Courage is rightly esteemed the first of human qualities because it is the quality which guarantees all others.—Churchill

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Barry Bonds Most Unsavory

I've written about before, but I'm back after Barry Bonds' lame defenses during his last press conference in which he was asked about steroid use.

Exhibit A:

Bonds, dressed casually in a black shirt and jeans, was asked whether he thinks using steroids is cheating.

"I don't know what cheating is," he said. "I don't believe steroids can help your eye-hand coordination, technically hit a baseball. I just don't believe it. That's my opinion."

B.S. buddy. You aren't being challenged for your high batting average. The question is how you've hit so many home runs. Steroid-fueled muscle might not make a .400 hitter, but it could surely add 10-20 homers a year. Muscle mass matters when it comes to hitting for power.

Exhibit B:

Bonds believes he's being scrutinized more since he's closing in on Ruth's record.

"Because Babe Ruth is one of the greatest baseball players ever, and Babe Ruth ain't black, either," he said. "I'm black. Blacks, we go through a little more. ... I'm not a racist though, but I live in the real world. I'm fine with that."

If it's possible, Bonds is even more disingenuous here. Nobody is giving much thought to Bonds passing the number two home run hitter of all time, they're thinking about Bonds being number one when he has likely been engaged in serious cheating. We don't know how many the Babe or Hank Aaron or Willie Mays could have hit with high test coursing through their veins. Racism has become the last resort of the scoundrel in this situation.

Comrade Homnick: Please....

Methinks that my beloved colleague Jay Homnick---make that The Great Homnick---has demonstrated himself too clever by half in his interpretation of the Dems' genius in terms of the elevation of the ineffable Howard Dean to the lofty position of Chairman of the DNC. Make that Chairperson or Chair or Chairwoman or something, whatever. From the viewpoint of the leftists and their ilk---if only their message were made clear, they would be embraced by the common folk as a distant relative suddenly victorious in the lottery---the choice of Dean enhances their power in the Party like nothing else. After all, the Party Chairman exists to raise money, and only two big pots are available. Pot 1: The Clintons and their various buddies. Pot 2: The George Soros/internet/Michael Moore/dingbat crowd. In terms of this intra-Party competition, no one is better than Dean from the viewpoint. And that is why all the talk about how Dean---purportedly a moderate when actually in office in Vermont---will prove a relative centrist as DNC Chairman is hogwash. In order to operate as a centrist, Dean must raise money from the centrists, and that requires cooperation and beta-female submission to Bill and Hillary. How can I put this gently? Dean will switch parties, genders, and underwear with random strangers before he will do that. And so Dean will not and cannot operate as a centrist DNC Chairman. He will raise money from the Left, he will mark territory like a Leftist, and his mating call will remain as it was in Iowa. Comrade Homnick's argument that Dean has been maneuvered into the Chairmanship/Chairship/ Chairpersonship/Chairwomanship as a means of getting him out of the way and making him more palatable even to churchgoing Dems is an argument---please, please forgive me, Jay---unworthy of the Homnick brand name. Dean is Chairman because he will serve the intraparty interests of the Democratic Left. And we'll have fun fun fun 'til Mommy Hillary takes the car keys away.

The DNC Dean Decision Explained

Mr. Homnick has taken it upon himself to help the readers of Jewish World Review understand Dr. Dean's new post and why the Democrats would engage in an apparently self-destructive maneuver. Here's a taste:

Here is what the Democrats accomplish by having Dean in that position. 1) His Presidential prospects are finis. 2) He is de-clawed as an infighter among the class of Presidential hopefuls. 3) His fundraising skills must now be diverted away from his aggrandizement and toward the party. 4) Even this mordant secularism that is said to be so abrading to churchgoers will have to be tempered to accord with his role as titular leader of all Democrat politicians.

Hunter And Pecking

We are not accustomed to thinking of our work in these terms, but it is not far from the truth to say that this publication scooped the entire media with our response to the passing of Hunter Thompson, and that we set precisely the right tone. Please note that our post was up at 12:13 Saturday night, minutes after the radio announcement.

We did not downplay his excesses, nor did we suggest that his prime legacy inhered in his specific views, but we acknowledged that his contribution to style and to broadening the parameters of how public events and personalities are examined was real. He was entertaining and a sort of genius while never escaping the weight of his own eccentricity.

Now take the dismissive piece at the Weekly Standard website, saying that he was a hollow loudmouth who left no legacy, the bemused piece at National Review Online, saying that he was a kind of lovable eccentric perched on the fringe of the culture, and the Opinion Journal piece written by the great Tom Wolfe himself (which Hunter links to below), saying that Hunter Thompson was the greatest comic writer of our time, the Mark Twain of the Twentieth Century.
Rampant schizophrenia in the conservative media or what?

A pat on the back: we had it rightest and we had it first.

Warren Buffett v. Alan Reynolds

Jack Kemp has a new piece up at Townhall knocking Warren Buffett for gloomy predictions about the U.S. dollar. What makes it particularly notable is the extensive quoting of Reform Club blogger Alan Reynolds.

To be fair, Mr. Reynolds has some less prestigious affiliations with the Cato Institute and the Wall Street Journal. Here's mud in yer eye, Alan.

Living New Journalist on Dead New Journalist

Accounts of Hunter S. Thompson's demise sometimes mention that he was a practitioner of The New Journalism, a style in which the author involves himself in the story and may even appear as a character. Tom Wolfe was part of that camp as well, but with a different style than Thompson. When Wolfe appeared in his own work it was very unobtrusive, whereas Thompson regularly gave himself a key role.

When I heard Thompson had killed himself, I instantly wondered what Tom Wolfe thought about it. Opinion Journal obliges. Here's a bit:

We were walking along West 46th Street toward a restaurant, The Brazilian Coffee House, when we passed Goldberg Marine Supply. Hunter stopped, ducked into the store and emerged holding a tiny brown paper bag. A sixth sense, probably activated by the alarming eyes and the six-inch rise and fall of his Adam's apple, told me not to ask what was inside. In the restaurant he kept it on top of the table as we ate. Finally, the fool in me became so curious, he had to go and ask, "What's in the bag, Hunter?"

"I've got something in there that would clear out this restaurant in 20 seconds," said Hunter. He began opening the bag. His eyes had rheostated up to 300 watts. "No, never mind," I said. "I believe you! Show me later!" From the bag he produced what looked like a small travel-size can of shaving foam, uncapped the top and pressed down on it. There ensued the most violently brain-piercing sound I had ever heard. It didn't clear out The Brazilian Coffee House. It froze it. The place became so quiet, you could hear an old-fashioned timer clock ticking in the kitchen. Chunks of churasco gaucho remained impaled on forks in mid-air. A bartender mixing a sidecar became a statue holding a shaker with both hands just below his chin. Hunter was slipping the little can back into the paper bag. It was a marine distress signaling device, audible for 20 miles over water.

Thompson was determined to live out his life in huge gestures. He reminds me of Hemingway in that sense. Once the body deteriorated and the novelty of hitting all the extreme notes wore off, he just tripped a trigger and ended the game. I've always suspected Wolfe's relative sanguinity and personal peace have something to do with closet Christianity.

Monday, February 21, 2005

Some Shameless Self-Promotion

Herewith, my oral testimony on the importation of price-controlled drugs before the Senate Health Committee last week. Email me if you want the full testimony and/or the executive summary. Comments welcome. Senator Teddy, disappointingly, did not attend, as there was at the same time a Foreign Relations Committee hearing featuring Condi and Rummy. I guess Teddy preferred to grill them than me. Go figure.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman and distinguished members of this committee; I will summarize four central points covered in my written testimony.

First: Pharmaceuticals subject to price controls overseas are not “cheap.” I urge this committee to reject efforts to impose price controls on U.S. medicines, whether directly or indirectly. Any such policies incontrovertibly would mortgage the future in favor of the present by reducing the market R&D incentives yielding more and improved medicines alleviating future human suffering.

Second: Foreign price controls enable overseas consumers to obtain a free ride on the prices that American consumers pay for R&D. U.S. trade and other policies that raise foreign prices toward competitive levels unambiguously would benefit U.S. consumers, regardless of the assumption one makes about the competitiveness of the U.S. pharmaceutical sector.

Third: The recent “free market” argument favoring the importation of price-controlled medicines from overseas is fundamentally flawed because compulsory licensing processes combined with ambiguities in the “failure to work the patent” framework mean that negotiations would be highly vulnerable to implicit or explicit threats of patent theft. At a more general level, free markets domestically even in principle cannot be reconciled with the enforcement of price controls overseas.

Fourth: Federal price negotiations over the long term would harm consumers. The federal government is not like a very large pharmacy chain; it is instead so big that it has monopoly pricing power as a buyer that large private sector buyers engaged in competitive negotiations do not have. At a more subtle level, private sector buyers must compete for customers, and so must balance the conflicting objectives of low prices and broad formulary availabilities. The federal government, on the other hand, does not have “customers” as such, so that short term budget pressures inexorably will tend to crowd out consumer choice over time. That is the deeper implication of the “evidence-based medicine” approaches now being considered and adopted by some states. The noninterference provisions of the 2003 Medicare Act truly were farsighted, and I urge this committee to continue that approach.

