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

Saturday, March 26, 2005

Affidavit on Terri's Condition and Capabilities

Here is evidence the judge apparently found unconvincing as he ruled:

Affidavit from Heidi Law, nurse who take care of Terri

Terri's Plight and the End of Life

I can identify with Alan's concerns. I've sat vigil in a hospital room with a loved one and counted the long spaces between extraordinarily labored breaths. I've whispered in my grandfather's ear and told him to "Go to Jesus. You don't have to wait for us. We're okay. We love you." I saw an old man die and felt great relief he didn't choose to prolong his suffering by being hooked up to a ventilator.

I feel differently about Terri Schiavo, though. My grandfather was actively dying. Terri Schiavo was not. She continued to live, requiring food and water, but still breathing on her own. There is a great difference between dying naturally and having life's sustenance withheld in order to bring death. What has been done to Terri Schiavo is indistinguishable in my mind from what would happen if a person taking care of a quadraplegic relative simply refused to provide food and water.

I am highly disturbed by the fact that we don't see unanimity of medical opinion about Terri's situation. Some say she's in a vegetative state, others say not, still others don't know. I fear the judicial determinations have depended more on an assessment of whether her life is worth living than on slam-dunk medical evidence.

Finally, it should mean something that Terri's family so keenly desires her continued presence. If she were truly vegetative, then it would be hard to believe they would fight as they have. They feel she is alive and interactive, no matter how minimally. This woman seems to me to be profoundly disabled more than brain-dead or vegetative.

I tried to go to sleep two nights ago after helping my week-old daughter get back to sleep. For some reason, standing by the bed in the moonlight I thought about Terri Schiavo and felt as if God would have me pray. The whole world is watching and I think He is, too.

Friday, March 25, 2005

Difficult Decisions

I sympathize with anyone in the position Alan Reynolds was in when faced with the loss of his mother and his great concern for her full and true welfare. However, I agree with John Hutchins's thoughtful comments to Alan's post.

Alan, I think the key element here is that the Terri Schiavo case does not fit the situation you describe, as I have noted in earlier postings on the matter. To wit and in particular, Terri Schiavo is not brain dead. She is not in an advanced, incurable stage of Alzheimer's disease, nor is she suffering great pain, as far as anyone can discern, nor does she suffer from any of the other conditions typically given as reasons for mercy killing. She is by no means an obvious candidate for a killing by denial of food and water—except for the unsupported statements of her husband, a man who has become entirely estranged from her and her family. He won't even allow them to visit her, lest they place an ice chip on her dehydrated lips.

Surely, Alan, your emotional ties to your mother were far stronger than the obvious emotional distance Michael Schiavo displays toward Terri!

As I mentioned earlier, the New York Times agrees that Terri Schiavo is not a conventional candidate for mercy killing, even if one accepts the premise that euthanasia can be acceptable. In Tuesday's story by Abby Goodnough, the reporter noted, "She [Terri Schiavo] can breathe on her own and has periods of wakefulness, but Judge George Greer of Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Court, who presided over the case, accepted the testimony of doctors who said she was in a 'persistent vegetative state' and incapable of thought or emotion."

The real issue here is not whether Terri Schiavo should die but who should decide the matter. The question of who is qualified to choose, who truly has Terri's best interests at heart, is not only a legal question but also, and much more powerfully, a moral one. That, I think, is why passions have run so high over this matter.

In my view, although perhaps not others', it could not be more obvious that Terri's parents want what is best for her, in line with their religious beliefs, of course, but without any true conflicts of interest. Michael Schiavo, on the other hand, does have an explicit interest in seeing Terri die, if only to get on with his own life unencumbered by a very disabled wife.

This moral issue is extremely important to the body politic. Recent history, especially trends in Europe, makes it quite clear that there will be many more such attempts to stretch the definition of what it is acceptable for doctors and legal guardians to do in ending the lives of patients under their care. And not all of these will be cases in which the right choice is clear, as in the nevertheless agonizing case of Alan's decision about his mother. In addition, as the huge Baby Boom generation reaches advanced age, these decisions will become even more common and increasingly vexing—and a great number of Boomers will be in Terri’s position instead of Michael’s.

