie Braddock, MP: Winston, you’re drunk.
Winston Churchill:Bessie, you’re ugly. And tomorrow morning, I’ll be sober.

The recent flap over Sandra Fluke (The “Fluke Flap?”) has got me thinking about the role of insult in political discourse. Some of my left-of-center friends argue we should eliminate it entirely. But we have a rich heritage of political insults; without it we would be poorer indeed. More about that later.

I do think that some standards of civility should be maintained, and when it comes to insult humor, I try to follow two rules.

1. Tell jokes that are actually funny. Insults (or for that matter, cuss words) by themselves are not generally funny. They need to share with other forms of humor the things that make them humorous – a play on words, a surprise, repetition, etc.

2. Never make fun of real-life victims of recent and genuine tragedies.

For example, numerous liberal commentators joked about how glad they were that Andrew Breitbart dropped dead at the age of 43. They fail on both counts. Rush Limbaugh, in his Sandra Fluke remarks, passed the second rule; Ms. Fluke is a victim in her own mind only. I’ll leave it up to you whether Mr. Limbaugh passed the first rule.

Anyway, I promised to say more about our rich heritage. Here are some of my favorite political insults over the years. Mostly I’m quoting from memory – might not be the person’s exact words.

According to the official genealogy, King James I of England was the son of Mary Queen of Scots and her consort, Lord Darnley. But many believed his real father was the queen’s musician, David Rizzio. Later in life, James gained a reputation for wisdom and was often compared to King Solomon. “Why not?” said Henri IV of France. “He was the son of David who played the harp.”

Nell Gwynn, actress and mistress of James’s grandson, King Charles II, was riding in her carriage one day. It must have been an ornate vehicle, because a crowd mistook her for the queen and started booing (the queen was unpopular because she was a Catholic). Nell leaned out the window to reassure the populace. “I’m the Protestant whore,” she said.

When Theodore Roosevelt was running for President as a Republican, a heckler interrupted one of his speeches to yell, “I’m a Democrat!”
“Why is that, sir?” Teddy asked.
“Because my daddy was a Democrat and his daddy was a Democrat.”
“And if your daddy was a jackass, and his daddy was a jackass, what you be?”
“A Republican!”

One day Clement Attlee, the leader of the British socialists, was peeing in the House of Commons men’s room. Winston Churchill came in and stood at the far end of the urinal trough, as far from Attlee as he could get. “Feeling standoffish today, Winston?” Attlee asked.
“No,” Churchill replied, “But whenever you see something big you want to nationalize it.”

What’s the difference between Rush Limbaugh and the Hindenburg? One’s an inflated, Nazi gasbag and the other’s a dirigible.


Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Mr. President: are you doing that on purpose, or can't you make up your mind?

Obama and Gas Prices

For the record, this is what he had to say in 2008 about the similar issue of electric rates:

"Under my plan of a cap and trade system, electricity rates would necessarily skyrocket."

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Liberty and the Pill

Arguing about contraception and freedom is a little like dating. I have the same conversation over and over and I only occasionally get something out of it.


I thought it would be a great time saver to have all my arguments on this topic (freedom that is, not dating) in one place.

Any discussion of freedom (or any other subject for that matter) requires a solid intellectual foundation. Once the principles are in place, their application becomes obvious.

The right to freedom is a limited license. It is not the right to do anything you want. It is merely the right to do what is consistent with the rights of others. You are free to move your fist – but not if someone else’s face is in its path. This is because no system of rights can be self-contradictory - you cannot have some rights that violate other rights. Rights must be universal.

It follows that even though you have the right to do something, you do not have the right to force others to pay for it: that would violate their freedom to spend their own money. You have the right to travel to Hawaii. You don’t have the right to make someone else buy you a ticket (That's called a "nuance". Remember when Kerry criticized Bush for being impervious to "nuance". We don't hear much about "nuance" anymore). Another way of saying this is that there is no such thing as a “positive right”; there are only “negative rights”. I addressed positive and negative rights in my earlier blog entry, The “Right” to Health Care.

