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

Monday, May 23, 2005

On The Sauce

In response to the Honorable James F. Elliott, who asks whether I am "on the sauce": Well, no. But after viewing Saddam in his undies, I wish I were. By the way, in the newish tradition (or fad) of heartfelt American women offering themselves in holy matrimony to tattooed guys serving lengthy terms in the local hoosegow, I wonder if the aforementioned photos of Saddam might inspire some gay guy to offer his hand, or something anyway, to Saddam? Even better: Upon conviction, let us show our humanity and forswear the gallows for Saddam, opting instead for some serious time at a randomly-chosen correctional institute right here in the good old U. S. of A. El Presidente-of-the-Islamic-Republic-of-Iraq-for-Life will go in Saddam, and he'll come out Maddam. Justice is poetic indeed.

Oh the Humanity

Let's see here: There is no end to the horror. We've gone from the U.S. getting bogged down in a quagmire during the brutal Afghan winter to the U.S. causing 250,000 casualties among Iraqi civilians to the U.S. causing 1,000,000 civilian refugees to the U.S. causing a civil war to the U.S. torturing non-POWs by taking unflattering/embarrassing/humiliating photos of them to the U.S. flushing a Koran down the pipes to the U.S. taking photos of His Majesty Saddam in his undies. Pretty soon "torture" will be the lack of super-soft toilet tissue and the use of naughty words and cigarette smoking in full view of Iraqi kids under 21. The mass graves? That's old news. And the mainstream journalists---ignorant, stupid, lazy, dishonest, biased, and arrogant---just cannot fathom why anyone would pay attention to a bunch of lazy loudmouths writing commentary in their pajamas. Any photos of them? I hope not: That would be torture.

Sunday, May 22, 2005

In Search Of Linguistic Ex-cellence

Lately we have tried to use our modest pulpit here as a perch from which to issue small corrections to published media.

The object is not to practice one-upmanship and cry "Gotcha!", but to appeal to a future generation of scribblers to be more careful in spelling and usage.

Today's culprit is Matt Drudge, who is running a headline: Bush Extols Graduates To Embrace Values.

There is nothing wrong with extolling (i.e. praising) graduates. But one suspects that the intended word was 'Exhorts'.

Saturday, May 21, 2005

Jail-O From The Block

Perhaps I'm a tad obtuse. But I don't get why seeing Saddam Hussein in his briefs is a big deal, one way or the other.

The New York Times and other self-important media types are frantically searching whatever it is they have in place of souls: was it appropriate to present this as fruit of their reportorial loom?

This guy killed hundreds of thousands. Now he is a little man living the small life that he should have always led.

Remember what Thomas Gray wrote in Elegy Written In A Country Churchyard:

Some village-Hampden, that with dauntless breast
The little tyrants of his fields withstood;
Some mute inglorious Milton here may rest,
Some Cromwell guiltless of his country's blood.

Th' applause of list'ning senates to command,
The threats of pain and ruin to despise,
To scatter plenty o'er a smiling land,
And read their hist'ry in a nation's eyes.

Their lot forbade: nor circumscrib'd alone
Their growing virtues, but their crimes confin'd
Forbade to wade through slaughter to a throne,
And shut the gates of mercy on mankind.

Solar Provider

The new finding that exposure to sunshine helps limit a number of cancers is obviously good news to a Miami resident like myself.

On the other hand, too much exposure is still considered to be deleterious.

The advantage of being in the sun is that it helps the body build up its supply of Vitamin D. This helps various internal organs. However, the skin is damaged by having too much sun, as it has the tough job of being the filter, meeting the sunlight first and being abraded by the encounter.

To be honest with you, I have always assumed that this was the case, relying on the Biblical verse that it is a "sun of charity, with healing in its wings" (Malachi 3:20). Even though the main focus of that prophecy is on the end of days, the Talmud (Nedarim 8b) teaches that part of that healing power is already in place.

Friday, May 20, 2005

Judging Amity

Given that numerous bloggers have been linking to Norman Ornstein's column claiming that the Republicans' proposal to end judicial filibusters during the current session is unprecedented, as a public service I'll provide a link to Wendy Long's refutation of Ornstein's argument. An interesting irony identified in Long's article is that one senator who has employed in recent years the Republicans' proposed means of setting precedents by parliamentary majority is . . . Robert Byrd (D-WV). Enjoy.

Baker on Revenge of the Sith

Karnick continues to refuse to show the readers of the Reform Club blog his utter mastery of film review so I'm stepping in again.

Sith may be the best of the Star Wars films with regard to pure action and light saber duels. I lost count of how many duels there were, but Mace Windu (Samuel L. Jackson), Obi-Wan-Kenobe, Anakin Skywalker, the Sith Emperor, Count Dooku (Christopher Lee) and Yoda all get in serious swordplay. I loved all of it.

Weak points.

The plot was difficult to follow in places. There were times I thought to myself, I can't tell what exactly is happening, but simultaneously realized I didn't care.

The Anakin/Padme' romance continues not to work at all. They simply aren't a believable pair.

Portrayals of politics are also bad. You just don't believe the scenes with the Senate. All the galactic politicians appear to be utter lemmings. If you've ever known any politicians, you know differently.

Dialogue-wise there's a groaner that really threatens to ruin a good scene. As Anakin and Obi-Wan size each other up for a battle, Obi-Wan tells Anakin that "Only the Sith believe in absolutes!" Ummm, yeah. Absolute evil, maybe. If the emperor is any indication, there's not absolute good anywhere in the guy.

Finally, way too rough for the kiddies. They just shouldn't see it. Graphic and frightening for a youngster parented with care. This PG-13 is really warranted.

