Political Animal


SOUTHERN HERITAGE….EXACTLY WHAT “HERITAGE” ARE WE TALKING ABOUT, ANYWAY?….Patrick Nielsen Hayden writes today about the Sons of Confederate Veterans, one of those “Southern heritage” groups we heard about so often during the Trent Lott affair. Apparently SCV has been taken over by a faction headed by Kirk Lyons, who a couple of years earlier laid out his vision for, among other things, making America once again into a “majority European-derived country.” Read the post and the accompanying article so you’ll have something to say the next time someone tells you that racism doesn’t really exist in America anymore.

And right below this is a post about bookstores, where Patrick makes a very good point for those who bemoan the way Barnes & Noble has put so many small, independent bookstores out of business:

The fact that all over the country, in the second-tier cities and suburban sprawls where most people live, you can find a decent selection of books in all sorts of highly specialized categories–well, that’s a change. Indeed, sometimes it’s hard to convey to people who grew up in Cambridge or Berkeley or New York what a transforming change it really is.

He’s right. Even in a populous place like Orange County it’s made a big difference, with an enormous selection of books now available in half a dozen big bookstores within ten miles of my house. This wasn’t the case 20 years ago, and of course the Internet has broadened book availability even more.

The death of small shops is a modern trend that there is no chance of stopping, and I doubt there’s much point in trying. And if it’s the social contact you want, there are plenty of other ways to meet likeminded people. Besides, isn’t there a benefit to having books from lots of different categories all under one roof instead of having to spend half a day traipsing around to a bunch of specialty shops to find what you want?

Still, having said all that, I’m surprised there is not a single specialty science fiction bookstore in Manhattan. That does seem a bit sacrilegious.


FIGHTING THE VAST CONSERVATIVE TALK SHOW CONSPIRACY….skippy thinks we should start a campaign to shame Clear Channel into syndicating liberal talk show host Randi Rhodes. Sounds good to me. You can call ’em at 1-800-553-8686 to complain, or go to skippy’s site to get the direct numbers for the program directors.

And while we’re on the subject of lefty talk show hosts, check out Digby’s post about longtime liberal talk show host Michael Jackson. Jackson has been a staple of Los Angeles talk radio pretty much forever, and is not only liberal but also erudite, phenomenonally well connected, and gets good ratings. But lately he’s had a hard time finding a job. I wonder why?


MORE ON NATIONAL SERVICE….A couple of days ago I wrote a riff on the idea of mandatory national service. I’m hesitant to discuss it further since I’m not even sure I’m in favor of it, but after reading some of the feedback I thought it might be worth one more post.

Armed Liberal summarized the positive case here, while his friend Dave Trowbridge did the same for the negative case here. TAPPED weighed in here and The Corner responded here.

I find the opposition arguments compelling, but even so I’d like to break them down a bit. First, there are the philosophical and ethical objections:

  • It’s involuntary servitude. I don’t buy this, either legally or morally. On a legal basis, the Supreme Court has ruled that a draft is constitutional, and I don’t think this is a lot different (although perhaps some of the law professor types could chime in here if they have a contrary opinion). On a moral basis, we force kids to go to school, and I’m not sure there’s that big a difference between forcing a 17-year-old to attend school vs. forcing an 18-year-old to join a national service program.

  • Government shouldn’t force people to do things. Coercion is fundamental to all governments. We force people to pay taxes, we prevent them from smoking marijuana, and we insist that they obey traffic laws, all on pain of being hauled off to jail if they don’t obey. I realize libertarians don’t like this idea much, but most of us think it’s OK.

  • What if you don’t support the aims of the government? You have to pay taxes even if you don’t like what they’re used for. Again, there’s not much difference. And frankly, I think our political institutions and cultural values are strong enough to keep a program like this from ever becoming the cynical pawn of a partisan president.

Still, having said all that, I accept the idea that there are different levels of coercion, and mandatory national service, even if it’s non-military and aimed at teenagers, is a step beyond anything we do today.

Then there are the practical objections. Generally speaking, I find these more convincing than the philosophical ones:

  • What do we do with all these kids, anyway? We would have an army of untrained teenagers with not much in the way of skills. If we wanted them to do good works, like helping teach inner city kids or vaccinating third world inhabitants, could they do it? Or would it just be a giant clusterfuck?

  • Labor unions would object. Yes they would, and rightly so if our army of kids was building public works or doing other jobs that would otherwise be done by paid labor. I think this could be avoided, however, by concentrating on things that would normally be considered charitable activities. The Teamsters don’t object to the Salvation Army, after all.

  • Would it really accomplish any of the utopian aims I hope it would? Good question.

In my original post I suggested that mandatory national service might help provide “a sense of national purpose.” But I probably have it backwards. What I really wish for, I think, is that America had enough sense of national purpose that the idea of mandatory service would seem like a good idea. Of course, then we wouldn’t need it.

So it’s all dreamy idealism. But since I think of the blogosphere as a dorm room bull session writ large, I still like the idea of discussing stuff like this. It’s both fun and instructive, isn’t it?