"It profits me but little that a vigilant authority always protects the tranquillity of my pleasures and constantly averts all dangers from my path, without my care or concern, if this same authority is the absolute master of my liberty and my life."

--Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Birthdays Today

Very interesting birthdays today.  A very long time ago I once had a very vitriolic but characteristically nonsensical (on my part) argument with my father about who had a greater impact on history, Isaac Newton or Albert Einstein.   I knew what my father wanted me to say -- he was an engineer, so he would have believed (correctly, I might add) that Newton was greater, because his fundamental work on physics had a much greater practical application, while Einstein's work on space, time and relativity was more theoretical.   I refused to make an argument for Einstein, however, preferring, in the fashion of the Ivy League pseudo-intellectual that I was at the time, to argue that such questions of who was "greater" were illegitimate in themselves, that such distinctions were unsophisticated, or some such nonsense.   (A position not unlike the current "No Labels" impulse in politics, which presumes that not believing in anything strongly is somehow more sophisticated or intelligent.)  Anyway, I managed to single-handedly (or single-mindedly) ruin a perfectly good family dinner.

Isaac Newton was born today in 1643.

It's also Dan Quayle's 63rd birthday.   I have always thought he got a raw deal and got unfairly stigmatized as "stupid" when he was Vice President.*   That's what the liberal media does to attractive young conservatives.   As of 1992, Quayle had been a Congressman for four years, a Senator for eight years, and Vice President for four years, at a time when the Soviet Union collapsed and the Bush I administration won the first Gulf War.   In other words, he would have been spectacularly well-qualified to be President, and I can't help thinking that, had things gone differently, he might have made a good one.   But sometimes those boats sail, and there's not much you can do about it.   According to this website, Quayle is now Chairman of Global Operations for Cerberus Capital Management, a $16 billion private investment bank.   And, his son Ben Quayle has just been elected to Congress.   So maybe he's getting a bit of the last laugh.  

Finally, also born today, in 1896, was the Illinois Senator Everett Dirksen, who famously said, in talking about government spending, "a billion here, a billion there.... pretty soon you're talking about real money."   Wonder what he'd say today when the federal debt just passed $14 trillion?   The sky is falling, and Senator Dirksen is no doubt spinning in his grave. 

* The supposed stupidity of Quayle stems largely from the famous misspelling "potatoe" incident.   Here is an article that tries to set the record straight on the incident.   Alas, too late.  


  1. Regarding "the current "No Labels" impulse in politics, which presumes that not believing in anything strongly is somehow more sophisticated or intelligent."

    If that's what you truly believe No Labels is about you are very wrong. No Labels is about the idea that there are no Republican potholes, no Democratic potholes, just potholes, and they need to be fixed. And where members disagree they agree to do so in a civil manner, with mutual respect. Very different than your characterization.

  2. Thanks for the comment. I think my characterization of the "No Labels" group was appropriate. It's been my observation over many years that "moderates" always think that taking the middleground and avoiding "extreme" positions is ipso facto more intelligent and sophisticated, regardless of the content of any particular position. It's my take that the "No Labels" group is trying to be the voice of those "moderates."

    But on some issues the truth is not found in the middle; the Left is simply wrong and the Right is, well, right. For instance, the Left was very wrong on the nature of the Soviet Union for seventy years; it was very wrong on the impact of high marginal tax rates on the economy; and it remains very wrong (at least in my view) on the morality of abortion on demand. The middleground isn't right on these issues, it's just slightly less wrong.

    In this light, your example of potholes is sort of beside the point. Most serious political disagreements aren't about potholes, they are about the fundamental nature and purpose of government and its relationship to the individual. How big should government be? Into how much of our lives should it intrude? What are our responsibilities as citizens? What is our responsibility as a nation to the rest of the world? Ought the government be able to confiscate our income and wealth to redistribute to other constituencies? Etc.

    I do, of course, agree that political disputes ought to be civil and courteous. I hope that I always am.

    Anyway, it's a new blog, and I'm just glad to have a reader who seems like a smart guy. Hope you come back.