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

Saturday, March 19, 2005

Some Pray, Others Prey

The Bookworm argues that Jeb Bush should stand up to the tyrannical abuse of judicial power by ghoulish Judge Greer. It is worth considering.

This much is certainly true. There is no need for the State to be providing a police presence to prevent individual people from giving Terri Schiavo any water on her lips.

The news is that Congress will coordinate their efforts tomorrow to pass the same bill in the House and Senate, so it can be rushed to the President for signature, allowing this case to be taken away from this judge and moved to Federal Court. Let's hope that this proves to be the thing that will save her for the long term. This horror has gone on long enough.

The hope that proceeds from this hope is that the nation might be galvanized to pass better laws to protect these people.

Oh, and - not to politicize; merely to observe - does anyone still remember when Democrats had compassion for the helpless?

Friday, March 18, 2005

More Schiavo Misery

I spent most of this morning in bed, in deep depression over the Schiavo case. My Hispanic cleaning lady asked permission to keep the television on while she worked because she and her church prayer group were fasting on behalf of Terri, and she was anxious to hear updates.

As for this weird Michael Schiavo guy, let me refer you to Peggy Noonan today and also to my friend Jonathan V. Last of the Weekly Standard quoting Wesley J. Smith's work on this case.

I will reproduce here my note that I wrote Jonathan, responding to his quote from Wesley Smith that Michael Schiavo's initial motivation was to grab the money from her trust fund.

Unquestionably, Wesley's analysis of how this madness BEGAN is 100 percent correct.

However, it can no longer adequately explain what is happening. After paying for the lawyers, there is only about 50 thousand left in the account, and it's a good bet that once she's dead the lawyers will submit new billing to try to grab that sum.Furthermore, a San Diego businessman publicly offered Michael 1 million dollars last week to walk away, and he turned it down. That much is in the public record. He also claimed on Todd Schnitt's talk show down here that he turned down 10 million from a Boca Raton businessman. Glenn Beck's listeners have pledged about 3 million if he would back down. He has not bitten.

So why is he doing this NOW?

The answer, I suggest, reveals the ugliest side of human nature. People have a tendency to dig their heels in and persist in prosecuting a BAD DECISION much more than they stand behind their good decisions.

Yes, Virginia, there is Evil in the world. Not to mention stupid, stubborn, ornery cantankerousness.

Playing Ball with Congress

The House Government Reform Committee's steroid hearings yesterday were interesting on several levels. Congress has so much power, of course, (or has arrogated to itself so much power) that anything it does is inherently important. Then, adding celebrities to the mix always makes for an interesting situation. Finally, the possible corruption of the national pastime (despite the decreasing popularity of the sport) is a cultural tide movement.

I'm still not convinced, by any stretch of the imagination, that legislative action by the federal government is needed or appropriate in this matter. If the use of steroids is indeed a problem, state laws should certainly be able to handle it. However, performing an investigation to shine light on the problem is certainly an appropriate activity of Congress.

The reason given by the committee members as to why this particular committee was investigating the matter, however, is rather chilling. In short, they have noted that this committee is empowered to investigate anything it chooses to look into. Equipped with subpoena power, this makes the GROC into a central investigative tribunal for the federal government. Anyone who falls afoul of the interests of the Congress—which means anyone who falls afoul of popular opinion, as baseball's steroid users have obviously done—might be hauled before Congress and forced to testify in a nationally televised fishing expedition, with or without a grant of immunity from prosecution on either the federal or state level.

This is a nation that once prided itself on its respect for personal freedom, yet throughout the past half-century, since the rise of television, our chief legislative body has increasingly engaged in Communist-style show trials.

On Dying with Dignity . . .

Readers of this blog know by now that Lawrence Henry is one of my favorite writers. He's got a great combination of life experience and ability to communicate it. When I think of him I'm reminded of the old Kevin Costner film "Revenge." In one scene, he and an old dealer in horseflesh are on their way through dangerous territory to make a sale. The worn-out old cowboy turns to Costner, sweating with some unknown malady, puts on his sunglasses and asks, "How do I look?" Costner replies, "Like a survivor." That's Lawrence Henry.

