"There is always a philosophy for lack of courage."—Albert Camus

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

"Passing" Along An Open Question

This patriarchal blog seems like a prime venue for posing the following question to my colleagues and to male or female readers. What exactly constitues making a "pass" at a woman?

Many times a woman will tell me that so-and-so made a pass at her. On a few occasions I was so foolhardy as to ask what the pass consisted of and how one is sure that it was indeed a "pass". This query is inevitably greeted with frosty condescension: "Don't you think I know what a pass is?"

Well, you may well know, sweetheart, but I sure as heck don't.

Incidentally, because I have a number of actresses and models as friends, I occasionally hear about celebrities who made such passes. One of the reasons why I have never included any of these in my journalism is because I am frankly an agnostic about this whole "pass" business and suspect that women often magnify more-or-less innocent comments into this category. (Only once did I hear about a celebrity who "pawed" a friend of mine; yes, you guessed right, he is now a governor.)

Kimball Meet Karnick . . .

Bernard Chapin has an incredible knack for obtaining interviews with interesting conservative figures. I keep meaning to ask how he does it. His latest is the third of three with Roger Kimball from The New Criterion, which is an excellent magazine to which I intend to subscribe in the near future. Here's an excerpt that fits in perfectly with S.T. Karnick's motivation for having the blog in the first place (which I regrettably dilute and bastardize from time to time):

BC: I often (unfortunately) hear, from people the question, “Why are you are a conservative?” When I’m asked that I usually say that I think it’s a superb idea to conserve what we have in America today. How do you answer such inquiries?

RK: I am a conservative because I am a liberal. That sounds glib, but it is true. (I take the formulation from Russell Kirk.) What is a conservative? A believer in freedom who understands that civilization, the precondition for liberty, is a fragile achievement won at great cost and preserved only at the expense of unceasing vigilance. A “liberal” in the contemporary sense is often someone who is willing to barter freedom for the sake of some utopian dream, someone who discounts the reality of human imperfection and the constant temptation to evil and chaos, someone who trusts in “planning,” “rational solutions,” and “education.” I ended my book Tenured Radicals with this passage from Evelyn Waugh; it sums up one important reason I am a conservative: “Barbarism,” Waugh wrote in 1938,

is never finally defeated; given propitious circumstances, men and women who seem quite orderly will commit every conceivable atrocity. The danger does not come merely from habitual hooligans; we are all potential recruits for anarchy. Unremitting effort is needed to keep men living together at peace; there is only a margin of energy left over for experiment however beneficent. Once the prisons of the mind have been opened, the orgy is on. There is no more agreeable position than that of dissident from a stable society. Theirs are all the solid advantages of other people's creation and preservation, and all the fun of detecting hypocrisies and inconsistencies. There are times when dissidents are not only enviable but valuable. The work of preserving society is sometimes onerous, sometimes almost effortless. The more elaborate the society, the more vulnerable it is to attack, and the more complete its collapse in case of defeat. At a time like the present it is notably precarious. If it falls we shall see not merely the dissolution of a few joint-stock corporations, but of the spiritual and material achievements of our history."

Hanging On To The Dowry

The Dow just closed at 10550 or thereabouts, so perhaps I should mention a word or two about how I manage my portfolio. A week ago we had some discussion about the fact that professional advisers average a return of 6.8 percent while private individuals average 6.4.

I took over management of my own retirement fund on April 16, 2003, so I am approaching the 21 month mark, and I have achieved 17.5 percent growth, averaging out to almost exactly 10 percent a year.

The only item that I trade is the Dow Jones Diamonds (symbol=DIA), which essentially follow the Dow index. In other words, if the Dow is 10000, the Diamond sells for approximately $100. This way my fate is tied to the Dow, which has averaged 10 percent annual growth for almost a century.

It also pays a small dividend and is a great all-around deal. Since I'm a bit of a market timer, I sold them all at $107.96 apiece at the end of December, right below the peak of $108.55 and am now sitting on the sidelines with cash, waiting for a more hospitable climate for reentry.

A Baylor Clarification

The excellent blog Southern Appeal linked my National Review story of Baylor's President Sloan under siege for leading an educational revolution and elaborated on events at the school. He noted that Dr. Sloan was on the losing end of a lopsided faculty referendum. What should be noted is that many faculty members boycotted the referendum, which made the tally look very skewed. Their position was that leadership of a university is not akin to a popularity contest. I tend to agree. Where would Jack Welch have gotten with GE if his employees had been able to toss him out for bringing needed reform?

American Spectator, WOW!

Okay, forgive me while I give an unpaid advertisement. I got my start online writing for The American Spectator, which opened doors to all kinds of other opportunities. In fact, that's how I met one S.T. Karnick. I still write for them every chance I get. Their website started pretty modestly in the wake of the magazine being essentially killed by the Clinton machine, but is now on the third generation of makeovers. The new design is fabulous. I urge you to get yourself over to www.spectator.org right away and check it out. They are now offering almost as much content daily as National Review and will soon be making their magazine more affordable through digital subscriptions.

Those Hip God-Fearing Kids of Today

National Review Online interviews Naomi Schaefer Riley on her new book God in the Quad. It looks like another very interesting act of pop sociology similar to The New Faithful by Colleen Carroll from a few years back. The message is the same. Generation "M" for missionary is on the rise. I wonder whether we're going to see the same kind of youth movement that erupted when John Mott called for "the evangelization of the world in a single generation" back in the early part of the 20th century?

Robbin' Givin's

The two conservative writers that everyone loves most to hate are Ann Coulter and Tucker Carlson. Various rationales will be offered by their detractors, but you and I know the truth; it's because they're so darned good-looking. And it does not help that they can both write, are quite witty, and have mastered the rare art of being a likeably wry conservative on TV.

As you may have gathered, I love 'em both, and for all the same reasons. Plus Ann has a super-special place in my heart for the amazing behind-the-scenes legal work that she did to assure Bill Clinton's impeachment, as told very dramatically in Isikoff's book (the title of which eludes me on three hours of sleep).

But Tucker is wrong today in his column on JewishWorldReview.com when he says that 'we don't give (charity) so that others will feel good about us, we give so that we can feel good about ourselves'. Brrr. What a sentiment!

One can't help hearkening back to the Talmud (Bava Batra 10b) and its attack on the governments of its time: "All the charity and assistance that they expend is a sin because they do it only for self-aggrandizement... they do it only to maintain political viability... they do it only to feed their egos... "

Giving is not a form of therapy. Giving is not a disguised form of taking - whether taking credit or taking self-satisfaction. Giving is about caring for the other. You give "of" yourself. You give "to" others. Any receiving of good feeling on your part is a secondary process, a tangential outgrowth. (Philosophy students will recall that Bishop Butler clarified this point in the 1800s to deflect the critics who said that philanthropists are not admirable since giving charity makes one feel good.)

If our giving is anything less than that, then we have a long way to go before we can appreciate an Abraham running out during his post-operative rehabilitation at age ninety-nine to invite dusty wayfarers in for some of his best delicacies.

(I still love Tucker, and I hope he appreciates that this is a gentle nudge offered in a spirit of friendship and respect.)

Simmering (Simian?) Symmetry

Well, it's 4 a.m., and even in Miami it's time to go to sleep.

But first a thought about Intelligent Design:

If there is no Design, then love is just a hiccup.....
.....then a flower is just a weed.....
.....then a soul is just a shadow.....
.....then a dream is just a mirage.....
.....then a heart is just a pump.....
.....then a smile is just a grimace.....
.....then yesterday is today's stepmother.....
.....and tomorrow is today's banana peel.

Monday, January 10, 2005

The Paradoxical Critique

I just got an email from a fellow attacking my NRO article on Baylor. His rationale was that if I'm willing to discuss Intelligent Design on this website, then I must be one of the people who would stifle inquiry in a university setting. Huh? The way I see it, by being willing to discuss the interplay of I.D. and Darwin's theory, I'm talking about more things rather than fewer things. Why is that so hard to get?

Live from Brigham Young:

This comment was in response to the NRO article about Baylor. I take a lot of heat from disenchanted Baylor types who argue by insult rather than by addressing content, so it's refreshing to give space to this student from Brigham Young.

Anonymous said...

I am a senior at Brigham Young University and was at attendance at a forum which Sloan spoke at a few years ago here in Provo. He impressed me and from what I saw, Baylor would be foolish to replace him. I commend Baylor's effort to integrate reason and revelation. True reason and true revelation will never contradict one another because God is a God of truth. By observing the success and practicality with which BYU integrates the two, I can attest to the possibility of both teaching religious principles and building a respected educational institution while preparing students for success after college. I warn that many will never accept the validity of religious principles and to try to please them would be akin (though not identical) to Jesus trying to please the leaders of the Pharisees. Were any institution to stand down from its founding principles due to pressure form the outside, the world would lose interest - resulting in a loss of support from those who believe in the founding principles and no net gain from seeking other's praise.

Interesting stuff from this Mormon fellow.

News Clips

I fancy myself first and foremost a fiction afficionado, but stuff like this you can't invent. UPI reports today that the People's Republic of North Korea has been running public service announcements on its television broadcasts encouraging men to take shorter haircuts to reflect the appropriate "socialist lifestyle".

One of the clever things that I was taught in my classical Jewish education is that all forms of idolatry eventually take on the same mold. Apparently, the famous Golden Calf haircut mentioned in Exodus (32:25) is back in a new incarnation to celebrate the great 20th Century idol as it hobbles into the 21st.

Welcome NRO Readers!

You’ve followed the link to a group of diverse bloggers, but I’m the one who writes frequently about the interesting dynamics present at Baylor University. To learn more, I strongly urge you to follow this link that explains Baylor’s new direction.

Crossfire Done?

