Thursday, October 10, 2002


I also have in my mind that seemingly wealthy, but most terribly impoverished class of all, who have accumulated dross, but know not how to use it, or get rid of it, and thus have forged their own golden or silver fetters.
-- Henry David Thoreau, in Walden

Al Tompkins points out two closely related pieces from MSN's "Moneycentral."

First this piece, from M.P. Dunleavy, that notes public "self-storage" has grown in the past decade from 22,000 facilities to more than 35,000.

This is the same decade in which consumer debt skyrocketed. We seem to be going deep into high-interest debt to buy lots of stuff we don't even use or have room for in our homes (which, Dunleavy points out, have grown 53 percent in the last 30 years, from an everage of 1,500 square feet to 2,300 square feet -- and that additional space means additional debt).

In the second piece, Dunleavy blames this pathological addiction to stuff on the "evil" Pottery Barn catalogue and "the affliction of our age: SDA, the Senseless Desire to Acquire."

posted by Fred Clark 1:41 PM


Two recent comments quoted in The New York Times seem absurd. (Note: The quibble here is with the comments, not with the Times. The last thing the blogosphere needs is another site puffing itself up by whingeing about the Times.)

"Sex is not something that should be joked about."
-- Meghan Clyne, conservative political columnist for The Yale Daily News (link)

"There's nothing political about American literature."
-- First Lady Laura Bush (link)

posted by Fred Clark 12:44 PM


The eminent Brendan Lynch points out that I've been promoting homophonia, for which I must apologize. Specifically, I've confused immanence and imminence.

(Brendan: you're right -- seminary mixed me up on this point. "The kingdom of God is within you," Christ said, thus declaring both its immanence and its imminence and forever muddling me on this point.)

This post should read "imminent," not "immanent."

From Brendan's WordPerfect dictionary:

immanent (adj) 1. present within; inherent 2. (of God) permanently pervading the universe

imminent (adj) about to happen

Distinctions like this -- or like "compliment" vs. "complement" -- are actually pretty important.

If we lose the ability to make such distinctions with language, we can also lose the ability to conceptualize such distinctions. This was the point Orwell made over and over. (And, yes of course Orwell still matters, even when inferior writers are trying to ride his coattails.)

Saw this in action Sunday afternoon at the National Zoo, where we overheard nine out of 10 parents point to gorillas, orangutans and gibbons saying, "Ooh, look at the monkey! Do you see the monkey?"

Those kids are being cheated. Their parents are presenting them with a fuzzy, indistinct world that must be shrunk down to fit the cramped vocabulary they are being taught.

Contrast those poor kids' days at the zoo with that of another child we overheard.

"What's that mommy?"

"Well, let's see," she said. "It's either a siamang or a white-cheeked gibbon. Let's look at the sign. ... It's a siamang, see the picture. They're from Malaysia."

"A si-a-mang!"

I doubt that little kid absorbed everything the zoo had for him Sunday, but he left knowing that things have names and that the world was a big, diverse place filled with variety and wonder and danger and beauty. He is learning to name distinctions, and so he is learning to think.

That kid is learning that gibbons and gorillas and siamangs are not just "different faces of the same monkey."

He is learning that the world is too complex a place to neatly bisect it into "friends" and "evildurrs." He is learning to ask the kind of questions that some in authority can only pretend to answer.

posted by Fred Clark 12:09 PM


Somebody -- we don't know who -- sent threatening and potentially deadly letters to two United States Senators. Both Democrats.

A full year later, no arrests have been made.

There was a media feeding-frenzy and hubbub around the Bob Torricelli mess because -- as every story over-dramatically reminded us -- "control of the U.S. Senate hangs in the balance." The Democrats currently have a 50-49-1 advantage. It's worth noting that if two Democratic Senators had died from, say for example, anthrax, it might also have had some effect on the control of the Senate.

I understand that Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) and Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) are temperamentally low-key, "high road" guys. Both men would be uncomfortable with expressing anger on their own behalf -- but they should be angry, at least on behalf of their staffs.

For a good part of the 12 months since Sen. Daschle received the anthrax letter, President Bush has questioned the senator's patriotism, courage and love for America. During the President's campaign to repeal anti-corruption rules through his "Homeland Security Department" he repeatedly accused "the Senate" (read: "Tom Daschle, Democrat Majority Leader") of not caring about the security of America. Daschle finally responded, angrily, but he did so on behalf of others, like war hero Daniel Inouye (D-HI).

Daschle might also have pointed out that he and his colleague from Vermont were singled out as targets by a bioterrorist who claimed hatred for America. The president -- who was not similarly singled out, and whose Justice Department has exhausted a full year without any progress in the case -- should not presume to lecture them on concern for America's security.

posted by Fred Clark 11:44 AM

Wednesday, October 09, 2002


If -- like our president -- you have thus far ignored Senator Robert C. Byrd's inspired speech on America's "Rush to War," then please read it now.

You should also read Byrd's list of "Questions Before War."

These are good and wise and prudent and legitimate questions. And yes, that means that failing to ask or answer them is bad and unwise and imprudent and illegitimate.

Yet this insistence on prudence, wisdom and legitimacy is stridently decried by Bush administration officials, warbloggers and other advocates of what Josh Marshall accurately names "petulant unilateralism." They insist that the threat posed by Saddam Hussein is far too immanent and urgent to bother with constitutional niceties about the use of force or time-consuming consideration of consequences and effects.

The threat is so urgent and immanent, we are told, that they don't even have time to present evidence of its urgency and immanence.

"Prudence?" the War Party says. "We don't have time for prudence."

Senator Byrd thinks we should make the time. Please read his speech.

The full text of the letter he cites from Abraham Lincoln can be found here, amidst many of the then-congressman's speeches against the Mexican War. The War Party thinks we don't have time to read this letter, but I hope you'll make the time:



WASHINGTON, February 15, 1848.


Your letter of the 29th January was received last night. Being exclusively a constitutional argument, I wish to submit some reflections upon it in the same spirit of kindness that I know actuates you.

Let me first state what I understand to be your position. It is that if it shall become necessary to repel invasion, the President may, without violation of the Constitution, cross the line and invade the territory of another country, and that whether such necessity exists in any given case the President is the sole judge.

Before going further consider well whether this is or is not your position. If it is, it is a position that neither the President himself, nor any friend of his, so far as I know, has ever taken. Their only positions are--first, that the soil was ours when the hostilities commenced; and second, that whether it was rightfully ours or not, Congress had annexed it, and the President for that reason was bound to defend it; both of which are as clearly proved to be false in fact as you can prove that your house is mine. The soil was not ours, and Congress did not annex or attempt to annex it.

But to return to your position. Allow the President to invade a neighboring nation whenever he shall deem it necessary to repel an invasion, and you allow him to do so whenever he may choose to say he deems it necessary for such purpose, and you allow him to make war at pleasure.

Study to see if you can fix any limit to his power in this respect, after having given him so much as you propose. If to-day he should choose to say he thinks it necessary to invade Canada to prevent the British from invading us, how could you stop him? You may say to him,--"I see no probability of the British invading us"; but he will say to you, "Be silent: I see it, if you don't."

The provision of the Constitution giving the war making power to Congress was dictated, as I understand it, by the following reasons: kings had always been involving and impoverishing their people in wars, pretending generally, if not always, that the good of the people was the object. This our convention understood to be the most oppressive of all kingly oppressions, and they resolved to so frame the Constitution that no one man should hold the power of bringing this oppression upon us. But your view destroys the whole matter, and places our President where kings have always stood.

Write soon again.

Yours truly,


posted by Fred Clark 1:53 PM

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