Truths no longer self-evident

Part of the genius of the Declaration of Independence, whose passage we celebrate today, is that it lays out in very explicit terms the assumptions–the “self-evident” truths–upon which the new nation and its government would be founded:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,

via Declaration of Independence – Text Transcript.

Today, these truths are no longer “self-evident”; that is, needing no proof because they can be taken for granted.  On the contrary, a good number of Americans don’t believe them at all, and they would seem to have little, if any place in contemporary American culture. [Read more…]

Man Without a Country

NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden has been stuck in the transit zone of a Russian airport for a week.  The U.S. government cancelled his passport, so he can’t get on another airplane.  He has reportedly applied to 21 countries for asylum, all to no avail.  (Some would take him, but he has to get there first.)  What he should have done is settle in a country that would take him and then out himself as the leaker of the NSA internet and cell phone surveillance scheme.  What he should do now is turn himself in to American authorities and take his punishment like a man.

Still, whether he is a traitor or a hero, I feel sorry for him.  He is truly a Man Without a Country.  (Read that short story by Edward Everett Hale to get your patriotic juices flowing on this Fourth of July.) [Read more…]

European Union discovers USA’s espionage

More diplomatic embarrassment as additional Snowden papers reveal that the National Security Administration has been bugging the offices of the European Union in Washington, the United Nations, and even its headquarters in Brussels.  (Not just the internet and phone monitoring.  Old-fashioned microphones in the buildings.) So now our allies are mad at us. [Read more…]

The American energy bonanza

The BBC reports that new information about American oil and gas supplies, thanks to our vast shale deposits and the new ability to extract energy from them, will shake up the world’s economy.

From BBC News – US shale oil supply shock shifts global power balance:

A steeper-than-expected rise in US shale oil reserves is about to change the global balance of power between new and existing producers, a report says. [Read more…]

Your Local Attractions

We are getting ready to set forth on an epic road trip, going the length and breadth of this great land of ours.  I’ve always wanted to do that.  To get our minds ready for summer vacations and as an experiment in localism, I would like to ask you this:

If I or any other reader of this blog were to come through your neck of the woods, what should we see?  What should we do?  Where should we eat?  And if we eat there, what should we order?  Is there any historical fact, cultural curiosity, or quirky inside information that we should know about?

I realize that some places may not have all that much to them, but I have found that if you scratch the surface, interesting things are everywhere.  Other places, like big cities, have an overabundance of things to do, and what visitors need are recommendations and inside information.

I’d like to hear about natural vistas, odd museums, and local industries.  And food:  I’m a diners, drive-in, and dives kind of guy.  Particularly serious BBQ.  Chicago has deep-dish pizza and otherworldly hot dogs.  What food stands out in your city, region, or locale?  As for tourist traps, well, I’m going to be a tourist.

HT:  Jackie

UPDATE:  Everybody, these are priceless suggestions.  I will make a pilgrimage to some of these places.  Some I’ve been to already and concur about how great they are.  And some actually will be on our route this summer!   I urge all of you to refer to this as an online travel guide.

What is a nation?

As college classes, including my own, conclude for the Summer, I will reveal an academic secret:  professors often learn from their students.  Being an audience of one for all of those papers has its rewards.  In my Shakespeare class, several students wrote about some aspect of the emerging view of nationhood in Shakespeare’s history plays.  The nation-state, after all, was a fairly recent development in the 1590’s when Shakespeare wrote his histories, with England transitioning from the feudal system, with its personal loyalties to local lords, to a highly-organized central government commanding citizens with a strong sense of their “Englishness.”

But, as Shakespeare’s plays suggest, there are different understandings of what constitutes a nation:  (1)  a geographical locality; that is, a land, a place (“this sceptered isle”);  (2)  a people  (“we band of brothers”); (3) a government; that is, a sovereignty embodied in the monarch (“Henry V”);  (4) a distinctive spirit or ideology (not so evident in Shakespeare, except for perhaps hints of English liberties and differences with France).

It occurred to me that these same different views of nationhood are still with us today and that we Americans have not really arrived at a consensus about it, resulting in some of our confusions.  [Read more…]