In conclusion: We want our medicines to be affordable, and we want them also to be available over the long term. That is why price controls must be rejected.

Thank you very much.

Sandra Dee R.I.P.

I was sad to hear Sandra Dee died. We were classmates at University High School in L.A., although she just showed up occasionally before the ceremony because she was tutored. We later chatted briefly in Westwood Village, where I worked at Sears after graduating from the Auto Mechanics Institute (not my only degree). I mostly recall thinking she wore too much makeup.

At that time, her real name (second father) was Douvan. Her mother was rumored to be a pushy stage mom even then.

I reprinted below some relevant thoughts on the death of another class mate, Jan Berry, which appeared in National Review online April 6, 2004. I meant to send it to her, since she’s in the UniHi alumni book, and later to congratulate her about the new movie about Bobby Darin.

Despite fame and fortune, and perhaps partly because of it, both Sandra Dee and Jan Berry had extremely difficult and tragically short lives. Such examples prove envy to be foolish as well a unkind.


“Jan & Dean: UniHi in 1959”

Alan Reynolds

Jan Berry, of the surf duo Jan and Dean, recently died at terribly young age. Jan was Class of '58 at University High School (UniHi) in West L.A.; I was Class of '59.

Nancy Sinatra was in Jan's class at UniHi. Tommy Rettig, the star of Lassie (who insisted on being called Tom), was in mine. Sandra Dee, who filmed Gidget in 1959, and went to our Summer '59 prom but graduated Class of '60. James Brolin (Bruderlin) was earlier, probably '57. Singer-songwriter Randy Newman was Class of '61. Beau Bridges was my classmate at Webster Junior High, but he went to Venice High.

To thwart gangs, UniHi encouraged more supervised groups affiliated with the YMCA (HI-Y) and YWCA (TRI-Y). These clubs varied in status, like fraternities and sororities, and Jan and Dean were in a top group, the Barons. I belonged to a totally unsupervised lowbrow group, the Ladds, which was supposedly a car club except few of us had cars. Paul Sessums was often the designated chauffer in his cool '49 Merc. In 1985, Sessums created a legendary blues club in Austin Texas, the Black Cat Lounge, before dying tragically in an auto accident a few years back.

Half the Ladds — the more muscular half — were from Hamilton High. A few Barons, not Jan or Dean, used to tease and intimidate UniHi Ladds. We were supposed to fight it out one weekend, but somebody had the good sense to bring a football. The game turned out to be unexpectedly close, which generated mutual respect and ended the tension. I nonetheless thought of Jan as physically intimidating at parties, a big football player with a persuasive scowl. It was good to be bad in those days, and some were more convincing actors than others.

Biographies of Jan and Dean note that they first used the Barons as the name of their singing group, but there were really three dozen Barons and they didn't all sing. It was Jan and Arnie Ginsberg at first, then Jan and Dean Torrence.

The late Fifties and early Sixties was a time of rapid transformation in the definition of cool — in music, cars, clothes and hairstyles. Those with a sense of fashion like Jan and Dean, were switching to khakis with a buckle in the back while my friends were still wearing low-riding Levis and rolled-up shirt sleeves. We listened to black R&B on Hunter Hancock's show (the Ladds' party favorite was "High Blood Pressure" by Huey Piano Smith). Jan and Dean's favorites were what we'd have dismissed as white bread, such as "Book of Love," "Little Star" and "Hushabye." Greased hair combed into a jellyroll (early Jan Berry) or waterfall (Dean), was on the way out. Shorter blonde hair, like Dean's later flattop, was on the way in. I was still swing dancing in 1958 with my "American Bandstand" dance partner Romelia Guevara. By 1961 swing was dead in L.A., replaced by the twist and the surfer stomp.

Paul's Merc was dropped in back, by torching the springs. That was still common practice on what was called (with inadequate cultural sensitivity) a "taco barge." That vintage Merc, which resembles an upside-down bathtub, was a favorite with the Falcons de Sotel, a Chicano group, but a '49-54 Chevy was a close rival. Some needed casters on the rear bumper to get up a driveway without scraping the twin tailpipes.

Rich kids' cars, by contrast, soon became inclined rather than reclined. Rather than being lowered in the back, they were raised in back — "raked" — with fat rear tires. Spoiled teens had '55-58 Chevys pin-striped by von Dutch. As a poor imitation, I helped my fellow-Ladd Don Brown rake his '50 Ford by moving the rear axle to below the rear leaf springs. It looked hot, but the wildly bent U-joints did not last long.

Coming of age in L.A. in the late Fifties was pretty cool. But today's cars, movies, and fashions are really much better. Restaurants are better too, with the exception of the Apple Pan on Pico, which is still as good as it ever was. Pop music is probably better too, but not nearly as magical. There was something uniquely special about hearing Chuck Berry for the first time at Venice beach, Little Richard opening the movie The Girl Can't Help It, and catching the debut of Heartbreak Hotel at a roller-skating rink. Some of us stuck in that groove too long. I was still singing "Slippin' and Slidin" with a garage band from Santa Monica College in the early Sixties, which was downright retro.

But music suddenly caught a new big wave when Dick Dale (who is still an astonishing guitarist) released "Let's Go Trippin'" in 1961- the same year, the Beach Boys came out with their first hit, "Surfin" and Jan and Dean with their second, "Heart and Soul."

Surf music came into its own at the same time twist clubs and coffeehouses sprung up. The Forty Thieves coffeehouse in Venice had silk hung from the ceiling and flat mats like a harem, with occasional poets and Mose Allison's "Seventh Son" on the jukebox. It was a fabulous time to be young in L.A. And a lot of the credit for all that fun goes to Jan Berry. The unique sound of Jan and Dean created continues to put smiles on the faces of everyone who hears it.

As Bobby Hatfield of the Righteous Brothers put it, "if there's a rock’n’roll heaven, I'll bet they have a hell of a band." Jan Berry and Bobby Hatfield just made it even greater.

New York Times and

For reasons that I may never understand, the New York Times has acquired for $410 million. You have got to be kidding me. I've visited the network on a few occasions but have never been overwhelmed by the content or design. How often have you been talking to someone and heard them reference "Yeah, I was just doing some research for my trip and spent a lot of time at reading about mountain biking."

If I were an NYT shareholder, I'd be furrowing my brow right about now. Of course, I am a Krispy Kreme shareholder and the brow's been furrowed for a few months now.

The Maggot Maher

Blogger Mike D'Virgilio has provided an excellent brief study of the odious TV personality Bill Maher on Mike's fine blog, MDV Outlook.

In my view, Maher is one of the most annoyingly ignorant blowhards currently operating on the American talk-show circuit, and that is saying a lot. To me, he is in fact too repulsive to contemplate, and thus I am glad that I can refer readers to Mike's article, which provides a solid summary of Maher's "thoughts" on the role of religion in American today. Mike shows exactly how intelligent and open-minded the talking maggot Maher really is. It is well worth reading.

Two Of An Unkind

The race between news outlets for information about breaking stories is hardly a new phenomenon. I heartily recommend that everyone seek out Ben Hecht's autobiography, A Child Of The Century, to get a bird's-eye view of the journalistic culture of the early 20th Century (in case you thought The Front Page was fiction).

But in the age of Google one would expect that the baseline of accuracy for basic facts about a public figure's life would be universal.

Not so. I read two articles today about the passing of John Raitt, the great Broadway performer. The one in the Washington Post says that Rodgers wrote the soliloquy in Carousel specifically to suit Raitt's talents. The one by Reuters says that Hammerstein wrote the soliloquy in Carousel specifically to suit Raitt's talents. Okey-doke.

The Post piece says that in addition to singer Bonnie Raitt, John had a son and a daughter. Reuters says that he had two sons. I am inclined to credit Reuters with the greater accuracy, since they added that their names are Steven and David.

Guys, take five more minutes before going to press and get it right. We're counting on you to inform us about war and medicine and celebrity wardrobes; our lives are in your hands.

Jacoby on Gerrymandering

Jeff Jacoby had a very nice insight in his Boston Globe column of yesterday:

"The deepest and unhealthiest divide in American politics is not the one that separates Republicans from Democrats or conservatives from liberals. It is the gulf between Insiders and Outsiders -- between the incumbents who treat public office as private property and the increasingly neutered electorate in whose name they claim to act."

Jacoby points out that much of what Congress does, takes the form of an "incumbent protection racket"—which I would add is only to be expected, as long as those in Congress wield such a huge amount of power over the citizenry and indeed the condition of the entire world. When neither conscience nor the other branches of government can sufficiently restrain Congress, the great power of that body will create a huge amount of inertia.

Jacoby strongly criticizes the nearly univesal practice of gerrymandering, and rightly, as an important means by which legislators protect their positions. He correctly praises California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger for launching "a full-scale attack on redistricting abuse in his state, demanding that the power to draw election maps be taken from the legislature and turned over to a committee of retired judges." As Jacoby notes, what is particularly interesting—and courageous—about Schwarzenegger's plan is "there is nothing partisan about it. It doesn't empower Rs at the expense of Ds, or Ds at the expense of Rs. It empowers voters at the expense of politicians." As a result, Jacoby says, sixteen of the current twenty Caifornia Republican congresspersons oppose the governor's plan.

