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

Saturday, March 12, 2005

All Creatures Great and Small... The Lord God Made Them All

I would recommend that people, Jews and non-Jews alike, read this powerful essay by Elie Wiesel. It is nominally directed at Jews but applies to all: although it is important that we invest our primary philanthropic energies in our family and community, there must be some left for real people in need all over the world. Only God can give full attention to every creature simultaneously, but they each deserve some attention, and attentiveness.

When you use the link to the Forward, it will ask you to register for free. Once you register, come back and hit the link again, and it will allow you to proceed directly to the article.

Friday, March 11, 2005

Escaping The Hangman's News

After nearly forty years of listening to radio news, this was the dumbest ever. After the anchorette announced that a man on trial for rape had overpowered a deputy, stolen her gun, killed the judge and two other people, commandeered a car and escaped, she added this:

ABC's Aaron Katursky reports that there is no word yet as to a possible motive.

More Shameless Self-Promotion

I have been traveling for the last week, in my endless defense of capitalism and all things good and proper, and so let me note a bit tardily for all Reform Clubbers a "Statement of California Economists In Favor of Constitutional Spending Limitation," published jointly by the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association and the Pacific Research Institute (where I am a senior fellow). The statement, published as part of a double-page advertisement in Tuesday's Sacramento Bee, was written, and the forty-two signatures gathered by, ... yes, yours truly. Nobel laureate Milton Friedman is one of the economists endorsing the statement, a very, very good group indeed. The statement and economist list are reproduced below. The Left is fond of arguing that "California should be a leader," meaning of course that it should use political and regulatory processes to steal the property of others; I too believe that the Golden State should lead, in a direction rather different:



<>March 2005

<> Every California family must make difficult spending choices among housing, groceries, clothing, and the like within a fixed overall budget. Similarly, Californians through democratic processes choose between overall public and private spending, and among various public programs. Because there always are limits to the ability of taxpayers to finance public spending, there must be an overall budget maximum for state spending programs, a constraint within which government officials and agencies must learn to operate. < style="font-family: times new roman;">
California’s tax rates are among the highest for the fifty states, and its business environment in terms of investment and employment expansion is poor. This means that Californians cannot afford higher taxes; indeed, California cannot become fully competitive with other states without tax relief, and taxes will not be reduced until spending is brought under control.
Despite revenue growth of $5 billion for the next fiscal year, the longer term structural deficit in the California state budget now is estimated at about $6 billion or more annually. This now-familiar imbalance between pressures to spend and the ability of Californians to finance larger government results from the political environment within which public officials make choices: Pressures to spend more each year are exerted by large, identifiable groups that can deliver sizeable blocs of votes, while the benefits of fiscal discipline accrue to millions of less-organized taxpayers and to the economy as a whole.

A constitutional spending limit will help to reform the inconsistent spending mandates now embedded in California law, and will force government to recognize and operate within the limited incomes earned by Californians. A mere balanced-budget requirement---even if it could be enforced---would allow government to spend as much as it manages to collect, a system that will not force public officials to recognize fully the cost of government spending. That is why constitutional spending limitation now is necessary for the long-term economic health of California.

< style="font-family: times new roman;">< style="font-family: times new roman;"><>Signed (Affiliations for identification purposes only).< style="font-family: times new roman;"> < style="font-family: times new roman;">

Armen A. Alchian University of California, Los Angeles

William R. Allen University of California, Los Angeles

Charles W. Baird California State University, Hayward

Ronald Batchelder Pepperdine University

Richard A. Bilas California State University, Bakersfield

Thomas E. Borcherding Claremont Graduate University

Henry N. Butler Chapman University

Henry G. Demmert Santa Clara University

Harold Demsetz University of California, Los Angeles

Arthur Denzau Claremont Graduate University

Larry Dougharty Former Mayor, City of Manhattan Beach

Fred E. Foldvary Santa Clara University

Milton Friedman Hoover Institution, Stanford University

Gary M. Galles Pepperdine University

Thomas W. Gilligan University of Southern California

Rodolfo A. Gonzalez San Jose State University

Peter Gordon University of Southern California

Steven F. Hayward Pacific Research Institute

Dale M. Heien University of California, Davis

David R. Henderson Hoover Institution, Stanford University

Jack Hirshleifer University of California, Los Angeles

Jesse R. Huff Former Director, California Department of Finance

Ronald N. Johnson San Diego, California

Daniel Klein Santa Clara University

Robert C. Krol California State University, Northridge

Clay La Force Dean Emeritus, Anderson School of Management,

University of California, Los Angeles

Tibor R. Machan Chapman University

Michael L. Marlow California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo

John G. Matsusaka University of Southern California

Lawrence J. McQuillan Pacific Research Institute

Tom Means San Jose State University

Robert J. Michaels California State University, Fullerton

Lydia D. Ortega San Jose State University

Neal A. Pepper Los Angeles, California

Philip Romero Former Chief Economist to the Governor of California

Alan C. Shapiro University of Southern California

Stephen Shmanske California State University, Hayward

Edward Stringham San Jose State University

Shirley Svorny California State University, Northridge

Thomas D. Willett Claremont Graduate University

Paul J. Zak Claremont Graduate University

Benjamin Zycher Pacific Research Institute

Life Hacking . . .

Although I do not utilize a personal digital assistant, a paper planner, an inbox, an outbox, a diary, or even a wall calendar, I have become fascinated by the internet sites on Life Hacking. These websites tell you how to manage your personal information and affairs with maximum efficiency or, failing that, with maximum aesthetic and creative appeal. A Martha Stewart of Life Hacking is quite likely on the way. Two sites that have caught my attention are 43 Folders and Lifehacker. Check it out. It's fun, even if you carry the info around in your head and your email box like I do. Actually, they've got hacks for that, too.

Back With More Theology - Oy Vey!

Oh, oh, Hunter, I must have forgotten to ask "Lead us not into temptation" this morning (actually the Jewish version is: 'Please do not bring us to be tested or humiliated'). And here I was looking forward to a restful day.

Sadly, it is my view that Prof. Beckwith is wrong. Or, conversely, if he is right it is meaningless.

Let's start from my second point and work back. If God does not have to be in Hell because He does not occupy space, then He is not anywhere else, either, so there is no point to the question.

The premise of the question is as follows. The Scriptural idea of 'His honor fills the earth' (Isaiah 6:3) has been traditionally understood by Jewish and Christian theologians alike to refer to a type of presence that, although ethereal, is designed to be a gracing of Creation in a manner that can be defined in terms of Space. Now there is a sort of theological paradox in this, but it is quite clear that Scripture conveys this concept. Indeed it is only because this is true that it is possible to speak of the immanentization of His presence in more concentrated ways in particularized locations, as in 'And they shall make Me a dwelling-place and I will dwell among them' (Exodus 25:8).

Since this is a reality, it now becomes interesting to ask if indeed this presence exists also in Hell, pace your sister-in-law. To answer that it doesn't because the Divine is beyond Space is a tautology and simply not responsive to the query.

If so, what is in fact the answer? First we must say, as Joseph did, '(only) the Lord has the answers' (Genesis 40:8). On the other hand, to the extent that He has revealed glimpses of His wisdom, we are obligated to make our best effort to fathom, just as Joseph, after that introduction, did in fact provide an answer.

