Thursday, June 29, 2006

Your Choice of Kvetching

Allright, the choice is yours concerning today's posts. You can read along as Will:
  • Tells you why dead English guys are crucial to your life.
  • Explores the difference between a beer tent and a drunken riot.

Read either or neither or both. As there were two today, I figured I would "preview" them for all of you.

Feel free to comment, as always. It makes me feel wanted (in an intellectual sorta way, you understand).

Fourth Of July Is Not Halloween: A Reflection

Blatantly obvious to you. Knockout revelation for some in Madison.

In a letter to the editor in today's Capital Times, a Madison resident called Bruce Frey opines that the expansion of hours and space for beer tents at this year's Rhythm and Booms fireworks display (the largest in the Midwest) means that this "family" event will soon go the way of Madison's infamous Halloween celebrations. Far from being a safe place to take the kids, Mr. Frey argues that Independence Day (ID) in Madison will turn into another "booze fest (his words)," a drunken riot with hundreds of arrests and property damage. He seems to blame all of this on the city's desire to make more money off of the event and isn't that horrible but he doesn't disagree with the city making money.

I will explain why Mr. Frey is wrong. To be more precise, I will explain why on one hand he is confused and on the other he is a hypocrite or perhaps delusional.

First, the confusion. There are several reasons why an ID event cannot turn out like Halloween does in Madison. First, Mr. Frey fails to remember that the undergraduate population, the undisputed source of the Halloween free-for-all, is not currently here. This decreases much of the problem at a stroke.

O.K., I know that does not explain the confusion completely. What does, however, is Mr. Frey's complete ignorance of the nature of both events and the relation of alcohol availability to the control of the situation. At the Rhythm and Booms, which is held in a public park, carry-ins of alcohol are forbidden and punishable. There are designated areas where alcohol (beer, I imagine) are sold. These areas are separated from the "general population" and entry to them is based on an I.D. check and a police presence in the beer garden/enclosure/holding pen for evil, dissolute drunks. I am reminded of William Hogarth's Gin Lane here. Once inside, people may purchase beer (at inflated prices, no doubt) to be consumed in the enclosure but not be taken outside. Us evil, beer-swilling fools can engage in our dirty business hemmed in by the mailed fist of the law.

Sounds pretty controlled, right?

Halloween is anything but. Taking place in the open air on State Street, this event has no set guidelines other than the ordinance banning drinking in public. In a street lined with bars, two liquor stores, other businesses and private residences, the level of control over the access to and consumption of alcohol is much lower. Consequently, young idiots who don't know their limits and want to drink in the street, fight or get lippy with the cops are free to roam about in search of these aforementioned pleasures of the evening. The problems that ensue are real (violence and property damage, mainly), but as always, the mailed fist once mustered is hard to put away. Even more draconian measures are being mentioned for next year.

To put Mr. Frey's confusion to rest, considering the above mentioned scenarios, one would indeed have to be almost as blind as he was stupid to think that they could turn out the same.

Now, the hypocrisy and/or delusions. These are concerned with Mr. Frey's position on the city making money off of the event. The plain fact of the matter is that alcohol sales make a huge amount of money at any public event. Alcohol, already one of the most overtaxed consumer products in America, brings in fantastic revenues for anyone who can sell it to a big crowd.

If Mr. Frey does indeed believe that it is O.K. for the city to make money off of the event, I would like to ask one simple question. How? How will the city make money? I am no expert on public finance or the economics of a mass event and the profit/loss on concessions. What I do have is experience with such events. That experience leads me to the conclusion that you make money selling beer and food and lose on everything else. You cannot pay the bills with pony rides, face painting and cotton candy. It's the truth. Get used to it.

What will come of this event? I believe that Frey's Fourth of July Foofaraw is just another example of the declining state of respect for the responsible drinker in America. Already hemmed in by laws, taxes, religious fanatics and health zealots, we in the drinking community are made to feel like lepers and sinners for engaging in what is (for now) a legal act.