Hence, the discussion of Terri's sad plight is important and necessary. Only when the public presses for and receives clear legislation on these matters will the law have a chance of fully reflecting the needs of both parties in such cases, with a true respect for the rights of the helpless to live even when they pose a burden others do not wish to accept.

The Florida courts have decided that the law is clear on this matter as it applies to the case currently in question. Be that as it may, the court of public opinion is making it increasingly evident that not all of the public sees the answer in this case as quite so obvious. This a matter that should be discussed, and one on which passions should indeed be high. If life and death are not important, nothing is.

This brings us to Alan's argument about the Christian valuation of life evidenced by those who have expressed a desire that Terri not be dehydrated and starved to death: "Many who profess belief in a glorious afterlife have nonetheless become curiously agitated on behalf of clinging to the faintest semblance of life by unnatural means. This makes no theological sense unless Mrs. Schiavo is assumed to be damned, which seems a very unChristian presumption."

This is a serious question and merits a serious answer. I shall presume that a clear reference from Scripture will suffice to explain the ambivalence Alan has correctly identified. Here it is, from Paul's letter to the church in Phillipi (Plilippians 1:21-24):

"21For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. 22If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! 23I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; 24but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body."

As Paul makes clear, to long to be with Christ, or to wish to have another person be with Christ, does not suggest that we yearn for a quick death. Christians believe that God Himself is in and with every believer, through the presence of His Holy Spirit in the believer's body. We do not need to wait for that. The presence of God's very Spirit in a person, or in the case of an unbeliever the possibility that this happy circumstance could come to pass, is in fact a compelling reason for Christians to seek the preservation of human lives. To desire that Terri Schiavo not be sent to the afterlife before her appointed time is therefore neither strange nor perverse—it is thoroughly Christian.

Death is Rarely Easy

The Terri Schiavo case started a stampede to create living wills, which often include such instructions as, “I do not want artificial nutrition and hydration if that would be the main treatment keeping me alive.” That means no feeding tube, except as a temporary expedient.

My mother wrote such a living will a few years before she died of Alzheimer’s at 90. At the end she refused to open her mouth for food or water, consciously or not. Knowing her wishes, my sister and I were not about to force a tube down her throat.

Although death from Alzheimer’s was imminent and inevitable, the immediate cause of my mother’s death was probably dehydration (which precedes starvation). That is not uncommon at all. On the contrary, that is exactly how many if not most elderly people die if (1) they are not fortunate to die quickly and (2) they have left instructions that they do not wish to be kept alive by artificial means. Those present when my mother died said she did not appear to be in pain, though morphine would have been available if she had needed it. A morphine overdose might well have been more merciful, but laws against euthanasia leave no legal alternative to death by dehydration in many cases. Those who now bemoan death by dehydration usually admire laws against euthanasia, which is somewhat inconsistent when those are often the only two options for those who abhor prolonged artificial life support.

Many people believe themselves qualified to speak in the abstract about such matters, particularly concerning people they do not know. And they claim to view such tough choices as a clear and simple distinction between right and wrong.

I would first like to ask anyone blessed with such moral certitude if they object to living wills in principle (perhaps viewing such an Advance Medical Directive as akin to suicide). If not, I would ask if he or she could possibly imagine writing a living will for himself or herself that would instruct physicians to maintain the body by any means possible, even if the person in question was unable to move or communicate for 15 years (and potentially much longer). If they could honestly answer that question in the affirmative, I would ask how certain they are that such a fate is preferable to being buried alive with an oxygen tube and plenty of food and water.

Many who profess belief in a glorious afterlife have nonetheless become curiously agitated on behalf of clinging to the faintest semblance of life by unnatural means. This makes no theological sense unless Mrs. Schiavo is assumed to be damned, which seems a very unChristian presumption.