Let us approach this matter in stages. Firstly, why would it be problematic for God's presence to be in Hell? We say that it is everywhere on Earth to some degree, including Jeffrey Dahmer's refrigerator and brothels in Thailand with 11-year-old boys and girls for sale. It is even in the chambers of Judge Greer, whose life's prime ambition seems to be the death by starvation of Terry Schindler Schiavo.

So if indeed Hell is a place on Earth, as implied in many verses about Gehenna being underground, then God's presence would have to be there, barring a drastic reinterpretation of the verse in Isaiah. But so what? That level of presence allows itself to be humiliated by the presence of Evil, that humiliation being redeemed in turn by the ultimate victory of Good. And since you need that ultimate victory to redeem the existence of Evil in God's Creation anyway, it is but a small step to the idea that it palliates the offense committed against His presence as well.

On the other hand, if we take the verses about Gehenna's physical reality to be symbolic, and we posit Hell as a spiritual reality that is not bounded by Space, then perhaps we could leave God out of that reality in a spatial sense. But again, this is not saying much, because if Hell ain't spatial then it ain't special not to have an immanent presence there.

Speaking of big brains . . .

The famed pro-life philosopher Francis Beckwith is in my department. Knowing that he dwells on deep questions from time to time, I asked him one presented by my sister-in-law. She wondered, "If God is omnipresent, is God in Hell?" This is the sort of question to make the scholastics dance (on the head of a pin, perhaps). When I heard it, I shrugged it away as one of those many mysteries that characterize the faith. After all, how could I know?

Nevertheless, I saw good Beckwith walking the hall and asked him. He responded instantly that God is not in Hell. Why? He explained that though God is the necessary condition for everything that exists, He does not actually take up physical space. Thus, he does not, of necessity, have to occupy space in Hell. He then started to talk about whether one would need to go to church again if one crossed the international date line on Sunday. We'll save that for another time.

Beckwith occasionally browses this blog, so perhaps he'll write in if I (due to lack of philosophical training) have failed to adequately explain his argument.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

In Tuition

The great Karnick is trying to figure out why he's smarter than other folks, and he has discovered "Intuition and Common Sense".

Since I grew up amongst a cadre of remarkable geniuses, many of whom had mastered several disciplines, I will teach you the secret of great intellects.

It is a thing that I call 'educated intuition'. It is a process whereby the collective study and deliberation of a lifetime merge into one blinding flash of intuitive clarity that comes in the moment that a large problem or a complex question is raised.

If you know great scholars and geniuses up close, you will observe that no matter how nuanced and confused a question is presented to them, they always know the answer INSTANTLY. They actually process problems in reverse; they know "yes" or "no" immediately, and then they unpack the details of their conclusion from their psyche - afterward.

Intuition and Common Sense

In today's edition of Tech Central Station, your faithful correspondent tackles the matter of the scientific value of common sense. There is more to this question than is perhaps immediately apparent. It goes to the basic question of how people find truth.

I think that most people operate on intuition most of the time, by which I mean that the brain continuously processes huge amounts of information, quite logically and rationally, far more quickly than we could possibly do consciously. We use a variety of terms to describe this activity, such as "sleeping on it," something "percolating," or a problem being "in the back of my mind."

This is the process classically known as intuition, and it is a truly valuable concept. It is simply the way the human brain operates. It should not be seen as some sort of spooky, New Age concept but instead as a highly scientific and testable proposition. The fact that a person can come to an absolutely correct and ultimately provable conclusion about something but not be able to outline (at least immediately) the exact process of reasoning by which the conclusion was reached—that is the working of intuition.

Of course, intuititively derived conclusions can be dead wrong and even dangerous, so testing each such proposition, through use of reasoning and evidence, is an essential part of the process of accumulation of knowledge. Nonetheless, intuition can be a valuable way of pointing people toward truths.

The Enlightenment, and especially the flowering of its concepts that occurred during the twentieth century, elevated philosophical Rationalism to a position of not just preeminence but actual dispositiveness, and tended to chase away other ways of acquiring knowledge. This is a mistake, however, given that, as noted earlier, intuition and rationalism can work together to advance human knowledge more quickly and reliably than either can do alone.

Intuition, I believe, is the process that often operates behind the development of what we call common sense, and the sense behind the latter concept is the subject of my Tech Central Station article for today.

Some brief excerpts:

One of the major principles of life that was discarded during the past half-century, and particularly during the last quarter-century, was the deceptively simple notion we call common sense. The idea that there could be such a thing as true folk wisdom was increasingly disdained, to be replaced by a usually laudable desire for scientific evidence and an often excessive regard for experts. . . .

There is much folk wisdom that is quite wrong, to be sure, but it is important to remember where much of it comes from: several-thousand years of trial and error by humans very much like ourselves, in genetic terms at the very least. . . .

But we should always have respect for propositions that prove true even though we aren't quite sure why. . .

Which brings us to a fascinating article in the New York Times, on the matter of colic in infants. Colic is the prolonged, unexplained crying that some babies habitually do during the early months of their lives. Scientists, the article notes, are in great disagreement over the causes of colic, and equally discordant over what parents should best do about it.

What is particularly interesting about this as regards common sense is the solution suggested by a doctor who has studied the problem and come up with a five-step treatment that seems to do wonders in quelling infants' crying jags. It is an excellent case of human experience over the ages being codified into common-sense truths that are nonetheless true despite being difficult to prove in logical, scientific terms. . . .

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

The Incredible Shrinking Country

I had always maintained that my admiration for Charles Krauthammer knew no bounds. Add to that the fact that both his family and mine have the tradition that we are descended from Rashi (1035-1105), author of the greatest comprehensive Biblical and Talmudic commentary in history.

But today I have a bone to pick with him over his endorsement of Sharon's strategy in unilateral ceding of territories prior to negotiations. Hey, maybe I got a little carried away, but the writing is hot, smokin' hot.

Rather vs. The National Enquirer

Kathryn Lopez interviews the author of a new book taking down Gunga Dan. The catch: He's a top reporter for The National Enquirer (Did anybody think they'd see "top reporter" and "National Enquirer" in the same sentence? You have now.)

Through The Peephole Anew

In the category of Trailing Edge Film Reviews, I rented The People I Know, a 2002 movie starring Al Pacino, Kim Basinger and Tea Leoni (and back from the dead, Ryan O'Neal).

If I wanted to knock it, I could say that it was just Pacino doing a remake of Carlito's Way set in the Upper West Side. And that point is indisputable.

But the film has depth, with the usual great performance by Al, a very endearing Kim (she can do this childlike smile that makes you feel glad to be alive) and Tea at her most magnificent - now that is one underrated actress, always solid at minimum, often inspired.

What stands out for Republican types is the relentless scourging of all the liberal totems. Come to think of it, perhaps that accounts for its laggardness at the box office.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Neuchterlein on the Democrats' Dilemma

It is always a joy to see a new article by James Nuechterlein, former editor of First Things and a senior fellow of the Institute on Religion and Public Life. In a long book review in the current issue of the magazine, Neuchterlein has provided an excellent analysis of why the Democrats have been in decline. A few excerpts give a flavor of Neuchterlein's arguments and clear writing:

"it is not too much to say that the Democrats’ current electoral dilemma boils down to this: their old economic issues no longer work, and on cultural issues they lose."