The Bruce Freys of the world might be right and they seem to more and more have the majority on their side. As for me, however, you will have to pry my beer mug out of my cold, dead hands. Oh, and while you're down there, you can pry the hip flask out of my cold, dead pocket, too.

Why The Levellers Matter

Terms such as "democracy" get bandied about so often that one often forgets that these concepts were not sprung, fully formed from the Earth. Rather, they were developed over the centuries in response to historical developments and the problems faced by people in the past.

The Levellers were just such a group of people. The movement was short lived, lasting from 1645 to perhaps 1649. It was not a widespread phenomenon. What it was, however, was a significant moment in the development of the "liberal democratic" ideal with which we wrestle to this day.

So below I intend to offer four reasons why these scarcely read pamphleteers and radicals of seventeenth century England matter to us today.

First, the Levellers form an important point in the development of the idea of government by consent. Leveller leaders Richard Overton and William Walwyn argued in 1646 that the people had, again and again, been abused by governments and their agents. This fact could not be denied. The reason given by Overton and Walwyn was that these governments had no interest in the people but only in themselves and their preservation. This led to arbitrary government by whim where the ordinary citizen was kept in line through fear and intimidation. This would not do for free-born Englishmen. The people deserved better. So, we owe the Levellers no small debt in advancing the idea of government through consent of the governed.

Religious toleration, secondly, was also of central concern to the Levellers. The English Civil Wars were fought in a time of continued religious ferment. Henry VIII's rejection of Rome and establishment of the Church of England was not the end of the issue for religion in England. Quite far from it. The Levellers attacked this imposition of religion on the parts of the C of E and the Presbyterians who had come to rule people's minds and actions from the pulpits of the Scottish kirk. Walwyn, again writing in 1646, calls upon people to think for themselves in matters of faith and suggests nothing less than the disestablishment of the church and separation of church and state.

Thirdly, the debates at Putney in July of 1647 represent a curious milestone in the formation of a new system of government. Oliver Cromwell and Henry Ireton, who's New Model Army was winning the day against the royalists, agreed to meet with representatives of the Leveller cause from their own ranks in the New Model. The debate was over what was to become the official policy of the army as their victory was surely drawing near (and it was). In a stirring bit of oratory, Thomas Rainsborough (the highest-ranking Leveller supporter in the army) proclaimed that:

I think that the poorest he that is in England have a life to live, as the
greatest he: and therefore truly, sir, I think it's clear, that every man that
is to live under a government ought first by his own consent to put himself
under that government.

Cromwell did not accept these ideas, was put off by the radicalism of the Levellers, and had them jailed. It was this head to head meeting of the minds, however, that showed new promise in the delineation of debate in a government.

The fourth reason, and the most important, stems from Cromwell's rejection of the Leveller program and his subsequent seizure of power upon the execution of Charles I on January 30, 1649. At Putney, the Levellers told Cromwell that to replace the king with himself was no real change at all because it was merely swapping the rule of monarch for that of Parliament and its army. What was really needed, they had argued in 1647, was a wholesale reappraisal of government itself in England.

Cromwell did none of this nor did he heed the Levellers' criticisms. After Pride's Purge and the execution of Charles I, Cromwell set out to establish in reality his Puritan vision of a heaven on earth in England, the new Jerusalem. In 1653, after expelling his council of ministers and dissolving parliament, he unleashed his corps of major-generals on the land. The regime was nothing less than an Puritan Taliban. Theaters and taverns were closed, people were terrorized, property was seized and Christmas was even cancelled. Cromwell's intentions of displacing the monarch had come full circle in Cromwell, the Puritan Caesar. One need only read about his slaughter of Irish Catholics at Drogheda and elsewhere to see that Cromwell, as Lord Protector of England, was protecting his own power and status and not much more.

In conclusion, the Levellers (like John "Free-Born John" Lilburne pictured above) were ahead of their time and may indeed be called "liberal democrats," although they were not though of as such in their own time. Their ideas of toleration and consent ring across the ages as a example of popular government and radical dissent in the face of insurmountable odds.