Here' a bit from his latest:

Terri Schiavo's case becomes a soap opera over her mostly inert body while the state legal establishment of Florida decides whether or not to "pull the plug" -- in this case, to remove her feeding tube. Even someone minimally aware, it seems to me, should not be subject to involuntary starvation and dehydration.

And one of this year's Oscar-winning movies depicts a supposedly "heroic" struggle wherein a crippled young female boxer persuades her wise, homely old trainer to...kill her. No, I haven't gone to see it, and won't. I've been too close.

Back in 1975, when my native kidneys failed, I got horribly sick all at once, not unusual with kidney failure. I had percarditis, couldn't walk well, had lost mental focus, had recently gone through a series of grand mal seizures related to an infection, can't remember what all, and it's probably just as well.

I found myself seriously considering whether or not to end it all -- to the extent that I was contemplating methods. Grace intervened, however, and I realized that people who think that way really aren't sane, and I asked to see a therapist. It hardly mattered who I talked to, but it did work.

Three things I remember from when my friends came to visit me in the hospital. One thing they all said later: "I thought you were going to die." To which I used to say, "If I ever get out of here, I'm going to get a motorcycle."

And the other was waking up at various times in my hospital bed, seeing my mother, always faithfully there, no matter what.

It is too damned easy to be cavalier and heroic about "dying with dignity" when somebody else is doing the dying.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Forming A More Perfect Union

Well, I did a brief Richard Kramer rant here yesterday, but the longer column I wrote has run in today's Sacramento Union.

Although I linked directly to the article, I suggest that you take the opportunity also to look over the home page. It has quickly become a truly excellent publication under the editorship of Kenneth Grubbs, Jr., a fine writer in his own right whose work is familiar to readers of The American Spectator and other conservative magazines. Ken selflessly left Washington D.C. two months ago to take the position, forsaking the climate of our nation's capital at its most delightful.

Race and Religion

Very interesting story on race, religion, and voting patterns at The Hill. Here's the skinny. Hispanics vote faith before ethnicity. African-Americans vote ethnicity before faith.

The logjam absolutely must break at some point here. Bush did better with African-Americans in 2004 than in 2000, but he did better with just about everybody. The simple question is this: When will African-Americans become so dismayed by social leftism and uber-secularity in the Democratic party as to make a decisive break?

It wouldn't take much. If the GOP were able to reliably take in a mere 20% of the African-American vote, the Democrats would be relegated to second party status for a long, long time. My proposal is that President Bush hold a major meeting with influential African-American leaders and offer the following deal. Affirmative action is off the table for twenty years. In return, he would expect greater backing from the black community, particularly on social issues. Call me crazy, but I think it would be Nixon goes to China and that it would work.

Absolute Slam-Dunk Proof of Media Bias

The following exchange between New York Times reporter Elisabeth Bumiller and President Bush (covered at Weekly Standard) tells you everything you need to know about media bias:

She began: "Paul Wolfowitz, who was the-a chief architect of one of the most unpopular wars in our history-

Bush interrupted: "That's an interesting start."

Bumiller: "Is your choice to be the president of the World Bank. What kind of signal does that send to the rest of the world?"

This is a reporter from the most prestigious media organization in the United States asking the president a question fraught with editorial bias. Bumiller should be ashamed. The NYT should be ashamed. This one small example should be taught in journalism schools (I know, an oxymoron) as a "how not to" lesson in asking questions at a press conference.

Hitchens A'right In Iraq

The world's sanest liberal, Christopher Hitchens, claims to have part-Jewish heritage, which would offer an interesting theory into why he is consistently right part of the time. Just kidding, of course, but the fact is that he has been the most solid reporter - and opiner - on the Iraq situation since well before the... er, end of major hostilities.

He has wisely distinguished between the War On Terrorism and issues that should elicit compassion as a primary response. Here is his must-read analysis of the New York Times giving the Iraq centrifuge story all the spin that's unfit to imprint.

Yes, irrespective of his periodic lapses into cardiac exsanguination, Hitchens is a fellow not to be ignored. My eternal gratitude is his for revealing in a 1996 American Enterprise interview the secret of Bill Clinton's "I did not inhale" statement. Hitchens, who was in Clinton's clique at Oxford, explained that Bill had trouble inhaling the smoke of marijuana cigarettes, so he preferred to ingest that narcotic through the medium of the brownie. Indeed, Chris noted, Bill's appetite for those brownies was voracious. (Perhaps he recalled pliable Brownies of his youth.)