Jacoby reports that similar reforms are underway in several other states, which is a good trend indeed. He writes,

"An end to gerrymandering would be an extraordinary shot in the arm for American democracy, once again making legislative races exciting and responsive. This is the very best kind of government reform—the kind that can unite conservatives and liberals, Republicans and Democrats. No, honest redistricting won't turn real-life politics into a ninth grade civics class. But it will make it a lot more interesting and democratic than the farce we're stuck with now."

That is true, and it is why those currently holding legislative power will fight to the death to retain the current system or at least water down the proposed reforms. After all, state legislators hope to become members of Congress themselves, down the road. Any progress toward reform in this matter could have some real consequences.

Hunter S. Thompson, RIP

We should hardly be surprised that Hunter S. Thompson has up and left us. Perhaps more amazing is that he lasted here for 67 years.

After hearing someone who shared a lecture bill with Hunter at a college somewhere describe how HST and his fourth wife were shooting up and downing shots in the rest room before his address, I would hardly have anticipated this level of longevity.

Still, Hunter was a man who opened a creative door, one that P.J. O'Rourke and many other fine writers refined in ways that have much enhanced our sense of events transpiring in faraway reaches of our planet. What was called 'gonzo' in his manic day has by now become part of our social fabric, not necessarily a bad part.

(Have a peek at Hunter's last column for, dated Feb. 15.)

As I have mentioned here before, I was once in the room when a genius went insane. Sometimes genius is too heavy a burden to carry.

Saturday, February 19, 2005

Joining The Peace Corpses

Kudos to Associated Press reporter Maggie Michaels (and her Editor) for getting a valuable perspective-achieving bit of contrasting information into the second paragraph of her story about the suicide bombs that killed 55 Iraqis on the Shiites' holiest day.

She made the point that this was a "significantly smaller" amount of terrorist success than last year on this day when they killed 181.

As grim as it sounds, the fact is that sometimes the true story is not 55 dead, as tragic as that is, but '126 less dead than last year' as we measure progress toward civil society in Iraq.

Friday, February 18, 2005

Conservatives on the March

I am posting this from a computer donated for public use, by, at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington, D.C., hosted by the American Conservative Union. It is a bit odd, of course, for me to be here, given that I have been so consistent in stating that I am not a conservative. However, this is not as strange as it may seem. For the political meaning of the word conservative, as I have frequently noted, has evolved into something synonomous with the Right. This conference confirms that notion.

It is interesting, for example, that one of the people who just spoke to the assembled masses about Social Security reform was a member of the Log Cabin Republicans. The speaker did not receive a huge ovation for his politely veiled reference to allowing any old kind of "domestic partner" to receive death benefits from Social Security under a new system allowing personal retirement accounts. But that is exactly the point. Although his position on many issues is hardly describable as conservative, his views on Social Security are certainly of the Right.

This brings up what is to me one of the most important questions of the day, for the Right. Can born-again Christians join with Log Cabin Republicans to support changes in Social Security and then go out separately to very different places afterward, and still see each other as true allies? This is a question that should be central to the discussion on the Right, as we seek to consolidate recent successes and create a movement that can truly compose a long-term majority of the American people.

There has been a certain amount of triumphalism among the speakers at the conference, and that is surely understandable given the political success of the Right in recent elections. Seeing the great variety of organizations and speakers at this conference--from Midwestern Eagle Forum traditionalists and the National Rifle Association to Log Cabin Republicans and groups for the legalization of marijuana--clearly this is a movement that includes a large variety of very different people. It suggests the possibility for a true, long-term political majority being established by the Right.

The question is whether these disparate groups can agree on a set of central principles that is sufficiently broad and yet also exclusive enough to sustain a definable mission to which all can assent. When the time for self-congratulation has finally passed, that is the conversation I would like to see on the Right.

Negroponte and Capability

Jay, I'm probably going to end up on the opposite side of Savage here, too. My read on John Negroponte is that he is one of those men who has the ability to get things done. There are a lot of smart, talented people in the world, but the number of them who can really act and achieve goals without excuses is radically lower.

I'm guessing that President Bush got burned on Bernard Kerik and then thought, "The celebrity strategy for this post hasn't worked, I'm going to name a superbly competent person who doesn't care much about image or headlines. Thus, we get Negroponte.

The Director As Auteur? Or Hauteur?

This publication has registered its displeasure with the output of radio personality Dr. Michael Savage, but this time he has gotten it right: what possible advantage to our intelligence gathering and analysis or our overall safety can be achieved by appointing Mr. Negroponte, a veteran diplomat, to the umbrella role of Intelligence Director?

This is a classic example of the desperate need to "do something" metastasizing into doing something foolish and counterproductive. Is it rude of me to recall my immediate opposition to the idea?

What Happened to the Unions?

Yes, you all know it, I love the Lawrence Henry take on America. He's knocked around, been a lot of places, and despite making his way down a bumpy road, he's still here writing, thinking, and doing a little stock-investing. If you don't read his column every week at American Spectator, you're really missing out on the fun history of regular life in the U.S.

Check out his take on the big changes that killed the labor unions. Here's a smidge:

Labor unions just plain missed it. Even if they hadn't missed it, what were they supposed to do? What -- or whom -- were you supposed to organize? A bunch of geeks in a warehouse mainlining Coca-Cola? Which were the real businesses and which were the pipe dreams? If Wall Street couldn't tell yet, and it couldn't, not really, how were unions supposed to figure it out? By the time some sort of manufacturing lines came into existence, those lines were already changing so fast, it was hard to tell the difference between labor and management. Now, of course, the mass jobs, the low-skill jobs, have migrated overseas, and they're just plain gone. Who wants guaranteed overtime? Everybody's got guaranteed overtime. It comes with the territory. Now you want stock options. Now you want career advances. Now you want to strike out and do it for yourself. Pension? Tell me another one. I've got a 401(k) and deferred comp. Job security? There's no such thing. Career types change jobs seven times in a lifetime nowadays.

A Thought Ontic

After recommending to Hunter that he include in his doctoral reading list The Lonely Man Of Faith by Joseph B. Soloveitzik (1903-1993), I picked up my own copy and scanned it a bit for insight and inspiration.

This I felt urged to share: "Western man... attends lectures on religion and appreciates the ceremonial, yet he is searching not for a faith in all its singularity and otherness, but for religious culture. He seeks not the greatness found in sacrificial action but the convenience one discovers in a comfortable, serene state of mind. He is desirous of an aesthetic experience rather than a covenantal one, of a social ethos rather than a divine imperative. In a word, he wants to find in faith that which he cannot find in his laboratory, or in the privacy of his luxurious home. His efforts are noble, yet he is not ready for a genuine faith experience which requires the giving of one's self unreservedly to God, who demands unconditional commitment, sacrificial action, and retreat. Western man... insists on being successful. Alas, he wants to be successful even in his adventure with God. If he gives of himself to God, he expects reciprocity. In a primitive manner, he wants to trade 'favors' and exchange goods. The gesture of faith for him is a give-and-take affair and reflects the philosophy of Job which led to catastrophe - a philosophy which sees faith as a quid pro quo arrangement and expects compensation for each sacrifice one offers..."

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Kofi Should Be Canned

If by some unaccountable fluke you have not yet discovered my article in today's Jewish World Review, here it is, linkin' without costin' ya a penny. My message is: get Kofi.

The Ralph Reed Rumor Was Right On.

Ralph Reed is launching his own political career by running for Lieutenant Governor of Georgia. Friends pretty deep in the Georgia political world have known this was coming. My guess is that Dr. Ralph is going to get what he wants. If Haley Barbour can do it in Mississippi, Ralph can do it in Georgia.

He'll likely have primary opposition, but it's hard to imagine anyone else in the party could match his name recognition and "powerful-strong" resume'. There are folks in the Georgia GOP who really hate Reed, but I suspect that's true of most political figures in any party. Part of the problem is that he immediately became the biggest GOP fish when he came back to the state. I'll make the prediction now. Ralph takes the Lt. Gov's office with 53% of the vote.

You can check out his own statement of ambition and aspiration here.

A Musing Grace

The Miami-Dade School Board will hold a vote today to determine if the soda machines should be removed from all the local public schools to help prevent obesity in children.

We have all witnessed this galloping cultural phenomenon of the virtue of health being whittled into a cudgel with which to bludgeon the populace into a grim conformity.

Have we been correct in deeming it merely an amusing spectacle of the finicky badgering the carefree?

Or is this something more insidious, more perfidious, part of an ongoing cultural experiment of postmodern man trying to reconstruct some network of boundaries to replace those that were unwittingly dismantled in the adventure of deconstructing the social fabric? A fabric that was knit by the quest for godliness.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Blegging About Books . . .

Good people of ReformClub land, I am about to enter the post-coursework segment of my doctoral program in Religion, Politics, and Society at Baylor. At this point, we put together a list of 100 or so relevant books (Reformation, Church-State jurisprudence, sociology of religion, political liberalism, American religious history, the Puritans, etc) and study them for a year prior to taking comprehensive exams. I'm working on the list now and would love to benefit from recommendations of books from anyone who cares to Email me.

I have a particular interest in deists, by the way, if anyone knows something about them, all the better.

Mr. Karnick, I'm still waiting for yours!