Lastly, keep in mind their warnings to Cromwell at Putney. My reflections on Independence Day will concern revolutions that were and those that really weren't. The words of the Levellers echo throughout these revolutionary movements. Whether they were heeded is quite another story.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

In The Dull, Old Summertime

This piece is probably a load of self-serving bullshit, but I am in the midst of preparing larger things (look for your homework assignment at the end) and just wanted to take stock of my life as a man of leisure.

I promise to keep all sentences punchy yet and at the same time pithy as I go over my May and June.

Books I've Read
(This does not include the many items from this reading list for one of my seminars)

Books I'm Currently Reading

Films I've Recently Seen/Rewatched

  • The Fog of War - Excellent documentary. War is extremely complex as are the people who wage it and Robert McNamara is a perfect example of this. No, it does not let him off the hook.
  • All The President's Men - Political/journalistic thriller at its best. No matter what you think of any of the players (my views on Richard Nixon are famously complex), it is a well-done film.
  • Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room - Really informative, leaves the central question unanswered (was the collapse the fault of bad people or indicative of a bad system?)

Places I've Recently Visited (That Aren't The Grocery Store, Sleazy Dives, Etc.)

Things I've Regretted

  • Not getting to Indiana to see my Puma bretheren. We shall meet on the good earth of the Hoosier State once again. I promise.
  • Beer, refried beans and gyros in a single day. My colon has recalled its ambassador and closed the embassy.

Asses I've Kicked

  • Those other bitches in the Pub Trivia League. Trey Junkins does not fuck around. So there.

Current Favorite People (You Readers Out There Are ALWAYS My Favorites)

Well, that's about it. Oh, and I played host to my brother, my friend Eric and my parents in three weekends of fun and frolic here in beautiful south central Wisconsin. I love visitors and should ask Mayor Dave to put me on the payroll. I sell this place better than your whiny ass.

I also added a picture. Do you know who that is? I'm guessing Greg probably does.

Your Homework For The Evening (Or Whenever, I Guess)

  • Read about the Levellers and the debates at Putney in 1647. Real democracy in action in the midst of the English Civil Wars. Don't worry, this will not be Hobbes redux. I learned my lesson.

Remember, more links make it more fun. Enjoy!

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

A Sad Commentary On Today's College Students

I read this story with considerable worry when it first broke a few days ago.

If you don't want to read the whole thing, it essentially says that college students prefer their iPods to beer.

Yeah, I cried too.

If the people at the Ridgewood, NJ based market research firm Student Monitor are to be believed, the college student of today prefers a sterile wafer of plastic and circuit boards to the fermented perfection of Mother Nature's awesome bounty.

What this says to me is that college students of today are in real trouble. Those of us who have been to college (and some of us who never intend to leave, really) know that drinking beer is a social event. It gets people together, out of the house (sometimes) and into each other's company. There is no better way to get to know people than over several glasses of that earthen-toned liquid that pours in a generous river from our great nation's heartland.

With the beer and friends ultimately comes great conversation, talk of issues great and small. It can be about sport, politics, work, personal life experiences, bawdy jokes and cunning comebacks. It is the very milk of society, the very basis of what's best about being human. We have no word for it in English, but in Irish it is craic and in German it is Gemutlichkeit. It is the great feeling of elation brought on by good drink, friends and conversation.

Listening to an iPod is none of these things. It is perhaps the complete opposite. Once the headphones are plugged into the ear canal, the listener is cut off from the outside world and any interaction from others. What world to they enter? A self-constructed world of disjointed playlists wherein only the listener him/herself can partake in the goings-on.

I have no problem with self-gratification (by which I mean making oneself happy...minds out of gutter, now). What I take issue with is the way that, as with the cellular telephone, it cuts people off from each other and becomes a constant companion and obsession, like the constantly fingered fetishes and amulets of bygone, superstitious days (they are gone, right?). They become the only focus as one glides through life blissfully unaware of the real "flowers of life" (to quote the late, great Lord Buckley): people.