CNN is apparently canceling Crossfire and The Capital Gang in favor of a pure news format. I'm filled with nostalgia at the news. Without Crossfire, I'm not sure I ever would have studied politics, economics, public administration, law, and religion.

A friend put me onto the show in our senior year of high school and I was hooked. We called each other during the commercial breaks and at the end of the show to talk about what we'd seen. Pat Buchanan was still a superb presence in the conservative movement at that time.

I wish he'd never run for office. His autobiography, Right from the Beginning, written during those glory years, is a great read.

Crossfire suffered from Buchanan's departure and never regained its form. The battles between Buchanan and Kinsley were especially worth watching. Many of you may enjoy Hannity and Colmes, but I don't think it comes close to the glory that was Crossfire in the 1980's.

Tom Wolfe and Darwin?

Here's a piece of American Spectator's excellent interview with Tom Wolfe, which they've now happily posted on the net:

TAS: What do you predict for 21st-century journalism?

Tom Wolfe: I have no predictions. But I am struck by one thing: Try to think of a single important idea that has ever come out of these media. The fact is they are technically less advanced than print at getting across ideas and theories and simply explaining things in a way that can change history. I am struck by the fact that Karl Marx, this unpleasant man sitting alone in the British museum writing these abstruse essays, really did change the world. Look at Darwin. My God, what a powerful theory. Incidentally, I give that one about 40 more years, and it will go down in flames.

TAS: Why 40 years?

Tom Wolfe: Look at the Big Bang. That's a fairly recent theory, and it is already burning out. There are too many scientists who are saying this is rubbish. Just think about the theory of the Big Bang or this ridiculous theory about where the first cell came from. Now they say it probably came from outer space when an asteroid hit the earth and a few of these things bounced out. It is because of all this silly stuff that Darwinism is going to go down in flames.

Quick Note on the Intelligent Design Debate

We had a lot of posting on Intelligent Design several days back, but I remembered something worth sharing. When Lawrence Van Dyke (sp?), a student on the Harvard Law Review, published a positive notice on Francis Beckwith's book about Intelligent Design and the law, several hard core Darwin types freaked out. I wrote about it for National Review Online and had an email correspondence with Mr. Van Dyke in which he told me he was an engineer by training. He said something that has stayed with me since that time:

"As an engineer, I know that nothing EVER works unless it was well-designed."

I mentioned Van Dyke's sentiments to my father, who was an accomplished engineer for the Monsanto Corporation for many years and now works on missile defense. He heartily agreed.

Sunday, January 09, 2005

You Bade Your Med, Now Lie About It?

Let's admit it, we're all heartsick about the Rush Limbaugh situation. I live one county south of him here in Florida, so I get to read about it locally.

Basically, if they can prove that he was doctor shopping, i.e. going to two or more doctors concurrently and soliciting the identical prescription, then he can go to jail. They raided the offices of some doctors and got some evidence, presumably not "doctored". Rush is fighting the search warrants based on a narrow interpretation of patient-doctor privilege, but it sure as heck sounds as if they got the goods.

He and his friends (including Matt Drudge, another neighbor) claim that no one gets prosecuted under these laws. Well, that didn't help Abe Fortas, when I was a kid, or Michael Milken a bit later. When you're high profile, any ambitious D.A. will want to feather his cap and his bed by taking you down, Democrat or Republican.

Rush officially denies the doctor shopping. I hope that turns out to be true; we all owe him a great deal.

Don't Hang On To Those Genes Too Tightly

Sadly, Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston are splitting, apparently over her continued reluctance to have a child.

If there is one thing that can be singled out as the most destructive outgrowth of the morality shift that grew out of the 60s, it is this message to women to delay having children until they very often are defeated by the biological clock. A healthy society needs its brightest, prettiest and most talented people to reproduce. Very, very sad to think that there will be no genetic remake of such women as Condolleezza Rice and Oprah Winfrey. Come on, Ann Coulter, make your move.

Penning A Ton Of Congrats

Congratulations to Chad Pennington and the New York Jets for winning a playoff game, something they do with unbecoming rarity.

When they won the Super Bowl back in 1969, I was just an 11-year-old kid with a transistor radio. Now I'm a 46-year-old scribbler with 2 grandchildren. Life, eh? Just keeps chugging along.

Saturday, January 08, 2005

Blog Endorsements

Bloggers are generally quite good at letting you know who endorses them. I'm taking the opposite tack to give some insight into blogs you might enjoy. The key to not wasting your time is to find blogs where individuals offer some special subject area knowledge (The Volokh Conspiracy), rare access to breaking news (Drudge) or entertainment ability (Scrappleface). We offer a mixture of the above with our personnel.

Blogs that I think you might enjoy, but might not be getting the traffic they deserve are:

1. the Claremont Institute's blog, The Remedy
2. No Left Turns, by the Ashbrook Center
3. Christianity Today's Weblog by Ted Olsen, which is updated once daily like James Taranto's Best of the Web and may actually have preceded Taranto.
4. Last, and probably best, is the non-electronic equivalent of a weblog written by Father Richard John Neuhaus in each month's issue of First Things. The back of the magazine, titled "The Public Square," belongs to Neuhaus and he does wonders with it. I can't tell you how happy I am to see FT in the mailbox each month. If you're a slacker and are content with waiting a month for the current issue. You can get it on the web.

Friday, January 07, 2005

Martin Luther and Charles Bronson

After writing the last post, I thought maybe a few of you are wondering why a nice Christian fella like me would glory in the revenge films of Charles Bronson. My answer is that I agree with Martin Luther who said that Christians should be willing to offer themselves to the slaughter, BUT who also says there is a fallen world full of people who need peace and good order as much as they need air, food, and water. For that reason, Christians should be willing to take up the sword in their defense, acting even as public hangmen if need be. Yes, Bronson plays a vigilante, but he's taking up arms because the proper authorities wrongfully laid theirs down.

Mr. Karnick is the resident Lutheran, but I think he'd back me on this.

Bronson Baby, Yeah

Little known fact: I am such a fan of Charles Bronson and his movie Deathwish that I once harassed S.T. Karnick into mailing me an article he wrote in which the film is referenced. He had to mail it because the article does not exist in electronic form. If you haven't seen the film, you must rent it. It is one of the most profoundly political movies I've ever seen. Lefties had gone overboard in protecting evil-doers (imagine how they treat Saddam and then apply it domestic thieves and muggers) and the makers of Deathwish responded. I wrote all that to include this bit from Daniel Henninger at the Wall Street Journal:

One of the better-known artifacts in the archaeology of New York is the movie "Death Wish." Released in 1974, it stars Charles Bronson as a Manhattan liberal who snaps under the burden of New York's violence and goes into the subways to mow down thugs the cops can't or won't catch. Back then the city's audiences cheered and screamed as Bronson smashed one civil-liberties platitude after another.

Vigilante films like Deathwish and Dirty Harry made a powerful impact upon the way we view crime. It may not be going overboard to say those films are the reason Democrats moved strongly toward a law and order stance in the 90's.

Christians and Politics

Mr. Homnick is dead-on when he points out that Christian political activity (particularly on gay marriage) is a tiny fraction of the total dollars spent even by conservative Christians on social ministry of various sorts. As a person who has made a pretty good tour through the Christian political world, I can attest that groups like the Christian Coalition are hardly the cash-flush entities the left supposes them to be.

The reality is that even though left-wing powerhouses like the ACLU are far more heavily funded than the right-wing Christian groups, the so-called Christian right is able to make a significant impact because it is articulating a very clear complaint with modernity that resonates with a great many people.

The cornerstone of the whole project is abortion. Had Roe v. Wade not occurred and the abortion issue had been left to the states, I suspect what we know as the Christian right would be a mere shadow of its current manifestation. Is that because male paternalism was somehow overthrown by reproductive freedom? No, the answer is that the pro-life movement is among the most noble causes imaginable, the protection of the weakest and most vulnerable among us and a belief in their entitlement to exist. You can ultimately disagree with that goal, but the motivation is very pure and very just. And it has moved millions to engage politics in a way they never cared to do before.

The Turtle End I Hear

Great article in the Reuters Science section today about the Sri Lankan turtles that were prevented from hatching by the tsunami. The article begins, fittingly, with the bereft researcher wiping away a tear.

Remember the old Jewish joke about the poor man who told Rothschild, "If I had your money, I'd be richer than you." The tycoon asked why, so the mendicant explained: "Because I also make a few dollars a day in alms."

This is the flip side. 147, 000 dead, and what's more, widespread devastation in the turtle egg community.

Averting My Gaze

This notion that Arianna Huffington is the single biggest twit, fraud and harridan sitting on a pile of undeserved wealth in this country strikes me as a trifle overblown - we must finish compiling the dossier on Theresa Heinz Kerry before making a final judgment.

But in reading her Things To Forget About 2004 column, not without a faint splash of humor, one is struck by the billowing bile.

Here is one item:
That at a time when America has over 35 million people living in poverty, the issue Christians are most up in arms about is gay people trying to make their lifetime commitment legal. Heaven forbid.

This is so incredibly flawed a syllogism that it reminds me of the Jewish phrase about "spelling Noah (in Hebrew, a two-letter name) with seven mistakes".

But just to choose one: do you have any idea how many times more is the amount of money that Jews and Christians gave last year to help poor people as opposed to money given for lobbying against gay marriage? A thousand to one, at the very least.

Krugman Reveals Truth

I am sure that many of you saw earlier this week Paul Krugman's column in the New York Times, in which he actually argues with a straight face that there is no fiscal imbalance problem inherent in that Ponzi scheme known as Social Security. Why? Because the Trust Fund (Note: There ain't no such animal) contains IOUs from the Treasury to the Social Security Administration, and those IOUs are real assets.

