Friday, November 28, 2008

What to be thankful for

I hope everyone had a lovely time feasting with family yesterday. And, I hope that some of you took seriously what I said about reflecting on what we have to be thankful for. Alas, everyday should be one in which we do a little thanksgiving.

Here is a piece from Cato Institute's David Boaz on why we should be particularly thankful as Americans. I think he says very well what most of us feel when we reflect for a short while.

What to Be Thankful For
by David Boaz

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Much to Be Thankful For

It was a longstanding Thanksgiving tradition for my grandfather to make all the kids say what we were thankful around the dinner table. The tradition for us kids was to sing the praises of the many trivial things that amused us: television, video games, toys, etc. These kinds of answers must have certainly disappointed my grandfather and the rest of the elders, and so after more than a decade of failing to get thoughtful responses from us they just quit trying. In recent years, the Thanksgiving feast has commenced without any declarations of gratitude.

For a long time, I just saw this tradition as a nuisance, and until going off to college, I didn’t understand the purpose and importance of my grandfather’s question.

Like many other young people who have only ever known the comforts and pleasures of America’s prosperity, it rarely occurred to me that life should be any other way; that the life of man was “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short,” for nearly the entirety of his existence and only very recently has he been able to escape that bleak and pitiful condition. I was equally unreflective of the fact that the way of life we enjoy in the United States is one that billions of people around the world dream of but do not enjoy themselves.

But things have changed. Now I marvel at and feel an overwhelming gratitude for things I gave little consideration to before; things that free us up from the exigencies of the human condition in ways our forebears could have never imagined. I am most impressed by very basic things like supermarkets, with their seemingly endless abundance of food, everyday of the year. Now we need not spend our days toiling to produce our own food. Similarly, we can drink clean water that comes to us at the simple turn of a faucet. Our rooms and buildings can be cooled, heated and illuminated at will.

Automobiles, buses, trains and planes enable us to move ourselves and our goods from place to place with great speed and convenience. The telephone, television, radio and computer have transformed our lives in innumerable ways and it is tough to think of life without them now. The ubiquitous ailments and pestilences of yore to which we were completely helpless and vulnerable have been subdued or eradicated thanks to the tremendous advances of modern medicine. Polio, smallpox, measles, tuberculosis be gone!

These are just the material things that make our lives much improved over those of our antecedents. As Americans, we must not forget how remarkable and improved our lives are by the ideas and government we have inherited from the men who established our great country. Blessed are we to live in a place founded on that self-evident truth “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

We are equally fortunate to live in a country in which liberty and self-government are most highly valued and are protected by the supreme law of the land. And so we can say what we want without fear of punishment. We can practice the religion of our choosing. We have the right to bears arms to guard against those who aim to do us harm and can count on the protection of our person and our property from our fellows and our government. Perhaps this doesn’t strike you as anything special, but when it is remembered that never before had a people been granted so much freedom, and also that in places all around the world today people are still not afforded the fundamental rights we take for granted, it is difficult to not feel a great deal of gratitude for our enviable circumstances.

Let me digress for a moment to respond to a criticism that might be made against what I have said so far. One could say that I have neglected the fact that here in the US, not everyone enjoys the things I say I am thankful for; that there are people who cannot just go into the supermarket, or who do not have homes or who cannot receive medical attention when they need it.

It would be insincere of me to deny that there are people who are not so fortunate right here at home, but it would be entirely false to say that America’s prosperity extends only to a small segment of society. On the contrary, it is undeniable that at no time in human history have so many people risen to the position of comfort, security and abundance that the American people as a whole have. And, in no other place and time has so much freedom and opportunity been extended to as many people as in the United States. Indeed, life for Americans with even the most modest means today in 2008 would be the envy of the nobility and aristocracy of centuries past.

