American Elephants


Freedom, Free Choice, Self-Interest, Free Markets. Hard Work. by The Elephant's Child

Talking about big government and nannies has made me think about dictators. For little nannies and paternalists often grow up to be dictators. There are countries who have never known anything else. The Middle East, with the sole exceptions of Israel and Iraq, has no experience whatsoever of Democracy. David Warren, Canadian columnist, wrote:

The sight of Iraqis in Baghdad pulling down the statue of Saddam,beating its face with their shoes, and kissing photographs of President Bush thus arrived like a missile into what Fouad Ajami has so discerningly called “the dream palace of the Arabs”— the collective fantasy  into which powerful media such as Al-Jazeera had been playing.  It was no mere surprise, it was a profound shock to the entire nervous system of the Arab world. It was the first shock on anything on this scale since 1967, when another generation of Arabs woke to the discovery that tiny Israel had destroyed the massed armies of the most powerful Arab states, in just six days.

So we have had another eruption of violence and protest in the Middle East, and dictators have been overthrown, and…Will it merely be another set of dictators? It just takes a man who surrounds himself with an army and many guns which he uses indiscriminately to indicate that he means business.  A distinct unconcern for dead bodies helps, and large quantities of gold braid and medals.

Do you suppose that there is a dictator store somewhere that stocks all the elaborate uniforms, the gold braid and the tassels? Just wondering. David Warren said something else:

Christianity, democracy, the rule of law, indeed free markets, are things worth having, as we might attest, also motherhood, and apple pie. But none of them can be imposed, each must be freely chosen. All are things we chose for ourselves over many centuries of trial and error.



Paul Revere’s Ride by The Elephant's Child
April 18, 2011, 8:58 pm
Filed under: History, Literature | Tags:

[A little Henry Wadsworth Longfellow for the eighteenth of April]

Listen, my children, and  you shall hear
Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere,
On the eighteenth of April, in Seventy-five;
Hardly a man is now alive
Who remembers that famous day and year.

He said to his friend,”If the British march
By land or sea from the town tonight,
Hang a lantern aloft in the belfry arch
Of the North Church tower as a signal light—
One if by land, and two, if by sea;
And I on the opposite shore will be,
Ready to ride and spread the alarm
Through every Middlesex village and farm,
For the country folk to be up and to arm.”

Then he said, “Good night!” and with muffled oar
Silently rowed to the Charlestown shore,
Just as the moon rose over the bay,
Where swinging wide at her moorings lay
The Somerset, a British man-of-war:
A phantom ship, with each mast and spar
Across the moon like a prison bar,
And a huge black hulk, that was magnified
By its own reflection in the tide.

Meanwhile, his friend, through alley and street,
Wanders and watches, with eager ears,
Till in the silence around him he hears
The muster of men at the barrack door,
And the measured tread of the grenadiers,
Marching down to their boats on the shore.

Then he climbed to the tower of the Old North Church,
By the wooden stairs, with stealthy tread,
To the belfry-chamber overhead,
And startled the pigeons from their perch
On the somber rafters, that round him made
Masses and moving shapes of shade—
By the trembling ladder, steep and tall,
To the highest window in the wall,
Where he paused to listen and look down
A moment on the roofs of the town,
And the moonlight flowing over all.

Beneath in the churchyard, lay the dead,
In their night-encampment on the hill,
Wrapped in silence so deep and still
That he could hear, like a sentinel’s tread,
The watchful night-wind, as it went
Creeping along from tent to tent,
And seeming to whisper, “All is well!”
A moment only he feels the spell
Of the place and the hour, and the secret dread
Of the lonely belfry and the dead;
For suddenly all his thoughts are bent
On a shadowy something far away,
Where the river widens to meet the bay—
A line of black that bends and floats
On the rising tide, like a bridge of boats.

Meanwhile, impatient to mount and ride,
Booted and spurred, with a heavy stride
On the opposite shore walked Paul Revere.
Now gazed at the landscape far and near.
Then, impetuous, stamped the earth
And turned and tightened his saddle girth:
But mostly he watched with eager search
The belfry tower of the Old North Church,
As it rose above the graves on the hill,
Lonely and spectral and somber and still.

And lo! as he looks, on the belfry’s height
A glimmer, and then a gleam of light!
He springs to the saddle, the bridle he turns,
But lingers and gazes, till full on his sight
A second lamp in the belfry burns!