Now, what is interesting about this argument is not that it is utterly preposterous; promises that future Congresses can (and, indeed, will be forced to) change are not real assets even to future Social Security beneficiaries, let alone to the economy as a whole. What really is interesting is that Krugman---who, believe it or not, actually used to be a serious man---knows better, but still is willing to argue the point in public. This reveals clearly that for Krugman his ideological biases---and hatred of George W. bush---have trumped such other considerations as objectivity, fairness, and indeed his own credibility. That he is willing to make himself look silly, without anything subtle about it, in order to defend the indefensible is an indicator of the depths to which he has sunk.

Advice for Democrats

Peggy Noonan has an excellent article in yesterday's Opinion Journal on what she thinks the Democrats must do to regain majority-party status. Her suggestion, which I am quite certain will be ignored, is that the Democrats should move to the right of the Republicans on selected issues such as local property taxes, public tobacco use, homeland security, and immigration. I am convinced that she is right, and have said so in the past on this site and in the American Spectator and elsewhere.

The Republicans have made themselves the party of the middle classes, and the Democrats have allowed their party to split into two camps of the privileged and the underdogs. This process has been in place since the 1968 presidential campaign and has only been overcome when the Republicans have stumbled, which they have obligingly done on occasion. The Democrats are in a terribly precarious position today because of the potential loss of support among their base if they should try to pursue a more middle-class appeal. I believe, however, with Peggy Noonan, that such a strategy is their only hope for improvement.

I further believe that a significant portion of the middle class would happily vote for any Democrat who could credibly run as a classical Christian humanist liberal, one who seeks to maximize both order and liberty, with an emphasis on creating an economically and socially dynamic "opportunity society."

Unfortunately, there seems to be very few people in the Democrat Party who would be both inclined to do so and have a history that would make such an approach believable. Hence, change within the party is going to have to come from the ground up, and the Democrats' fortunes may wane further before they wax again, if ever.

Update of Christian Academia Post

I heard from a Baylor source yesterday that deposits for next year are 40% ahead of this time last year. While some Baylor alumni and profs are working overtime to remove President Sloan, his plans are proving to be very attractive to the private education marketplace.

Biblical (In Miami) Amid The Bibulous

Working on a little Biblical exegesis tonight, thought I'd think out loud.

If God told Moses (Exodus 3:19) that Pharaoh would not let the Jews go right away, and that it would take time and a strong hand to pry them loose, why was Moses so upset (ibid 5:22) when there were delays? Why did he say "Why did You send me?" if he had been told that it would take time?

My thesis is that he was bothered by the fact that things got worse and their work load was increased. He understood that there would be a process but he assumed that it would be incremental; he was shocked that it got worse before it got better.

The problem then arises: if that was indeed his question, then how does God's response solve it? I have an idea, but it's quite complex, so let's leave the question open for now. We'll sleep on it. 3:45 a.m. here, time for bed.

(Had a job tonight covering a conference, writing a thousand words within an hour afterwards, pays a hundred bucks, ten cents a word: life of a free-lance.)

Thursday, January 06, 2005

The Academic Christian Right

You may not have seen it coming, but it's almost guaranteed by evolution (yes, bad word choice I know). Once evangelicals got involved in the public square, it was a lock they'd start to look hard into high class academia and how they could put their own spin on it, just as the Catholics have. Charlotte Allen has a nice piece at the Opinion Journal that does a good job of getting you up to speed on Christian Academia version 2.0:

But numbers don't tell the whole story. Many religious schools, traditionally regarded as second-tier or worse, have improved the quality of their students and of their academic offerings, sometimes dramatically.

The evangelical Wheaton College in Illinois and the Reformed-affiliated Calvin College in Michigan now rank among the nation's leading liberal-arts institutions. Baptist-affiliated Baylor University in Waco, Texas, has embarked on an ambitious program to boost itself into the nation's first rank by hiring 220 new full-time faculty members. The percentage of Ave Maria's law graduates who passed the Michigan bar examination last year was higher than that of the University of Michigan's graduates. Orthodox Jewish Yeshiva University is on U.S. News & World Report's list of the nation's top 50 research universities, while Wheaton ranks 11th in percentage of graduates who go on to receive Ph.D.s.

You knew I'd excerpt the part that mentions Baylor now, didn't you?

O. Henry At The Bar

What this blog needs is a bit of short fiction to add some zest. Here is an unpublished little thing that I did a few years ago.


Dr. Parkinson quivered with excitement at the prospect of meeting his hero. After years of research, he had finally discovered the location of the man he admired most. He stood before the door of the Lawd-Have-Mercy Rest Home, atwitter and agog.

"Gotta calm down, gotta pull myself together," he mumbled to himself, eventually working up the courage to ring the old-fashioned bell. A female human being in white, her face locked in an expression of stupendous boredom, opened the door. He quickly bustled down the hall.

"Oh, why if it isn't Doctor Parkinson," burbled the cheery, chubby lady behind the desk. "Here to see Doctor Alzheimer?" The mere mention of the great man's name set him stammering and twitching in a frenzy of anticipation.

Soon he was ushered into the common room and introduced to a very old man with a pointed goatee sitting and staring vacantly into the middle distance; then again, it might have been the long distance; truthfully, it may well have been the short distance.

"Doctor Alzheimer," he began to babble, his eagerness uncontrollable. "I'm so thrilled to meet you, sir. I have so admired your work."

He stopped for a moment, struck by the old man's demeanor - wait, could it be disdain? Alzheimer looked down on his work - and who could blame him? Oh, no, this is so humiliating. Well, nothing left to do but just keep on blurting.

"Yes, sir, my disease is nothing compared to your disease. I feel like a humble acolyte meeting a great master. Tell me, how did you do it? How did you discover such a wonderful disease?"

Dr. Alzheimer did not answer immediately. An uncomfortable silence filled the room, broken only by the maddening tick-tock of the clock on the wall. Will he just ignore me?, thought Parkinson. Am I a nonentity in his eyes? Is he just above the fray, oblivious to the feeble attempts of younger doctors to grab at anything, a symptom, a syndrome, almost anything - you name it, they'll name it?

Finally, after minutes that seemed to stretch into lifetimes, the great man responded. His voice was surprisingly firm, still the mellifluous tenor of his youth.

"Disease," he said. "What disease?"

Thomas Sowell Gets It Right

Too often, when we talk about media bias we think about the way a reporter presents a story. What words are used? What ideas are emphasized? What we forget is that media bias also manifests itself as story selection. Sure, we can report casualties in Iraq, but we could also have lots of media report a village getting electricity or the changed fates of various families who were at odds with Saddam's regime. Dr. Sowell points out we could learn more about the military heroes.

Sowell thinks the press is hardly altruistic or patriotic in its attempt to focus on fallen soldiers. They aren't honored as heroes, but as martyrs to a flawed foreign policy. There's a big difference. Jay Nordlinger over at NRO said he hoped Sowell's latest piece would receive wide circulation. I'm happy to oblige. Here's a link and I'm quoting a large piece of the column below:

People have every right to be for or against this war or any other war. That is what editorial pages, newspaper columns, and radio and TV talk shows are all about. But pretending to be reporting news and "honoring" the troops is dirty business.

While our troops were willing to put their lives on the line to carry out their missions, they did not go overseas for the purpose of dying. Nor have they died without taking a lot more of the enemy with them. Every terrorist killed in Iraq is one that will never come over here to commit another 9/11.

Anyone who was serious about honoring the fallen troops would honor what they accomplished, not just the price they paid. More than 5,000 Marines died taking the one little island of Iwo Jima but they were honored for taking Iwo Jima - a wretched little island in itself, but a crucial forward base for supporting the air attacks on Japan that ended World War II.

Those who are busy "honoring" the deaths of American troops in Iraq seldom have much to say about what those troops accomplished. The restoration of electricity, the re-opening of hospitals and schools, and all the other things being done to try to restore a war-devastated country get little attention, and everything that has gone wrong makes the front pages and TV news for weeks on end.

This is the approach that gave the media their biggest triumph and ego boost - the discrediting of the war in Vietnam.

More than 50,000 Americans died trying to save that country from Communist attacks. Their achievements included victories on the battlefield that were negated politically by the way the American press reported the war.

In recent years, Vietnam's Communist leaders themselves have admitted that they lost that war on the ground but hung on because the American anti-war movement gave them hope that they could win it politically. It was a well-founded hope that the American media helped make come true when we withdrew both our troops and our financial and political backing for the Vietnamese under attack.

At that time, the media had not yet come up with the gimmick of "honoring" American war dead but they nevertheless were able to throw away the victory for which those men sacrificed their lives.

Will they repeat that heady achievement a second time in Iraq? They certainly seem to be trying. And it is no honor.

Homnick and Tyrell's Zine

Mr. Homnick has a piece up at the Spectator today. He’s spending less time on language games, so you can tell he’s irritated. It’s about politics in Palestine.

News With Migraine Assault

My earlier piece about product warning labels is gaining traction. This reinforcing headline was posted this morning on Yahoo: Mom Uses Hammer On Son Over Homework.

Perhaps we need a new tag on hammers: "This product is not intended as an implement for corporal punishment of recalcitrant children, particularly in states with capital punishment." On the other hand, maybe we'll just stick with the old label: "Battery not included."

Persecution of Iraqi Christians

Today's issue of National Review Online includes an eye-opening article on persecution of the Christian minority in Iraq, cowritten by Nina Shea, director of Freedom House's Center for Religious Freedom. The insurgents have chosen the ChaldoAssyrians as a special target, attacking them "with particular ferocity" because they associate these natives of Iraq with the West. That is to say, the insurgents hate them intensely because the ChaldoAssyrians are Christians.