“But wait,” you say. “Doesn’t forcing pacifists, via taxation, to pay for the military violate their freedom?" No. A strong military is a pre-condition for freedom – as the French found out in 1940. It is therefore a contradiction in terms to talk about freedom from the obligation to pay for the military (A similar argument can be made for the police). The history of the world is littered with the corpses of free societies that had weak militaries. I can think of no example of a free society that stopped being a free society because its birth control program was weak.

I didn’t invent these ideas. They are the product of a long intellectual tradition, which starts with Aristotle and the Bible, and runs through the words of John Locke and Thomas Jefferson to Milton Friedman and Ronald Reagan. One of the best presentations of them is Ayn Rand’s essay “Man’s Rights” which I highly recommend for a more in-depth treatment than is possible in a blog. It can be found in her collection The Virtue of Selfishness.

These thinkers created arguments that are devastating to the Left. Instead of refuting the arguments, the Left responded with a campaign of character assassination: the great voices of freedom were dead white men, or slaveowners, or fascists, or racists. In logic, this type of “argument” is called the Fallacy of the Abusive Ad Hominem.

It is a bad omen – both for freedom and logic – that this campaign has had remarkable success. These ideas - and why they’re important - are not widely understood. If they were, we would not see so many people lining up to throw away their liberty in exchange for the promise of free contraception - a promise that won’t be kept, by the way. There’s no such thing as a free birth control pill (but that’s an economic discussion, not a philosophical one).

It is clear from the principles I set down how the Obamacare contraception mandate impacts our freedom:

  • It is a violation of religious freedom to require someone who objects to contraception on religious grounds to pay for it, either directly or through their insurance companies.

  • If we do not mandate that insurers cover contraception, it does not follow that they won't. It simply means that insurers, employers, and patients will be free to work out among themselves what sort of insurance policy is best for them. There would probably be many choices, rather than the one-size-fits-all policy that the Obama administration is trying to force upon us.

  • It is not a violation of freedom to expect someone who wants contraception to pay for it - or purchase an insurance policy that does. If it were, that would violate the rights of those who have to do the paying. This does not prevent "access" to contraception. It is still a legal product, widely available at drug stores (that's another "nuance").

  • It would be a violation of freedom to ban contraception. Having said that, I don’t know anyone who wants to. Although my left-of-center friends accuse Republicans of harboring plans to outlaw the pill, when I ask them to name a major Republican politician (Senator, Governor, or Presidential candidate) who advocated this, they say they can’t, it’s just an “impression” they have. I asked some conservatives I met at CPAC what they thought of banning contraception. They either rolled their eyes or told me they were enthusiastically in favor of contraception - for liberals. The Republican “War on Women” is a myth.

  • Since it's an issue of universal rights, one of the arguments used by the left to defend the mandate - that few people are affected - is highly irrelevant. There's no quorum required, fortunately, for the exercise of our liberties.

  • All of the above applies equally to male and female contraceptives.

  • I think that covers it. I’ll add more from time to time.

    Now if only I could master that dating thing.

    Thursday, March 1, 2012

    An Encounter with Andrew Breitbart

    I was sitting in the lounge of the Marriott Wardman Hotel in Washington, DC. The speeches at CPAC were over for the day and I was talking with a woman who I had met earlier. Suddenly she got very excited, pointed to a man standing nearby and said, “That’s Andrew Breitbart!”


    AFP Photo

    Mr. Breitbart was flirting with some attractive women (there were many of them at CPAC), having pictures taken with them, and so on. He seemed to be enjoying this; my companion and I debated whether to interrupt him to say hello.

    We decided to do it.

    We introduced ourselves. I shook Mr. Breitbart’s hand and thanked him for all he did to advance the cause of the Right. He was very gracious.

    Of course, I had no way of knowing that less than three weeks later he would be dead.

    His was a great voice for freedom. I am grateful that I had the opportunity to tell him so.

    There’s a lesson in there. Some opportunities never come again. Grab them when you can. That's what Mr. Breitbart did.

    Rest in Peace, Andrew Breitbart

    The Clouds that gather round the setting sun
    Do take a sober colouring from an eye
    That hath kept watch o'er man mortality;
    Another race hath been, and other palms are won.
    - William Wordsworth, Intimations of Immortality