Killing the Innocent, Sparing the Guilty—Who Is Responsible

Yesterday, federal district court judge James D. Whittemore, in denying the appeal of Terry Schiavo's parents that the state require that their daughter's food and water be resumed, said, "the plain language of the 14th Amendment contemplates that a person can be deprived of life so long as due process of law is provided."

That is certainly correct.

It is, however, a perverse society indeed that rules that every vicious murderer under the age of 18 merits constitutional protection and cannot be executed, but we must allow the killing of a disabled woman whose husband claims she was appalled by the conditions of characters in bad TV movies a couple of decades ago.

We set off down this path, of course, when it was decided that the Constitution required state governments to allow doctors to kill children in the womb.

We have been led all the way to this current Mount of Olives by the nation's courts. The truly great shame, however, is that our legislators and executives have concurred in this judicial usurpation of their powers.

They are every bit as responsible as the courts. Therefore we, who elected them, are fully responsible for the present awful situation.

Florida governor Jeb Bush has tried to work with the courts to resolve the problem, but the Florida judges continue to insist that the state's courts' previous decisions in this matter have been unerring. A governor, however, has broad powers, and state statutes allow for the removal of a person who is under the care of another who has neglected them. The deliberate denial of food and water is worse than neglect. The only people who would be angry if Gov. Bush intervened to save Terri Schiavo's life are his most implacable enemies.

If Jeb Bush does not intervene, George Bush should do so.

If neither of those men musters up the courage to save Terri Schiavo, then truly we, the citizens of this nation who elected the governors, legislators, judges, and presidents who brought us to this pass, are ultimately responsible.

On this day of all days, Terri Schiavo's plight should be an arrow to the conscience of every American.

Happy Day Is Here Again

The Jewish holiday of Purim is celebrated Thursday evening and all day Friday. It has no work restrictions, just fun party aspects - eating, drinking, music, dancing and costumes. It commemorates the salvation of the Jews from the evil Haman, as recorded in the Book of Esther.

In my article at The American Spectator, I try to alert modern readers to the little-known aspects of the traditional view of Esther as more than just a beauty queen with a good heart.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Chili Fingers

Apparently a diner at a Wendy's in San Jose purchased some of their chili made famous by the amazing ignorance of the ineffable Teresa Heinz-Kerry during the recent presidential campaign. This particular bowl sadly contained a special surprise, to wit, a human finger, which the hapless patron proceeded to bite and spit out. No word as yet from our honored pundits as to precisely which finger was involved, but we will allow the lawyers to sort out this saga. For me, however---forgive me, but I am weird---the larger philosophical question is quite different: Would the fair Teresa have recognized the alluring photo of the chili at that Wendy's along the Kerry campaign trail had a finger been included, preferably standing tall? I report; you decide.

Church Vs. State

The Schiavo case is driving me batty, so herewith an insane proposal: One of the seven Catholic archbishops in the country should hold a press conference announcing that if Terri dies he will recommend to the Church that she be beatified since she was starved to death before the eyes of the world during Holy week.

Once the judges grasp that they are giving Catholicism a big fat present, they will suddenly find a loophole to let her live and return to obscurity.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Culture Watch: Wire in the Blood

Monday night's episode of the gloomy British TV mystery drama Wire in the Blood, available in the United States on BBC America (Monday nights at 9:00-11:00 EST), had a very interesting religious angle. The murders seem to be the workings of a strange Christian cult that is the surviving remnants of a secret, 500-year-old sect centering on Joan of Arc. The anti-clerical imagery we have come to expect is all there: allusions to witch burnings, religious wars, pursuit of heretics, the Inquisition, obsessions about personal guilt, and the like. As the episode progresses, the activities of this religious cult force the investigators to "test not only their science and experience, but also their beliefs," as the BBC's episode description aptly puts it.

What is interesting is outcome of this test. One is braced for the typical media discussion of how religion is a major cause of wars in the world, and sure enough it comes along, explicitly, as the detectives discuss the implications of what this cult is doing.