Subjected to bombings, kidnappings, murders, and other such violence by the insurgents, tens of thousands of the nearly one million Iraqi ChaldoAssyrians have fled into exile in the past few months, and unless the United States does something to ensure that they are protected under the new government, they may all leave before it takes over. It is ironic that they were safer under Saddam Hussein than they are today. The U.S. government should be ashamed, morally, if they allow these people to be forced from the country, and it is utterly stupid and insane for us to let potential future allies be thus pushed out.

Among the dozens of stories the New York Times has written about the War in Iraq, this one seems to have slipped through the cracks. It is a big story that has received little to no attention from the major American news media. They, too, should be ashamed.

Award Of The State (Of Affairs)

Michigan Lawsuit Abuse Watch has announced the winners for the best consumer labels of the year. First Prize went to this warning on a toilet brush: "Do not use for personal hygiene." Second Prize for a tag on a child's toy scooter: "This product moves when used." And coming in at Number Three, printed on a digital thermometer: "Once used rectally, this product should not be used orally."

It's time to put labels on life: "Getting out of bed in the morning involves substantial risk."

Won't Leave Her Art For San Francisco

San Francisco Mayor and famous punchline (of the joke, "what do you get when you cross nuisance and noisome?") Gavin Newsom, has announced that he will be divorcing his wife of three years, Kimberly Guilfoyle Newsom, due to the stresses of their "bicoastal" lifestyle. [She works out of New York as a talking-head attorney for Court TV.]

Apparently, being openly heterosexual was hurting him too much with San Francisco voters. Perhaps if he nicknamed her "Gil"....

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Watch Out For The Thai That Binds

There are a lot of reports over the radio of orphaned children being pushed into the Thailand sex trade in the aftermath of the tsunami, although I am not finding corroboration for this in the print media. One hopes that this is not the case, although misery often finds a way to attach itself to misery - a sort of twist on "misery loves company". It is frightening to contemplate that people could be so unscrupulously predatory at such a time, but the human soul is capable of great heights and, sadly, corresponding depths.

This is not a moment to make a joke but a sort of grim play on words suggests itself: too many crooks despoil to the brothel. Let's do what we can to save the children's dignity along with their lives.

Harry Reid Must Go . . .

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid opened up a can of worms when he targeted Justice Clarence Thomas as an incompetent member of the court during his interview with Tim Russert. Many bemoaned the fact that Russert failed to ask a follow-up offering Reid the chance to give specific opinions. In a new interview, he has done so and the result is not impressive. Here's James Taranto's take on it (worth quoting at length):

An alert reader points out that on the Dec. 26 episode of "Inside Politics," a little-watched CNN show, Reid actually did name such an opinion, at the request of host Ed Henry (we've corrected several obvious transcription errors here):

Henry: When you were asked on NBC's "Meet the Press" whether or not you could support Justice Thomas to be chief justice you said quote, "I think that he has been an embarrassment to the Supreme Court. I think that his opinions are poorly written." Could you name one of those opinions that you think is poorly written?

Reid: Oh sure, that's easy to do. You take the Hillside Dairy case. In that case you had a dissent written by Scalia and a dissent written by Thomas. There--it's like looking at an eighth-grade dissertation compared to somebody who just graduated from Harvard. Scalia's is well reasoned. He doesn't want to turn stare decisis precedent on its head. That's what Thomas wants to do. So yes, I think he has written a very poor opinion there and he's written other opinions that are not very good.

It's interesting to learn that in Nevada eighth-graders write dissertations; we guess that explains how Harry Reid got to be as erudite as he is. He must immerse himself deeply in legal scholarship to be familiar with a case like Hillside Dairy v. Lyons, which doesn't exactly rank up there with Marbury v. Madison, Brown v. Board of Education and Roe v. Wade among famous Supreme court rulings.

To be honest, we'd never even heard of Hillside Dairy until we read the CNN transcript, so we went and looked it up. It turns out to be a 2003 case about California milk regulation. Here is Thomas's opinion in full:

I join Parts I and III of the Court's opinion and respectfully dissent from Part II, which holds that §144 of the Federal Agriculture Improvement and Reform Act of 1996, 7 U.S.C. §7254, "does not clearly express an intent to insulate California's pricing and pooling laws from a Commerce Clause challenge." Ante, at 6-7. Although I agree that the Court of Appeals erred in its statutory analysis, I nevertheless would affirm its judgment on this claim because "[t]he negative Commerce Clause has no basis in the text of the Constitution, makes little sense, and has proved virtually unworkable in application," Camps Newfound/Owatonna, Inc. v. Town of Harrison, 520 U.S. 564, 610 (1997) (Thomas, J., dissenting), and, consequently, cannot serve as a basis for striking down a state statute.

Is that written at an eighth-grade level? We report, you decide.

What about that Scalia dissent Reid found so impressive that he thought it worthy of a recent Harvard undergrad (rather a backhanded compliment, since Scalia actually graduated from Harvard Law School 45 years ago)? Here it is, quoted also in its entirety: ""

That's right, there was no Scalia dissent. Scalia joined the court's majority opinion, written by Justice John Paul Stevens, as did every other justice except Thomas, and he dissented only from Part II.

Reid's substantive criticism of Thomas--if it can be dignified with such a description--turns out to be equally empty. According to Reid, Scalia "doesn't want to turn stare decisis precedent on its head," while Thomas does. Presumably this refers to Thomas's rejection of the court's "negative Commerce Clause" jurisprudence. In his Hillside Dairy opinion, as we've seen, Thomas does not elaborate on this, instead pointing the reader to his lengthy dissent in the earlier Newfound/Owatonna case--a dissent Scalia joined. In other words, Thomas and Scalia both would overturn Supreme Court precedent in this area; the only point of disagreement in Hillside Dairy was whether to address the question in this particular case.

We suppose Reid will find some staff knucklehead to take the fall for this appallingly shoddy research, but the question remains: Why is the Democratic leader of the U.S. Senate so intent on insulting the intelligence of Clarence Thomas, the only black member of the Supreme Court?

Newsmax.com reports that "the Congressional Black Caucus has told Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., that he crossed the line earlier this month when he called Justice Clarence Thomas 'an embarrassment to the Supreme Court' ":

"We wrote a letter to Sen. Reid cautioning him about his comments," incoming CBC Chairman Mel Watt, D-N.C., told radio host Steve Malzberg, who was filling in Wednesday on Bill Bennett's "Morning in America" show.

"I think all of us ought to focus more on substance and less on stereotypes and caricatures," Watt said.

When Trent Lott crossed the line two years ago, Republicans, after some hesitation, did the right thing and ousted him as their leader. If the Democrats retain Reid, it will tell us something about the party's commitment to racial equality.

Class In NV

So many heart-warming stories of adoption are emerging from the areas stricken by the tsunami. Have you heard the one about the Untouchable boy from India who broke his leg when the wave hit but survived and then was adopted by a Nevada couple?

He is on the way to the U.S. to have his caste removed. (OK, OK, I made it up, but I am making a point, am I not?)

Wit Occurs, But Whittaker Endures

May I second the motion by the great Hunter Baker that we should all take the time to read Witness by Whittaker Chambers? Hunter's spotlight has caught the magnificence of soul; may I append my humble flashlight? I note as well that Mr. Chambers was one of the master prose stylists of the 20th Century, resembling in some ways my hero Mr. Ben Hecht, and serving as a precursor for such contemporary wordsmiths as Peggy Noonan.

I also appeal to all Jewish and Christian parochial high schools to make this book part of their syllabus, both for its literary and historical quality.

See No Evel, Hear No Evel

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has decided in favor ESPN Magazine, who was being sued by Evel Knievel. They had captioned a picture showing Mr. Knievel with two women by noting that he looked like a "pimp". He sued but the court said they were not libel. Or liable. This because they deemed the word "pimp" in contemporary parlance to have become a compliment. That's what happens when you give laches to leches.

Mr. Knievel, of course, is a famous stuntman noted for jumping two or more Harleys at a time laid horizontally across his path.

In a related story, a kangaroo has been caught wandering around Iowa. No one is sure how it might have traveled there from Australia; perhaps by diplomatic pouch.

Why Legal Reform is the Top Domestic Priorty

Writing for American Spectator, William Tucker lays out the standard case for tort reform in compelling fashion. Upon finishing the piece, readers will understand why the trial bar has become so interested in national politics and has long been active in local races. Although I have good friends practicing law (even personal injury law) and I have a J.D. of my own, I feel little more than contempt for the profession when I read remarks like these from tobacco lawyer Dickie Scruggs:

"[W]hat I call the "magic jurisdiction,…[is] where the judiciary is elected with verdict money. The trial lawyers have established relationships with the judges that are elected; they're State Court judges; they're popul[ists]. They've got large populations of voters who are in on the deal, they're getting their [piece] in many cases. And so, it's a political force in their jurisdiction, and it's almost impossible to get a fair trial if you're a defendant in some of these places. The plaintiff lawyer walks in there and writes the number on the blackboard, and the first juror meets the last one coming out the door with that amount of money.… The cases are not won in the courtroom. They're won on the back roads long before the case goes to trial. Any lawyer fresh out of law school can walk in there and win the case, so it doesn't matter what the evidence or the law is."

The legal profession has yielded a portion of itself to simple extortion. It's time for action at the federal level. Regulating lawsuits in this way is not an exercise in big government because it is only the coercive force of government that allows this sort of injustice to continue.

Ayn Rand v. Whittaker Chambers

Today's National Review Online features an archived review of Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged by Whittaker Chambers, former senior editor at Time magazine and author of Witness. I find the piece particularly worth reading because I greatly admired Ms. Rand's work in my teen years and even more greatly admire Mr. Chambers today. Follow this link and read the review.

Though Chambers is very hard on Rand, I think everyone should read one of her two big books, either The Fountainhead or Atlas Shrugged. Her moral universe is not ultimately attractive once you get to know her, but she portrays the frustration of the productive and creative person with a society that seeks to claim the fruit of his labors and control him in a way that should give every statist pause.

