May 302016
 

memorial_day_jkmoller11It seems inappropriate to wish anyone a Happy Memorial Day. Memorial Day, after all, is a solemn day of remembrance. A day to remember those who have fallen while in service to our nation. Those who have, as Abraham Lincoln phrased it over a century-and-a-half ago, “gave the last full measure of devotion.”

Several of my relatives served in the military. My father was a Marine near the end of World War II, his older brother served in the Pacific, and his youngest brother served in Korea. At least a dozen of my cousins joined or were drafted during the Vietnam era, and a whole new generation went to Afghanistan and Iraq. I remember at least three men from my childhood who served in during the first World War. Three of my mom’s uncles, all brothers, were wounded in Europe at the same time in 1944.

But this is not Veteran’s Day, it is Memorial Day. No doubt, if I dug deep, I would find ancestors who were veterans of all of America’s great conflicts, beginning with the War of Independence. However, just the opposite of Forest Gump’s Lieutenant Dan, I don’t know of any relative who died while in service.

Perhaps this is all the more reason for me — and all those like me — to take a moment to remember all those who gave their lives for the freedom of others. We should be especially grateful to those who did not know us or have any other bonds between us besides a common citizenship and a love for liberty, yet sacrificed their lives for us the living.

In particular, I want to remember those who have fallen out of living memory. Those thousands — even tens of thousands — who have died and no longer have any one left alive who knew them when they lived. No comrades in arms, family or friends still living who remember when, in the prime of their lives, they were asked to serve and sacrifice, and answered the call.

On this day if on no other, we should take the time to say thanks and offer a prayer. A prayer for those to whom we owe so much. A prayer others will continue to answer the call. And a prayer those who do answer the call will not have to make a similar sacrifice.

May 162016
 

I spent a good part of the weekend fixing a leaky faucet and almost ended up with a remodeled bathroom. The reason I hate DIY. Small projects always morph into major ones. The thirty minute project becomes a weekend obsession.

No. A two day nightmare.

It seemed easy enough. Fix a leaky faucet. Simple matter of replacing a rubber washer. Actually, for our forty-year old faucet, a rubber boot and a rubber washer. I’ve done it before. Only this time, it kept dripping. The metal had finally worn down.

I should perhaps pause here to point out this is a good reason not to procrastinate on routine maintenance. Replacing the washer sooner instead of simple trying to turn the handle tighter might have prevented the larger problem from developing. Lesson learned. Small problems put off or ignored become large problems.

Not to worry. My thrifty mother-in-law provided us with a slightly used faucet from a yard sale. In theory, I simply needed to remove the old faucet and replace it with the almost new. Of course, nothing simple in theory is simple in practice.

It seems forty years of hard water had cemented nuts to pipes. Even after completely disconnected the plumbing and removing the wall-mounted sink from the wall, I could not remove the faucet or the drain.

First trip to Big Box hardware store. We considered just replacing the sink. Instead of a wall-mounted sink, perhaps a small vanity. (It’s a small bathroom. Space is tight.) Naturally the one we liked (and could afford) wasn’t in stock.

The sink – and toilet and tub, and tile trim – is blue. Anything other than plain white would look really out of place. Should we replace these fixtures? Perhaps paint them?

Only two weeks ago I had to reseat the toilet. A gruelling four hour process, the first three-and-a-half hours of which involved unseating the toilet, giving me a new appreciation of the term hangover, having spent most of the time hanging over the toilet trying to remove the floor bolts with a hack saw in a space almost too small for my arm of a flashlight.

Fortunately, the had a white, wall-mounted sink. Unfortunately, it required a centerset faucet – one in which the faucet and handles come as a single piece – while the free set we had was a wideset faucet – one in which the faucet and handles mount separately. We purchased the sink and the faucet set. It was still cheaper than the vanity. All the new vanities tend to use a centerset anyway.

Back home and ready to install new white sink and centerset vanity, only to discover the new sink does not fit on the forty-year old bracket of the old sink. Installing the new bracket means drilling four six new holes (naturally none of the six bolt holes for the new sink fit the four bolt holes for the old sink) into ceramic tile.

Do I really want to drill new holes into the tile? The holes should go through a backing board mounted behind the wall. I’m sure one exists, because the old sink would have required it. But will I hit it when I drill the holes? What if I break the tiles?

Time to punt. I take the hacksaw and spend about an hour cutting the old faucet and drain off the old sink. For the drain, I had to cut the pipe flush with the large hex nut holding it to the bottom of the sink, then cut the hex nut in half to get it off the pipe. That was simple compared to cutting off the faucet. Obviously, the sink designers did not have this technique in mind when they designed the sink.

After finally freeing the old sink of all plumbing, I was prepared to install the slightly used mother-in-law faucet, only to find it would not fit through the mounting holes in the old sink. Did I mention I hate DIY?

Trip number two to local Big Box hardware store to purchase a new wideset faucet. This cost as much as the sink and centerset combined.

