Quick Roundup 423

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

More Inspiration from Britain

A couple of years ago, when I noted an inspiring performance by Paul Potts on the series, Britain's Got Talent, the post touched off a wide-ranging thread on virtuosity, courage, and opera (including how best to share it as a value).

I can't embed the clip this time, but Sandy Szwarc does a very good job of summarizing what you can expect if you follow the link. (Embedding of the video has been disabled.)

She was fat and working class, laughed at as a glutton and shown eating backstage. The stage was set to dehumanize her and make her the joke of the show. Everyone was cynical and against her.

Her dream was to be a professional singer, she said, but she had never been given the chance before. She said she wanted to be like Elaine Paige. Everyone laughed.

The first note was all it took...
My thanks go to reader HL for the tip.

A Virtual Interview with Brian Phillips

Dissatisfied with the field of real candidates running for mayor in Houston, fellow blogger Brian Phillips started a virtual candidacy for mayor a while back.

Now, with this interview, he has also donned the hat of "virtual journalist!"

His subsequent discussion of current Mayor Bill White's abuse of nuisance laws to shut down sexually-oriented businesses also reminds me of an earlier post of his in which I learned of a legal concept I had never heard of before: "coming to the nuisance."
Equally important, the concept of "coming to the nuisance" must also be recognized. If for example, I own a hog farm, you cannot complain about the odor if you later build a home next door. My prior use gives me the right to continue to use my property as I have. In this case, you "came to the nuisance"--that is, the "nuisance" existed and you took actions that subjected you to it. In such situations, the guiding principle is "first come, first served".
As poorly-protected as individual rights are today, I was a little surprised at first that such matters had already been considered and solved long ago.

But the real surprise is, of course, how much our culture has forgotten -- leading to advocates of individual rights like myself not knowing about such things! Brian Phillips' blog is, for this very reason, a must-read on the subject of property rights.

Ayn Rand as "Prophet"

Amit Ghate gets a column on that very subject posted at Pajamas Media. Take a look at it if you haven't done so already.
Fifty-two years after its first publication, her novel Atlas Shrugged is once again topping best-seller lists. As businesses are "bailed out" and quasi-nationalized; as one regulation leads inexorably to the next; and as the productive and innocent are increasingly burdened with the sins and failures of the guilty -- many people recognize the haunting resemblance to the world depicted in Atlas. Some now characterize Rand as a "prophet." Others, as seen on placards at "tea parties" nationwide, simply observe: "Rand was Right." But that she was right is, in some respects, less important than why she was right. [bold added]
You can also file this under, "things that have needed to be said for quite a while about the 'tea party' protests."

"States' Rights" Revisited

Doug Reich sees yesterday's resolution by Texas Governor Rick Perry as a good sign:
In light of all that we know and although this may land me on the federal government's watch list, the entire purpose and function of the federal government needs to be revisited. If it is indeed necessary to have a federation of the states, the U.S. Constitution is in dire need of amendments to once again properly affirm and delimit the power of the federal government which has now clearly, egregiously, and dangerously overstepped the limited role for which it was intended by the Founders and by any rational standard of individual freedom.

Hopefully, with the action taken by Texas, a general movement towards reassessing the function of the federal government vis-a-vis the states will begin.
I don't want today's politicians "amending" the Constitution. (I'd be happy if they properly understood and enforced the one we already have.) Nevertheless, I echo Reich's hope that this be a sign of a less-trusting attitude towards the government on the part of the body politic.

I am perhaps more cautiously optimistic, however.

The anti-tyranny premise behind the idea of "states' rights" has long struck me as well-intentioned, but the notion itself problematic because it can distract attention away from the real problem, which is that our officials have long forgotten the only legitimate rights there are: individual rights.
[W]hen [certain] groups wrap their minds around the idea that a perverted concept of states' rights gives them leverage to thwart the legitimate function of the federal government, they run with it -- as [E.J.] Dionne has. And while he may or may not realize that his new enthusiasm for states' rights will play into the hands of paleoconservatives, it will.
For example, many religious conservatives (perhaps including Governor Perry) hope to reinvigorate the concept of states rights in order to realize bans on abortion at the state level, violating the individual rights of women of childbearing age.

Reich has helped me better appreciate states' rights as part of the design of our federal government to get in its own way when it ventures down the path towards tyranny. Still, our culture will have to change or the original purpose of such measures will continue to be forgotten, only to be replaced by new tools for politicians to achieve greater power over our lives.

There is ultimately no substitute for cultural change. Checks and balances can only buy us time to achieve it.

-- CAV


Amit Ghate said...