I feel even more strongly that readers should go to Chambers' Witness, which is a compelling account of his escape from the Communist underground and subsequent mission to expose his fellow agents. Beyond the events depicted, one has the privilege of considering the sensitive heart of a man too gentle for this world. He was a rare soul.

Klum Busses Discovered American

Heidi Klum has announced that she will marry Seal, the rock performer. Their motto, apparently: great on the eyes, grate on the ears.

One word of caution is in order. Beware these cross-cultural marriages (Seal grew up in Bridgewater, VA). Remember what happened to the Greek, Archimedes, when he married an Italian wife and brought her home. She was displaced in that environment, so when he ate a gyro and then came near her, she shrieked "You reek-a..." and sent him into the bath.

Law Makes It Legal

So Jude will no longer be a Law unto himself and he is marrying the Miller's daughter; Tennyson, anyone? I suggest a prenup before she is grown so dear, so dear.

If I was him I would avoid calling her Crusher or any synonym of Miller; his first wife was Sadie Frost and I don't think she appreciated being called "hoar".

Homnick's Very Bad Day

Excuse me, Comrade Homnick, but I am an economist, with all the rights and privileges pertaining thereto, and not a medical doctor with a career hinging on the whims of Beltway politics. The Great Reynolds and I are here to enlighten you. And where's my beer?

Jay's Title Waive

Zycher's thesis is that he is a Doctor and that I am withholding his just disserts. I hope that he is not in private practice and relying on his placement in the Yellow Pages to attract patients. Just kidding - did not mean it as a diss Mister but as a respectful one.

As for the Saudis' chintzy donation, you can't really blame them: they were told the the Richter Scale was involved and they don't want any of their cash sticking to the fingers of that Jew Mr. Richter. Oops, I mean Dr. Richter.

Giants of Muslim Morality

Apparently those moral giants and favorites of Beltway pandering, the Saudis, have pledged $10 million for the victims of the tsunami disaster. This is the very same House of Saud that last year donated $150 million to the families of suicide murderers. But, they are our allies.

By the way, Comrade Homnick, that's Dr. Zycher. Until you buy me a beer.

Net Proceeds for Tsunami Victims

AP reports that several NBA players are donating to the Indian Ocean tsunami relief effort:

"Tracy McGrady, Kobe Bryant, Jermaine O'Neal and four other NBA players have promised to donate $1,000 for every point they score in a game later this week to help victims of the Indian Ocean tsunami.

"Bob Sura of the Houston Rockets, Jalen Rose of the Toronto Raptors and Pau Gasol and Mike Miller of the Memphis Grizzlies also are taking part in the $1,000-per-point donations, which will be made to UNICEF.

"'I first talked about it with Jermaine and Tracy right before New Year's. We talked about different ideas, and that's how it started,' said agent Arn Tellem, who said he will match the highest donation made by any of the players.

"On Tuesday night, the Washington Wizards sold 'Tsunami Relief Bands' for a minimum donation of $2, with all proceeds going to UNICEF. The Wizards wore the wristbands during their game against the New Jersey Nets.

"Bryant, McGrady, Miller, Sura, Rose and Gasol will base the size of their donations on the number of points they score in Friday night's games, while O'Neal will donate $1,000 for each point he scores Thursday night."

Yes, these are all wealthy men, of course, but $15-45,000 apiece will do much good. (O'Neal scored 55 points last night.) Plus, it is quite possible that at least some of the players will give more money later. There are quite a few very decent young men in that league.

The players involved are all clients of agent Arn Tellem, and it is expected that others around the league and with other representation will join the effort.

Read the full story here.

In Eyeshot: Musharraf

The morning headline at Yahoo avers: India, Pakistan Hold Talks On Water-sharing. This seems hopeful; perhaps some favor will be curried.

In the past, discussions between the two have been laden with terror, more often than not going nuclear and testy. What with the Indian claiming the Paki was trying to muzzle 'im and his counterpart interrupting five times to dip low on his mat, things just mushroomed and issues were clouded.

Respect (Or Fear) Me In The Morning

Yahoo Science News tonight features a study that claims that the morning-after pill does not alter people's sex habits. Funny, my study indicates otherwise: if you're a pill the morning after, you don't get invited back.

Tired Baghdad Governor Says: "I Am Bushed"

They murdered the Governor of Baghdad along with six bodyguards. Nasty. I think that if those Fruit Of Islam guys can't do a better job than that, Farrakhan should give Allawi a full refund.

OK Bowling For Dolors

USC has just trounced Oklahoma down here in Miami in what I call the Grapes Of Wrath championship game. Right about now, I could use a beer stein at my beck and call.

(Who was it that synopsized The Grapes Of Wrath as: "It's OK to be an L.A. HO, MA"? Not I, certainly.)

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Get Zarqawi On The Double (56 points)

Is our game of pique-Abu with the murderous al-Zarqawi finally at an end? Drudge says yes, Limbaugh says, the Pentagon says maybe. No one will confirm whether we have succeeded in collaring the fleeing dog.

This specimen of faux humanity is absolutely useless as long as Scrabble continues to reject proper nouns. One would have preferred to see an FBI chain-saw sharpshooter mistake him for a subversive tree, but if he had to be taken alive, let's lock this guy up for life like a leper.

Perhaps making him a U.S. lazar will help some of those muddled asses yearning to breathe free to make better choices. (If that joke was too convoluted for you, don't feel bad; all my friends are shaking their heads right along with you.)

America's Giving Again

Brandon Crocker has a good article on American aid to tsunami victims, at the American Spectator site. Although it is important to remember that America does indeed give a very large amount of money to needy people around the world, both in nominal and GDP percentage terms, Crocker notes,

"all this talk about who gives the most to poor countries misses the point. As is also true for U.S. domestic policy, the point should be the effectiveness, rather than the amount, of the spending. Much that the U.S. contributes, particularly in response to natural disasters, comes in the form of transport and logistical support courtesy of the U.S. military, direct food aid, and private contributions to organizations on the ground providing services directly to the particular community. This type of aid, ironically not counted in the OECD's calculations, is typically the most effective. Often the least effective is the type that Jan Egeland and the OECD trumpet -- direct government-to-government aid. Jean-Bertrand Aristide and Yasser Arafat's widow, Suha, grew rich on the latter form of aid, but most Haitians and Palestinians still live in squalor."

Crocker takes a look at the statistics and shows how they are deliberately manipulated by anti-Americans of various nations to make America look bad. As Crocker's evidence suggests, these arguments are never about reality but instead about creating a particular impression of the United States, for political purposes. Read it here.

Sinecure Undoes Insecure

Methinks that my esteemed colleague Mr. Zycher has scored a cranial strike upon the nail. And if I may expand and expound a tad...

A species of governmental insanity, hitherto undiagnosed, produces the following perverse result: all symbolic appointees are free from doing actual work. In other words, if you are a balding, paunchy middle-aged white Republican who has been chosen based on actual talent, you are expected to work yourself to a fine frazzle. However, if you are there as the token autistic Pacific Islander, all you need to do is be available for photo ops. Other than that, your main utilitarian function is to keep the swollen Washington press corps busy accompanying you on a government jet while you fly on whatever it is that they call "junkets". ("Ted, we are here with Secretary Eileen Tufarleft Sowatuvitt on a junket through the tourist-ravaged terrain of Bermuda, and we expect a press conference at any moment. Teams of deputy undersecretaries are putting the umbrellas into the daiquiris as we speak.")

Hence Mineta and Tenet whose main purpose was to show that "we Republicans are bipartisan enough to retain several key Clinton appointees" were shielded from any actual obligation, much less scrutiny.

Who Is The President, Anyway?

It must be a slow news day, in that a number of bloggers are bemoaning old news, to wit, that our airport/air travel security system is a repository of idiocies driven by the asinine dogmas of political correctitude. I refer specifically to Michelle Malkin and to Jimmie at The Sundries Shack, who are criticizing Mickey Kaus for criticizing Norman Mineta a year late for imposing million dollar-plus fines upon the airlines for having singled out a handful of Middle Eastern/Muslim types for extra scrutiny. This is, again, old news, as is the wholly-warranted abuse now being heaped upon Thomas Quinn, the head of the Federal Air Marshals Service, who decided that air marshals should dress "professionally," thus sticking out on airplanes like sore thumbs. Quinn, by the way, is so dumb that he is lying about whether he issued a written directive on the dress code, apparently not realizing---where has this guy been for the last thirty years?--- that said directive would leak out immediately. Which, of course, it did.

Well, I have never read Jimmie (my loss), but, as usual, Ms. Malkin is asking the wrong question. Precisely why are we criticizing such fools as Mineta, Quinn, and other similar types who spend their lives providing evidence in support of the Peter Principle? Who appointed them? At whose pleasure do they serve? Whose policies, presumably, are they implementing? (Hint: John Kerry lost the election.) This reminds me of that amusing episode around 1990, when the Agriculture and (I believe) Interior Departments sued each other. That's right: The federal government sued itself. Why? Because the White House---that Great Statesman of The Inbox, George H.W. Bush---simply did not want to make a decision. It is ridiculous to blame the bureaucrats, however low their IQs, for the stupidity of government. This is George W. Bush's administration. He is responsible for it, certainly he is responsible for things so visible, and it is he who should bear the opprobrium. Non?

The Reason Of Voice

If you live anywhere within the sound of Phil Hendrie's voice, you need to make it your business to hear his show. Here in Miami we are lucky enough to hear him live from 10 p.m. to 1 a.m. (he is based out of LA, where his show airs from 7 to 10 p.m.).