"The degree to which moral and cultural differences determined last November’s results is hotly debated, but everyone agrees that to the extent that they did matter, they overwhelmingly helped the Republicans. Liberals find it necessary to deny recurring suspicions that they are antinomians, moral relativists, and secularists set on removing religious values from the public square. Their discomfort with cultural issues is reflected in their protests that matters such as partial-birth abortion, school prayer, or same-sex marriage are not proper items for political debate; they are rather “wedge issues” that conservatives illegitimately bring into the public arena in order to divide the nation (read: in order to cost Democrats votes). A party whose response to a whole category of issues is to say, in effect, “we’d rather not talk about it,” is a party that has allowed the opposition to frame the terms of discussion."

"To sum up in a phrase: the Democrats are a center-left party in a center-right nation. They stumble over their message because if they clearly say what they most deeply believe it gets them in political trouble. Consider the contrast with their opponents. Republicans are conservatives who are proud to say so and who do not fear that saying so will hurt them. Democrats are liberals who, in a correct analysis of their political situation, assiduously avoid using the word that most commonly describes them. Their label discomfits them and their positions give them an edgy relation with the majority of voters."

Neuchterlein's argument is strong, fair, and definitely on target. Highly recommended.

The Ascendant Reagan

Former Reagan associate Peter Hannaford has a fascinating book review up at American Spectator. He read Reagan's Revolution by Craig Shirley and likes it . . . a lot. Shirley's book details the events of Reagan's 1976 campaign against Gerald Ford that fell just short of the mark. For trivia buffs, the Reagan-Ford battle was the last one to be resolved at the convention. (That's why the nets used to cover conventions in prime time. There was dynamite waiting to happen.)

As usual, here's a taste:

The final night of that convention brought the unprecedented call by President Gerald Ford to Ronald Reagan to come down to the floor and address the delegates. Reagan's short speech riveted the audience. Shirley captures the intensity of the moment and concludes that this speech was a turning point for the Republican Party. Thereafter, Ronald Reagan and the conservatives would be in the ascendancy.

Instead of becoming an aged almost-was, Reagan came back to change American politics and the world. Every Republican before or since (with the exception of Teddy Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln) suffers from comparison.

Monday, March 07, 2005

The Theoretical Equivalent of Children . . .

There are some people who really, really dig the state. These are the kind of guys who get within fifteen feet of dudes like Ben Zycher and Alan Reynolds and start itching because they are allergic to libertarians. Maybe you've met one. It's the person who thinks you should have to pay the IRS for theoretical rent income on your guest bedroom. Because you keep it absent, you are failing to generate taxable income and should be penalized. Churches are a problem because they avoid many taxes and by golly, the religious types should just pitch in for one building and take turns using it on a schedule.

James Lileks has uncovered this thinking among those who say there is no Social Security crisis. Why? Because people are having less children, so the number of people you support in your lifetime is actually going DOWN! You see, a young family man in the past might have had to support four or five children pretty frequently, but now you've usually only got one or two kids. With less dependents, there's plenty of room for you to open up the old wallet and pay for half the retirement of theoretical gramps.

Let Lileks say it:

“Dean Baker of the Washington-based Center for Economic Policy Research calculates that the ratio of all workers to all dependents – including children, retirees and adults who don’t work for wages – is close to highest it has ever been. This so-called ‘total dependency,’ approach covers a multitude of unknowables, such as the cost to a worker of supporting a child vs. a Social Security beneficiary.

“But if you’re looking at the strain on today’s workers of paying to support the nonworking population, it’s much lower than it used to be,’ said Baker, author of ‘Social Security: the Phony Crisis.”

Wow. Wow. Get it? They’ve just made the costs of raising your own kids and the taxes paid to support “adults who don’t work for wages” morally equivalent, part of your general responsibility as a citizen. Apparently your obligation to fund the sunset years of Theoretical Gramps is ethically indistinguishable from your obligation to the kid across from the dinner table with your chin and last name.

If the latter is the case, it’s nice they’re out in the open about it all, no? They believe that the obligation to tend for your family is indistinguishable from your obligation to keep Theo. Gramps in meds and bingo chits. But it’s not. I have a greater obligation to my family than to strangers. Note the clumsy attempt to equate retirees with all welfare recipients – “dependents” becomes your kids, someone’s gramps, and adults who don’t work. All equal, presumably, in their claims on your pocketbook.

This is the lamest argument I’ve heard for the do-nothing-ever-nowhere-anytime approach that seems to characterize the opposition these days, but at least it tells you where some opponents of private accounts reside. It’s not Social Security they love, I suspect, it’s what it represents. It’s not socialism as they’d like, but it’s all we’ve got. In their vision of society, all obligations to one another are equal – at least that’s the presumption from which their ideas flow. You’re permitted to take of your own first - as long as you understand that this bond doesn’t have any real ideological basis for its special status. It’s a privilege we keep around until it withers on the vine.

Do I have an obligation to others? Of course. But I would prefer the freedom to express it as I see fit, thank you.

Faculty Speech Patterns: Churchill, Summers, JWR

The University of Colorado's Ward Churchill and Harvard's Larry Summers have both engendered great controversy with recent statements. Churchill engaged in anti-mourning of the folks in the Twin Towers and not because he thinks they went to Heaven. Summers observed sex differences might be more to blame for fewer women in math and science than DISCRIMINATION. (I thought Summers' remark about women in science and mathematics was a big yawn, personally.)

Reform Clubber Jay Homnick sorts it all out in his latest column for Jewish World Review.

Rather Badly Behaved: Dan's First Big Hit

The Weekly Standard has a fascinating story about allegedly unethical conduct by Dan Rather during the tense moments following the Kennedy assassination.

Those who recall the false AP story about Bush supporters cheering news of Bill Clinton's heart problem will experience deja vu. Here's a taste:

It was a different lie--one delivered on national news, and at the expense of children--that caused Rather trouble at the time. As reporters from around the world descended on the Texas city, Rather went on the air with a local Methodist minister who made a stunning claim: Children at Dallas's University Park Elementary School had cheered when told of the president's death.

The tale was perfect for the moment, reinforcing the notion among distant media elites that Dallas was a reactionary "City of Hate." It slyly played to a local audience, too: The school named was in upper-income University Park, one of two adjacent municipal enclaves that shared a school district and a reputation for fiercely protected, lily-white privilege. Finally, for the ambitious Rather--a native Texan and then a Dallas resident--the account represented the very sort of revealing, local dirt that the throngs of out-of-town competitors would have to work far harder to get.

Except that it wasn't true, and Rather knew it, Barker says.

More on the Godless Founders Debate

Turns out The Nation has a little jig about the Godless Constitution running right now, too. I suspect Poor Richard (Mark Anderson) may be working from that script rather than the pitiful book by Kramnick and Moore.

Happily, Michael Novak and Christopher Levenick take that view to the woodshed today at National Review Online.

Sunday, March 06, 2005

Mystery Edom Talks

Kudos to Professor Thomas Levy of UC-San Diego for his fabulous archaeological dig, results of which have just been published in the British journal, Antiquity.

Judy Siegel, in her excellent article in the February 22 Jerusalem Post, tells the story succinctly. Most contemporary scholars had been denying ("on the basis of no physical evidence" in Siegel's felicitous phrase) the Biblical account that the state of Edom existed in the days of David and Solomon and interacted with the Jews (then called Hebrews or Israelites) in Israel.

In past years, archaeologists had avoided digging in this area of modern Jordan's highland zone because of "the logistical difficulties of working in the extremely dry and hot region". In other words, they preferred to look for the wallet under the lamppost because the light was better.

