Friday, April 29, 2005

Public Agenda Poll on Religion and American Public Life

The survey research organization Public Agenda has released an interesting report on "Religion and Public Life, 2000-2004." The survey, conducted during last year's election campaign, found that the public was more greatly in favor of elected officials voting on the basis of their religious principles, than they were four years previously. In the words of the accompanying press release,

"'Compromise has a long and important history in American politics,' said Ruth A. Wooden, President of Public Agenda. 'But in 2004, there were more Americans who wanted elected officials to keep their religious principles in mind when they vote on issues like abortion and gay rights. We found double-digit decreases in support for compromise on these issues among those who attend services weekly and among Catholics. The changes are really quite dramatic.'"

The study as a whole, however, is not nearly so dramatic. It suggests that a significantly greater proportion of Americans overall support the notion that elected officials should not compromise their religious beliefs when voting on issues such as abortion, gay rights, and the death penalty than did so four years before, and that more Americans think that it is good for others to "spread the word of God" publicly rather than be expected to keep their beliefs private. Though not earthshaking, the report makes sense and is highly informative and well worth reading.

Miami Vice, DVD Baby, Yeah

David Skinner of the Weekly Standard takes the occasion of the DVD release of Miami Vice's first 22 episodes to review the virtues and . . .um . . .vices (sorry) of the former star of NBC's Friday nights.

Before quoting Skinner, I have to say that Miami Vice was one of my favorite television programs ever. Right up there with St. Elsewhere, Hill St. Blues, and the totally forgotten Crime Story. I was a teenager who was usually out on Friday evenings, but my father faithfully taped Vice for my viewing on late Saturday mornings after I'd slept off the effects of juvenile Death Wish, pizza and basketball fests. The perfect combination of music, fashion, cool, and gravity made the show hypnotically watchable.

But David Skinner actually took the time to re-watch and write about it, so here's something from him:

IN JANUARY, Universal Studios told Variety that it was going to be a while before the DVDs for the first season of Miami Vice would go on sale. Licensing the soundtrack--with music by U2, Eric Clapton, Phil Collins, and Tina Turner, among others--was proving very expensive. What then explains the sudden appearance of said DVDs only weeks later? What could have sent the permissions process into overdrive? This is just a guess, but it may have something to do with final casting and the beginning of film production for Miami Vice the movie starring Collin Farrell and Jamie Foxx, due out next year. Michael Mann, the TV show's executive producer, is directing the movie, while the TV show's director and creator Anthony Yerkovich, is executive-producing the movie.

Not a bad excuse for rolling out the first 22 episodes of the Friday night drama that made sockless boat shoes, sleeveless Ts, and five o'clock shadows fashionable. The $59.98, 3-disc set also includes a handful of mini features from which Crockett and Tubbs admirers will learn that Don Johnson had appeared in six failed pilots before Miami Vice producers fought to cast him in the lead. Also that the show's unprecedented costuming budget was in the six figures; that Friday night was not actually a desirable slot, because Dallas and Falcon Crest had the schedule all sewn up; that city officials, whose cooperation the producers definitely needed, worried the show's title would hurt Miami's image; and that while legend has it that the show
was inspired by a note from a studio executive stating the formula "MTV cops," it was, though influenced by music videos, actually inspired by a newspaper article estimating the size of Miami's underground economy.


But the real question is, Was the show any good? Yes, it was, in a couple of obvious ways. One, it was beautiful; and two, the plots always kept a snappy pace. These two strengths--and some attendant ones--more than make up for the cheesiness of a show whose entire appeal depended on selling the notion of cops as figures of unequaled glamour.

Thursday, April 28, 2005

Inflation Illusion Update

My next column “Illusory Inflation” is already up at townhall.com. It’s full of boring numbers showing that if you pull energy out of the most accurate inflation statistics, there has been no acceleration of inflation since the recession of 2001. None, zip, zero. If the Fed thinks otherwise and acts on that misconception, I argue, they could aggravate the global economic squeeze caused by steep energy costs.