This shows that the college student of today is more interested in pleasing themselves than in interacting with other people. If all drinkers were like this, we would all be sullen, jittery alcoholics alone with the bottle as we let out the evil spirits and confront our darkest personal reaches alone. That is why alcohol is best enjoyed with friends. It is this interaction with other people that makes the experience one of sociability rather than dependency.

This story speaks volumes about the human condition, at least among college students. Not allowed to have fun anymore, jammed into impossible schedules and self-imposed academic and social strictures, they become socially frightened cenobites, fearing for their future at the expense of their present.

Sliding down the razor blade of life is tough enough without people who have no idea how to let go every now and again. Oh, to those of you who will doubtless say that I (and those like me) should just workout or pray or something to let off steam, I say bullshit. They are not the same thing, never will be (for reasons discussed above) and, in any event, stop telling me how to live.

So, college students of the world, if a large, Irish-looking gentleman walks up to you, yanks your iPod out of your ears, pours beer all over it and hands you the rest of the six-pack, just take the beer and thank him later in your own way. He has freed you and opened up your ears in more ways than one. Oh, and he likes Blatz.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Soul Searching Up North: Canada And Terrorism

I was prompted to comment on a recent column by Jonah Goldberg in National Review concerning the foiled plans of a radical Islamist cell in Canada. Read Goldberg's commentary here.

I agree with Goldberg that Canada is the most deluded industrialized nation on earth. The way that Canadians seem to view themselves and the actual state of affairs nationally and internationally are, as they often are, quite different. Canadians view themselves as peaceful, pacificstic and as the perfect North American foil to the warlike, militarized Americans. They see themselves as "the American alternative," offering all of the benefits of the United States with none of the bloodied hands or notions of world hegemony.

In light of these perceptions, it is easy to understand how a homegrown terrorist cell with plans of chilling specificity would shake the Canadian people and their government out of their preconcieved notions of national benevolence. "How could it happen here?" That was, I'm sure, the question on the lips of Canadians from top to bottom when this dastardly plot was (thankfully) defused.

How COULD it happen in Canada? Quite simply, really. The things that radicalized, marginalized Muslim populations in the West find to attack in Europe and the United States are no different in Canada. These radical Islamists, radicalized by their place in their adopted society and feelings of animosity towards "the West" in general helped to lead to radicalization that was turned into apparent plans for action. Put another way, the way it happened in Canada is the same way it happened in England in the summer of 2005, in Spain in the spring of 2005 and also with the 9/11 hijackers in 2000-2001.

The deeper question then becomes why attack a system that tries so hard to make everyone feel welcome? I think the key to understanding this is the fact that in an open society, such as those in the West, the rights guaranteed to every person are not without risks nor can they be limited to some and denied to others. If one person has the right to speak and assemble freely, all must have it. The fact that these would-be terrorists could congregate in the same mosque and hear whatever is said must be protected, however one might disagree with what is said.

The limit to this protection comes in the transmuting of speech to action. People should be able to say whatever they want; when action becomes involved that could harm other people, then the situation changes. Saying that I want to kill a public official and then actually buying a weapon and making plans are two completely different things. When the lives and property of others is directly and specifically threatened, then the state has the right to step in to protect its citizens (which is the primary function of a state to begin with anyway).

Rights imply risks. It is as simple as that. It can be something as small as having to hear people say things that you don't agree. It can be as large as a system that can allow plans that would lead to its own destruction to be formulated under its aegis. We must consider if the rights of every person protected (not given) by the state are worth the risks that we incur in protecting them in the first place.

I think that rights are too important to sacrifice to risks. These are risks that I am willing to bear. Risks that I am not willing to bear are those that involve the state deciding when rights can and cannot be exercised and that certain people have a stronger claim to protection than others. If we want an open society, these are the burdens and tensions that we all must bear.

It also must be said that, in this situation, nothing ACTUALLY happened. The plans were not carried out and they were foiled before they could be carried out. It remains to be seen (and may never come out) how the police in Canada and elsewhere inflitrated these plans. It might well be that the horrendous apparatus of the police state tripped up these plans and that I am just plain wrong. It is well that these plans were frustrated, in any event.

