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Michael Ubaldi, April 15, 2005.

The bad news — Iran's oppressive theocracy survives, continues to abuse its own citizens and foreigners alike, is ever-closer to an atomic weapon, and both stands and functions as a terrorist monument — remains the same. But good news is found in greater measure these days. While Michael Ledeen and Peter Ackerman are sharply skeptical visionaries, not easily pulled from an objective by wishful idling, they may find that their recent proposal on how the free world can help Iranians liberate themselves coincides with work on Capitol Hill:

A U.S. congressional committee has approved legislation seeking to strengthen existing U.S. sanctions on Iran and put more pressure on Iran's government on the issue of weapons of mass destruction, while providing greater support for Iranian democracy groups. The Iran Freedom Support Act declares it should be U.S. policy to support human rights and pro-democracy forces in the United States and abroad opposing what it calls the non-democratic government of Iran.

...The legislation would authorize funding for groups pressing for democratic reform, human rights, and civil liberties in Iran. ...The legislation would also fund independent democracy and radio and television broadcasters for Iran. ...Congresswoman [Ileana] Ros-Lehtinen says Bush administration support will be crucial to chances for approval by both houses of Congress.

That support may be soon in coming:

The United States will decide this summer whether to pursue a tougher stance on Iran's nuclear program at the United Nations Security Council, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told the Wall Street Journal in an interview published on Thursday.

An irrevocable press to conviction would be welcome since, despite the frustration of advocates, a long-term strategy that ensures the fall of Tehran's mullahs is conceivable. What might be helpful to both the imprisoned and the concerned is reassurance that the slow pace is borne from careful purpose, not resignation.

Michael Ubaldi, April 15, 2005.

The Psalmist signed off for good reason. Rich Lowry:

[C]ounselors have the best of intentions, but whenever such a tragedy strikes, it brings to mind an old New Yorker cartoon. Two cowboys look at something in the distance. "Hard to tell from here," one of them comments. "Could be buzzards, could be grief counselors."

...Dwelling on your feelings can be a problem, especially if you're feeling down. A researcher who compared depressed individuals told to ruminate on their feelings with those not so instructed found that over-thinking tends to "impose a lens that shows a distorted, narrow view of our world." Indeed, it can "take you down paths to hopelessness, self-hate and immobility."

As we've been told for centuries, "leave all resultings; do the next thing."

Michael Ubaldi, April 14, 2005.

The fascistic and grimly humorously titled People's Republic of China has a long and terribly consistent policy of suppressing the trade and passage of information in and out of its monumental police state. And Beijing would rather you not pay attention to its efforts to seal off every libertarian recess that the free world's technology punches through.

So what do we call this: a Daguerreian Slip?

Michael Ubaldi, April 14, 2005.

Exclaims Mohammed, from Baghdad: "We can fairly say that we're witnessing the birth of an Iraqi blogosphere." Judging by the number of links he's found for us, it's quite a brood. His commentary is not only vital to the incredible rise of free speech in Iraq but to the recent acquaintance with medius popularis the West is enjoying as well.

Michael Ubaldi, April 13, 2005.

Wretchard shows us excerpts from humanitarian Theodore Darymple's harrowing journey through iniquity and its injury, and I stopped short at this sentence:

In the worst dictatorships, some of the evil ordinary men and women do they do out of fear of not committing it.

Pulling the topic momentarily off course, if I may: That's an ethical node where some of the greater Christian church, as they move leftward into relativism — taking Paul far too literally, as if he were misanthropist — fail in their teaching to the point of heresy. The temptation of obsessive martyrdom — of finding God in whatever circumstances, the more difficult the better — leads to excuses for despots' kingdoms of suffering and a withering contempt for the failures of those living in freedom. They risk looking fondly to persecution. A man with the help of a Providential hand, we'd say, can rise above any trouble but fifty years of a post-industrial democratic West show clearly that man does the greatest work for himself and others when separated from God by nothing more than his own free will. There are plenty of trials in peace — and too many horrors under compulsion.

What's curious about Darymple's narrative is that while the dictatorial society thrives in its nihilism on a regulation of evil acts, the welfare state government doesn't — but accomplishes much of the same thing by leaning collectivist in accordance with a private plan, stripping weaker individuals of protections while inviting the more fit population to careen into a numbness of self-absorbed irresponsibility mislabeled as "rights." Fortuitously, Roger Kimball wrote on this subject in yesterday's New Criterion, quoting James Fitzjames Stephen on John Stuart Mill, "men are so closely connected together that it is quite impossible to say how far the influence of acts apparently of the most personal character may extend." The United States Constitution and its amendment process were meant to limit the power of government, so we are told by the individualists. As an absolute, not true. The 13th Amendment stands as one of the most sweeping abrogations of legally recognized "rights," insofar as the right of men to own other men; and it was an overdue redaction. Even where common law substitutes a constitution, as in Theodore Darymple's Britain, natural law insists that no man will have his rights to life, voice and property taken away without reasoned judgment — certainly not by the arbitrary wishes of a peer.

The funnily ubiquitous "right to privacy" exists only in the imagination, and the belief in it thrives best in urbanity, where personal association is highly transient and community is unstable. Anonymity does relieve us of some burdens — but not everything. After all, something is killed when a woman terminates a healthy pregnancy; someone is affected by the degeneration from another's substance addiction; one or more dependents must contend with an ad-hoc family, especially if it is condoned by the state; someone must pay the price for a threshold below which those living blithely can be summarily euthanized; and something is lost when the life of one fairly convicted of voluntary murder is considered as inviolable as one acquitted, or when those who forfeit their rights to certain protections have them returned anyway.