Since my deadline is Wednesday, I did not have the GDP figures released on Thursday. That includes the Fed’s favorite inflation index, the one for personal consumption expenditures (PCE). The “core” version of that PCE deflator, which excludes both food and energy, is up only 1.6 percent from a year ago. Looking at the first quarter alone, it was up at a 2.2 percent annual rate. But those quarterly figures bounce around too much to show a trend -- up at a 2.6 percent rate in the fourth quarter of 2001, for example, 2 percent in the second and third quarter of 2001, and 2.1 percent in the first quarter of 2004.

You won’t read any of this in the business press. They’ll report that "core" inflation was up 3.2 percent in the first quarter, not 1.6 percent. But that 3.2 percent "annualized" figure is for just three months -- that is, it's a 0.8 percent increase multiplied by 4 to show what it would look like if it continued for a whole year. And that GDP price index is for the whole economy -- including business expenses -- which is not how most people (including the Fed) define inflation. "Cost of living" does not mean the cost of doing business.

Besides, business costs for materials and such in the GDP price index are relatively unimportant in comparison to unit labor costs, which are barely rising at all. And rising costs don’t easily translate into rising prices anyway, because of intense competition from imports. The PPI does not predict the CPI, for reasons explained in my column. The apparent quarterly uptick in nonlabor business costs might squeeze profit margins a bit, but it's not inflation.

Aside from energy, the year-to-year trend in consumer prices is no quicker than it was three or four years ago – just 2 percent or less. So, unless you think the Fed should raise interest rates when oil prices go up and lower interest rates when oil prices go down, it is hard to justify a Fed "policy" of just raising interest rates again and again until something bad happens.

Noonan on Bolton and Being Real

I praised earnestness in my last post. Peggy Noonan channeled my thoughts and defended John Bolton for skipping the niceties when p***ed off.

In the process, she mentions some interesting stories about political figures who may have stepped over comfort zone lines in the past:

Bad temper is a bad thing, but in government it's a flaw with a long provenance. Bob Dole once slammed a phone down so hard it is said to have splintered. Bill Clinton, George Stephanopoulos tells us, used to go into "purple rages." There is a past and possibly future presidential candidate who would regularly phone one of his staffers at home and ream that person out by screaming base obscenities. (I was impressed to learn the staffer felt free to respond in kind, and did.)

Harry S. Truman, as president, once threatened in writing to kick the testicles of a journalist (a music reviewer who had been nasty about the talents of Truman's daughter). Lyndon Johnson would physically crowd people and squeeze their arms painfully as he tried to get them to do what he wanted; in his case arm-twisting was really arm-twisting. Richard Nixon is said to have snapped to an aide who came to him with some issue, "You must have me confused with somebody who gives a sh--." He also physically pushed and humiliated his press secretary, Ron Zeigler.

Gold Finger?

Quick: stop whatever it is that you were doing and scoot over to The American Spectator to read my absolutely mind-blowing theory of why Anna Ayala, the woman who hoaxed Wendy's with the human finger, told the judge that she will waive extradition because she is "eager" to go to California to prove her innocence.

If I am correct, the entire story could be transformed into something entirely other than we had thought, something far more sinister. This might not be a fraud case. This might be a murder case masquerading as a fraud case.

In fact, if Ayala is extradited to California, and if the finger turns out to belong to a woman whom she killed in Nevada, she will effectively escape prosecution for the murder even if she confesses. She will have committed the perfect murder.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Dostoevsky and Jerry Maguire

I may suffer serious scorn for making the comparison, but a recent viewing of Jerry Maguire on cable for the fourth or fifth time got me thinking about the famous Russian writer. In particular, I watched the film and thought of The Brothers Karamazov.

What the movie and the book have in common is earnestness. It has been much commented that we are a cynical, guarded people who resonate perfectly with the nearly sociopathic characters on Seinfeld (who I loved, too). Given our self-protective postures, it comes as something of a shock to the system when persons are portrayed turning themselves inside out to another person. This is a fundamentally different act than thinking one's true thoughts while alone. Revealing the self to another is fraught with risk of being judged, alienated, and thought silly, stupid or insane. But that is the act the characters in Jerry Maguire and The Brothers do so well and so satisfyingly.

I recommend the movie. The book needs no recommendation since it is widely believed to be the best novel ever written.