In closing, we cannot forget that this jolt to the system in Canada is, in the long run, a good thing. Canadians must reassess their view of themselves as an impregnible beacon of tolerance and openness. It could have happened there and Canadians must realize that they are not perfect and can be a target just as easily as the United States, Great Britain, Spain or anywhere else in the West.

This should also give pause to those despicable American who claim to be Canadians or want to move to Canada because the U.S. is so terrible. In the eyes of militant Islam (infused with Marxism and anti-colonial rhetoric), Canada and the U.S. are part of the same system of global domination and control that makes the need for radical reaction necessary.

The world is a dangerous place, Canada. Remember this when reordering your grand strategy to keep the True North truly strong and truly free...or else.

Clarification And Explanation (Well, Sort Of)

First, to answer Matt Jenks (who I hope is feeling better), Montenegro and Macedonia are not the same thing. They are both indeed former parts of Yugoslavia and both were some of the poorer parts of the confederation when it began to split up in 1991-1992.

Macedonia is on the track that Montenegro wants to join. Macedonia has officially entered the candidature for EU membership, according to the EU's website. There were until quite recently some unresolved issues between Macedonia and Greece over border demarcation and the use of the name "Macedonia," as the Greeks saw that as a violation of their sovereignty. These issues have been dealt with and Macedonia, poor as it still is, is forging ahead towards integration into a broader Europe, which seems to be a boon for poor, small countries and a mixed blessing (at best) for big, rich countries.

For more information, read the U.S. State Department's background notes on Macedonia and the official website of the Macedonian Government and also the DoS profile on Greece for a regional perspective. Refer to the previous post for all Montenegro-related information.

Second, explanation (of a rather less Balkan-themed nature). The doubled posts of my previous work is anyone's guess. Blogger decided to run really slow and not publish anything for the better part of last week. I am pretty sure that it was not our network as everything else ran just fine. That is also part of the reason I have not been able to check in with my other friends in the blogosphere (I kinda hate that word, but oh well). My sincerest apologies.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Montenegro to Serbia: "Good Riddance."

After reviewing the situation, I realized that there was not as much to say about this topic as I originally planned. In that cause, let's make this short, sweet and bullet-pointed:
  • Overall, declaring their independence from Serbia will be a good thing for Montenegro. It has been assumed, at least since 2003, that this would happen.
  • It is good because Montenegro can cleanse itself of any relation to Serbia. This is important as Montenegro desires to become part of the European Union(EU) and eventually the North Atlantic Treaty Organization(NATO). Serbia still has two major questions to answer for in the wake of Slobodan Milosevic and the 1990's.
  • First, there is the question of turning over war criminals that should be prosecuted under the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia. This is one of the major stumbling blocks to Serbia integrating itself into any larger European framework. If they are seen to still be hiding war criminals, no moves can be taken. Montenegro has dodged this bullet, so to speak, by making this latest move.
  • Second, there is the unresolved issue of Kosovo. The United Nations Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) with the enforcement of NATO's KFOR still controls this province of Serbia. What the settlement will be is still up in the air, but a decision is set for some time this year. Montenegro, I am sure, finds this a prospect devoutly to be missed.
  • Serbia inherits all of the international memberships of the (now) former Republic of Serbia and Montenegro. This is exactly how the Montenegrins wanted it. They want to be "integrated" on their own terms and not as a partner to the Serbs.
  • Montenegro, if you look at the map, by making this move has cut Serbia off from access to the Adriatic Sea. You can count on this being a major bargaining chip for the Montenegrins in negotiating use rights and access for the Serbs, for which the Serbs will doubtless be made to pay dearly.

Of course, this is a "watch-and-see" situation, but if the record of the war crimes tribunals are any indication, this might take a while. Montenegro will be much better off generally when separated from Serbia. Now, the Montenegrin government must take care to mind its own problems (organized crime, for a start) and make a clean break.

Further Reading