Blake Not A Quitter

Let me go on record here with plaudits to the Blake jury, who reached the correct verdict. Correct, that is, in the legal sense that the prosecution had not met its burden of adducing sufficient proof for conviction. Too often juries use the "Yeah, but who else did it?" approach to their task.

Blake demonstrated throughout the process a nettlesome side that alienated three attorneys. But I would not hold him entirely blameworthy in this area, either; celebrity attorneys often mistakenly think themselves the celebrities and act accordingly imperious.

A less assuming barrister, M. Gerald Schwartzbach, piloted the case to acquittal. This touching tribute by Blake to his lawyer's perseverance shows that the actor is a far gentler man than his tough-guy persona projects.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

A Hearty Mazel Tov To the Baker Family

Sleepless nights. Endless worry. The years that fly by as if they never were more than dreams. And the bills! Clothes, food, toys, home repairs, future pets, education, ad infinitum; it never ends. Eventually a car, and soon enough thereafter, boys, mankind's contribution to hypertension. All, of course, far outweighed by the music of a child's laughter, never to be forgotten. And if you don't know the meaning of Mazel Tov, go have a corned beef sandwich.

The Kramer Reality Tour

So this fellow Richard Kramer was handed a judgeship by our society and he has repaid it by declaring void a treasured notion nurtured by millennia, the idea that marriage is something rare and extraordinary, that it was built into Creation as that state which merges perfectly the human qualities of male and female.

He notes in passing that this idea had become a tradition but need not be indulged on that basis, the very argument that my late mother advanced to discourage me from picking my nose.

Who bred this class of the morally blinkered? They not only throw out the baby, they love covering themselves in the bathwater.

This Kramer calls himself, comically, a Catholic, yet he, like most of the Men In Black, believes in being cheeky at every turn.

He claims too the appellation of Republican, yet he abdicates the sacred role of lore enforcement.

He has dealt a blow to our matrimony; he has dealt a blow to our patrimony.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Scripps Howard Spikes Stem Cell Story

Those who harbor any doubts that the American media have adopted a single attitude in favor of embryonic stem cell research (see my American Spectator column on the subject here), which is enforced ruthlessly, the latest Scripps-Howard column by science writer Michael Fumento should help dispel them. You probably haven't read the column, because the syndicator refused to run it.

Fumento has made the column available on his excellent and informative website.

The column was spiked, as the journalists' lingo has it, because it pointed out some surprising and rather dismaying facts about the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, "the world's largest juvenile diabetes philanthropy," as Fumento notes. Fumento points out that the foundation distributed "over $85 million in grants last year. Yet it supports no efforts that could lead to a cure any time soon for this blinding and crippling disease that afflicts as many as 1.7 million Americans. Instead it's become a lobby for controversial embryonic stem cell research and refuses to help fund the only study that could soon bring a cure."

"The top item on JDRF's 'issue information' page," Fumento notes, "is 'Embryonic Stem Cell Research,' with subcategories like Progress with Embryonic Stem Cell Research. It also bashes what many see as an alternative that's both medically superior and carries no moral baggage – adult stem cells. Its 'Limitations of Adult Stem Cell Research' link is packed with such disinformation as 'Adult stem cells cannot be induced to develop into any cell type.' In fact, since 2002 at least four different labs have published results indicating they can."

Most indefensible of all, Fumento reports, is that JDRF has twice rejected Harvard researcher Dr. Denise Faustman, who Fumento notes "was the first to cure diabetes in mice and now seeks funds for a clinical trial to replicate her fantastic results in humans. Thrice she has applied to JDRF; thrice they have rejected her. Never mind her impeccable credentials and that she even reviewed grants for JDRF.

"Her transgression," Fumento argues, "seems to be that her treatment involves restoring dead insulin-producing cells in the pancreas with ASCs already present in the body. Despite what the JDRF would have you think, there have already been tremendous breakthroughs in ASC therapy, with over 80 treatments and almost 300 human clinical trials underway – versus zero treatments or trials for ESCs. Still, nothing would belie the false claims of ESC lobbyists more than curing diabetes with ASCs."