Those who hold the view that religion is an illusion that does far more harm than good, however, are being set up for disappointment. It turns out [note: plot element revealed] that the murders are being commited by a lone fanatic, and the real motive force is not religion in itself but the fact that she suffers from paranoid schizophrenia. Religion is merely the substance to which her paranoia has attached itself. The events of the story make it quite clear that her disease is the killer, not religion.

In addition, there is a rather startling conclusion to the episode. The two main detectives are seen singing a hymn in the packed sanctuary of a lovely English church. In the wake of all the perverse imagery which made religion seem so foreign and dangerous, the scene presents quite a refreshing change. But that is not all: after the hymn, the female detective of the main pair goes to the front of the sanctuary to serve as a sponsor at the baptism of an infant. The film fades out with her repeating several lines from the baptismal liturgy, including those in which the sponsors and congregation renounce the devil and all his works.

As I have noted many different times on this site and elsewhere, the treatment of religion on American (and in this case, British) television has become much more sympathetic in recent years than most critics seem to realize.

Back to Barry Bonds

Barry Bonds' latest appearance before the press appears to have been a nasty affair (no pun intended). Reporters were unable to ask Bonds about his long term extramarital relationship with a woman who now says he admitted steroid use to her. Why couldn't they ask? Bonds brought his son to the press conference. According to Dan Patrick of ESPN, Bonds explicitly told the ESPN camera man to make sure he got a shot of his son. By the way, Bonds apparently bought this woman a house or made a large down payment on one, so she may be legit.

Break out the asterisks, baby. If Bonds becomes the new holder of the most prestigious record in all of sports, we'll need a wheelbarrow full of them.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

"You could call him a vegetable. I called him, Oliver, my brother."

Hat tip to The American Scene for linking to a compelling story of apparently "worthless" life that originally ran in the Wall Street Journal.

Here's a bit:

The doctor said that he wanted to make it very clear to both my mother and father that there was absolutely nothing that could be done for Oliver. He didn't want my parents to grasp at false hope. "You could place him in an institution," he said. "But," my parents replied, "he is our son. We will take Oliver home of course." The good doctor answered, "Then take him home and love him."

Oliver grew to the size of a 10-year-old. He had a big chest, a large head. His hands and feet were those of a five-year-old, small and soft. We'd wrap a box of baby cereal for him at Christmas and place it under the tree; pat his head with a damp cloth in the middle of a July heat wave. His baptismal certificate hung on the wall above his head. A bishop came to the house and confirmed him.

Even now, five years after his death from pneumonia on March 12, 1980, Oliver still remains the weakest, most helpless human being I ever met, and yet he was one of the most powerful human beings I ever met. He could do absolutely nothing except breathe, sleep, eat, and yet he was responsible for action, love, courage, insight. When I was small my mother would say, "Isn't it wonderful that you can see?" And once she said, "When you go to heaven, Oliver will run to you, embrace you, and the first thing he will say is 'Thank you."' I remember, too, my mother explaining to me that we were blessed with Oliver in ways that were not clear to her at first.

The Schiavos' War, and Ours

Judge James D. Whittemore, in deciding the Terri Schiavo case, did just as one might have expected, apparently deciding according to his personal beliefs and then finding ample legal justification for them. Legally, this one is not a slam dunk for either side. How could it be? There are too many conflicting rights and responsibilities in play.

In my view, Terri Schiavo's protectors, led by her parents, have fought a valiant fight for her life, but have not gained sufficient ground for their case in the public consciousness. It is important to recognize that the PR war in such cases is the real battleground, and in that realm they appear to me to have some work remaining to do. They must insistently emphasize and continue to keep at the forefront the fact that Terri Schiavo is not brain dead. She is by no means a normal candidate for a denial of food and water.

The New York Times agrees. In today's story by Abby Goodnough, the reporter noted, "She [Terri Schiavo] can breathe on her own and has periods of wakefulness, but Judge George Greer of Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Court, who presided over the case, accepted the testimony of doctors who said she was in a 'persistent vegetative state' and incapable of thought or emotion."