Rafik Hariri's Traffic Horror

Earlier this week I indicated that it might be valuable to write a full-length article on the history of Syrian domination in Lebanon. They took a long time serving the entree at the wedding I attended tonight, so I snuck home (fifteen minutes away), wrote the article, and got back to my table ahead of the prime rib (well-done and delicious).

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Culture Watch—The Simpsons

In next Sunday's episode of The Simpsons, the town of Springfield legalizes same-sex marriage, and one of the central characters of the series will take advantage of the opportunity. Who that character will turn out to be has been a matter of intense debate in some circles, and it will be even more interesting to see what kind of attitude the story takes toward the issue. It is interesting, for example, why the town decides to legalize the marriages: to increase money from tourism. Simpsons executive producer Al Jean was quoted in the Baltimore Sun as saying, "We don't take a position as much as explore everybody's positions." We'll find out next Sunday on Fox.

Shall It Be The Truth?

Those who share our interest in the portrayal of religious characters in fiction will want to read Wendy Shalit's spirited response in today's Jewish World Review to those who attacked her New York Times Book Review survey of books about observant Jews.

If you have not read the original article, never fear, today's article offers you that link in its opening line. Please accept my strong recommendation; this is well worth your while.

Monday, February 14, 2005

The Retirement of Jerry Falwell . . .

I should say, "the much anticipated retirement of Jerry Falwell." The man is not an effective spokesman for Christian conservatives. I think that much of what drove me to enter the world of Christian public policy and now Christian higher education was the feeling that Falwell and guys like him were failing us all. He can't quit soon enough for me.

Today, I happened onto the Sean Hannity show on the radio. Jerry Falwell and Christian lefty Jim Wallis were going at it. Actually, I should say that Wallis was explaining his left-wing politics while affirming pro-life and pro-traditional marriage views. Falwell was all over him, simply refusing to have a conversation. He insisted that Wallis explain where he goes to church, what time they meet, the address of the church, you get the drift. It was just embarrassing. I'm even more disappointed that Hannity would choose Falwell as the counterpoint. Can't blame that on the liberal media.

Falwell has been effectively taken down in Tucker Carlson's book Politicians, Partisans, and Parasites: My Adventures in Cable News. Carlson says cable news hosts desperately need guests who will drop anything, including a child's birthday party to show up for even a few seconds of air time. He places Falwell in that camp and was disappointed to visit Falwell for an interview and find that instead of an interesting discussion about the growth of the religious right as a factor in American politics, he got a recitation of all the people in television Falwell knows.

You want an evangelical for television and radio? Get Hugh Hewitt. Get Mark Noll. Get George Marsden. Jerry Falwell has had more than enough.

Trouble Is Real

Since Israel -and my one-time residence there- has emerged as a theme today, I would like to address two events that relate to that region.

First, the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister, and billionaire-at-large, Rafik Hariri, by a massive bomb that bespeaks a patron with deep pockets, large staging areas, and effective penetration. The prime suspect is, of course, Syria, a nominally separate country that is actually the suzerain of Lebanon. Hariri resigned his post last autumn because of a dispute with his Syrian bosses. This would seem to be the fallout from the fall falling-out.

Please permit me to recall to your memory the fact that the act which broke the back of independent Lebanese sovereignty was the bomb which killed Bashir Gemayel during the victory party the night he was elected (with Israel's backing) Prime Minister in 1982. This led to the Sabra-and-Shatila massacre and a state of civil war which was only stopped, or at least contained, when Amin Gemayel, milquetoast brother of the charismatic Bashir, agreed to serve as Syria's stooge and occupy his brother's position with no real power.

Second, the report in the Jerusalem Post, not widely circulated here, that Abbas has agreed to unfreeze the bank accounts of Hamas in return for some undisclosed agreement of cooperation with his government. That is probably a development that bears close scrutiny.

Withdrawals From West Bank

The news from Israel, being distributed widely across the wire services, is that terrible death threats by West Bank and Gaza settlers against government ministers have compelled Ariel Sharon to issue a crackdown order. Having resided in Israel myself for a few years (while Sharon was Defense Minister), permit me to decipher this report.

First of all, please note that one government minister received one nasty letter calling him an Arab-lover and one had the tires on his car slashed. How absurd is it to issue a national police order based on one anonymous letter?

The answer is that this is the Israeli equivalent of the Gulf-of-Tonkin method. It has been used frequently in the Israeli government playbook.

This is a simple trick designed to open the door for the government to harass a few settlers so as to soften them up for the eventual evacuation order. Sharon is a general who likes to play offense and do a small preemptive strike to avoid larger confrontations later. Perhaps I'll expand on this in an article later this week.

Sunday, February 13, 2005

Getting Religion

In The American Scene, Ross Douthat has written a very insightful response to a "searing indictment of contemporary Christian mores," as he characterizes it, recently published in Books and Culture.

The Books and Culture article, by theology professor Ronald J. Sider, which appears in the January/February issue of the magazine and is available online, is called "The Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience" and points out the great difference between what contemporary American evangelical Christians profess to believe and how they behave. Sider cites the now-familiar statistics about tithing, divorce, premarital sex, racism, etc. which show that American evangelical Christians are on the whole only slightly less sinful, according to evangelical doctrines, than other Americans. Sider observes that those churchgoers with the strongest Christian beliefs tend to live less sinful lives. Hence, the answer, Sider says, is to strengthen the faith of individual believers. Sider exhorts his fellow Christians to develop a "longing for holiness" and pray for a revival within the church that will strengthen individuals' beliefs.

It is an interesting article and one well worth reading, but Douthat's analysis of the piece goes to the heart of the matter: the Calvinist origins of American evangelicalism—

"In Protestantism [Douthat writes], and particularly among those churches with a Calvinist stamp, this reality of perptual fallen-ness has often clashed with the emphasis on a single 'born-again' moment, and with the expectation that once a Christian gains true faith, works will inevitably follow. The presence of sinfulness in a Christian community thus becomes an indictment of the community's faithfulness -- and this, in turn leads to what you might call the 'cycle of Protestantism,' in which purity-seeking believers are constantly founding new sects and religious colonies, which expand and thrive but also drift away from their original moral austerity, leading in turn to splinter movements and the founding of a newer, smaller, more austere communities (as New Haven was founded, for instance, as a refuge from the increasing worldliness of Puritan Boston).

"Or alternatively, the inevitable slide into moral laxity leads to a cycle of revivals, in which the community recommits itself to religious rigor for a time, only to drift away again eventually, setting the stage for another revival -- and so on, ad infinitum. And through it all, as the sects and splinter movements multiply, there remains an unspoken belief among the Calvinistically-inclined -- a belief, I might add, that permeates Sider's article -- that a more perfect community, a true and permanent 'City on the Hill,' is just another revival away.

"The Catholic Church, by contrast, takes a rather more tragic view of Christian imperfectability (a necessity, a Protestant might say snidely, given the Church's long history of Grand Inquisitors and Borgia Popes). Catholicism has its saints, of course, but they are exceptions to the rule -- the community of believers is understood to be a community of sinners, not a society of the perfected. The signs and signifiers of the divine reside not in the all-to[o]-human Catholics who show up (or don't) at Mass on Sundays, but in the mystical materials of the Church itself -- in doctrine, in scripture, and above all in the sacraments. There is an expectation that everyone will pray and strive for the sainthood that Sider urges on American Evangelicals, but it's joined to an awareness that most people aren't going to make it. (Hence Purgatory, incidentally . . .)

"The difficulty with the Catholic approach, though I think it's the right one, is that a recognition of the pervasiveness and permanence of sin can easily be elided into a winking, 'it's-not-so-bad' acceptance of sin. And we all know where that got us."

Douthat is entirely correct in his observation that cause of the disjunction between American Christians' beliefs and actions is to be found in evangelicalism's Calvinist origins, and that the weakness of Sider's case is his inability to get past that, which means that all he can do is call for more of the same, another revival within the church. The cycle must continue, if we follow Sider's reasoning.

The moral problem of Calvinism is a theological problem, however, and it is this. All Christians agree that human beings are inherently sinful, and all agree that God is the source of all good things, and of all good works by human beings. Hence, sanctification—the process of cleansing a person and making them holy—follows salvation, not the other way around. (That is to say, a person is not made acceptable to God—holy, clean, sinless—and then saved by God. God saves a person and then begins the process of cleansing and purifying that will be perfected upon each individual's death and entrance into Heaven.)

However, what I call the "magic moment" thesis of evangelical Christianity, in which a person participates in his own salvation in a sense, by "choosing" to "accept God into his life through faith in Christ" puts a huge amount of responsibility on the individual Christian. A Christian, according to Calvinism, must knowingly accept God. That sounds fine and sensible at first hearing, but if it is true, then inevitably a person is an active participant in his own salvation. If salvation requires both God's will and an individual's assent—even if we accept the premise, as Calvinists do, that assent will come only if God wishes it—the individual's act is still an essential part of the process.