If you are not familiar with the show, here is what you need to know in order to listen and "get it". Phil interviews a wide range of interesting characters who usually have very unusual opinions, often offensive ones. There are men, women, young, old, white and black - but they are all Phil doing an amazing array of voices.

The callers do not know this, so they phone in to challenge the guests, who then up the ante and make ever more outrageous claims, while Phil acts exasperated as if he is trying to defuse the situation. Hilarious.

Monday, January 03, 2005

There Ought To Be A Statute

Yahoo News (where do they reut around for this stuff?) reports that authorities in Italy have (can I say "unveiled" in this family pub?) announced a plan to build a "wall of air" around Michelangelo's David to protect it from such predatory elements as motes.

I may have some useful information for them. My middle name is David and I have been using the wall-of-hot-air-in-self-defense system for many years; still, both Michael and Angelo would beset me in the schoolyard back in Brooklyn.

I had thought that David was carved from stone, but perhaps it is metal, in which case we have an aether-ore proposition. Anyway, good to see those motes are finally learning their place.

Kinsley Report Undercounts Homo Sapience

Mr. Reynolds indites and indicts Kinsley and Lauricella for hindsight, which in stock market terms is 20-20.8 vision. I am less charitable and fault them for hindspeech.

K. & L. complain that amateurs are averaging 6.4 return while pros are delivering 6.8. Well, guess what, a) that is statistically insignificant, b) so the amateurs can hire pros, c) d) and e-z) the freakin' government return is zero. They are just lending the money to themselves on the premise that your grandchildren will stake them with tax money to pay themselves back. In other words, your profligate Uncle Sam spent your retirement money and your kids have to support you after all. What a crock! You would think that Kinsley and Lauricella would be thrilled to have their money hit the Wall Street - they need not bear down so hard; let me assure them that when they sit down to talk investing, the bulls hit!

Version Berth

Well, by all accounts, I seem to have crossed the Rubicon and entered the august chambers of the Reform Club - but only after I exacted a key concession: that I not be obligated to reform. This is my maiden voyage and I'll try to sail round the globe avoiding the barnacles of plagiarism.

My first tentative steps into the future make me ask myself: Am I the child poster for the March of Times?

Only Journalists Know How to Invest?

Wall Street Journal news director Tom Lauricella wrote a couple of pieces last month suggesting young people must never be allowed any alternative to Social Security because investors in other retirement savings plans have proven far too foolish and stupid to be trusted with their own money. Alan Sloan in Newsweek and David Rosenbaum and Daniel Altman in The New York Times, among others, have made similarly arrogant paternalistic arguments. But we expect better from a top guy at The Journal.

As I noted before (http://www.cato.org/dailys/12-29-04.html) Mr. Lauricella opined on December 1 that people with 401k plans “have made obvious mistakes in investing,” such as not investing the legal maximum (which is often easier said than done) or taking more risks (which is a matter of taste). His only real evidence of mistaken investing was a study claiming amateur investors earned “only” 6.4 percent a year over the 10 years ending in 2002 (a period ending with 32 ghastly months), while the pros earned 6.8 percent. That proved nothing, however, because the figures were not adjusted for risk. The pros may simply have held more small cap stocks and fewer bonds, for example. I invest in exotic little companies all over the world, including short sales and options, often on margin. I’ve done a lot better than 6.4 percent, so far, but that doesn’t prove more-cautious investors made “obvious mistakes.”

On December 22, Mr. Lauricella followed up with another piece arguing that even federal employees can’t handle their own retirement plans (thus defying beltway beliefs that government officials are inherently smarter and also selflessly engaged in “public service”). For one thing, he complained, the choice of only five investment options “doesn’t protect participants from losses in the stock or bond markets.” No plan that offers stocks and bonds can protect participants from losses. But he’s right that allowing federal employees only one stock market choice -- the S&P500 stock index – was a classic example of why limiting investment choices forces small investors to take avoidable risks. The S&P500 index is weighted by capitalization, any fund that matched the index became increasingly overinvested in high-tech stocks while their prices were soaring.

Viewed over the past 15 years, the S&P500 index returned 10.9 percent a year, but several managed funds did much better (the Legg Mason Value Trust rose 14.6 percent a year and Fidelity Contrafund was close). But Lauricella focused only on “mistakes” made during the bear market of 2000-2002.

After noting that the S&P500 fund “lost an average of 14.4 percent annually for three years,” Lauricella had the audacious hindsight to complain that between June and October 2002, some 8 percent of the assets in the S&P500 stock index fund were moved into bond funds with “returns ranging from 5 percent to 10 percent in 2001 and 2002.” Why did Mr. Lauricella find it so foolish for federal pension investors to have made a modest shift out of stocks (that were falling by 14 percent) into bonds (that were rising by 10 percent) by the end of 2002? Only because we now know (as we could not in late 2002) that stocks finally bounced back a year later--during the second half of 2003. But that does not make it unwise to have shifted some funds from stocks to bonds in late 2002. In fact, the S&P500 stock index did not even get back to its December 2002 level until May 2003. Federal employees may well have shifted back into stocks by then, after Iraq War anxieties dissipated.

When journalists such as Tom Lauricella or Mike Kinsley lecture us that foolish investors would be better-off leaving their money in the hands of wise politicians, you have to wonder how brilliant these writers’ own investment strategies have been. I have not added a dime to my largest retirement account since 1990 (much to the dismay of those who fret about the “savings rate”), yet that fund is now worth six times what it was then. Even the expert manager of that retirement account, however, made timing mistakes similar to those Mr. Lauricella criticizes when small investors made them. Perhaps he should exhibit more respect for the mistakes of others and more humility about his own.

Duncan Currie on Obama

Too many people watched Barack Obama's DNC speech and concluded he was some sort of centrist bridge figure. Gimme a friggin' break. It doesn't take much looking to discover that Obama is a conventional left-winger who once balked at being identified as a New Democrat. In his comments on politicians to watch in 2005, Duncan Currie had this to say about Mr. Obama:

BARACK OBAMA. Has any politician ever entered Congress to such ubiquitous fanfare as Barack Obama? Probably not. Will he measure up to the hype? We'll soon find out. No question Obama gave a wonderful speech at the Democratic convention. It's hard to imagine another liberal Democrat, let alone Jesse Jackson or Al Sharpton, delivering it. But make no mistake: Obama is indeed a liberal. Consider his record as an Illinois state senator. Obama has supported strict anti-gun measures, promoted universal health care, defended racial preferences, opposed tough-on-crime legislation designed to thwart gang violence, and voted "present" on an Illinois partial-birth abortion ban. He also spoke out against President Bush's tax cuts and the Iraq war. (At an October 2002 antiwar rally, Obama called the anti-Saddam buildup a cynical ploy cooked up by Karl Rove to "distract us" from domestic problems.) Obama's lofty, unconventional rhetoric made him a star at the convention. But he'll need more than words to distinguish himself in the U.S. Senate.

Sunday, January 02, 2005

Trailing Edge Film Review: New Year's Double Feature

In this special edition of Trailing Edge Film Review: The Punisher and Hero.

Both of these films had something to do with the theme of revenge. Beyond that, they have nothing in common. Hero is a beautifully shot ballet of violence and careful dialogue. The Punisher is a turd.

It is difficult for me to emphasize how disappointed I was by The Punisher. The set-up was fantastic. An outstanding FBI agent closes his last sting operation, but is hunted down in a blitzkrieg that claims his entire family. Improbably, he survives and we wait for an exquisite revenge because this a Marvel production, Punisher is a great Marvel character, and this film should not suck (see the late 80's version of The Punisher starring Dolph Lundgren, which did suck). Regrettably, though the ball is teed up nicely ready to be driven down the middle of a very wide fairway, we end up with an incompetently managed adventure. If it were worthwhile, I'd spend more time on the problems with this film, but it isn't. A short list would include the fact that John Travolta's villain isn't nearly as tough as he should be, the police never show up even when apocalypses occur in the middle of downtown areas, and the Punisher picks up a ridiculous little family of misfits during his few days of revenge seeking. A particularly stupid scene features the Punisher's neighbors tricking him into coming to dinner and asking him to participate in a thankfulness exercise. WHO WROTE THIS CRAP?!!! To see this story done in a much more entertaining manner, please see Deathwish. Good old Charles Bronson got it done when it was turn to take out the trash.

Hero is really interesting. Political philosophy, revenge, and exquisitely choreographed swordplay are on review in the manner of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Jet Li is superb in the title role. The plot is not as involved as Crouching Tiger, but it admirably fills the space between major acts of combat. What really stands out beyond the gorgeously enacted fight scenes is the use of nature and color. Fighters perform their deadly dances in desert, lake, palace, and rain-soaked courtyard settings. Vibrant greens, blues, reds, and oranges fill the screen at various points. I may not have hated The Punisher as much if I hadn't watched Hero immediately afterward.

Saturday, January 01, 2005

A Democrat's Alternative to Privatization

On Fox News this morning, Democratic Strategist Bob Beckel proposed that anyone with an annual income higher than about $50,000 or $75,000 at retirement age should get nothing at all from Social Security – zero, zilch, nada.

Beckel has long been an influential voice within the Democratic Party. He managed the 1984 Presidential campaign of Walter Mondale after working in the Carter White House. His version of “means testing” takes this idea further than most have yet dared to articulate, yet it is not conceptually different from President Clinton’s 1993 surtax on Social Security benefits for retired couples with other income exceeding $44,000. The same theme was also apparent in Senator Kerry’s comment about "making sure that high-income beneficiaries don't get more out than they pay in." (see http://www.cato.org/dailys/10-03-04.html). The misnamed Brookings Institution book Saving Social Security by Peter Diamond and Peter Orszag is just a sneaky variation on the Beckel theme, since it relies on new and increased taxes on higher earners for about 83 percent of the alleged fix, while also “reducing benefits for higher earners.”