Karnick and the Pope

S.T. (AKA "Saint") Karnick takes a look at the life of the Pope in the Washington Examiner. Check it out here.

Karnick consults Philip Jenkins, Francis Beckwith, Jay Homnick, Joseph Bottum, and John O'Sullivan. Here's a nugget:

The rewards of a life of self-denial can be great but are unknown at the outset. The costs, however, are clear at every step, and far more tangible. Some see the choice as a function of faith in God. But whether he exists or not, the question is ultimately one of faith in self: Is what I believe true? And what if it is not?

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Syrian Troops Leave Lebanon

The road ahead for Lebanon is perilous, but the departure of Syrian troops out of the country is one essential element of the Lebanese having a chance at successful self-government. Lebanon was once a beautiful country, until its society was crushed by demographic changes and, even more damagingly, international gamesmanship by larger powers. Support from the United States and the rest of the West will be crucial to the new country's future. Americans can be excused for a sense of exhaustion after the Iraq War, but Lebanon definitely needs help in making the transition to self-government.

Under The Overpass

In my Passover message at The American Spectator, I ponder the fact that so few Jews actually believe that the Exodus occurred as reported in Scripture - although they are willing to celebrate the day for its theme of freedom.

Monday, April 25, 2005

South Park Conservatives

Bernard Chapin has an excellent review of Brian Anderson's book on South Park Conservatives, in today's issue of Mens News Daily. Anderson's book claims that there is a new breed of person on the Right, especially among the young, who espouse conservative values but enjoy earthy popular culture without embarrassment and are tired of leftist claims of moral superiority. (The term appears to have been invented by columnist Andrew Sullivan.) Chapin writes,

"If the existence of the South Parker surprises traditional conservatives, imagine how unnerving it must be for your average liberal to discover that the guy who sat next to him during Phish’s last concert had the Opinion Journal delivered to his Inbox every morning."

Anderson's book says that such South Park conservatives have mounted a very effective grass-roots counterrevolutionary campaign against the reigning media, whom he correctly describes as overwhelmingly left of center. He cites the TV show South Park and comedians such as Dennis Miller plus numerous other writers, columnists, and bloggers who are puncturing the sacred cows of modern liberalism.

Chapin identifies a central motivation of South Park Conservatives as a simple wish for freedom to say what they think:

"One of the vilest villains in Anderson’s book is not actually a program or a person, but a phrase: 'creating a hostile environment.' This gibberish has been used for all kinds of nefarious purposes by the cultural inquisitors."

Anderson's book, as Chapin says, fully documents the illiberalism of today's liberals, which one should hardly think necessary at this time but does still seem to require continued argumentation, given that the Left still retains control of most of the cuture and academy:

"Anderson’s belief that conservatives have stopped losing the culture war is certainly contestable. Ask any kid in the United States between 10 [yes, I meant 10] and 18 what their favorite kind of music is, and I’ll bet you that at least fifty percent, regardless of race or socioeconomic background, will say 'rap' or 'hip hop.' Furthermore, all of the blogs, Foxnews, NRO and techcentralstation’s in the world cannot outdo the power of Hollywood’s alternative lifestyle worshipping generofilms."

I would refer to truly liberal persons on the Right as liberals, but I think that the phenomenon these writers are documenting is a real one by whatever name. Undoubtedly Anderson's book will be come another right-oriented bestseller, which says something in itself.

The Idiotic Malconclusions of Frank Rich

Prepare to get angry, then read Frank Rich's latest column in the NYT. First he praises the Roman Catholic Church in the wake of John Paul II's death. Then, he dumps on evangelical Christians unhappy with the unprecedented use of the filibuster to stop conservative judicial nominees who have the votes to be confirmed.

Note to Mr. Rich: The evangelicals and Catholics are on the same page, numbnuts. Many of the judges being filibustered are Catholics.

Second note to Mr. Rich: You attribute all the anger over judicial filibusters to bias against gay marriage. Are you completely clueless? Issue numero uno with evangelicals and Catholics for about thirty years has been abortion. It's still numero uno. We are still waiting for the court to recognize the personhood of the unborn child or allow states to legislate the matter for themselves. Gay marriage is important, but not life and freaking death.