The situation with good works is the same. Calvinists, correctly believing that church membership is not a sufficient proof of one's salvation, conclude that, as the apostle James noted, an individual's works are the evidence of one's relationship with God. Well and good. Unfortunately, the onus is then on each individual Christian to show the world that they are right with God. And here is the problem: given that the individual's assent to God's will is a central element in salvation, then it would seem that at least to some degree an individual's struggles with sin are not entirely in God's hands. After all, one must consent to being made holy. And if one is not entirely holy, who is at fault? Surely not God, who is all-powerful and perfectly good. The one who is at fault is the individual whose inherent depravity has caused him to resist God's efforts to sanctify him.

That is indeed the truth about sin, as all Christians would agree. The problem, of course, is that there is no way out of this trap once one enters it. The individual is responsible for his or her own sins, and although God has already forgiven them (as a consequence of the magic moment), no amount of human effort can fully dislodge the sinful impulses from an individual and stop their evil consequences.

Catholicism, as Douthat notes, has an answer. I should say that God's Word provides us with the answer, which Catholics and other pre-Calvin Christian denominations (such as Lutheranism) have not forgotten. It is this: the effectiveness of the Sacraments. Douthat notes that Catholics see God as working "in the mystical materials of the Church itself -- in doctrine, in scripture, and above all in the sacraments," but it is important to note that evangelicals accept the first two completely but have a distinctly different understanding of the sacraments. To them, the sacrament of baptism is an individual's response to salvation, which happens during the moment in which he accepts Christ into his heart.

Communion, similarly, for Calvinist-influenced Christians is a Christian's response to God: it is not a way for God to put something directly into the individual (specifically, the True Presence of the Lord in His body and blood), but rather a way for an individual to show God his personal devotion and witness to others that God is real and cares for each person, an act which God will reward by strengthening that person's faith.

For Christians with pre-Calvinist assumptions, however, the sacraments are real. (We do differ on the number of the sacraments, but all agree on at least two: baptism and communion.) For pre-Calvinist Christians, as I shall call this group for short, God actually works His power in us through the sacraments.

In baptism, the Holy Spirit of God is placed in the individual, and he or she is stamped as a child of God. The individual is taken into the Church universal, the body of Christ, and is thereafter perfectly free to stay or leave. But the actual entry does not require any action on the part of the believer. No act of assent is necessary. Hence, in pre-Calvinist thinking, the Christian has truly had no part whatsoever in his or her salvation. No one can take any credit for being saved, nor for any good works they do, nor even for remaining in the Church.

Of course, as Ross noted, this can give people a tendency toward latitudinarianism, given that all is so easily forgiven.

However, that need not be so, because of the other major sacrament: communion.

In communion, the presence of Christ is in the bread and wine (consubstantiation), or the elements are turned into the real body and blood of Christ (transubstantiation), and when a sincerely penitent believer partakes of them, that strength of God is placed in them anew. Here, too, God is doing all the work. Yes, the believers must confess their sins (privately to a priest or publicly in the liturgy), but God is truly doing the work of renewal.

I recall that Flannery O'Connor once said of evangelicals' idea about communion, "Well, if it's just symbolic, then I don't want no part of it!"

I can understand why, and in her charmingly tart way O'Connor set forth a crucial reason for the perennial laments about the Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience among evangelicals themselves. Evangelical theology places a huge amount of responsibility on the individual Christian, who is, after all, no more than a highly fallible human being who has been redeemed by God and remains always a work in progress. Pre-Calvinist Christians can proceed to the altar for refreshment and renewal, and need bring nothing to the table but their sincere repentance.

Evangelicals, on the other hand, after that "magic moment" in which they ask Christ to come into their life, are perpetually under the gun. Once saved, good works are supposed to follow inevitably, and every failure is a failure of the individual, certainly not of God.

All Christians agree that any sin is a consequence of human depravity, not a shortcoming of God's power or mercy. For evangelicals, however, there is no supernatural recourse, as there is for pre-Calvinist Christians. One can only continue try to try harder. And as both Ronald Sider and Ross Duthout note, at some point such self-sanctification becomes too great a burden to bear.

Given that evangelicals do indeed believe in the supernatural, I would suggest that there is a viable alternative to their agonizing "cycle of Protestantism." That is to recognize that there is true power in the sacraments. It will require a rethinking of very important doctrines, and it will surely subject both the individual and the Church to new hazards borne of human sin; but it will also, in the wonderfully paradoxical way that God often works, remove a great and unhappy impediment to Christians' achievement of "the peace that passes all understanding."

I'd consider that a trade well worth making.

Saturday, February 12, 2005

Watch Your Mouth, Buddy!

The Blogosphere takes down another public figure for speaking intemperately. The Trent Lott treatment catches up with CNN's Eason Jordan right after taking down Dan Rather. Jordan just quit his top job with the left of center news network.

Friday, February 11, 2005

North Korean Nukes

It is exceedingly tempting to dismiss the various bellicose statements of North Korea's Kim government as just so much meaningless bluster, given the regularity of such emissions from Pyongyang.

I think, however, that what happened yesterday is very important, and specifically because the twofold announcement by Pyongyang seems to be based on a rational calculation of North Korea's current situation and highly plausible, from their perspective, fears of imminent U.S. action there.

As I have noted in an article on National Review Online today, North Korea's abrupt announcement yesterday that it has manufactured nuclear weapons and that it would not return to the U.S.-sponsored six-nation talks intended to prevent the isolated nation from developing such weapons is quite puzzling—at least initially.

Making one of the two announcements would have made great sense. But not both.

It would seem, after all, that the current negotiations need have no more effect than previous ones, if the North Koreans simply used them as a PR device and holding action while forging ahead with weapons development on the sly, as they have quite evidently done in the past. And if the North Koreans were to enter negotiations after announcing that they had developed working nuclear weapons, that would surely strengthen their hand. The talks would then become a conversation about what to do about the weapons, not whether to allow them to be developed.

Their action of yesterday fails to accomplish either of those things, and it isolates North Korea further from other nations. In particular, it is sure to infuriate the United States and Japan, two of the three major powers in the region. After hearing the statement by the North Korean Foreign Ministry, the governor of Tokyo scoffed and openly dared Pyongyang to fire a missile at Japan.

It seems unlikely, however, that it is a mere coincidence that North Korea should make this announcement and pull out of talks just a few days after the democratic elections in Iraq. (Feel free to put quotation marks around the word democratic if you wish.) In fact, it seems quite plausible that the Kim regime saw the recent comments by Secretary of State Rice as a warning that the United States was going to come after North Korea, and sooner than anyone might think.

The statement by the North Korean Foreign Ministry said Pyongyang has "manufactured nukes for self-defense to cope with the Bush administration's undisguised policy to isolate and stifle" the nation. Thursday's New York Times reported that Pyongyang's statement "zeroed in in on Dr. Rice's testimony last month in her Senate confirmation hearings, where she lumped North Korea with five other dictatorships, calling them 'outposts of tyranny.'"

It seems plausible, then, that Pyongyang came to the conclusion that the United States and a coalition of other nations was about to do something that would ultimately lead to the fall of the Kim regime and a reunification of Korea on terms determined entirely by South Korea and its powerful allies. Yesterday's statement, then, was Pyongyang's way of forestalling such action by raising the stakes radically, in suggesting that any U.S. move to impose its will on North Korea would lead to the use, however inefficient and elementary, of nuclear weapons by Pyongyang.

It is not difficult to imagine what possible steps by a U.S.-led coalition North Korea was worried about—starting with economic sanctions and going on from there. In confirmation of this premise, note that today's New York Tmes article on the subject reported, "North Korea has warned the world that it considers economic sanctions a declaration of war."

And where did Pyongyang think China fit into this scenario? Evidently they envisioned Beijing protesting mightily but ultimately sitting on the sidelines, reluctant to endanger its enormous and lucrative foreign trade with the West by siding with North Korea.

If this is indeed something like the thought process that led to Thursday's announcement, the implications for the U.S.-led response are murky indeed. America can ill afford to let this pass without some form of action. However, anything substantive, including measures as apparently mild as a call for economic sanctions, will only assure Pyongyang that their interpretation of recent U.S. statements has been exactly correct.

Hence, the United States must simultaneously assure Pyongyang that we have no intention whatever of bringing down their government and that if North Korea does not suspend development of nuclear weapons we will indeed bring down their government. Squaring that circle now becomes the first great test for President Bush's second term and Condi Rice's tenure as Secretary of State. If there is an answer short of eventual war, it is by no means clear at this point what it could be.

Utter Journalistic Incompetence . . .

As a scholar-in-training, I've noticed that one must do a tremendous amount of research and just plain "breathing the air" of a subject to really get it right. The process has made me terribly suspicious of anything journalists write unless they've focused closely on a specific subject throughout their careers. Powerline confirmed my judgment yesterday:

Very few people realize how often mainstream media sources say things that just aren't true. Sometimes the reason is malice, more often it's ignorance or prejudice. A fascinating example of a libel directed against the Catholic church--undoubtedly the world's most frequently defamed institution--was brought to our attention by reader Matthew Kowalski. On New Year's Day, the Washington Post published an article by Jose Antonio Vargas titled "Seeking the Hand of God in the Waters". The article reported on various efforts to find theological meaning in the South Asian tsunami. The Post article included these paragraphs:

Martin E. Marty, professor emeritus of religious history at the University of Chicago, has written his 55th book, "When Faiths Collide," which he says should land in bookstores this week.
"It's only natural to repose yourself in the will of God," he says. "If you're a believer, then you must believe that God, somehow, is a presence in all of this. But God didn't tell anybody that you go through life without disasters."