The instructions said to have the faucet installed by a locally licensed professional. Why then, did they provide instructions? Wouldn’t a locally licensed professional know to begin by shutting off the water?

It’s a conspiracy between the manufacturers and the professionals. Sucker the public into believing they can do a project themselves, and when they have made a bigger mess than when they started, they will gladly pay a professional to bail them out. But I thwarted their plans.

It took me about twenty minutes to install the new faucet and connect it to the water supply. Piece of cake. Now all I had to do was connect the new sink drain to the P-trap and the drain pipe in the wall. In theory, simply a matter of tightening some connectors.

Remember the relationship between theory and practice. The threads on the connectors and trap were stripped. This was not going to work.

Trip number three to the local Big Box hardware store.

Finally, after replacing every bit of plumbing from the water inlet to the water outlet, I managed to make the ugly blue sink usable again. It only took three faucet sets, two sinks, and discovering a hack saw is the most useful took in plumbing repair.

G.K. Chesterton said an inconvenience is simply an adventure wrongly considered. I guess you could say I had an adventure this weekend.

It also reiterated another important lesson. Fixing small problems almost always leads to new problems. This doesn’t mean small problems shouldn’t be fixed. It means simple solutions and quick fixes are a pipe dream.

May 092016
 

Before dropping out of the GOP primary, Marco Rubio repeatedly spoke of 21st century conservatism. What is it? Rubio had one take. Rick Santorum, Mike Huckabee, Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, and the dozen or so other GOP primary contenders presumably had there own ideas.

By default, the GOP emerged as the conservative party under Ronald Reagan, but Reagan conservatism has run its course. The conservatism of Reagan fought – and at the time largely won – battles against a different foe. The world has changed. While it sounds oxymoronic, the time has come for a new conservatism. In fact, it’s overdue.

Conservatism is a philosophy

Make no mistake, conservatism is a philosophy, not a political movement. A true conservative embraces the conservative movement because of internal beliefs, just like a true liberal clings to liberalism because of internal beliefs. Winning converts means just that: converting the internal beliefs of an individual.

Specifically, conservatism is a political philosophy, which means it is a moral philosophy. Political choices are always moral. Political questions are questions about what we ought to do. How we ought to be governed. How ought government be limited. How ought personal freedom be limited. How ought the economy be structured?

What is best

Poorly trained thinkers (and there are many poorly trained thinkers discussing politics these days) will argue the answer to questions of what we ought to do can be decided pragmatically by determining which answer gives the best results. They fail to see the definition of best depends on moral choices.

How we decide what is best depends on how we define best, which depends on what we believe is better. If we’re not careful, we simply go in circles, chasing our tails to prove what we already believe. No wonder so many conservatives have a hard time winning converts.

Big Tent Conservatism

Conservatism, then, is a set of moral choices. Or, more accurately, conservatism is a set of beliefs – a world view – which leads to consistent moral choices. If conservatism is to survive even the next few years, defining these beliefs – this world view – is critical.

Again, some poorly trained thinkers — those incapable to go beyond first-order thinking — will argue conservatism needs to be broadly defined. We need a big tent to encompass more people. These are the same sort of people who have convinced mainline protestant churches to accept abortion, same-sex marriage, and a host of other innovations. The same mainline churches bleeding members.

Trying to fit too many people into the tent rips the tent apart. Making the tent bigger makes it easier to knock down. A structure made to sway in the breeze will be blown away in a strong gust. You don’t build a bigger tent so you can invite more guests inside, you build a bigger tent because more people want to join the party.

Metaphors aside, a broad definition becomes a meaningless definition. If everyone is a conservative, then no one is a conservative. Conservatism becomes meaningless. If you can believe anything and still be a Christian, then you can believe nothing and still be Christian as well. The same is true of conservatism.

Common moral values

If liberals were honest and consistent, they would acknowledge they do not support democracy. Democracies only survive among people with common moral values. These common values are what we call a society – or a culture.

Multiculturalism is diametrically opposed to democracies. The only way multiple cultural groups – groups with differing moral values – can live side-by-side is by imperial decree. The Romans learned this. The Ottomans learned this. Historians and sociologists and political scientists should have learned this.

Democracies (or Republics, if you prefer) are controlled from the bottom up. They are ruled by the people. This requires shared moral values. A group of people cannot agree on the best course of action unless they share the same definition of what is best. This means having a common set of moral values.

Rome was not built in a day, but it did devolve from a republic to an empire in just a few decades. Athens repeatedly surrendered its democracy to despots and emperors. Adolph Hitler was elected by a democratic Germany. All can be blamed on moral breakdown.

If one morality really is no better than another morality, democracy is no better than a despotic god-emperor. Liberals are either liars, totally irrational, complete morons, or grossly misinformed. Likely in a group of liberals you will find a mixture.

Questions

The task remains: defining 21st century conservatism. What is it? What set of beliefs should guide the conservative movement in the new millennium? Is this set of beliefs different from 20th century American conservatism? Do we need a new conservatism? In the coming weeks and months, I hope to provide some answers. In the meantime, what are your thoughts?