American Elephants

Statesmen: Speech, Words, Thought and Meaning. by The Elephant's Child
February 6, 2012, 9:14 pm
Filed under: Capitalism, Domestic Policy, Economy, Foreign Policy, The United States

Someone asked plaintively the other day: “Why are there no statesmen any more?” The Brits seem to be better than we are at producing politicians who can speak in clear and complete sentences. Ours seem unable to accomplish clear thought without teleprompters.  “Question Time,” a fascinating tradition of the British Parliament, certainly makes their politicians more able to handle the give and take of debate. But somewhere in their schooling they learn to eliminate the ‘uhs’ and ‘ahs’ and ‘ums’ that plague so many of us.

Of course imperfections of speech have little to do with being a statesman. Most important is knowing what you are talking about — not just having thought out what you want to say — but having a deep knowledge of the subject, its importance, the pros and cons and the history. We all know how painful it can be to listen to someone elaborate on a subject on which they are deeply uninformed.

Today we remember Ronald Reagan on his birthday. Some may find it strange that we celebrate the birthday of a deceased president, but we set aside the birthdays of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln to remember their particular contributions to America. Yes, we have diminished those birthdays to a “Presidents’ Day” which is not on anybody’s birthday, but on a more convenient Monday so those who get the day off can have a long weekend — which presumably won’t be used in giving any thought to any president. But Reagan? Why was he so special?  (see previous post about not grasping the meaning of the fall of Communism).

Reagan was a statesman because he had thought deeply about governments – good and bad, and governing, about history, about America and its trials and tribulations, friends and enemies. Ronald Reagan was an inveterate writer. He wrote letters, speeches, philosophy, poetry, newspaper articles, short stories, poetry, and sports commentary. And he wrote short radio scripts that were aired from 1975 to 1979 — over 1.000 daily radio broadcasts in which he talked about Peace, Communism-the Disease, Indochina, Cuba, Defense, War, South Africa, Conspiracy, About the Press, Recession vs. Inflation, Schools, Martin Luther King, Food Stamps, Oil, OPEC, Nuclear Power, and Socialized Medicine, to mention only a few of his subjects.

Reagan In His Own Hand collects those radio scripts which show something of the extent to which Reagan had thought deeply about the subjects which would later confront him when he was President. The Reagan Diaries are the daily diary that Ronald Reagan kept throughout his presidency. The Notes collects both Reagan’s own writing, but his favorite quotations, proverbs and excerpts from speeches and literature, even poetry. These books give a window into the mind of a president and statesman.

The late Richard Mitchell, whom I quote frequently because he is exceedingly quotable, explained the importance of writing in Less Than Words Can Say.*

As a way of recording speech, writing is a dismal failure.

It doesn’t matter, though, because the recording of speech is not the proper business of writing.  The proper business of writing is to stay put on the page so that we can look at it later.  Writing, whether it be a grocer list or The Brothers Karamazov, freezes the work of the mind into a permanent and public form.   It is the mind and memory of mankind in such a form that we can pass it around to one another and even hand it on to our unimaginably remote descendants. …

If we want to pursue extended logical thought, thought that can discover relationships and consequences and devise its own alternatives, we need a discipline imposed from outside of the mind itself.  Writing is that discipline.  It seems drastic, but we have to suspect that coherent continuous thought is impossible for those who cannot construct coherent, continuous prose.

Professor Mitchell’s books are out of print, but his admirers have posted them on the internet, free to all, as are copies of his hand printed newsletter: The Undergound Grammarian in which he waged war on the inane, empty, and rampant misuse of language by bureaucrats, educators and functionaries everywhere.  There are four books: Less Than Words Can Say, The Graves of Academe, The Leaning Tower of Babel, and The Gift of Fire.

They are among my most prized books — and provide some insight into why there seem to be no statesmen today.

(*click on the name of the book you wish to access in the sidebar.)


The Dysfunctional Search for Utopia Will Always Fail by The Elephant's Child

Janet Daley is an American born, British columnist and writer for the Telegraph. She had an important column in the Telegraph yesterday, on free market economics and the private banking system.

But in spite of the official agreement that there is no other way to organize the economic life of a free society than the present one (with a few tweaks), there are an awful lot of people implicitly behaving as if there were. Several political armies seem to be running on the assumption that there is still a viable contest between capitalism and Something Else.

If this were just the hard Left within a few trade unions and a fringe collection of Socialist Workers’ Party headbangers, it would not much matter. But the truth is that a good proportion of the population harbours a vague notion that there exists a whole other way of doing things that is inherently more benign and “fair” – in which nobody is hurt or disadvantaged – available for the choosing, if only politicians had the will or the generosity to embrace it.