Still, talk of religion's role in the disaster irks Marty. Following the devastation in Lisbon in 1755, priests roamed the streets, hanging those they believed had incurred God's wrath. That event "shook the modern world," he notes, changing people's idea of a benevolent, all-caring God.

The ludicrous assertion that priests had "roamed the streets" hanging people after the Lisbon earthquake was made by Vargas, and apparently passed by one or more editors at the Post without raising any questions. The claim was then picked up and repeated by a number of other news sources.

It struck at least one person odd, however: a woman named Theresa Carpinelli. In the Catholic Exchange, she tells the fascinating story of her effort to get to the bottom of this smear against her church. A casual reader of the paragraphs quoted above might attribute the "hanging" reference to Professor Marty. In fact, however, he was astonished to learn that the claim was being attributed to him. It appears that it may have originated in an unsourced, wholly imaginary Wikipedia entry. For reasons not yet explained, Vargas slipped it into his article in the midst of Professor Marty's comments. Ms. Carpinelli has corresponded with Vargas and the hoax has been exposed, but as far as I can determine, the Post has not run a correction.

The moral of the story is that news sources that are considered reliable by many people, like the Washington Post, in fact make a great many errors--some innocent, others not. If an assertion sounds outlandish, like the claim that roving bands of 18th century Catholic priests went about hanging people, realize that it may very well be a fabrication. (Or, to take another example, the claim that a Secretary of the Interior expressed the view that environmental preservation is unnecessary in view of the imminent end of the world.) And bear in mind that false statements seem to be made more frequently about some people--Catholics, say, or Republicans--than about others.

Thursday, February 10, 2005

An Exemplary Life

In the books section of the current issue of National Review is a look at Right Turns, the recently published autobiography of Michael Medved. Medved is a very accomplished and genteel individual whose evolving attitudes toward morality and society reflect important trends of recent decades. The review, written by the present author, is available only in the print and web-.pdf versions of the magazine, not online. Here are some excerpts which may whet your interest:

"If you want to understand how thoroughly the American elite moved from the right to the left in the 20th century, consider this: The most talked-about conversions are those that went the other way. Whittaker Chambers, Ronald Reagan, the neoconservatives, and the like are remembered not because their stories are so representative of the times, but because they are so unusual. . . .

"Like Ronald Reagan, who always said that he didn't leave the Democratic party but rather that the party left him, Medved didn't leave liberalism—liberalism left him.

"Medved makes that clear in his new memoir, Right Turns, while continuing to embrace the conservative label. During the early 1970s, Medved notes, he associated the term liberal with 'positive values like compassion, generosity, enlightenment, and integrity.' The American Left, however, though still called liberal, had moved away from those notions, and they were coming to be more commonly associated with the Right. As a result, leftism became exceedingly perverse and dangerous. . . .

"What makes Middle Americans so much more appealing to him than the liberal elite is their concern for individual moral choices—as opposed to mere words, which are notoriously easy to bestow. He says 'one of the most depressing, dysfunctional aspects of contemporary culture' is 'the focus on faraway problems over which we have no control rather than achievable aims in our immediate surroundings.'

". . . Medved notes that prosaic activities—such as his embarrassing daily habit of picking up trash off his neighborhood streets—are a very simple way we can all make the world better. 'Despite the alarming pronouncements of big-government demagogues who want us to feel powerless and paralyzed without their grandiose new programs,' he says, 'we can make the private choices that determine destiny.'

". . . Medved, an Orthodox Jew, writes that 'on every significant challenge-whether it's crime or poverty or family breakdown or drug addiction or educational inadequacy-serious Christianity represents part of the solution, not part of the problem.'"

Michael Medved is truly a good and generous man whose affection for bourgeois life, America, and decent, normal people is highly appealing. His life is an interesting and, as his book makes clear, instructive one.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

About Those 10-Year Medicare Drug Cost Projections

The headlines are screaming. The politicos are concerned, deeply concerned. Brows are being furrowed, furrows are being browed, green eyeshades are all the rage, and the political class finds itself shocked, shocked that projections---looking out ten years!---of program costs have increased.

And all of this is because of the evil drug companies: We are talking about the budget projections for the new Medicare drug benefit, after all, and the drug companies have raised some of their prices. This particular charge is deeply amusing, in that it is being made largely by politicians who would sooner lose an arm than cut taxes.

In any event, it turns out that the charge---most prominently in today's Washington Post---is not true. Yes, the ten-year projection made in 2003 was about $511 billion. Yes, the ten-year projection now is $723 billion. But those are two different ten-year periods---the former 2004-2013, the latter 2006-2015---a fact seemingly lost on the crack journalists from the Post, a group simultaneously ignorant, stupid, lazy, dishonest, biased, and arrogant. For the same ten-year period 2004-2013, the earlier projection was $511 billion, and the latter is $518 billion, a difference of about 1.4 percent. The difference in the two ten-year periods is crucial, because the earlier period includes two years before the program takes effect, and because the latter ten-year period includes more Medicare beneficiaries.

None of this says anything about whether the projections in the end will prove even remotely similar to the reality that emerges over time. But that is a different question. For now it is clear that the Post "reporters" are interested in engendering a political campaign in favor of involving the federal behemoth in the negotiation of drug prices. Since 1993, the feds have done that for childhood vaccines, and since 1993 there has been an endemic shortage of such vaccines and a monotonic decline in the number of producers. Any thoughts on why that might be?


Today's New York Times reports, "The Bush administration offered a new estimate of the cost of the Medicare drug benefit on Tuesday, saying it would cost $720 billion in the next 10 years."

The article quotes Judd Gregg (R-NH), the new chair of the Senate Budget Committee, as saying he wants to "put the brakes on the growth of entitlements" and take a close look at the new Medicare law.

"Since it was sold as a $400 billion program, that's what we should keep it at," Mr. Gregg said.

Well, good luck with that.

The pattern for these entitlements has been well established, and it's clear how this one is destined to play out.

Let's go back four years and move forward from there. Espying potential political gain, the two parties compete to buy the votes of a particular political constituency by simultaneously lauding the wonderful benefits of a new spending program while underestimating the costs. Then, when the true costs are coming to be known, the conservative party says, "Whoops! Better get those costs in line. Have to cut benefits and raise payroll taxes for this." And the leftward party says, "Whoa, there, fellas! Peoples is counting on this money! If you cut them off, they'll die!" The conservative party then loses nerve, and raises the ante, but not enough to please anybody. They lose votes. The leftward party gets credit for saving the lives of real, needy people from the evil, green-eyeshade-wearing, big-business-favoring, kickback-taking accounting geeks of the conservative party.

And in the next go-round and ever after, the discussion is never to be whether or why, but only how much?

I'm sure the prescription drug benefit helped President Bush win a few key states in the recent election. It's surely worth it to him. But is it worth it to us?

Dean's Abortion Profile

George Neumayr has a worthwhile piece up at American Spectator on Howard Dean's ties with Planned Parenthood. Much has been made of Dem agonizing about how they can reconnect with voters motivated by their faith. I got news for you, naming Dr. Dean the party chair won't help.

Here's a nice excerpt:

At the very moment Democrats are claiming to distance themselves from abortion, they run back towards it by making Howard Dean -- a former doctor for Planned Parenthood -- their public face. Though the press almost never mentions it, Dean did an OB/GYN rotation for Planned Parenthood in the 1970s and later served as an executive board member of Planned Parenthood New England, meaning that he directly oversaw the largest abortion provider in the region. Were the Democrats sincerely moving to the middle on abortion, selecting a former overseer of abortion would have been the last thing to do.

Now they have managed to lash themselves to abortion even tighter by turning a Planned Parenthood alumnus and mascot -- Dean received the organization's Margaret Sanger award -- into the party's chief spokesman. Yes, like Hillary Clinton, Dean will try and call a few audibles on his old colleagues and friends at Planned Parenthood. But that won't work. In politics, past is prologue and perception.

What the Democratic party doesn't understand is that a tight relationship with Planned Parenthood nowadays is not good resume' material. In an era when the womb has become more or less transparent, anybody with a conscience has become pretty uneasy with the idea of abortion.

Churchill Downs, No Backtrack

This Ward Churchill genius at the University of Colorado gave a speech last night in which he declared that he stands behind his earlier article that likens the 9/11 victims to little Eichmanns.

I guess it takes one to think he knows one.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Salty Christians

This piece will be to some extent a bit of inside politics for Christians, but I believe it may be of interest to all readers concerned about the nexus of politics and religion.

The conservative columnist and radio host Doug Giles had an interesting article on Christianity and culture on TownHall a couple of days ago. Giles takes Jesus's statement that his followers are "the salt of the earth," and expounds on what this means in regard to Christians' relationship to the broader, secular society. Unfortunately, his position reflects a common misconception among Christians that has done a significant amount of damage to both the church and the culture.