That should have been the first and most persistent message of Terri's friends in the PR war: that she is not brain dead. She is alive and has periods of wakefulness. That is to say, she is like the rest of us, only her periods of sleep are longer and deeper. We are all in a persistent vegetative state, in the sense that sleep persistently comes to us each day whether we wish it or not.

By the logic of Michael Schiavo and his lawyers, any human being that could not get its own food and water—such as any infant or frail elderly person—could be said to be in a persistent vegetative state and denied these essentials of life and put to a slow, horrible death.

This is an argument that should be at the forefront of the case, and would have great effect, I think, in that it would shift the ground away from the public thinking that they would hate to be in Terri Schiavo's situation and would want someone there to protect their stated wishes (though not written in this case, and backed only by the party who is trying to have her killed) that they not be forced to live for many years though brain-dead. It would put the observer in Terri's position instead of Michael's.

The public would be encouraged to see the case as very different: of them being potentially forced to die because someone feels their presence too much of a burden.

The public must be made to feel as much sympathy for the disabled persons whose very lives are being debated as we now feel for those forced to make such agonizing decisions. Only when the public presses for legislative action will the law begin to reflect the needs of both parties in such cases, with a full respect for the rights of the helpless to live even when they pose a burden others do not wish to accept.

I will say it now: there is a word for what happens when a person puts another human being to death because the first person believes that the other stands in the way of his or her happiness.

It is murder.

Fiction Dance

Too excited to just let it go, so I wrote two more fessays, one concerning another aspect of Michael Schiavo's insolence (he still seems to be getting away with it; please, dear God, stop him) and one relating to a different news item entirely. Please enjoy.


This is just exciting beyond description. I believe that I have invented a literary form that can quite possibly become a popular instrument in the American writer's repertoire.

I am calling it the "fessay", and I have created a separate blog of my own for the purpose of exploring and expanding this new concept.

Please go there and have a look. The very first fessay deals with the Terri Schiavo case. And if you like it, PLEASE TELL YOUR FRIENDS!!!!!! If it catches on, you will have witnessed history in the offing. Thanks, folks.

Monday, March 21, 2005

The GOP, Federalism, and Terri Schiavo

Democrats have rediscovered federalism not long after they rediscovered a love of the plain text of the Constitution when the GOP threatened to alter it to deal with marriage. Terri Schiavo is the issue now.

What the Democrats don’t understand is that federalism is scarcely in the DNA of the Republican party. The GOP fought against slavery and polygamy in the 19th century heedless of states’ rights in the process. The key issue for the GOP has traditionally been the dignity of the individual in a moral universe. Slavery and polygamy offended that principle because they involved lopsided relationships. The GOP fought the New Deal and socialism for the same reason. Statism tended to rob the individual of God-given dignity and introduce a new lopsided relationship – the individual before a monolith state.

The modern GOP has embraced federalism, but primarily as a method of keeping solutions as close to the individual as possible. States’ rights are a means, not an end in the GOP philosophy. It is the Democrats who made states’ rights the end-all-be-all during the era of slavery and later Jim Crow.


Congress has acted and the President has signed. If the Federal Courts act like mensches, Terri will be saved.

We saw the words of the Talmud (Brachot 8a) come to life: "God does not disdain the prayer of the many."

So many people, simple, genuine people, people from all walks of life, people from everywhere, rich and poor, brought their voices together in prayer. This was the America we know and love.

America showed its greatness this weekend, as people put down their toys and picked up their cudgels. We started a ratatat pounding on the gates of Heaven that brought the good angels forth in song and sent the dark angels scurrying off in fear.

There was an amazing radio moment a week ago that convinced me that mercy would eclipse severity and that a saving grace would be bestowed from Above. Glenn Beck missed a day and Denny Schaefer sat in for him. Schaefer was interviewing Terri's sister and in a moment of inspiration he literally promised her that God would make a miracle to save her. It was a completely insane thing to say; it had to have been a sort of prophetic intuition.

I believed all along, and stated here twice in the last two months, that this was a key test for our nation, that this was a watershed moment in the moral life of our culture. It looks like we have passed. God bless America.

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.