These things are the rights of the potent, got at the expense of the humble, and nothing more than rule of the strong — authoritarianism — on a small scale. Again, Stephen says it best, "Could anyone desire gross licentiousness, monstrous extravagance, ridiculous vanity, or the like, to be unnoticed, or, being known, to inflict no inconveniences which can possibly be avoided?" Not at all. Which is why we should be wary of those who see liberty, itself a cooperative brace among men, inconsequential to good works or, once achieved, suited for other pursuits.

Michael Ubaldi, April 12, 2005.

I've had my differences with his work of late but the grand old man wrote the best words on the nomination of the president's United Nations ambassador:

Mr. [John] Bolton is in the tradition of singular people who, while serving their presidents faithfully, nevertheless leave their personal stamp on their ambassadorships. Jeane Kirkpatrick was a mountainous moral presence in the U.N., while Daniel Patrick Moynihan reminded us that Socrates still lives, even if he couldn't predictably win a Senate seat in Rhode Island. It would be a sign of great democratic health if one or two Democrats on the committee were to vote to confirm Bolton, but meanwhile, all rests on Lincoln Chafee, who was named after Abraham Lincoln.

We should never forget the luxurious, titanium-wrought will of Jeane Kirkpatrick — a woman whose spirit not even toy-lefty cartoonist Berke Breathed could ignore. That's the Bill Buckley we know.

Michael Ubaldi, April 12, 2005.

Ramesh Ponnuru questions Joe Engel's approach to "take back" the term "liberal":

Joel Engel has a piece on the shifting meanings of the word liberal. He wants to retrieve the word for an older, better liberalism. Fair enough. And several of his specific points are reasonable. But a few of them go overboard in a way that weakens his force. ...It may be that liberals should be criticized for not doing enough to distance themselves from people who hold [extremist] sentiments; but it is neither true nor fair, I think, to suggest that most liberals hold those sentiments themselves. And it advances no worthwhile cause to depict our society as more divided than it actually is.

True enough; I believe that friends and acquaintances who consider themselves Democrats or leftward would drop those banners if they more deeply investigated Republicans and the right.

"Liberal" needs to be reapplied as a circumstantial political definition; not an intrinsic, ideological one. And at the same time, terms "liberal" and "conservative" must be separated from "left" and "right." With a quick glance at world history we find that infant exposure, elder or infirmed mercy-killing, arbitrary coupling or sanctioned chemical intoxication is not at all "progressive" or unprecedented to societal evolution; while no precursor exists for morally outlawing dictatorship, globalized trade that respects sovereignty, a market-invested middle class, or equal respect for the sexes within long-held social arrangements. Literally, today the "right" is liberal and the "left" is conservative.

Most of the trouble in modern American politics seems to have come from an open invitation during the Sixties and Seventies to ideologies hitherto popularly ostracized and confined to the intellectual outskirts of lunacy — collectivism, solipsism, nihilism. These "beliefs" are pathological to the liberal state; not at all constructive in any national discussion. As a consequence of these systems' acceptance in the Western or American conversation — however slight — much time and energy is wasted establishing what should be self-evident. Imagine if a scientific research laboratory had to start every day with a four-hour epistemological ritual and begin work on experiments only after the faculty could agree on a justified definition of all accumulated data and knowledge. American debate suffers a similar debilitation as the left, increasingly morally ambivalent and illiterate, forces parties to regularly prove the beneficence of the West, liberalism, capitalism, religion, free will — and for each go-round, the possibility one of these pillars might be kicked out from under by a good performance.

What can be done? The spectrum of rational discourse must be narrowed. New media has done an exemplary job of forcing nonsensical claims into open, fair debate; a place where extremism can't survive. Engel suggests that the associative sequence between classically liberal politics and counteractive, destructive and authoritarian philosophies is far too compressed — put into starkly concrete terms by Byron York's investigative work (here, here, here and here) — and needs to be lengthened considerably. Illiberal arguments need to be set upon, logically and morally rejected as absurd. It must be done, and the citizenry can do it.

Michael Ubaldi, April 11, 2005.

General Douglas MacArthur — strategic genius, democratist, New Dealer, and science fiction visionary. Andrew Stuttaford:

Before Mulder there was MacArthur, General Douglas MacArthur. The penultimate London Spectator quotes from a speech that MacArthur made to West Point cadets in 1955: "The next war will be an interplanetary war. The nations of the earth must someday make a common front against attack by people from other planets."

I refuse to comment very seriously on an essentially logical statement on grounds that I may incriminate myself. However, if Douglas Adams is to be believed, the Vogon Constructor Fleet will be here any Thursday now. Still — you know — don't panic.

Michael Ubaldi, April 8, 2005.

Fancy that: work takes precedence over blogging. Iraq, Japan and daffodils this evening.

THAT EVENING: Work took everything but the will to publish comely portraits of flowers. Commentary tomorrow, and sharper because of it.

Michael Ubaldi, April 8, 2005.

We the able and strong are obligated by natural law and conscience to protect and preserve the lives of the weak; through generous caregiving when the humble are in gentle hands, by the intervention of arms when they are not.