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? 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 ( 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.