It is easy to imagine some future Democratic Congress further reducing Social Security benefits for those with above-average incomes and also raising taxes on the same people to pay for their shrinking benefits. After all, as Beckel rightly noted, the founders of Social Security never really promised anything to anyone. The unfunded future promise of allowing Social Security and Medicare grow to a size larger than the entire federal government are just illusory projections based on a hoax. Something nasty is apt to happen before the well runs dry, and any solution that eschews personal accounts is unlikely to be gentle with young people who work too hard or save too much.

The Beckel Plan reflects a common leftist belief that some people just happen to end up with higher retirement incomes than others, as a matter of random luck, so the government can rob such people with impunity. In reality, incomes in old age depend on the economic virtues of industriousness and prudence – working hard for many years (often well past age 67) and saving for retirement. To reduce or eliminate Social Security benefits for those who set aside a half-decent retirement income or continued to work past the customary retirement age would amount to a confiscatory tax on hard work and thrift.

All means-tested “solutions” to Social Security’s looming financial crisis are offered as an alternative to allowing young people to put some of their Social Security “contributions” into their own personal savings account. In reality, the fact that such ideas are taken seriously should serve as a warning to young people to lobby hard for Retirement Choice – that is, their right to opt out of this rip-off before the politicians finish converting it into nothing more than a massive income redistribution scheme.

Mr.Beckel’s proposed “fix” for Social Security’s unpayable bills, like the Diamond-Orszag plan and others, proves the political risk of expecting any positive return from Social Security far exceeds any conceivable market risk from owning stocks and bonds.

America's Giving

The New York Times, the United Nations, and the rest of the American Left have it all wrong in their reaction to the nascent relief efforts for victims of the Asian tsunami. As John Podhoretz points out in his current column for the New York Post,, "The political and ideological exploitation of perhaps the worst natural disaster in all our lifetimes is almost beyond belief — were it not for the fact that nothing these days is beyond belief. Even as tears spring into the most hard-hearted person's eyes at both the unimaginable scope of the tragedy and at the wrenching individual stories of loss, opinion leaders just can't help themselves. They are using this cataclysm as little more than cheap debate fodder about the nature and character of the United States, its president and its citizens."

Podhoretz agrees that the U.S. foreign aid policy is a fit matter for debate, but he correctly points out that this is not the time for such an argument, as the disaster is not about the United States but about its multitude of victims. Absolutely. Moreover, the Left, led by the NYT, the UN, and certain vile European heads of state, are attempting to shift the issue from disaster relief to development aid, which is a different matter entirely.

Podhoretz does not mention, but should have, that the United States has always led the world in private giving, by far, and I am sure that this situation will be no different. To pretend that the United States will not do enough for disaster victims because the president is a Republican and conservative is perfectly absurd.

In my view, the U.S. (and European) Left's treatment of this issue has been disgraceful: the most cynical and brazenly opportunistic political behavior I have seen in a very long time. It is they who have brought shame on us in this matter.

Friday, December 31, 2004

Mike Kinsley's Social Security Gaffe

L.A. Times editor Michael Kinsley recently wrote, with characteristic humility, that, “Social Security privatization is . . . mathematically certain to fail. Discussion is pointless. . . . It can't possibly work, even in theory.”

He made this same argument in a little-noticed July 27, 2001 article in Slate, where he said it was an analysis “for which I claim enthusiasm, not originality.” Now he claims originality, calling it “Kinsley’s Proof”:

"My argument . . . defines success as bringing in more money than the current system does. More money is necessary either to reduce the gap between projected benefits and revenue or to make retirees better off. . . . More money can come from only two places: increased economic growth and other people. Increased growth can come only from higher private investment or smarter private investment."

Privatization cannot result in higher private investment, in his view, because government borrowing to finance the transition would leave combined public and private savings unchanged (not reduced, incidentally, as others claim). “Privatization would deflect some money from the Social Security trust fund into private investment,” says Kinsley, “but the government would have to borrow an equal amount to replace it.” With total national savings unchanged, he imagines private investment must be unchanged too.

After adding some dubious comments about private investment being no more efficient or profitable than government bonds, Mr. Kinsley asked, “Where am I wrong here?” Several bloggers offered perceptive answers to that question, but he does not really want to listen. “When you're sure of something to a mathematical certainty,” he wrote, “it becomes supremely irritating that other people continue to debate the issue as if there were some doubt.”

Curiously, none of Mr. Kinsley’s critics noticed the fundamental flaw of his analysis – namely, that it totally ignores incentives to work or to accumulate potentially valuable skills (human capital). My own recent column, by contrast, cites Nobel Laureate Ed Prescott and concludes, “better work incentives are the biggest single benefit of privatization” http://www.townhall.com/columnists/alanreynolds/ar20041223.shtml

To assert as Mr. Kinsley does that “increased growth can come only from higher private investment or smarter private investment” is to advance a uniquely peculiar theory of economic growth. Specifically, Mr. Kinsley’s conclusion depends on a closed economy, static model with only one factor of production (private capital).

This is a closed economy static model because investment in new private capital can supposedly be financed only from current domestic flows of saving, never from the global stocks of assets. If that made any sense, then the U.S. could never have a deficit on current account, because it could never have a net inflow of foreign investment.

Kinsley's is a one-factor model because the behavior of workers, managers and entrepreneurs is alleged to make literally no difference whatsoever to the output or growth of any national economy.

If Michael Kinsley’s one-factor theory of economic growth made any sense, then the U.S. could replace every worker, manager and entrepreneur with a random selection of people from Somalia yet the U.S. economy would nonetheless remain equally productive.

The main point of making it easier for young people to build real nest eggs, rather than relying on the unlikely generosity of future taxpayers, has to do with microeconomic incentives not macroeconomic accounting categories such as "savings rates."

Privatization reduces the risk that the marginal tax on future workers may otherwise become so onerous that hours of work per year and years of work per liftime drop to the lazy levels of France, thus flattening economic growth and tax receipts in the process.

Thursday, December 30, 2004

When Liberalism Was Liberal

Today on Tech Central Station there appears an article by Yours Truly on the great old movie Going My Way. You can read the whole piece there. Here are some tantalizing excerpts:

TV stations tend to show the great 1944 film Going My Way, directed by Leo McCarey and starring Bing Crosby and Barry Fitzgerald, more often around Christmas, even though only a couple of scenes are set during Advent.

The film, however, always repays watching. In particular, it illustrates the superiority of moral suasion over coercion in the creation of civil order -- a lesson always worth remembering. Although Going My Way won several Academy Awards, including Best Picture, the film's reputation rapidly declined beginning in the 1960s, and critical consensus has long dismissed it as trite, sentimental, and unsophisticated. This is an entirely erroneous and indeed dimwitted interpretation of the film, and one that cries out for redress.

The story is familiar: easygoing, likeable Father O'Malley (Bing Crosby) is assigned by the local Catholic bishop to help bring St. Dominic's Church, a faltering urban congregation led by Father Fitzgibbon (Barry Fitzgerald), back to its feet and in particular to overcome its financial problems. Crosby's O'Malley represents the liberal side of the church -- as it was then manifested, it is important to remember -- and Fitzgibbon the conservative aspect.

The key element here is that Crosby's liberalism is entirely limited to means, not ends; he is merely trying to find ways to enable the church to treat the ills of a rapidly changing society, not to change its doctrines of belief. In the end, of course, O'Malley's approach proves surprisingly successful, and he is sent on to the next challenge. What is in the middle is a very intelligent, sophisticated, decent, and engaging film -- exactly what we should expect from McCarey, who is now greatly underrated.

The most interesting aspect of the film is the centrality of the motif of generational conflict, and specifically of reconciliation between parents and children. As such, authority is a central concern. Fathers O'Malley and Fitzgibbons initially suffer a good deal of conflict, until O'Malley is placed explicitly in a position of authority when Fitzgibbons consults the bishop and is told that O'Malley is now in fact his superior.

O'Malley had not told him this, preferring to spare him any emotional hurt, though it of course made O'Malley's work much more difficult. Their personal conflicts play out as a clear father-son type of relationship, and they end only when the father figure realizes that the time has come for him to hand over the reins of the "family" -- St. Dominic's church, of course -- to his "son". McCarey and the actors beautifully display the mixture of pride and melancholy in the handover of authority: Fitzgibbons is initially humiliated by it, but ultimately is proud of the fine man the Church has raised up to replace him.

Similarly, the local landlord, who owns a long-overdue mortgage on the church, is in conflict with his son, who values family and service to others far more highly than the obsessive accumulation of material assets which motivates his father. Eventually, the father comes to see things the son's way, realizing that, yes, love is indeed the most important and satisfying thing of all.

The young, however, are not always in the right in the film. Also central to the story is the presence of a young woman who has left her family in search of a career in music, for which she is clearly not suited. . . . The young woman comes perilously close to disaster, but O'Malley's subtle and gentle guidance averts the impending catastrophe. The key element here is Father O'Malley's realization--never stated but implicit in his actions--that what she is really searching for is unconditional love and respect. He goes about ensuring that she finds it, and successfully puts her in the right situation.

What is politically interesting [about the film] is that O'Malley's goals are quite conventional, traditional, bourgeois ones, but the means he is willing to use are all what we would characterize as liberal. They are based on an effort to understand exactly what a person is trying to accomplish, and then seeking to figure out an alternative way for them to achieve it.

Father O'Malley's efforts to get people to change always involve persuasion, not coercion. It is this that religious institutions do best, and in this respect their treatment of moral issues is far superior to the coercive methods of governments.

O'Malley's activities illustrate an important aspect of the word liberal -- a generosity of spirit that takes the form of wanting what is best for others, regardless of the consequences for oneself. They also reflect the important liberal concept that only acts done with an individual's consent can ultimately be fulfilling and to that person's credit -- O'Malley shows an intuitive and automatic dislike for coercion. His liberalism is an entirely laudable one, and he is quite an impressive and inspiring character.