Giles points out that the prophets written about in the Bible were "salty dogs" who were "raw and fiery" and "were not genteel placaters of the people." He says that Jesus's fiery statements make "the Dennis Miller Show look lame" by comparison. He chides contemporary Christians for not displaying this same sort of intensity, and strongly criticizes American Christians for the various ills that beset the nation today. Giles says,

"I do not blame Playboy, Las Vegas, the gay agenda, Air America, or whomever for our societal tooth decay. I blame the 'righteous' ones who will not shamelessly proclaim truth in such a way that it is persuasive, provocative and preserving. Yes, churches that do not seriously stand for truth commit institutional suicide and effectively marginalize themselves, rather than being the salt-shaking organisms God has called them to be."

I surmise that Giles is not referring to Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson here, but to the nation's mainline Protestant denominations and perhaps to many leaders in the Catholic Church. in America.

Giles certainly has a point, and his argument should be taken seriously, though I wonder whether one can truly be "persuasive" to the overall public while being extremely "provocative" and salty. Too much salt ruins a dish. After all, Jesus said that the world would hate those who followed him, and his judgment has proven quite accurate. (By the world, he meant unbelievers.)

Giles superbly represents the Puritan-derived position of today's American evangelicals regarding how Christians should live in the world. In doing so, however, he also indicates the limitations of that view. It is a position that would be much more accurate and effective if fortified with greater attention to some important thoughts from pre-Calvinist Christianity. Specifically, a respect for the power of Original Sin.

I absolutely agree with Giles's point about how the Jesus, the apostles, and the prophets, spoke, and I entirely disagree with his statement about the cause of the problems of the world.

Jesus was, if anything, even harsher in his language than Giles suggests. Jesus called clean-living church leaders a "brood of vipers," referred to one of his own apostles as "Satan," and told people that their father was the devil. However, it is important to note that Jesus did not use these words to condemn moral failings. He reserved these words for religious hypocrites who would prevent people from direct contact with God or who would impede the coming of Christ's kingdom.

When dealing with moral failings, Jesus typically did not call people names, though he was always firm about telling people to stop their sinning. Thus Christ made his priorities clear: first one is redeemed by God, and then one's behavior is sanctified; never the other way around. He told his followers to love God, and then to love their neighbors. The latter follows from and is made possible by the former.

Giles's point that Jesus was by no means the meek and mild sufferer some people have portrayed him as, is quite good and valid.

However, I disagree strongly with Giles's notion that the weakness of the Church is the reason for sin being so strong in the world. Sin is strong in the world because it is central in every human being's heart. Jesus cane to liberate people from that enslavement, and he sent the Holy Spirit to work in people's hearts to fight for us against our own sinful desires. That is the only way that people can be freed from sin. And insofar as the Church fails to proclaim the Gospel, it does fail in its duty to the world.

But, all told, the Church has not failed to proclaim the Gospel. Some sects and denominations have done a wretched job of it, certainly, at various times. They have indeed watered down Christ's message into social, moral codes that Jesus would have condemned as a secondary matter that actually impedes God's direct work of saving souls. As Paul said, the reason for the law is to point us toward the need for a Savior.

In the main, however, the Church does proclaim the Gospel very well. People have little doubt about what the Church stands for, who Jesus claimed to be, and what he came here to do. That message has certainly got out there.

Yes, the Church is far from perfect, riven with human jealousies, rivalries, arrogance, ignorance, and inanity, but in the main it has not failed to proclaim the Gospel while doing all those unnecessary and indeed counterproductive things. The world knows what Jesus said, why he said it, and what he meant by it. The Church has not failed in sending that message.

Yet people continue to resist, because they do not agree that the claims of Christ and His Church are true. This resistance is a direct product of the sin in people's hearts, which veils the truth from their eyes. It is not attributable solely or even in great part to a failure to preach the Gospel. The reason sin remains so prevalent in the world is simply that the human heart is utterly inclined toward rebellion, according to Christian theology.

Hence, Giles is entirely incorrect when he says that Jesus, the prophets, and the Apostles were always "challenging people whose attitudes and actions were corrosive to the culture." They were most assuredly not doing that. What they were doing was challenging people whose attitudes and actions were standing in the way of their own and their neighbors' salvation, redemption, and sanctification. That was the central concern for the prophets and apostles, and it was and is always Jesus's concern; and everything else follows from that.

As the twentieth century theologian Richard Niebuhr noted, in his excellent book Christ and Culture (1951), Jesus is not in, outside, above, or beyond culture–he transforms human cultures. He does so through the transformation of individual souls, which liberates them from our natural slavery to sin and blindness.

The Church's duty, then, is exactly that of any individual: love God, love your neighbor. We all fail in that duty, utterly and tragically, every moment of every day. But that failure is not the reason there is so much sin in the world. There is so much sin in the world because sin is central to the human heart, and so many human hearts remain unredeemed.

Christians are not the cause of that. All we can do is love God, love our neighbors, and pray for the redemption of the world and Christ's swift return. The culture will be transformed as individual souls are redeemed.

Like the Social Gospel preachers whom he so rightly criticizes, Giles places too much emphasis on transforming society and too little on transforming individuals. I am sure that he recognizes the essential importance of the latter concern, but the failure to translate that insight into a practical perspective that puts political matters in their proper, distinctly secondary position among concerns for the church harms both church and society.

(Empty) News (Empty) Briefs

The Democrats don't like the 2.57 trillion dollar budget... neither do we... who is it exactly that does like it?

And a Welsh rugby fan cut off his testicles to celebrate his team's victory... what would he have done if they lost?

Monday, February 07, 2005

A Fish Not Inter The Net

Out at sea... got scant moments at 55 cents a minute...

Had our first Barnes-storming session today, everything was made Kristol-clear, although the sea was pitching harder than Randy Johnson...

Wish you were here, guys... and congrats to Doc Zycher for his little debate with Stelzer in the last edition of Weekly Standard (the one with Disraeli on the cover)... my nickname for Disraeli is Dean Dizzy....

gotta run... or float...

Welcome Back, Mr. Karnick . . .

Might we take a moment to celebrate the return of one S.T. Karnick? I'm getting the sense you readers like his work, especially since traffic has an odd way of moving based on his presence or absence.

He has assured me he will return to regular posting, so you Karnickians stay tuned. Ditto for you Reynoldsites, Zycherons, Homnick-heads, and Bakercentrics (no matter how few, though incredibly bright, you may be).

Austen in Bollywood and Human Incompleteness

Gurinder Chadha, director of the excellent comedy film Bend It Like Beckham, has finished a new picture which will be released to U.S. movie theaters on February 25. It is called Bride and Prejudice, and as the title suggests, it is based on Jane Austen's delightful and much-filmed 1813 novel Pride and Prejudice.

Chada's version of the story will include some cross-cultural conflicts based in the central romance of a young Indian woman named Lalita and an American Darcy.

I'm greatly looking forward to seeing what Chadha will do with the story, and I found one quote from her in the Reuters article fascinating:

"'What's incredible about this is that even though Jane Austen was writing 200-odd years ago, she was writing at a time when women were not considered whole unless they were married,' the Kenyan-born, British-raised Chadha said in an interview before the film's U.S. debut.

"'That is still very relevant to many places around the world, and particularly small town India,' she said."

What I find interesting about Chada's comment is that she sees this attitude as so odd and antiquated. Perhaps a reason she sees it so strange is that she limits it to the female perspective. For I should say that neither a man nor a woman is complete without being married.

That is a very controversial thing to claim in these times, I understand, but it seems to me that history and art make it clear that it has been true for the overwhelming majority of people throughout human history.

To be incomplete, after all, simply means to be imperfect. Is Chada suggesting that all women are perfect before marriage? One would hardly think so, if only based on the evidence in Bend It Like Beckham.

It is quite silly, actually, to try to hide from the notion that one is incomplete. Surely, there is no unique shame in acknowledging one's imperfection. Quite the contrary, in fact.

There is a great glory in acknowleding one's incompleteness. Admitting our imperfections is the thing that makes it possible for us to become better, especially through the acceptance of the continuous love of another person. (The refusal to admit one's imperfections is, in fact, what makes so many people unlovable. They refuse to be loved because they cannot bear to be seen as incomplete, as imperfect.) In addition, another person's incompleteness makes it possible for us to do them the great good of improving their lot in life by loving them in return.

It is this, after all, that the young lovers in Austen's novels seek, and which, to be honest, nearly all human beings desire. To view that beautiful, fine impulse as an unnecessary cultural flaw seems to me an utterly tragic and horrible choice.

Geo-Green Garbage

New York Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman offered “The Geo-Green Alternative” on January 30:

“I am a geo-green. The geo-greens believe that, going forward, if we put all our focus on reducing the price of oil — by conservation, by developing renewable and alternative energies and by expanding nuclear power — we will force more reform than by any other strategy. You give me $18-a-barrel oil and I will give you political and economic reform from Algeria to Iran. . . . Shrink their oil revenue and they will have to open up their economies and their schools and liberate their women so that their people can compete. It’s that simple. By refusing to rein in US energy consumption, the Bush team is . . . depriving itself of the most effective lever for promoting internally driven reform in the Middle East.”

“Geo-Green” relies on economic illiteracy. If oil fell to $18, there would obviously be much less incentive to conserve oil or to develop expensive alternative energy sources, including nuclear. It is sheer fantasy to imagine the Bush team could somehow “rein in US energy consumption” enough to make a dent in the global oil price. Even if oil prices did fall by a buck or two as a result of some sort of mandatory US austerity scheme, the benefit would go to China and other countries who would gladly buy any cheaper oil we unloaded on the world market.