She suggests that you try an experiment. Gather a bunch of 18-year-olds, and ask them what world event occurred in 1945.  They should ( I hope) be able to tell you how the Second World War ended and some vague idea of its aftermath. Then ask them what historical milestone happened in 1989?  Deer in the headlights?

The failure of communism should have been, after all, not just a turning point in geo-political power – the ending of the Cold War and the break-up of the Warsaw Pact – but in modern thinking about the state and its relationship to the economy, about collectivism vs individualism, and about public vs private power. Where was the discussion, the trenchant analysis, or the fundamental debate about how and why the collectivist solutions failed, which should have been so pervasive that it would have percolated down from the educated classes to the bright 18-year-olds? Fascism is so thoroughly (and, of course, rightly) repudiated that even the use of the word as a casual slur is considered slanderous, while communism, which enslaved more people for longer (and also committed mass murder), is regarded with almost sentimental condescension.

Bad guys in the movies have long been Nazis, and in thrillers the KGB, but compared to Nazi concentration camps, the Gulag is practically unknown. Communism committed mass murder at far greater rates than Nazi Germany — something far over 100,000,000 murders, but still seems to be regarded as a more “fair” way of running a government. Communism has been a dismal failure everywhere it has been tried, and socialism is following closely behind.

Now we have the Occupy people wallowing in tents and filth to protest Capitalism, waving their communist signs around — yet the one thing they make clear is that they have no understanding of the free market whatsoever.  And these are the people that George Soros is supporting and hoping will become a real revolutionary movement by next summer.

Janet Daley adds:

If the European intellectual elite had not been so compromised by its own broad acceptance of collectivist beliefs, maybe we would have had a genuine, far-reaching re-appraisal of the entire ideological framework. And that might have led to a more honest political dialogue in which everybody might now be talking sensibly about capitalism and how it needs to be managed. It is people – not markets – that are moral or immoral. Communism’s fatal error was in thinking that morality resided in the mechanisms of an economic system rather than in the people who operated them.

Happy 101st Birthday, President Reagan! by American Elephant

A nice tribute to the Gipper on what would be his 101st birthday from Americans for Prosperity. Reagan v. the anti-Reagan. Better yet, they’re airing on TV.

The FDA Claims Your Own Stem Cells Are a Drug by The Elephant's Child

A clinic in Colorado, the Centeno-Schultz Clinic, performs a nonsurgical stem-cell therapy called Regenexx-C.  It is designed to treat moderate to severe joint, tendon, ligament, and bone pain using only adult stem-cells. Doctors draw your blood, spin it through a centrifuge, extract the stem cells, and  then re-inject them into the damaged joints. No other drugs are used. The absence of any drugs means that the Food and Drug Administration is not involved, and has no oversight function.

Yes, you guessed it. The FDA has asserted its authority by claiming that your stem cells — the ones your body produces naturally — are in fact drugs and subject to its regulatory oversight. Your stem cells are a controlled substance!

The FDA argues that 1) stem cells are drugs and therefore fall under FDA jurisdiction, and 2) because the clinic is engaging in interstate commerce, they also fall under FDA jurisdiction. The rationale for the “interstate commerce” bit is that out-of-state patients using Regenexx-C would “depress the market for out-of-state-drugs that are approved by the FDA.”

Does that sound like the FDA is protecting the health or American citizens?  Or does it sound like the FDA is fiercely defending it’s turf and ability to enforce and regulate? This has been a battle going on for over four years. The FDA is under fire from all sides for the difficulty in getting new drugs approved. It is becoming so difficult that innovators abandon promising candidates. Drugs long approved in other countries must undergo years long investigations here. They are causing shortages of needed drugs for hospitals.

There is a mindset in the regulatory crowd that assumes that wise government bureaucrats are smarter than ordinary people out there, and you ordinary people should shut up and let your betters regulate. The trouble is that there is no evidence whatsoever that government is able to do things better. There are very few things that government is good at, even simple things. There are indeed some things that can only be done by governments — armies and navies,  air forces — I was going to add space, but it looks like private enterprise is taking that over. Borrowing — they’re very agile at that — and spending, they set records. But what else? Post Office, nope. The entitlement programs are ridden with fraud, and going broke.

We should expect the federal government to make the case to us — for we are in charge — we the people authorize government activity, why they should be allowed to regulate anything, and demand a better record of good performance.

I’m getting really fed up with this regulatory overreach.

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