Professor Levy's dig, conducted in 2002 and funded by the university, with a grant from the C. Paul Johnson Family Foundation, found evidence of two major phases of copper production. High precision radiocarbon dating tells them that it dates back to the 11th or 12th century BCE, a century or two before David and Solomon.

Additionally, they dug up evidence of massive fortifications and industrial-scale metal production, as well as over a hundred building complexes. All we can do is chuckle, my friends, and perhaps sigh as well. The truth is always there, hiding in plain sight.

Saturday, March 05, 2005

Mark Anderson, Poor Richard, Hugh Hewitt, and Me

Mark Anderson from Poor Richard's Almanac posted the following comment on my Hugh Hewitt post:

Dear Hunter,

No more or less godless than the founding fathers. That is the point of my last post. I'm as baffled as you are about why Hugh made me blog of the month. Any light you can shed on this would be appreciated. He invited me to appear on his radio show in January. It was clearly because he thought I might make a good lefty academic to expose to his right Republican audience. My best guess is that blog of the month was supposed to be bait to get me to go on his show for fun times with the lefty on the Republican grill.

Mark, this is excellent info and sheds a lot of light on the situation. I think you've probably got Hugh figured out.

On the other hand you won't get far with me on the godless founders stuff you mention here and in your blog. I didn't take the time to check, but I had the feeling you were trotting out the case made in Kramnick and Moore's book "The Godless Constitution." That book is seriously lacking from a scholarly standpoint. What's going on there is the same sort of tedious axe-grinding done by David Barton and the crew at Wallbuilders for the opposite position. The two sides could trade quote after quote from this person or the other that would seem to make their case definitively.

The reality, which is too rarely discussed, is that "the founders" were a mixed-bag spiritually speaking. Some were quite orthodox in their Christianity, some tended toward atheism like Jefferson, some were liberal Christians, some were deists, and plenty remain unidentified. Those who were not particularly orthodox nevertheless realized the importance of the Christian faith as an important force for maintaining the virtue necessary to a free land.

If you'd like to read a couple of books that are extremely well-researched and balanced in this area, I recommend you try Derek Davis' "Religion and the Continental Congress" or Patricia Bonomi's "Under the Cope of Heaven." Both are published by Oxford University Press.

Friday, March 04, 2005

Culture Watch: Law and Order: Trial by Jury

In understanding the state of the culture, little things can often be quite revealing. Last night's premiere episode of Law and Order: Trial by Jury, the latest offering from the highly successful stable of NBC crime dramas produced by Dick Wolf, may be one such, as it included a rather unusual plot element.

The story centers on the murder of an aspiring actress by an egocentric Broadway producer, and it plays out as a pretty standard courtroom drama. The defendant is depicted as utterly odious in his callousness and disregard for others. He openly admits to the defense attorney that he has killed the actress, his mistress, who was pregnant at the time. He shows not the slightest trace of remorse for the killing. He is clearly an egomaniac and a monster.

The interesting angle: he murdered the woman because she refused to have an abortion.

Thirty-Four Years Later... G. C. Infante, RIP

The passing Feb. 21 of Cuban expatriate author Guillermo Cabrera Infante in London was little noted on these shores, as most of his writing was done in Spanish.

However, those who, like myself, are insane fans of the cult classic movie Vanishing Point from 1971 (I was 13 at the time), remember Infante as the author of that screenplay in English. This was an act of great genius, because the movie was set on the American highway system, traversing from state to state, and Infante had never visited these shores at the time of that writing.

I hope at some point to write what this movie meant to my life. But for now, I would like to appeal to our readers. If you have seen that movie and it had meaning to you, please share with us what you took away from the experience. There is tremendous debate about its message, and I would appreciate as broad a base of input as possible.

Poor Richard Took Hugh Hewitt for a Ride!

I've emailed Hugh to tell him, but he hasn't paid attention. Each month, Hugh props up some promising young blogger as his "Blog of the Month."

In January, he chose Poor Richard's Almanac. I have a feeling "Poor Richard" suckered Hugh because the blog now reads like a raging godless lib sheet.

Send Hugh (hugh@hughhewitt.com) some mail telling him he's been tricked.

UPDATE: Looks like I was wrong to say that Hugh was tricked by "Poor Richard." Richard himself, now identified as Mark Anderson, has expressed his own puzzlement at Hugh's promotion of his website. If you'll read Anderson's comment to this post, you'll see that he thinks Hugh may be feting him to get him on air for debate. As to Mark's characterization of the founder's, I've posted above.

Thursday, March 03, 2005

NYTimes: Bush Stumbling at Home, Public Says

The New York Times reports the results of a new poll finding that the American public sees President Bush and his administration as being out of step with their thinking on Social Security reform:

"Notwithstanding Mr. Bush's argument that citizens should be given more control over their retirement savings, almost four out of five respondents said it was the government's responsibility to assure a decent standard of living for the elderly."

Big-government types and nanny state fans will surely enjoy reading that passage. (That is, if they can overlook the incorrect usage of the word assure; the right word in that situation is ensure, or barely possibly insure, but definitely not assure unless the sentence is recast to say "assure the elderly that they will have a decent standard of living." Sheesh.)

The better news for the president is that the public believes that the situation in Iraq is going "very or somewhat well."

Still, the public does not see the president as doing nearly as good a job at home. According to the Times story, "63 percent of respondents say the president has different priorities on domestic issues than most Americans."

The budget deficit appears to be a matter of great concern to the public. According to the Times story, 60 percent of respondents said that they did not like the way Bush was responding to the federal budget deficit. This was true even of 48 percent of conservatives. You may count me among those unimpressed with Bush's handling of the deficit, but for reasons the Times would probably not find amusing—an intense dislike of the vast increase of domestic spending during the administration of Bush the Younger.

Bush's approval rating among the public remains at 49 percent, the paper reported, exactly where it was a month ago.

Byrd Gets the Anti-Defamation League's Goat

Did you like that Homnickian headline? On with the story. Ultra-senior Democrat Senator from West Virginia Robert Byrd made big headlines when he compared Republican tactics on judicial nominations to those employed by Adolf Hitler in Germany.

We'll see whether similarly large headlines are made by the Anti-Defamation League's harsh criticism of Byrd for having absolutely no sense of proportion. Here's the ADL statement:

It is hideous, outrageous and offensive for Senator Byrd to suggest that the Republican Party's tactics could in any way resemble those of Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party.

The Senator shows a profound lack of understanding as to who Hitler was and what he and his regime represented.

Senator Byrd must repudiate his remarks immediately and apologize to the American people for showing such disrespect for this country's democratic process.

No Return, No Deposit

Across the fruited plain, a circus of yellow-and-blue blazonry proclaims this monument of momentous manumission: THE END OF LATE FEES. Not all Americans are devotees of Blockbuster; some surreptitiously snag their videos from competing outlets. But the national imagination, the cultural iconography (and perhaps a touch of iconolatry), has been in the thrall of Blockbuster for some years. Birthed by the obstreperous Huizenga and adopted by the ubiquitous Redstone, this chain has enchained - some say enchanted - the popular conception of video entertainment for two decades. If they sign the death certificate on the late fee, you can be sure that the Hollywood Video lateness mulct can’t be milked much longer. Look closely at the long placid stream of the Public Library overdue fee and even there you will see a seiche, hear a susurrus; times they are a’ changin’.