Our current economic malaise has inspired much collective self-pity and lamenting, but such feelings are only possible when we dwell on the things we do not have and not on the things that we do. Because despite our present troubles, life is still much better than in most parts of the world and unequivocally better than it would have been in anytime before the recent past. This is why gratitude is important and why my grandfather tried to hard to teach us to feel it. Realizing the fragility of our prosperity and understanding that life could be far more harsh and unforgiving than it is for us in the United States in 2008 must make one feel a sense of contentment and blessedness for the way things are instead of a sense of resentment and dismay because of the way things are not. And, gratitude also compels us to use our resources and opportunities to their fullest extent instead of squandering them as if the good things we enjoy were universal and limitless. Finally, gratitude inspires us to work to extend the joys and pleasures of our own way of life to those who do not know it now or who have never known it.

These are the lessons my grandfather wanted me to learn by asking me to reflect on what I was thankful for.

This Thursday, before we dig into our turkey, I will tell my grandfather and the rest of my family what I have just told you. But I don’t want to do this alone, and so let me invite you to join me this Thanksgiving by telling your families what you are thankful for. And if you did not think you had anything to feel grateful for before, I hope that what I have said here will start you off on the right foot.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Alex Chamessian

Monday, November 24, 2008

Why people do bad things, according to liberals

So I just came out of my weekly HON 401 class - Global Issues. I came in late, but today we were talking about torture. Near the end of the class we were given a mini-assignment. The question arose about whether President-elect Obama should continue working with Pakistan as an ally in light of reports of widespread physical abuse of Pakistani women. ( An article we read from the NYT time today by Nicholas Kristof. Here is a salient excerpt:
One new cabinet member, Israr Ullah Zehri, defended the torture-murder of five women and girls who were buried alive (three girls wanted to choose their own husbands, and two women tried to protect them). "These are centuries-old traditions, and I will continue to defend them," Zehri said of the practice of burying independent-minded girls alive.

For the life of me, I couldn't believe that there was any question about what Barack Obama should do about this. Our professor asked us what we would say to Obama if we were his advisors. I was astonished that there was even any question about what Obama should do. This is the man who walks on water, can part the Red Sea, heal people with the gentle touch of his messianic hand. So the answer is pretty obvious - he should just sit down and talk with the Pakistani leaders and tell them it's time for change. How could anybody resist The One anyway? It's futile. Sorry guys, it doesn't matter what you've done for centuries. Obama says you must change, and you will. So there.

But, we pretended for a moment that Barack Obama were only a mortal and not the demi-god that he is and proceeded with the discussion. The consensus in the classroom seemed to be that, although such acts are deplorable, the US will act in its own interest, and if that means working with Pakistan to fight Al-Qaeda, so be it. To me, it's a matter of which of the possible outcomes is the least bad. In my mind, the circumstances for all Pakistanis, not just women, but their husbands, their brothers, their children and everyone else will be all the worse if Pakistan were overrun by al-Qaeda and its thugs. So it's a question of some women suffering abuse versus an entire country suffering because the US wanted to 'make a point' about human rights.

Someone picked up this quote in the Kristof piece:
"Some worry that militants, nurtured by illiteracy and a failed education system, will overrun the country or that the nation will break apart."

The conversation then devolved into one about the causes of militancy, lawlessness and anti-Americanism. Most of the class agreed with the notion that would-be terrorists are compelled to violence and lawlessness not because of any kind of authentic hatred or animus but because it allows them to brutishly vent their frustrations about not having food, clean water, shelter, etc. Or, in the case of illiteracy and ignorance, the argument is that these people are not learned enough or wise enough to know right from wrong. I admit there is likely some truth to the notion that people's privations make them more desperate and therefore more disposed to doing whatever it takes to secure the necessities of life. But to give such primacy to people's material wants as the central impetus of human action is both false and dangerous. Just as when Obama made his infamous 'bitter' remarks to explain why people in small town America cling to guns, God and antipathy to outsiders, this tired liberal bromide presupposes that when people act badly, it's no fault of their own but is instead the fault of society, or institutions, or of external conditions or bad governance. In essence, poor people, uneducated people, rural people - in other words, barbarians in the world of the liberal - are exculpated for their sins because they were merely acting out in response to their destitution and ignorance.

