Sunday, July 30, 2006

It's Just a Shirt, Man?

My barber wore a red shirt emblazoned with a solitary star and the hammer and sickle, the symbol of Soviet imperialism. I was annoyed but not moved to rage, so I was going to let it go until he started chatting with me while cutting my hair.

[Please note this is a paraphrase of the dialogue. The actual exchange was a little choppier and used some saltier language]

After a few basic pleasantries I lightheartedly asked, "So you kick it Stalin style, eh?"

He found this amusing and answered, "Nah, it's a cool shirt. So I bought it."

"A cool shirt emblazoned with the symbol of a murderous ideology," I replied.

"Well, I don't believe in Communism. It's just a shirt."

"Well, yeah, now it is since it's been defeated and all, it's just it's a symbol that stands for the Soviet empire which killed millions of its own people and enslaved millions of others."

"Yeah, I think older people get more worked up about it. I wore it once and this older guy gave me this crazy look, like he wanted to kill me. maybe I should be more careful about wearing it in the future."

"Yeah, I will give you that stylistically the design looks cool. But of course its history is a bloody one and its easy for us to forget that with the end of the Cold War and all."
There were a few other exchanges, but it struck me as interesting.

This guy is my age, maybe slightly older (he and I both graduated in 2001 from UMd.-- he has a degree in history)

His point about the shirt "looking cool" has some merit. Like I told him, divorced from the context of the dark annals of Soviet history, the hammer and sickle look kind of cool on a T-shirt. Ditto with Che Guevara T-shirts.

I can see how apolitical people, even those supposedly well-versed in history can wear such a T-shirt with no concern for the implicit agreement with the political ideology represented.

I'm sure this dude would not wear a shirt emblazoned with a swastika. He knows damn well the murderous history and ideology of Nazism and would not want to glorify it, and rightly so.

So why is it that although we have some inkling of Soviet atrocities we as a generation think Red-friendly T-shirts are cool? And beyond that, is it really a big idea?

Does the evolution of Soviet Communism from a global threat to peace and security to a cool T-shirt design in some way pile on to the fundamental weakness of communism which doomed the Iron Curtain to eventually fall with a resounding crash 15 years ago?

I'm inclined to think the latter, although I must confess it does disturb me that we are not as aware as we should be of the sordid history of Soviet imperialism and how it poured salt in the wounds of a world scarred with the scourge of Nazi, Italian, and Japanese fascism.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Let's Play (Your Liberty in) Jeopardy!

Answer: un-American patriotic idolatry.

Question: What is exemplified by Congress passing and the President signing a bill trashing the obligations of millions of freely-entered-upon business contracts, all in the name of patriotism?

Correct! How much did the politicians wager. You answered: Only the principle of limited , restrained government which embodies the American Republic for which the flag stands.

What the flappin flag are you talking about, Prince?

Why, only this moronic bill:

... legislation signed into law Monday by President Bush, would prohibit neighborhood and town groups from outlawing the American flag. The law is called the Freedom to Display the American Flag Act. It says you can fly the American flag even if your neighborhood says flags in general aren't allowed.

The law will protect Old Glory, but all other decorative flags will still be subject to local regulations.

So let's get this straight: somehow Congress and President Bush read into the Constitution the power to forbid non-governmental community or homeowner organizations from making regulations as to the time, place, and manner of American flag displays in private homes.

Keep in mind these homeowners AGREED to certain covenants and conditions for living in said neighborhood, including the flag restrictions!

How exactly does this work?

I see no place in the Constitution for the federal goernment to trash the sanctity of contracts to make such rules, and I sure as hell don't see warrant in the feds preventing community organizations from making these rules.

Look, I'm no fan of communities like the one in this story out of Apex, N.C. making such regulations binding upon community residents. But that said, it's a local issue, MAYBE even a state issue in terms of legislative or judicial remedy.

Getting the Congress of the United States to pass a law aimed at bringing the heavy hand of Washington to bear on this matter makes sense only if you believe some cockamamie notion like "this is an issue 'affecting' interstate commerce."

As with the misguided attempts to change the Constitution to ban flag desecration, we have here is patriotic grandstanding in an election year yielding legislation that can appeal to the most fervent of patriotic hearts, but should unsettles the deeper reflection the patriotic intellect.

At least with the flag burning controversy, had the proposed Amendment passed out of Congress, it would have faced strong scrutiny in the states and a high threshold (37 states' ratification), before becoming enshrined in the Constitution.

This instance of purported flag protection is a naked power grab by Congress and the President and a lost opportunity to educate the American people as to the nature of true patriotism: standing up for the principle of limited government.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Bush's First Veto: Centrist Policy Arrived at from Conservative Principles

President Bush's first veto was long overdue. I'd have rather seen his first veto to have been the infamous Farm Bill or the Campaign Finance Reform Act. Nonetheless, Bush's policy direction on stem cell research is perfectly conservative in numerous disciplines within the conservative movement, and his veto should be welcomed by the various streams of conservatism.

1) It is socially conservative, predicated on the sanctity of human life and the unwillingness of the conservative movement to support the financing by tax dollars of morally repugnant research including the destruction of human life, as the President put it, "for spare parts."
2) It is constitutionally/federalistically conservative in that it aims squarely at the federal level. States are free to pursue completely policies. No attempt has or will be made by the President to coerce or blackmail the states on embryonic stem cell policy via federal highway funds or other federal monies.
3) It is economically conservative, advancing and promoting the free market over public entanglement in commerce. Bush's veto doesn't hinder private researchers from conducting stem cell research and that it sends the signal to investors that government will not finance and underwrite any and all research that the private sector can otherwise fund. Liberal critics will warn that funding will dry up without federal involvement, but I very seriously doubt this will be the case. With state, international, and private liberal and corporate financial backing, significant experimentation in embryonic stem cell research can and will continue.

Whether you agree or disagree with the morality of embryonic stem cell research, it's a no-brainer that removing government from interfering in private scientific ventures is crucial to the advancement of science.

At the same time, the federal government setting certain bioethical standards for federal involvement in research can be helpful in guiding the commerical scientific community towards pursuing science under an ethical rubric, comporting voluntarily to moral restraints agreed upon by the body politic.

In the end run, Bush's veto ends up being a moderate, sensible approach to policy that stems from moral, constitutional, and economic conservatism.