JDRF refused to talk with Fumento while he was working on his article, well aware of his previous writings in support of research into adult stem cells. Then, despite the damning evidence Fumento had adduced and the obvious importance of the issue (millions of dollars of charity being diverted to a different use), Scripps Howard refused to run the column, giving no explanation to newspaper editors who receive the syndicate's materials. Fumento states emphatically that when the JDRF found out that he was doing an article about them, through his request for an interview, they called his editor at Scripps Howard and convinced her that the column had to be killed.

Those who wish to contact Fumento's Scripps Howard editor and her superiors about the matter can find the contact info here. In deciding on the right response, please remember that emails are easy to ignore but telephone calls make a very big impression.

The Sis (...then the dissertation...)

Mrs. Baker has brought a little illumination into our world in the form of a beautiful little girl, and she has done it with her customary grace.

Welcome, Grace Frances Baker. Congratulations to the happy parents. In the midst of such blessing - and tumult - are doctorates born.

Going Boing At Boeing

Poor Harry Stonecipher. He lost his job as CEO of Boeing and his marriage in the same week, both presumably for the same reason: he was said to be having an affair with a female employee of the company. Whether a person should lose the first two for indulging in the third is a conundrum which I leave to my betters.

The theory which I wish to propound is homely enough: I have come to believe from observing at close hand the vagaries of the human condition that many associations tarred as "affairs" are in reality teasing flirtations that fall well short of consummation. As celebrated in the song "Something To Talk About" by Bonnie Raitt, many office rumors are the cause rather than the result of real liaisons. Often the not-so-guilty parties have been playing along with the speculation as a form of macho strutting or coquettish role-playing and later find it hard to deny accusations of substantive misconduct.

Indeed if anyone here has suffered in real ways as the result of an affair that was imputed and reputed by folks but disputed by the facts, I would be grateful indeed if you could comment. If this is too public a forum, let me know and perhaps we can communicate by e-mail.

In any case, the best policy is to follow the Talmud's advice (and Billy Graham's famed practice) and avoid being behind a locked door with someone whom others might take to be your paramour. Otherwise, you might pass up the temptation and still be the target of pernicious gossip.

Monday, March 14, 2005

Crichton and Civilization

I think the reason Michael Crichton is such a popular author is that he catches trends just as they are about to crest, when they are ready to become noticeable and indeed essential to the mass public. As a result, he is one of those writers who is important without being great—like John Grisham, Mary Higgins Clark, J. K. Rowling, and Ann Coulter—as a cultural barometer if for no other reason.

In Crichton's latest bestselling novel, State of Fear, he takes on contemporary Western intellectuals' notions regarding the natural environment, especially global warming. What is less evident, however, is an even more important subject in the book: the meaning and value of Western civilization. This issue is, if anything, even more controversial than the debate over global warming, and is in fact the subject underlying those arguments, both in State of Fear and in the world today.

My article premiering on the Claremont Institute's website today considers Crichton's treatment of the subject in depth. Because of space considerations for the piece, I was not able to include even half of the evidence I found in the book supporting this proposition, the notion that its truly interesting and important subject is the value of Western civilization.

Hence, for those who have not yet read the novel but intend to do so, I suggest reading it with this thought in mind. I believe that it will greatly repay such exegesis. In addition, I think that Crichton's point of view may soon be visibly on the rise not only among the general public but also among the next generation of Western intellectuals.

Sunday, March 13, 2005

SOS: Save Our Soul (Save Our Schiavo)

No prophet I.

Much less a prophet of doom. I am very optimistic about life, about the world, about our nation. Pessimistic scenarios like "Global Warming" strike me as comical at best and a sign of mass human insecurity at worst.

But I feel that I must repeat here what I wrote a few months back. I believe that the specific and individual case of Terri Schindler Schiavo is a test for our nation on which a great deal of our future prosperity and success is riding. When Sarah Scantlin spoke for the first time in twenty years in early February, it was a clear message to the society not to allow this monster Schiavo to kill his wife with the legal sanction of our court system.

We all feel very helpless, I'm not sure what we can do. This thing has been going on for so many years to give us a chance to win this somehow. Somehow, someway, this nation must rise to the occasion.

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?