The appeal of this model of social causation to libs is pretty evident, and it goes back to what Thomas Sowell's thesis about the two competing visions - the constrained and unconstrained. Liberals ultimately subscribed the latter and see human nature not as timeless and unchanging, but they see humans as ultimately perfectible, if only the wisest and most virtuous among us would show the rest of us benighted yokles the way. When it is thought that human failings are the product of bad institutions, bad governments, dysfunctional societies or poor living conditions, it follows that those human failings can be remedied simply by having the right people dream up a better scheme.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Post-election blues?

I've calmed down quite a bit since Tuesday night. I don't really like Obama any better, but when I started thinking about what imperialistic, corporate tools the GOP has become I realized that we need a change of pace in the Whitehouse.

I have little doubt about the efficacy of free market ideals, as described by the Austrian school of economics, but at this point McCain has all but abandoned these ideals as well in his support of corporate welfare wall street bailouts. Since both candidates share this unacceptable monetary policy, its not like I had a better choice here on what's really the most important, and most invisible, problem facing the nation right now.

We'll see how it plays out, of course, but I have little doubt that the republican party will have to readopt true conservative ideals or people like Ron Paul and the liberty caucus will gut the party and return it to the small government principles which once made it great.

Meanwhile, I'll just have to remain critical of the Obama administration where criticism is due (and even praise when that's due) and use the platforms I'm lucky enough to have to get these important ideas out there (like the Patriot blog and newspaper as well my Statesman column).

Just because we have a big government democrat in the white house doesn't mean true free market conservatism and Austrian economic theory is dead... not by a long shot.

Just think about it. A few years ago, Ron Paul was a sole voice in congress preaching Austrian economics. After 60 years of being marginalized and ignored (and yet somehow getting re-elected again and again!) he finds himself surrounded by devoted followers... and not just stuffy intellectuals either. Thousands of real, hardworking, devoted people dedicated to getting more government out of our lives.

What right do I, having called myself a free market libertarian for little more than a year, have to get upset over one small election loss (which wasn't really a loss at all, considering we had no real options) when, for Dr. Paul, the future has never looked brighter for his ideology. To quote American Revolutionary War naval hero, John Paul Jones, when it comes to my defending and promoting my new found ideology, "I have not yet begun to fight."

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Hail the Star and Sickle

You asked for it, and now you've got it. Barack Obama is our new President, and to usher in this 'historic' moment, his fawning lemmings came down to the White House to greet him with the nation's new flag. Lovely!

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

For the Obama Sheeple

I get that people are excited to see something other than a lillywhite face in the whitehouse. But why are people acting like its some big accomplishment? We've really only elected another corporate sponsored, tax and spend, foreign interventionist, bloodsucking politician.

People are actually, literally crying in happiness at Obama's victory. Do they not realize that this is a politician like any other? His economic policies are going to be disastrous. The great delusion of this election is that a nanny state government has the ability and mandate to create economic growth. Well, with no sources of production, the government can't do shit about the economy expect mess around with our monetary policy to sink the value of the dollar and create business cycles.

Way to go America... you were so eager to see some kind of change you forgot about the principles this country was founded on. I'll give you a hint. It's not "national unity" (yes he actually said that in his acceptance speech)

Robert Spencer Event Recording

For those who are looking for the Robert Spencer event recording, I'm trying to find an external site to load the file to so people can access it through the blog. This blog format won't let me upload it directly. Sorry for the inconvenience if you're looking for it.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Statesman Op-Ed Rebuffs Robert Spencer

The Statesman has published an Op-Ed on the Robert Spencer talk. The piece is typical, and not at all unexpected. I was hoping for better. You can see the ongoing discussion about the talk on their page. Comment here, or there, or both, but keep it civil, logical and substantive.


Robert Spencer's Radical Agenda

Patriot Election Coverage Live