Monday, August 14, 2006

Books on Tape

I listened to a pair of books to and from the Bay. Neither gets a recommendation from me. On the way I listened to the Scott Smith book, The Ruins. It's about a killer vine. That should tell you a lot right there. The premise is never really explained, nor is the setup plausible even within the context. The characters just seem to wait around to die and bicker among themselves, making them very unlikable. There are ultimately unnecessary allusions to cannibalism and drinking urine, which was disgusting. And just using my imagination during the early part of the book produced more interesting scenarios than the author came up with. I was exceedingly disappointed and strongly suggest not reading the book. The other book that I listened to on the way back wasn't as bad, but it doesn't get a recommendation either. It's John W. Dean's Conservatives Without Conscience. While I certainly don't sympathize with the group he was going after, he didn't have a terribly persuasive argument. Essentially, he just branded all the people he doesn't like as a certain type of conservative, and then attached all sorts of scary traits to them. Some of these observations make sense. Others seemed really off the mark. His ultimate thesis, that today's American conservatism has been taken over by a dangerous authoritarianism seems relatively sound. However he ultimately isn't that persuasive in explaining why, and there is a lot of silly mud slinging that makes it more your garden variety demagoguery than a work with serious social science backing as it purports to be.


Anonymous Phil said...

"that today's American conservatism has been taken over by a dangerous authoritarianism seems relatively sound"

Based on what, exactly? I'm a small-government conservative/libretarian so I'm not much of a supporter of the Bush administration and their policies but there's nothing that I would say goes that far. I'll let you elaborate on your argument before I go any further.

6:03 PM  
Anonymous Dave S. said...

In response to the poster above me:

Spying on people's phone calls and internet use without warrants? Trying to regulate marriage on the federal level? Prosecuting people who use medicinal marijuana in states that have legalized it? And how about the President reserving the right to not follow parts of laws that Congress passes and he signs? If that isn't authoritarianism, I don't know what is.

6:51 PM  
Blogger Todd Martin said...

Yes. And even beyond those issues raised by Dave, there is the general unwillingness to compromise with anyone in a democratic framework. When Clinton was president, they spent millions of dollars trying to destroy him over what in the end basically amounted to nothing relating to the government. Now Bush is president and the executive branch is being given free reign by Republican Congress with little to no checks. The judiciary is attacked whenever it doesn't provide the desired ruling, and conservative justices like Anthony Kennedy are labeled "activist" and "liberal." Only the strongest of ideologues are appointed to judicial positions, when those are precisely the types that should be kept out of the courts. When other nations disagree with us, the philosophy is unilateralism and the infamous coalition of the willing. The UN is belittled, as are allies if they don't do whatever we say. The point isn't the wisdom of any of these individual courses of action, but rather the underlying philosophy they reflect: we're right. They're wrong. And we don't want to deal with them or compromise in any way. That's very much authoritarianism, and it has led to a deeply polarized country and very dangerous and unprecedented power grabs.

7:10 PM  
Anonymous Phil said...

Authoritarian - Characterized by or favoring absolute obedience to authority, as against individual freedom: an authoritarian regime.
Of, relating to, or expecting unquestioning obedience.

How does critiquing the judicary limit freedom? If a President feels unilateralism is necessary to pursue the best interests of the country (speaking abstractly here), so be it. And how does that force obedience or limit freedom?
Not compromising with foreign countries when interests collide does not force obedience or limit freedom. "Spying" on suspected terrorists, most of whom are not citizens and thus do not have full constitutional protections, is a murky legal issue and may/ may not be an overreach of power (which I personally don't think it is), but it's not authoritarian. Without prejudice to the wisdom of the policies, you both are misusing the term.

No, Todd only people who interpret the Constitution as it was written as not as a "living document" or whatever BS the liberals spin should be on the court. That is how it was intended by the founders and that's how it should be. When Kennedy cites international law or precedent in other countries in making his decisions instead of only looking to the Constitution, that is activism. He and others who do so are violating their sacred oath and duty.

8:16 PM  
Blogger Todd Martin said...

You're not going to have a genuinely authoritarian regime within a western democracy, obviously, or it would no longer be a western democracy. Likewise, China is not a democratic regime, but that does not mean we cannot recognize democratizing forces within that nation. It's a question of mindset and direction.

Authoritarianism sees one individual or group rule and everyone must go along. That individual or group does not listen to other forces and rules by force and might over diplomacy and compromise. Those themes fits very well with the many trends I pointed out. Judges are not respected and are treated with scorn if they do not advance the exact agenda of those criticizing them. If the president does not advance the agenda, there will be strong attempts to get rid of him. If other international actors disagree, you disregard them and abandon compromise. If the media criticizes a policy, they must be attacked. And so on and so forth. There's no need to get into an ideological argument over any of these specific points to recognize a marked hostility towards any differing views and vicious attacks directed in those directions that has a lot in common with the way authoritarian regimes or rulers would approach different opinions.

9:01 PM  

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