No longer the midnight ride under a pall of reverence, the midday screech of anguished tires. Gone is the daredevil dash with one eye on the dashed road and the other on the dashboard clock; gone, too, the dashing of hope of 12:01. Never again the tortured conscience of watching the rewind machine languidly do its thing at 11:51, and the awful temptation to stop at the halfway mark to race out the door. Forgotten is the role of the clerk as cleric, looking sagely at the second handle with solonic solemnity, holding in his underpaid hands the key to your mortal fate. Now you can stride up to the counter at 12:09 of the next day, flash your smuggest smirk, plop down your movie and swagger on out: they can’t lay a hand on ya. No more Midnight Cowboy. It’s High Noon and you’re Gary Cooper, baby.

Whoa, what’s this? Trust your conscience to show up at the most inopportune times. Can’t leave well enough alone. It turns out, thinking on it a tad, that you liked it better the old way. Who’d ‘a thunk it?

The fact is that consequences, when delivered with some immediacy, are a component of civilization that comfort even as they collect (or connect). When you pay that traffic ticket, you buy absolution. All the cumulative guilt of endangering the citizenry with your recklessness has been whitewashed with a faint splash of green. Take your licks, pay the piper, do your time, then you’re clean. You have paid your debt to society and your scars are your receipt. You’ve been purged and cleansed and mitigated and expiated. The books are closed up tight.

You know the joke about the new guy who shows up at the pool in the Miami development, and a lady asks him why she hasn’t seen him before. He says, “I just got out of prison after twenty years.”
“Really, what did you do?”
“I killed my wife with an axe.”
“Oh, so you’re single.”

That’s you, a new man with a fresh start. Sure, you kept The Longest Day a day long; you held Another Twenty-four Hours… well, another twenty-four hours. But you got off your high horse and ponied up for Seabiscuit, and you can get right back on track with your head held high.

Perhaps that is what King David meant in Psalm XXIII when he said, “Your rod and your staff they comfort me”. And maybe that was what the nuns had in mind when they used a ruler to rap your knuckles. They were trying to teach you that a measured punishment is a desert to clean your palate – and your slate.

The tough ones are the unpunished kind. The cases that you tuck away in the ‘Open’ file. An inner voice says that you did wrong and the bill has not been paid. You walk through life with a sense of unfinished business, of inadequacy, of being less than all you can be. If you fear a Hell or a karma there may be a sense of looming fate that haunts your every step forward; even if not, there is the irresolution of unresolvedness. Even those billionaires who marry some zero in Las Vegas and later have to give her seven zeroes to unburden themselves look relieved, almost happy, when it’s finally over. At least they have – I know you hate this word – closure.

The video store still sets a due date. But it has no teeth. No enforcement mechanism other than annoying reminder calls. No aftereffects if you abuse your privilege. You can sit in your Lazy Boy and toy with your drink on the lazy Susan while the clock tolls midnight. No one will be the wiser nor your wallet the lighter. Ah, but you… you will be a lesser person.

So if Lola wants to loll around and take advantage, that’s her business. But I know what you will be doing. You will make doubly sure now to honor that return date, and that’s why you’re my hero. Only, please: no more busting down the block at eighty miles per hour.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

The Growth of Christianity in France

Christianity Today has a fascinating story up about the recent growth of Christianity, particularly the evangelical and pentecostal kinds, in France. The story entertainingly relates tales of new receptiveness to street evangelism, significant increases in sales of the Bible, and the founding of new churches.

But the most entertaining part of the article is an upside down account of a father being disappointed in his daughter:

Religious conversions still befuddle the French. David Brown, the head of the French equivalent of InterVarsity, University Bible Groups, told me about one girl's experience. Her father is a militant left-wing activist; he and his wife are separated. When he found out that his daughter joined Brown's church and left with the youth group for a weekend in Normandy, he became enraged and came to see Brown. These were his words: "Here I thought that she was just going off for a weekend with a new boyfriend! But then I find out it was to read the Bible!"

"To go off with a new boyfriend is no problem," Brown says, "but to read the Bible is unacceptable." The father was also concerned that his daughter had become too religious. "I'll prove it to you," he told Brown. "She's got a Bible by her bedside!"

Brown says, "A lot of French people think like him."

Oh, those crazy, mixed up young people!!!

Greenspan's Gloom

Alan Greenspan renewed his portrayal of Jiminy Cricket to President Bush's Pinocchio today, warning Congress that the current federal budget deficits are unsustainable, calling for "major deficit-reducing actions." I recall President Reagan running large budget deficits in the 1980s, and all that happened was that the economy grew like gangbusters and the Soviet Union fell.

Greenspan correctly brings up one matter in which the current time is quite unlike the 1980s: rather than being in their peak years of productivity and earning, Baby Boomers are now nearing retirement. That is certainly a concern. A positive trend that he does not refer to is that the fairly large Millennial Generation will soon be entering the workforce, but Greenspan is certainly right to note that the numbers for Social Security and Medicare in the next few years look very bad—rapidly increasing numbers of retirees, and a slow or stagnant growth in workers to support them. It's not an impossible problem, Greenspan notes, as productivity increases can do a lot, but any drag on the economy is a bad idea. And high federal spending is certainly a drag on the economy.

Greenspan's warning that the budget deficit will bring on "stagnation" may be a bit overwrought, but he is right to point out that federal spending has increased at a positively appalling pace during the Bush administration, even if one factors out the War on Terror. Domestic nonsecurity spending has increased rapidly, as exemplified by the Medicare prescription drug benefit (entitlement) the president successfully pushed through Congress.

In his presentation to Congress, Greenspan called for a new congressional spending restriction structure like the Budget Enforcement Act of 1990, and he suggested that he would prefer the deficit-reduction action to concentrate on reducing spending, but that is about as likely as, well, me ever seeing a nickel from Social Security.

Obviously, the response to Greenspan's comments will quickly become a debate over how many of Bush's tax cuts to let lapse rather than extending them, with the deficit given as the urgent reason for the change. The real drag on the economy, however, is the high percentage of GDP that is being spent on nonproductive government programs instead of on productive, private-sector investments. That will remain true until a Congress adopts a really strong and binding spending-restriction (not deficit-reduction) structure.

Which means that we can delete all but the first four words of the previous sentence and it will still be correct.

University Faculty for Life

I've been asked to encourage readers to visit University Faculty for Life, particularly academic readers. The website has an eye-opening color scheme, but the content looks strong. If you're a member of the academy with a pro-life perspective, consider swelling the ranks.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

The Narnia Movie

The International Herald-Tribune has an interesting story up about the first Narnia film opening on Dec. 9. The story is full of speculation about how Disney and Walden Media will walk the tightrope of presenting Christian allegory to a popular audience that is "extremely sensitive." I think it's a non-issue. Present Narnia as Lewis presented it. Christians will absolutely get it. Those who aren't Christians will generally enjoy it without lingering on the real meaning of the story. Others will be moved and will want to linger. But the whole purpose of allegory is to get the audience's attention to hear a story about something they might ordinarily dismiss. The form of the story is the answer to the concern. Let Lewis be Lewis.

Horror in Lebanon—Can It End Soon?

The theory of both supporters and opponents of the Bush administration's decision to go to war in Iraq was that any success there would be followed shortly by a U.S.-led move against Iran or Syria.

It appears that the conventional wisdom has turned out to be correct. As the Times of London reports today, the United States and its allies, including in this case France, is increasing pressure on Syria to get out of Lebanon:

"America and France today issued a joint demand for Syria to pull its troops and spies out of Lebanon.