Mr. Friedman’s geo-whiz political forecast fares no better than his economics. The price of West Texas Intermediate crude was below $18 most of the time from February 1986 to June 1999 -- falling as low as $11.28 at the end of 1998 and remaining below $20 at the end of 2001. So, why did we not see “political and economic reform from Algeria to Iran”? It’s that simple.

Sunday, February 06, 2005

Not A Standard Week

Heading out this afternoon from Ft. Lauderdale on the Westerdam with the Weekly Standard cruise until the morning of Feb. 13. Not sure if I'll get a chance to post....

Molester With One-Tract Mind

This case in Springdale, Arkansas, has really fascinating elements, legally and otherwise.

A man bought a house in a new subdivision and shortly thereafter the police publicized that he is a registered sex offender. Now nobody wants to buy houses there and the people who have bought in want out.

Is that his problem, ethically? Assuming that he no longer engages in the behavior and has paid his debt to society, does he have to be bound by their fears? That's Question #1.

The developers of the subdivision approached him and asked him to sell the house back. He said he would be glad to, if they pay him a quarter-million over his purchase price. They are indignant over this rank extortion.

Is he wrong to ask a premium for having to accept a scarlet-letter rejection from an entire community of people when he believes that he has worked his way past this particular temptation? Question #2.

The developers have now taken the further step of suing him for buying the house and suing the real-estate broker who brought him in as a purchaser without informing the developers of his background.

Do they have a case legally? Does a person not on parole have a legally quantifiable obligation to inform people around him that they might not want him as a neighbor? Question #3.

Saturday, February 05, 2005

Pop Diddly Culture Revelations

An interesting AP article by Frazier Moore (read it here) reports that Ned Flanders of The Simpsons is the character on the show who now most closely represents the national zeitgeist. If true, this indicates quite a serious social change, of course, and is exemplified by the following rather startling statement from one of the show's producers, quoted in the piece:

"The writers like Ned as a person better than Homer."

According to the AP report, Ned will be at the center of this Sunday's show, in which the controversy over last year's Super Bowl halftime show is satirized, and the tale takes some ironic and revealing turns as it reaches its conclusion.

Friday, February 04, 2005

Crux Magazine

I want to take a moment to flack for Crux Magazine. When fully realized, Crux will be a full color, glossy mag competing with Time, Rolling Stone, etc. and will have a broadly Christian editorial cast. I've signed on to help with their weblogs, which you can find links to at the main website.

For now, the website and the blogs are all there is, but this group got Touchstone (which is great reading) off the ground, so I think they can get Crux done, too.

Semper Hi-Fi

The Marines have given a slap, possibly on the wrist, to this Lieutenant General who spoke somewhat intemperately.

He said about the Taliban in Afghanistan: "Some of these men had been slapping women around for five years for not wearing a veil. Someone like that has not got much manhood left and it feels darn good to shoot him."

Since we should never say such things out loud, let us also condemn him and say, "Sir, please don't say such things out loud in future."

Lax With The Ex

Great headline on Yahoo: Michael Jackson Signed Ex To Secrecy.

Darn, why didn't I think of that?

Thursday, February 03, 2005


Ya gotta love it. Kofi, outraged, is disciplining some factotums because of facts out about 'em. Apparently, they got kickbacks from Oil-For-Food. He must be hoping they don't kick back at him and reveal that he got his co-fee, too.

Choose The Cheesy Candidate?

Kinky Friedman, head of the Texas Jewboys band and author of humorous detective novels starring himself as the lead character, has announced his candidacy for Governor of Texas.

Incidentally, one of his books has this great opening: "It was raining cool cats and hot dogs when I stepped out into the street...."

Also, his song 'They Don't Make Jews Like Jesus Anymore' is more than just humorous and clever, it makes some very interesting social statements.

But if he wins, I'm going to go out and get fried, man.

Bless The New Arrival

Headline on Reuters-Yahoo: Nearly 20% Of U.S. Plane Arrivals Late.

You mean: Over 80% On Time?

Club for Growth Split Was a Divorce

Thanks to RedState for pointing to the story from the New York Sun.

For those who don't know, Steve Moore headed the Club for Growth from its inception in 1999 through the 2004 election. The Club gathered donations for pro-growth spending cutters unapologetically dedicated to the free market. Moore and the Club carefully targeted donations from members to races that would do the most to change the balance of power in federal and state governments. In most cases, they succeeded.

The Club sent out an email to members recently in which they announced that Steve Moore would be passing the torch of leadership to failed Pennsylvania candidate for the Senate, Pat Toomey. As the New York Sun reveals, it wasn't so much a torch passing as it was a divorce. The story doesn't make clear the exact nature of the dispute, but the revelation is somewhat worrying. Moore and the Club made a dynamic combination. One seriously wonders how well the organization will perform without his pioneering leadership.

Strom's Daughter

I had the privilege of listening to Stale Aire with Terri Gross interview Strom Thurmond's first daughter. As mentioned on this blog before, her mother was African-American so the love affair was hidden. Thurmond took a strong interest in her upbringing and supported her, though somewhat secretly, throughout his life. She waited for his passing to reveal their relationship in a book titled Dear Senator.

Her name is Essie Mae Washington-Williams and what was really interesting was her interaction with reliably liberal Terri Gross. Although Gross continually tried to draw Mrs. Williams into affirming the typical left-wing line, the elderly daughter of Senator Thurmond insisted on seeing events her own way. She was disappointed with her father's segregationist politics, but felt strongly that his heart was different. When Gross suggested Thurmond tried to steer his daughter into a segregated college, she shot back, "He wanted me to go wherever I wanted to go." She did, in fact, go up north to a nursing program, but didn't care for it and decided to go back home to the segregated South Carolina State. She also proclaimed her love for that college and spoke fondly of meeting her husband there.

Life just ain't simple, folks.

Wrestling with Nostalgia

As a child, I was addicted to the weekend wrestling match-ups broadcast on Ted Turner's old Superstation out of Atlanta. Stars included Tommy "Wildfire" Rich, Mr. Wrestling Number One and Mr. Wrestling Number Two, the Iron Sheik, Ole' Andersen, and many others. Some wrestlers were there purely to put up a good effort and then get pounded. I particularly recall a guy named Chip Donovan who was specifically there to lose to nasty bad guys. When my father told me the whole thing was a fix, I argued the point hard. He eventually prevailed and by the time I reached high school I was shocked to find some guys still bought the whole enchilada.

Anyway, I said all that to say this: Opinion Journal has a nice article about a convention in Tampa featuring a reunion of wrestling stars from years past. It's an enjoyable break from politics and the endless red state/blue state analysis.

One more thing: El Homnick has a new piece up at American Spectator on death benefits for soldiers. The guy writes about EVERYTHING.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Buried in Baylorama

Sorry for the lack of posting, readers. I've been buried in lots of Baylor work. I've got one professor doing a book on Francis Schaeffer that requires my help. Another uses me to help teach his Law and Religion class. Last, and certainly not least, I have a lot of work with the university's administration right now.

I couldn't blog the SOTU even if I wanted to. I began politics observing Reagan speak and can't stand to watch Bush deliver a speech, love him though I do. I'll read the speech online and comment later. Thanks to Mr. Homnick for keeping the ball rolling.

State Of The Union Getting Bicker And Bicker

They say that it is a 'tradition' dating back to 1966 and that it was begun by Republicans Everett Dirksen of the Senate and Gerald Ford of the House. They were the first to counter a sitting President's State of the Union address with the response by the opposing party.

Well, that's a lovely bit of history, but for my money, it stinks. The State of the Union address, mandated in the founding documents of our nation, is not the function of one party or another. It should be the trumpet of our republic and people across the world should hail it as the authentic voice of these United States.

To immediately parochialize it into the voice of a single party, however ascendant, is to bring an unbeseeming crassness to the moment.

It may be around for forty years but that does not prettify it any. Palindromia does not a 'tradition' make.

Because Republicans started it, I suppose that it will be their job to stop it as well. The next time a Democrat wins the Presidency, I call upon the Republican leaders to voluntarily forgo this gray badge of smallness.

Running For The Borders

Rush Limbaugh and others in the Administration-sympathetic camp have been making the point that the terrorists of Afghanistan and Iraq are not covered as combatants under the Geneva Convention, nor are they U. S. citizens who are entitled to Constitutional rights. This seems to be a defensible position, speaking from the exclusive standpoint of legality.

The question then is: will we employ no standard at all? If someone falls into a gray area between the laws and the compacts, between the treaties and the conventions, between the accords and the concords, should we exercise no limits at all in the conditions of their treatment? And if we do impose boundaries on ourselves, policed only by our own good will, should we quantify them into some legal category or should we avail ourselves of the flexibility allowed by voluntary terms of restraint?

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

I Don't Wanna Get Evolved

Here's a thought: shortly after the judge in Cobb County, Georgia, ruled that it is unconstitutional to have a sticker in the science textbook saying that 'evolution should be studied with an open mind', a freak ice storm hit Georgia this weekend.

Could it be that God is exercising His First Amendment right to freeze peach?