Thanks for the link Gus! I'm surprised at how much effect links and comments have in pushing a piece into the "most popular" category (and thus helping it get to a wider audience), so thanks to everyone who's left comments too.

Gus Van Horn said...

Glad I could help!

Doug Reich said...


Thanks for the link and the further insights.

I agree completely that "states' rights" must be understood in the proper context. If states' rights are pursued for the right reasons it makes sense. Unfortunately, historically, it has meant simply that a state should be able to violate individual rights rather than the federal government, e.g., southern states wanted slavery or in modern times some states want abortion to be illegal. In this case, you are trading one dictatorship for another.

The primary is individual rights and my point was that it should not be taken as a given that the current system of a federation of states under the present constitution is the best way to achieve that. It's very interesting to study the original arguments on both sides of this question (I gave some links in my post).

The recent Texas resolution seemed more of a push back in a good way in that it said:

“I believe that our federal government has become oppressive in its size, its intrusion into the lives of our citizens, and its interference with the affairs of our state.”

I have no illusions that he would advocate individual rights in the way that we would but this appears to be a step in the right direction. I think it's significant that one of the largest states took this kind of action.

Also, I certainly would not call for modern politicians to amend the constitution either. I just meant that at some point, it clearly needs to be amended - obviously, it would be nice for some of it to be "enforced" as you say but even if it were, in my humble opinion, there are many issues that would need to be clarified, amended, etc .

Hope this helps a little and thanks again

Doug Reich said...


Another brief comment - I absolutely agree that without cultural change, the political framework is fairly marginal, however, we should not think of cultural change as binary. In other words, it's not as if we either have a good culture or a bad culture. Even in a very good culture, the framework or political structure can and should provide checks and balances to make the road to tyranny more difficult.

Consider that John Adams, one of the greatest Founding Fathers, passed the Alien and Sedition Act as president which was used to jail critical journalists. Hamilton started a national bank. Jefferson passed the Embargo Act. There was violent disagreement between many of the Founding Fathers as far as the size and scope of the federal government's power.

Getting the culture pointed in the right direction is 90% of the work but the political structure is still critical to implementing and maintaining the protection of rights.

Gus Van Horn said...


Thanks for the further insights, and for mentioning the language of the resolution, which I neglected to include.

You're also on the money about cultural change not being binary. It is precisely for that reason that those of us who understand these issues best be very clear about exactly where we stand at all times.


Jim May said...

Thanks for that link to Susan Boyle's in-your-face to all those shallow Brits (though the quote from The Herald at JunkFoodScience is absolutely abhorrent).

I rather suspect that the show's producers knew full well what they were doing; how could she get up to the stage without anyone knowing what she was capable of? I bet someone knew, and they played it for maximum effect.

Not that I have any objection to seeing all those shallow SOB's getting shown up like that. I have always been annoyed at the fact that most female vocalists are skinny hot chicks. Where are the magnificent voices in different packages? Susan Boyle certainly fits the bill.


Regarding states' rights, I see that as one of the flaws in the design of the original U.S. Constitution: the idea that state and local governments are less prone to becoming tyrannical. The Tenth Amendment embodies this error succinctly; it constrains the federal government to enumerated powers, defaulting unenumerated rights and powers to the individuals *or the state governments*.

IIRC the idea that the Constitution constrains state and local government as well had to be clarified later via "incorporation". The legal folks would know more about it past this point; IIRC one of the biggest pieces of bad caselaw which exposed this flaw is the well-known Slaughterhouse case in Louisiana.

Gus Van Horn said...

"I rather suspect that the show's producers knew full well what they were doing; how could she get up to the stage without anyone knowing what she was capable of? I bet someone knew, and they played it for maximum effect."

That's probably true, now that you mention it.

I figure that the market would probably always tilt towards the prevailing standard of beauty and have no problem with that. However, I am certainly with you in being frequently appalled at how people treat women who don't fit into the usual mold. This was merely an extremely disgraceful example.

And good thinking to mention the Slaughterhouse Cases in fact, I think I'll link to the Wikipedia article, which is germane here.

Harold said...

Saw that video. It was definitely a put up.

"I figure that the market would probably always tilt towards the prevailing standard of beauty and have no problem with that. "That's good to hear.

In any case, that clip really reminded me of this. Talk about disgraceful.

Gus Van Horn said...

I don't think the singing was fake.

Harold said...

Oh, I know. What I mean was, they purposefully downplay her based on appearance, all the while knowing exactly what she could do.

It was the issue of the singer's appearance that reminded me of that situation at the Olympics.

Gus Van Horn said...


Thanks for clearing that up!