"The initiative by Condoleeza Rice, the US Secretary of State, and Michel Barnier, the French Foreign Minister, came the day after the entire Lebanese cabinet resigned in the face of mass public protests against Syrian influence in Lebanese affairs.

". . . They spoke at a London conference on Middle East peace attended by 30 countries, but to which Syria had not been invited - in itself evidence of Syria's increasing isolation on the world stage. The statement warns Syria to pull out its troops and intelligence services, to allow Lebanon to regain its sovereignty, and to allow the country to hold free and fair elections. . . .

"Ms Rice accused Syria of being out of step with the transformation occuring in the Middle East, where democratic elections have been held in Iraq, Saudi Arabia and the Palestinian territories, and have been promised in Egypt and Lebanon.

"She also charged Damascus with supporting violence in Iraq, aiding the militant Palestinian groups opposed to the peace process, and obstructing events in Lebanon, and issued a stern warning.

"The peaceful demonstrations by tens of thousands of people on the streets of Beirut and other cities against Syria's 30 year stranglehold on their country have been dubbed 'the Cedar Revolution' - a reference to Lebanon's national symbol and a nod towards the similar peaceful protests that achieved democratic change in the Ukraine last year, called 'the Orange Revolution.'"

The mass protests began after the car-bomb assassination of Lebanan's former prime minister two weeks ago, and pressure from the West has been increasing. Unlike the alleged Iraqi WMDs which were never found, the assassination in Lebanon provides a definite casus belli, though it is really but a small symbol of the greater depredations visited on that once-beautiful country and its people in the past quarter-century at the hands of its ruthlessly cruel occupiers.

Coming on the heels of a likely diminishment in American involvement in Iraq, the U.S. response to the Lebanese problem may seem to the Bush administration's opponents to be part of an insidious plan of neocons for a further increase of the U.S. presence in the oil-rich region by pretending to try to bring democracy and free markets to places that cannot support it. One suspects that any real moves against Syria will encounter widespread opposition within the United States. The enthusiasm of France for action, however, will probably give pause to the American Left, which followed the EU line in the runup to the war in Iraq.

I certainly hope that we can avoid war or anything like it in this case. However, what has been done to Lebanon is an international scandal and should never have been allowed to continue for so long. People such as ourselves, who claim complete fealty to the idea of political self-determination, not to mention morality and conscience, must support such efforts when they arise and are in our national interest.

The situation in Lebanon fits that description perfectly. As such, it has called out for attention for a quarter-century, and it is right for the West to increase pressure on Syria to set Lebanon free, and accomplish what even President Reagan failed to do: to give Lebanon back to the Lebanese.

The task for Bush, Rice, and the rest of the administration will be to do this through measures far short of open combat. It seems likely that it can be done, but ultimately the threat of force must be present. It is a certainly a risk, but one that the United States should consider well worth taking.

Using Newt . . .

Am I alone in thinking Newt Gingrich is underutilized in current day majority GOP Washington? Newt Gingrich may have been done in by the superior politician (Bill Clinton) and his own amorous adventures, but the guy is a policy wonk of the highest order. It seems to me that he has a lot to offer to a project like revitalizing Social Security.

First, he has the patience and the intellectual curiosity to lead an out of the box investigation into the possibilities. Second, he has the contacts and the reputation to help push the agenda once it is decided upon. Newt needs to make a comeback that extends beyond the Fox Network. A GOP with all the chess pieces could use a policy visionary to complete the political expertise of Mr. Rove.

Monday, February 28, 2005

The Twilight of Atheism

Alister McGrath is a Ph.D. in Biophysics from Oxford who turned around and became a top historian of the Reformation. He is also a former atheist. His latest book, The Twilight of Atheism, takes atheism on from a very respectful vantage point and deals very effectively with its claims. I read the book and enjoyed it thoroughly. I've moved on to his Dawkin's God, Genes, and Memes.

Happily, he's excerpted Twilight for Christianity Today's web site. Here's a bit:

Atheism was once new, exciting, and liberating, and for those reasons held to be devoid of the vices of the faiths it displaced. With time, it turned out to have just as many frauds, psychopaths, and careerists as religion does. Many have now concluded that these personality types are endemic to all human groups, rather than being the peculiar preserve of religious folks. With Stalin and Madalyn Murray O'Hair, atheism seems to have ended up mimicking the vices of the Spanish Inquisition and the worst televangelists, respectively.

One of the most important criticisms that Sigmund Freud directed against religion was that it encourages unhealthy and dysfunctional outlooks on life. Having dismissed religion as an illusion, Freud went on to argue that it is a negative factor in personal development. At times, Freud's influence has been such that the elimination of a person's religious beliefs has been seen as a precondition for mental health.

Freud is now a fallen idol, the fall having been all the heavier for its postponement. There is now growing awareness of the importance of spirituality in health care, both as a positive factor in relation to well-being and as an issue to which patients have a right. The "Spirituality and Healing in Medicine" conference sponsored by Harvard Medical School in 1998 brought reports that 86 percent of Americans as a whole, 99 percent of family physicians, and 94 percent of hmo professionals believe that prayer, meditation, and other spiritual and religious practices exercise a major positive role within the healing process.

Sunday, February 27, 2005

A Tribute To Jody Bottum, New Editor Of First Things

The very fine writer and editor who signs his work J. Bottum is on his way to New York to take over as Editor of the vibrant journal of culture and religion, First Things. He comes off a remarkable seven-year tenure as Books & Arts Editor at The Weekly Standard.

Being a culture editor at a magazine such as the Standard is, in my view, a greater challenge than managing one of the political segments of the publication. Since the 1980s there are plenty of capable political writers on the right side of the spectrum, as many if not more than on the left. But to define a cultural role that appreciates religion, is pro-life and pro-family, but is open to all the nuances of human artistry in literature, art and architecture, is a monumental task - one that is critical for the conservative movement to sustain. Mr. Bottum has not only held his own in a world dominated by lefties, he has conquered significant swaths of cultural territory. His particular sensitivity to poetry has softened the edges of this hard-driving magazine positioned at the pulse of power.

I have been fortunate to be the beneficiary of his kindness and respect. He allowed me to show some range, accepting book reviews from me on the subjects of Biblical figures, baseball personalities, a daring Holocaust escape and a deep-sea salvage adventure. At one time we had an idea for a book that we could do together, but that has not (yet) materialized.

As a free-lance writer, I am usually careful to confine my telephone calls to editors to a ninety-second maximum. Jody is more generous with his time than I am prepared to impose, but it is not only the quantity of his time that I appreciate, it is the quality. Virtually every conversation that we have had has included some incredibly pithy insight of his, one that leaves me pondering for days afterward.

My situation is paradoxical, because I consider myself a novelist first and an essayist second, yet I have no published fiction to stand alongside my sixty non-fiction clippings. Jody identified this quality in my writing from the beginning and he has consistently encouraged me to complete my first novel and assured me that it is saleable.

He is the perfect choice for his new position. He is a maestro of literature and culture, processing every bit of them through the prism of his steadfast Catholicism and passionately pro-life sensibility. I predict - I wish - I bless - great success for him in this role.

Thank you for everything, Jody. I am proud to call you my friend.

Saturday, February 26, 2005

Karnick's Law of Culture

I was recently reminded of a formulation about culture in free societies, which I have used in the past but have perhaps not commited to print. To wit, what I call Karnick's Law of Culture:

Bad art drives out the good.