There are many other interesting themes and motifs in the film, but the father-child one is what really holds it all together. This thematic unity is quite impressive, and it is directed toward entirely laudable ends. Filmmakers today could learn much about their craft by studying this remarkably intelligent, sophisticated, mature, and original film.

Going My Way is one of those rare movies that is actually more substantial than it seems.

John Wilson Does His Thing . . .

Christianity Today has come out with their annual Top Ten Books list. Read it here. I'm sorry to say I didn't read any of these books this year.

For pleasure reading, I've just discovered the hard-boiled work of Lee Child and his drifter hero Jack Reacher. Good stuff. Lots of action. What's even better is listening to Reacher figure out his plan of attack. He's a physical genius who somehow ends up playing David to an always fearsome Goliath.

New Year's Bama Style!

I thought this item in my hometown newspaper in Decatur, Alabama would prove entertaining to cultural observers:

Ring in the New Year with Elvis

Celebrate New Year's Eve with Elvis.

Impersonator Dennis Ballentine brings his Tribute to Elvis show to David's Catfish Cabin in Hartselle at 6:30 p.m. Cost is $10 (meal not included). Party favors will be furnished. . .

Ballentine's music will soon be featured on ladyluckmusic.com, a worldwide Internet radio service that features only Elvis tribute artists.

"This is quite an honor," said Ballentine, a Falkville resident. "Many artists hope to be on the show, but less than 250 worldwide are picked for their ability to perform Elvis' songs."


I agree that Napoleon Dynamite is a fun film and rather thoughtful. It has an interesting point of view, moreover, which becomes evident in the resolution. As Hunter notes, everybody in Napoleon's fictional Idaho hometown is approximately two decades behind the times, and Napoleon is held back by the community's dreary conservatism, a symptom of the people's low expectations of what they think they can hope to get out of life. Napoleon's uncle is a fine example of this acceptance of shabbiness: even though the man is willing to work, he has no direction and less imagination.

Napoleon's exasperation at just about everything around him is a symptom of his frustration at being held back by a social order that does not allow itself to benefit from creative, eccentric persons such as himself. The exaggerated languor of most of the characters, epitomized in Napoleon's brother, who does not even show the occasional bursts of energy Napoleon can sum up, is an inevitable outcome of this culture.

It is only when an Eastern, urban, ethnic element is introduced into the society, through the Internet girlfriend of Napoleon's older brother, that Napoleon and his brother can thrive. And it creates a couple of scenes that are both very funny and rather inspiring: Napoleon's dance routine and his entrance to his brother's wedding.

One could see the film as having a racial-culture angle, given that the person who introduces change to the society is African-American, but I don't think that that is at all the relevant point. The film does a wonderful job of showing how conservatism works to create social order but ultimately can suppress the creative urges that are the lifeblood of any society and any economy. For a society to function well and create a truly rich environment, there must always be a balance between conservative forces and those for reform. The title of this film aptly evokes that idea. See it.

Trailing Edge Film Review: Napoleon Dynamite

Napoleon Dynamite is an unusual film. Although there are a few ongoing series of events that keep the film moving, it's really a nostalgia/mood/oddball humor piece. Napoleon and most of the people around him seem to be living in 1982-84. Their clothing, hairstyles, and communication are all characteristic of that period. On the other hand, the director clearly indicates at several points that the action is occurring in 2004-2005. Napoleon and the people around him are living in Idaho, which is the only possible reconciliation. Maybe we can buy the idea that Idaho is literally about 20-25 years behind the times. A better interpretation is probably that early 80's nostalgia makes it fun to fill a 2004 plot with characters dressed in 80's regalia. The result works. Although events move slowly, the viewer is rarely bored. It's a lot like moving through a really interesting museum. You're in no hurry to leave.

The best part of Napoleon Dynamite is the title character. Everything about him is hilarious. When he comes on screen, you are simply waiting to laugh. Jon Heder plays Napoleon and inhabits the character with great success. If the movie had nothing more than Mr. Heder expressing the thoughts of Mr. Dynamite, it would still be worth watching. In fact, that's just about what you get, except that there are at least two other characters in Napoleon's own family who are almost as interesting. Uncle Rico and brother Kip are nearly as much fun as Napoleon and could probably serve as building blocks for their own films. Heder will be offered more geek roles after this one and should refuse. His masterpiece is in the can. It's time for him to move on to something else.

Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Left2Right, Schmeft2Right!

Commenter David Velleman kindly pointed us to the Left2Right response to Russ Douthot's Weekly Standard critique mentioned earlier on this site.

Well, it's a good try, anyway, but as more than one respondent to that response on Left2Right noted, the author does not mention the Appiah comment quoted in Douthot's article, which is the statement I found most interesting and which I quoted in my earlier posting here today. To have any credibility, the Left2Right response should have explicitly repudiated Appiah's charming comment. Yet it did not, from which I think we can draw some fairly definite conclusions. Some may see no smugness there, but I do.

Nonetheless, let's get to a more basic objection to Left2Right, which is its mission: to make the present-day Left more politically palatable. That is a fool's errand. The Left cannot become more politically palatable without dropping its basic premises, for those assumptions and attitudes are what make comments such as Appiah's both possible and all too representative of the Left's attitudes toward the vast majority of their neighbors. The only real and viable liberalism to be found at present in the United States (and indeed the West as a whole) is on the Right, not the Left. If the Left2Right philosophes wish to become true liberals by renouncing their prejudices and joining us on the Right, they are certainly welcome to do so.

To an Athlete Living Young

Phil Arvia presents a wonderfully eloquent and convincing tribute to bicyclist Lance Armstrong in the Daily Southtown today. Armstrong, who recovered from cancer to continue his athletic career with success exceeding even his stunning previous accomplishments, was recently named Athlete of the Year by AP, for the third consecutive time. (Michael Jordan is the only other person to have received that honor three times in a row.) In addition to his athletic accomplishments, Armstrong has done much for cancer awareness through his Lance Armstrong Foundation and especially his LIVESTRONG project. Read Arvia's article here.

The Left's View of the Right: A Flattering One Indeed

In the current issue of the Weekly Standard, Russ Douthat mines the following from the Left2Right blog, in which K. Anthony Appiah presents his view of the American Right:

"Some of those right-wing evangelicals apparently care whether or not we have a good opinion of them. (If they didn't, the resentment they display toward the 'liberal media' would make no sense.) Whereas I know no one among the liberal media elite or among liberal academics who cares very much that many right-wing evangelicals have contempt for us. We care how they vote--for instrumental reasons; we may even care that they are mistaken, for their sakes; but we don't feel diminished by their contempt. . . . (The situation is analogous to the one that obtains with respect to social respect in class-and status-based hierarchies: a peasant can spit when milord walks by, but it won't damage his lordship's self-esteem. But when milord brings his handkerchief to his nose as the peasant approaches, the peasant is stung.)"

As a liberal of the Right and a person who was given no economic advantages in life, and one who has had to give fair labor for everything he has obtained, I am quite comfortable with this analogy. Yes, it is fair to say that I, at least, was not born to the American nobility. Yet somehow I am not ashamed, for it is a matter over which I had no control.

And I will say a bit more, to wit: We peasants will be very happy to see our betters brought to their knees by a few simple reforms, as the eighteenth-century English Whigs shattered long-entrenched obstacles to common sense and social mobility supported by the elites of the time. It is in fact rather enjoyable to see our present "betters" drop the hanky for a moment and show the incessant sneer behind it. Know this: it does not diminish a person to be sneered at; it diminishes the one who sneers.

Many thanks to Mr. Appiah for thus inadvertently making our arguments for us, and kudos to Russ for wading through the muck to find it.

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Level Ground

I think that Ben has a point in arguing that Occam's Razor is always handy. But the important thing is that we apply it at all steps of the logical process. As Ben notes, once you get past the origin of matter itself, you can fiddle around a bit and find a way that life could have sprung into being. And then, because life is indeed evident as a fact, one surmises that this is how life must have come about.

But this is simply an unacceptable leap of logic. You cannot leap from could to must. That is a leap of faith, and fatal to logic. My argument, as noted in earlier posts and my American Spectator article on Antony Flew, is that the very first premise, which Ben has astutely brought up, is in fact the esential one, and I will now make the further point that anything that depends on that premise is suspect. To wit: until you can show us how to make matter appear out of nothing, you have nothing on which to base Darwinism. You may very well say that you simply have to have that hypothesis, given that the cosmos is here and life is here and so it must all have happened somehow, but that is not an argument for anything at all. It establishes nothing. Hence, for a truly reasonable person the argument over Darwinism must be based on whether the fossil record and other evidence show that evolution by natural selection is the simplest explanation that fits the facts. Unfortunately, it is not, because it does not fit the facts. We have never seen a single instance of interspecies evolution, only intraspecies evolution, which nobody denies. Evolution by natural selection is certainly possible and perhaps even plausible, but the facts to support it have yet to be adduced. Hence, one should feel free to dismiss it and still consider oneself perfectly reasonable and scientific.

But then, it is fair to complain, we seem to be left with no defensible scientific explanation of the origin of life, the origin of species, or the origin of matter and energy. That is correct. My point is that no explanation of these things is fundamentally scientific. Let me state it again: no explanation yet offered of the origin of matter and energy, or of the origin of life, is fundamentally scientific. In this utterly essential regard, theists and atheists are on level ground. We should apply Occam's Razor to all claims, and to all the premises behind those claims.

Whatever can be proven from the facts of the world, we should accept as true. Whatever cannot, should be a matter for free and open debate. Those who would close off such debate should be seen as nothing more than superstitious bullies.