A hurry of hoofs in a village street,
A shape in the moonlight, a bulk in the dark,
And beneath, from the pebbles, in passing, a spark
Struck out by a steed flying fearless and fleet:
That was all! And yet, through the gloom and the light,
The fate of a nation was riding that night;
And the spark struck out by that steed, in his flight,
Kindled the land into flame with its heat.

He has left the village and mounted the steep,
And beneath him, tranquil and broad and deep,
Is the Mystic, meeting the ocean tides:
And under the alders that skirt its edge,
Now soft on the sand, now loud on the ledge,
Is heard the tramp of his steed as he rides.

It was twelve by the village clock,
When he crossed the bridge into Medford town.
He heard the crowing of the cock,
And the barking of the farmer’s dog,
And felt the damp of the river fog,
That rises after the sun goes down.
It was one by the village clock,
When he galloped into Lexington.
He saw the gilded weathercock
Swim in the moonlight as he passed,
And the meeting-house windows, blank and bare,
Gaze at him with a spectral glare,
As if they already stood aghast
At the bloody work they would look upon.

It was two by the village clock,
When he came to the bridge in Concord town.
He heard the bleating of the flock,
And the twitter of birds among the trees,
And felt the breath of the morning breeze
Blowing over the meadows brown.

And one was safe and asleep in his bed
Who at the bridge would be first to fall,
Who that day would be lying dead,
Pierced by a British musket-ball.

You know the rest.  In the books you have read
How the British Regulars fired and fled—
How the farmers gave them ball for ball,
From behind each fence and farmyard wall,
Chasing the red-coats down the lane,
Then crossing the fields to emerge again
Under the trees at the turn of the road,
And only pausing to fire and load.

So through the night rode Paul Revere;
And so through the night went his cry of alarm
To every Middlesex village and farm—
A cry of defiance and not of fear,
A voice in the darkness, a knock at the door,
And a word that shall echo for evermore!
For, borne on the night-wind of the Past,
Through all our history, to the last,
In the hour of darkness and peril and need,
The people will awaken and listen to hear
The hurrying hoof-beats of that steed,
And the  midnight message of Paul Revere.

A lovely paperback edition illustrated by Ted Rand, if you have kids!



Central Planning by The Elephant's Child
April 18, 2011, 5:50 pm
Filed under: Capitalism, Economy, Freedom, History, Statism | Tags: , ,

We complain about “paternalism,” and about “nanny government,” and about the “elites” in Washington who presume to tell us how to live our lives.  People hate twisty CFL lightbulbs, and resent the governmental ban on ordinary incandescent bulbs, especially when they find out that the ban was initiated so lightbulb makers could make more profit. Calorie counts on all menus, forbidding children from bringing their lunch from home, restrictors on showerheads, the list goes on and on.

It is all the same syndrome. Instead of turning their attention to their own lives, they want to meddle in everyone else’s. First it is for your good health. Then it is to save energy, and save water, then it’s just something that annoys them, and pretty soon it’s a regulation that would help out a major supporter.

Power corrupts, and soon those who attain power start believing that government, at their direction, can better decide how taxpayer money should be invested, that government can do better research, that government can decide what products should be made and how they should be sold. Back in 2008, candidate Obama called for “an end to the age of oil in our time.”  He called for one million plug-in hybrids capable of 150 miles to the gallon.  He called for a $7,000 tax credit for consumers who bought early models.  He demanded one half of all car purchases by the federal government would be plug-in hybrids or all-electric by 2012.

How did we slip from a market-based economy to central planning? What made a community organizer, someone whose only executive experience was the disastrously failed Annenberg Challenge, and a stint as a part-time lecturer in civil rights law, decide that he knew better than the American people what products we should buy and use and produce? There’s a long history of Central Planning, and it never, never works.  Government, at best, is an enormous clumsy bureaucracy that does almost everything badly.

It’s top-down versus bottom-up.  When an individual has an idea, hones it until he has it right, is willing to mortgage his house and beg money from his relatives, then has to convince investors, venture capitalists or banks to finance his dream— and has to prove it over and over to bring it to market— that’s bottom-up. Some assume that vast spending by government will overcome technology hurdles, consumer preferences, and business acumen, and then economies of scale will bring down the price so the product can be justified in the market.

Lord Acton, the British historian, said “Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”  The Founders had experience of governmental power and they were wise enough to write a Constitution that limited the power of government.  We the People grant certain powers to our government —but government is not entitled to keep enlarging those powers without our consent, even when they think it’s for our own good.




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