The idea is analogous, of course, to Gresham's Law, which states that in a free economy, bad currency drives out the good.

I think that Karnick's Law helps explain why contemporary American culture has so often seemed to appeal to the worst impulses of human beings and to downplay or even deny the very existence of our higher and better impulses. It is easier for artists (of any level of talent, from the very lowest to the highest) to create a deep and widespread reaction in audiences by appealing to sensations, which are nearly universally understood, than to the intellect, which fewer people can access at its highest levels. This is true regardless of the personal morality and intentions of the artist; it is an obsevation about human psychology, not morality.

Obviously, the best and healthiest art will appeal to both the sensations and the intellect, and will be accessible to a wide range of people. Shakespeare, Rembrandt, Bach, Dickens, T. S. Eliot, and David Lean, to provide just a few examples, demonstrate this achievement beautifully. On the other hand, a preponderance of sensation over intellect, or of intellect over sensation, will create a work of degrading baseness in the first case and of unnourishing aridity in the second instance.

In the economy, government intervention overcomes the perils of Gresham's Law. This is done through coercion, although such government intervention is a measure which most people would agree is salutary.

In society, the church and government seem to be the natural repositories of response to the problems identified by Karnick's Law. There is, however, much less agreement on this, and in particular on who should decide these matters even if we can agree that something should be done collectively, than is the case with our protection of the value of our currency

The question that naturally arises to the liberal mind is this: Is there a way in which society can overcome the perils defined in Karnick's Law by means of voluntary cooperation rather than coercion?

Friday, February 25, 2005

A Baseball Memory -- The Atlanta Braves

Jay, I understand your emotions. When the Braves first began to break out of utter haplessness, I had been watching for years as a child who cheered every time the team broke out of last place. I'll never forget Game Seven of the 1992 NLCS when the Braves were down 2-1 to the Pittsburgh Pirates. The unknown pinch hitter Francisco Cabrera drove in David Justice and the slow-footed Sid Bream with a laser to left field. Bream slid into home and was safe by inches.

I was living in an apartment complex full of University of Georgia students in Athens. Some kind of collective mania took over. Within two seconds of the umpire calling Bream safe, the entire complex emptied into the parking lot as hundreds of us jumped and shouted with crazy joy. We were possessed by totally unself-conscious pure happiness. And that is what sports can do.

There was only one small bittersweet touch to the whole thing. Great names of the Atlanta franchise like Dale Murphy and Bob Horner weren't there for the big victory. Their careers had ended with a whimper a few years before.

Boston - Or Phoenix?

Spring training for baseball is about to begin, and for the first time in 86 years the defending World champions are the Boston Red Sox. Here is what I wrote the night of their Series victory last year:

Is it all right to cry? Is it permitted to shed a tear of joy and relief for the Boston Red Sox emerging triumphant after eighty-six years of torment? Is it acceptable for a kid who grew up in New York and has lived in Chicago and Cincinnati and now Miami?
Or have I not paid my dues? Is it necessary to brandish some stigmata? Do I need to show ten years of Prozac prescriptions? Bags under my eyes deep enough to carry all the pain in the world? Razor scars on my wrists from a certain 1986 accident that we won’t discuss?
Does there have to be a seat in O’Malley’s Bar that I have worn down to the springs? A groove on the bar counter where I have laid my head after a thousand bitter losses? A crack on the side of the pinball machine where I kicked it eighteen years ago? A dartboard with the picture of Bill Buckner that has been shredded by a million angry punctures?
Can’t I just be a guy who wants to feel that the little guy has a chance, however slender, in a world rigged in favor of Mister Big? Can’t I be a guy who wants to see hope trump advantage? To see the dream outdistance privilege? Can’t I pray for a world where no one ever has to give up until the first spadeful of earth falls on the casket?
Is there no room in your celebration for a kid who came home from school one day at age ten and saw ambulances in front of his house? For a boy whose Dad had to tell him that his Mom had died suddenly and we were on our own? A lad who spent his teenage years living mostly with his Grandma and roaming the streets of the big city?
Got no place for a kid who dreamed of becoming a famous writer? Who sat long nights typing awful mystery stories and sending them to Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine to be rejected? Who snuck into movie theaters after the ushers had vacated the hallways and was convinced that he could write one of those someday?
What about a young man who became something of a ghost writer? Who feared the glare of the public eye and plied his craft in lengthening shadows? Who watched his diffident words fly under the banner of names with more courage than talent? And who now has emerged, even as you have, to a touchingly warm welcome?
Is there an opening for a son who has been too often prodigal? For a brother who can’t control his remoteness? A friend who is too aloof? A lover who has been too cold? An arguer who has been too hot? A father who has been by turns too strict and too lenient and too neutral?
Isn’t your joy a universal place that the lonely and needy may enter? Isn’t your victory a shot in humanity’s arm? Haven’t you been carving out paths to achievement and ecstasy for the disenfranchised? Aren’t you picking up all the lonely and battered hearts and restoring them to health? Aren’t those hefty doses of confidence that you are distributing with an open hand?
Didn’t you go to the very brink in the ninth inning of Game Four against the Yankees? Didn’t you meet the bogeyman face to face and stare him down? Didn’t you claw and scratch and scrabble your way back, first to contention and then to championship? Haven’t you done what no baseball team had ever done before, eclipsing a three game to zero deficit in a best-of-seven series?
Have you not thrown off the suffocating embrace of a hostile Fate? Aren’t you providing a model for people and teams who are a heartbeat from total humiliation? Showing that patience and fortitude and hard work can eventually undo all the real and imagined curses? That under a cobweb or two there might be a fresh burst of energy? That past can stop being prologue and just become flashback?
Did we not come to love you for being spunky and indomitable? Did we not bleed every time we saw Curt Schilling’s “Red Sox” red with blood? Did we not grin every time David Ortiz launched a missile over the wall? Didn’t you hear my grunt when the umpire called a ball to us and my groan when he called a strike?
Can’t I order a portion of what it is you got? Are you too embarrassed to let me hold your hand for a minute? Do you have a seat for me on the team bus? Can you give me a hand up so I can share the view from the mountaintop? Can I wish you well for next year?
Can I shudder with your remembered pain? Can I tingle with your newfound ecstasy? Can I promise to keep climbing the ladder? Is it all right to laugh? Is it all right to cry?

Crimes Against the UK Citizenry

In the 1960s and 1970s, the United States engaged in a vast experiment in which political jurisdictions from top to bottom reduced both the certainty and severity of punishment for nearly all crimes, especially for violent crimes and those involving what used to be called public vices. The experiment, as the statistics show vividly, was a disaster, and two decades after its effective end we are still reeling from its effects. Crime has decreased, but it is still far above the levels it was at in the early years of the past century.

Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it, however, and the people of Great Britain are now experiencing those awful effects. Britain has almost completely disarmed the noncriminals among its citizen population, and it has greatly reduced criminals' likelihood of capture, prosecution, and punishment, as a Times of London report of today notes in the case of one particularly brutal type of crime:

"According to government figures published yesterday, only one in eighteen rapes reported to police ends with the suspect being punished, although government ministers have pledged to increase the number of convictions."

The vast increase in burgularies and home invasions in Great Britain has been well documented in recent years, and now, obviously in response to this low rate of capture, conviction, and punishment in sexual assault cases, a new blight has arisen. This results in the familiar downward spiral of crime, in which victims cease bothering to report crimes because they see little use in confronting their attackers, who will almost surely go free anyway. The Times reports:

"[the Home Office]
estimated that the actual number of rapes in England and Wales is more than four times higher than the 11,700 reported to the police in 2002."

Thus a new strategy of rape has evolved:

According to a study by the Home Office, groups of predatory men are now targeting drunken women to rape and sexually assault. Jo Lovett, one of the authors, said: "There are people who are undoubtedly targeting women who are drunk.'”

These men are taking advantage of the fact that cases in which there is any doubt whatever that the woman has refused consent are dropped very early in the legal process. In Great Britain today, a man who rapes a drunken woman is highly likely to go entirely unpunished even if the woman files charges.

The Blair government has expressed concern over the problem and has promised to increase the conviction rate. We certainly hope that they will succeed, although we are saddened that it required such an outbreak of horror to spur them to act.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Wead Update

The Wead book isn't selling. It commits two sins. First, there is no surprising story here. What you thought about George W. is what you continue to think about him. Second, he publicly betrayed a friend's confidence. Go to Amazon.com and observe the list of non-reviews reviling Wead. Sales rank for the book: 1,094. For a relatively new release with NYT front page coverage, that's very, very poor.

Unseemly Behavior of Wead

The New York Times reports that the evangelical speaker and author Doug Wead has promised to give up all royalties for his recently published book, The Raising of a President: The Mothers and Fathers of Our Nation's Leaders, because the book contains quotes from conversations the author secretly recorded with George W. Bush, without the latter's knowledge, in the two years before his election in 2000.

I don't think that this is enough. Wead should never have used the quotes in his book, and his editors should have made sure that the author had permission to use them. If he deceived his publisher in that regard, he should be tried for fraud. As soon as the deception was revealed, the publisher should have withdrawn the book from publication. As it stands, the ultimate outcome wil simply be more publicity for a book which is partly the result of an utterly unethical journalistic practice. This stinks.

Reset Chris Rock

Drudge and Sean Hannity have been hammering the decision to have Chris Rock host the Oscars. Particular attention has been paid to a joke Rock did where he spoke of going to pro-choice rallies to meet sexually active women. I'm not a big Chris Rock fan and absolutely hated his movie Head of State, but it looks like he's been quoted out of context here.

Slate fixes the problem. Here 'tis:

What really bugs Drudge isn't the F-words, which thanks to a several-second broadcast delay you're no more likely to hear at the Oscars than a Mike Leigh acceptance speech. It's Rock's politics. In particular, Drudge objects to a stand-up bit in which Rock announces that "it's beautiful that abortion is legal" and says that he likes to pick up women at abortion rallies. "'Cause you know they're"—well, here Rock uses one of those words Drudge doesn't think very classy. Because he knows they're sexually active.

That's some tasteless "S," no doubt about it. Drudge's selective quoting, however, doesn't do justice to the joke. Putting the bit in context doesn't make it safe for the hallowed red carpet (whose purity is defended by the chaste, bare-breasted goddess Jennifer Lopez), but it does affect the meaning. Far from an encomium to fetus killing, Rock's abortion bit is an attack on women for the frivolous manner in which they decide whether or not to keep a child. "When a woman gets pregnant, it's a choice between the woman"—here Rock pauses, a mischievous grin barely restrained—"and her girlfriends." From there: "One girlfriend goes, 'Child, you should have that baby—that man got some good hair…' And the other girlfriend says, 'Child, why we even talking about this—ain't we supposed to go to Cancun next week? Get rid of that baby!' " And that, Rock says, "is how life is decided in America."

The assumption is that women who get abortions are frivolous and irresponsible rather than poor and desperate, as a liberal might have it. Not much there to offend a conservative's sensibilities. Though Drudge claims the academy "went to the gutter" by picking Rock, where it actually went was to the right. Rock may speak the irreverent language of blue comedy, but more often than not, his ideas are red-state red.

White House press pass "scandal"

Ann Coulter has produced a very good column on the controversy over the White House awarding daily press passes to a writer for the conservative Talon News organization, which appears to be affiliated with the Republican National Committee.

Coulter points out that Maureen Dowd "openly lied" about the situation in her New York Times column on the subject, and Coulter finds the criticism from the left to be very odd, in that it appears that the only real things they have been able to criticize the reporter for are his homosexuality and his use of a pen name, both of which they have no problem whatever with when true of people on their side of the political divide.

Once again, as occurs on both left and right, we see that writers today will use any possible argument against their political enemies, no matter how irrational, hypocritical, or ridiculous it may be. Coulter is by no means immune to this habit, but she is correct in her appraisal of the media frenzy over the Talon News reporter.

The Baylor Story So Far

Christianity Today has performed a great service by creating a special web page devoted to articles about the struggle for control of Baylor's future. If you want to get up to speed fast on the most interesting story in American higher education, this is the place. You might even find a couple of articles from yours truly.

Just follow this link: The Battle for Baylor.

Pregnancy and Homicide

ABC News reports on the significant co-incidence of pregnancy and homicide. A pregnant woman is more likely to be murdered than die in a car accident or of any other cause than medical complications from childbirth. Why? Predictably, men (like Scott Peterson) seem to seek freedom from obligation. However, some women present a threat as well. Here's a story from the article:

Unlike men, women who attack pregnant women usually do not know their victims well, if at all. They are usually obsessed with pregnancy and crave the attention — and what they perceive as power — associated with carrying a child.

Relatives said Lisa Montgomery, of Melvern, Kan., faked pregnancy five times. During the last false pregnancy, she allegedly zeroed in on Bobbi Jo Stinnett, a Missouri woman who was eight months pregnant, strangled her and cut Stinnett's baby from her womb. The child was found alive with Montgomery, who allegedly told relatives she had just given birth. Montgomery now faces a capital murder charge.

"With women who actually want to steal a woman's baby, they are usually psychopaths. They claim to be pregnant when they are not," Brown said. "She usually loves the attention and power that is associated with pregnancy and motherhood. … They like to use the child to get attention for themselves. But they like to try to manipulate others with the issues that motherhood and pregnancy bring."

Kentucky authorities said Katie Smith told family and friends she was pregnant. She wore maternity outfits and had a completely furnished nursery with baby clothes, diapers and formula.

But there was no pregnancy. To get a baby, police said, Smith, 22, lured neighbor Sarah Brady — who was nine months pregnant — to her apartment by telling her a package intended for Brady had been delivered to Smith's home by mistake. When Brady, 26, showed up, Smith tried to stab her, but the pregnant woman managed to turn the knife on her attacker, police said. Smith was killed. Investigators said Brady acted in self-defense, and she was not charged.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005


How many times have you wanted to take down a heaping plate of bacon, but couldn't stand the thought of splattering grease and unpleasant clean-up?

Now, thanks to Baconwhores, you can make an appointment to have a beautiful Baconwhore come and cook up a beautiful plate of fried porkfat in the comfort of your own home. They are extensively trained in the art of cooking bacon and get it right every time. Atkins-dieters, heaven awaits ye. (HT to Ross Douthat at The American Scene)

Movies and Money

Have you ever wondered how a film studio could afford to pay one star $20-30 million, spend a couple hundred million on the movie, drop another several tens of millions on distribution/advertising, and still somehow make money at the end of the day?

Weekly Standard's Jonathan V. Last has the answer.

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 MoveOn.org 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 MoveOn.org 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.