Otherwise, great ride. Worth full ticket price in the theatre on thrills alone. The action is so good it overcomes lots and lots of weaknesses in the script.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Credit Where Cash Is Due

I urge all our friends to please read the article that I have linked. It is a beautifully composed piece of journalism from the Los Angeles Times, telling the tale of a hero of our intelligence services who has become enmeshed in a bureaucratic jumble. He is being denied Workmen's Compensation for a beating he took as CIA Station Chief in Teheran in 1979.

To me this is exactly the role that reporters should play, a compassionate role of holding a magnifying glass to cases that are mishandled because of technicalities and lack of initiative among careerist employees, both in government and in business.

This is the type of journalism that should transcend the labels of Republican and Democrat, helping the individual to get his day in the court of public opinion.

Jeff Jacoby on Why Islam Is Disrespected

In his syndicated column today, Boston Globe columnist Jeff Jacoby evaluates the reaction of U.S. government officials and media to the Muslim riots sparked by a rumor that American soldiers had desecrated a copy of the Koran. Jacoby points out that both the Bush administration and conservative media pundits blamed Newsweek for the riots. While acknowledging the magazine's culpability in the matter, Jacoby points out that there were no "deadly protests triggered in recent years by comparable acts of desecration against other religions," as in 1989 "after photographer Andres Serrano's 'Piss Christ'—a photograph of a crucifix submerged in urine—was included in an exhibition subsidized by the National Endowment for the Arts," or when "singer Sinead O'Connor, appearing on 'Saturday Night Live,' ripped up a photograph of Pope John Paul II," or "in 2000, after Arabs demolished Joseph's Tomb, torching the ancient shrine and murdering a young rabbi who tried to save a Torah from the flames," or "in 2001 in response to the destruction of two priceless, 1,500-year-old statues of Buddha by the Taliban government in Afghanistan."

Religious conflicts are always a part of human life, given that religion is a fundamental part of a person's mindset. However, we have a right to expect a sense of perspective on these things, and as Jacoby's examples indicate, it is by no means impossible today for religious people to show restraint in such instances.

Jacoby points out that the sort of behavior both non-Muslims and Muslims themselves seem to expect of Muslims is perfectly infantile and would not be tolerated from any other group. I would add that claims of earlier oppression by colonizers from other cultures certainly have some validity and may merit redress today (although all ethnic and religious groups can make such claims; such is the nature of human history). Nonetheless, the kind of perfectly mad reactions in which Muslims today indulge in response to the smallest presumed slights cannot be excused by either past wrongs or claims about the sanctity of their religious symbols and artifacts. People should respect one another's religions, but other groups have similar claims about their sacred objects, yet they do not routinely engage in such hysterical overreactions today. Complaining in the press, as American Catholics did in response to the slights Jacoby mentioned, is a far, far, far cry from riots and murder. Such behavior certainly is not expected from nor accepted of groups other than Muslims.

Jacoby points out that the people leading Islam today harm non-Muslims and Muslims alike, and the latter worse than the former. In this they are abetted by the acceptance of the Muslim poeples in their own oppression. Hence, Jacoby says,

"the real desecration of Islam is not what some interrogator in Guantanamo might have done to the Koran. It is what totalitarian Muslim zealots have been doing to innocent human beings in the name of Islam. It is 9/11 and Beslan and Bali and Daniel Pearl and the USS Cole. It is trains in Madrid and schoolbuses in Israel and an 'insurgency' in Iraq that slaughters Muslims as they pray and vote and line up for work. It is Hamas and Al Qaeda and sermons filled with infidel-hatred and exhortations to 'martyrdom.'"

"But what disgraces Islam above all is the vast majority of the planet's Muslims saying nothing and doing nothing about the jihadist cancer eating away at their religion. It is Free Muslims Against Terrorism, a pro-democracy organization, calling on Muslims and Middle Easterners to 'converge on our nation's capital for a rally against terrorism' this month—and having only 50 people show up.

"Yes, Islam is disrespected. That will only change when throngs of passionate Muslims show up for rallies against terrorism, and when rabble-rousers trying to gin up a riot over a defiled Koran can't get the time of day."

Interesting Weblog on Intelligent Design

There is a new ID blog out there without any of the usual suspects. Looks like an eclectic mix of younger guys (at least one agnostic) and seems pretty stimulating. What really strikes me as interesting is that the standard group of anti-ID fans/roadies run around making comments even at this new website. Whenever I've written the slightest kind thing about ID or anything critical about the neo-Darwinian synthesis, I get a load of email from these same fellows.

Anyway, check out Telic Thoughts. (Telic means purposeful.)

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Alan Reynolds at Opinion Journal

Our senior economist Alan Reynolds is once again in print with the Wall St. Journal. Check out his thoughts on the perseverance of the American Dream here.

Here's a paragraph:

To repeat, there is no evidence that it has become harder to get ahead through hard work at school and on the job. Efforts to claim otherwise appear intended to make any gaps between rich and poor appear unfair, determined by chance of birth rather than personal effort. Such efforts require both a denial that progress has been widespread and an exaggeration of income differences. To deny progress, the Times series claims that "for most workers, the only time in the last three decades when the rise in hourly pay beat inflation was during the speculative bubble of the 90's." Could anyone really believe most workers have rarely had a real raise in three decades? Real income per household member rose to $22,966 in 2003 from $16,420 in 1983 (in 2003 dollars)--a 40% gain.

Oh NO, Whole Foods Banishes Me

Like the writer of a Weekly Standard piece I'm about to mention, I really like Whole Foods Market. I almost bought stock in it, but instead picked up the Krispy Kreme that tanked like Jacque Cousteau. The WFM is just a lovely place to go. Beautiful, organic produce and lots of food you haven't seen before. Great little juice bar and lunch counter, too.

Alas, I am sorry to say, they have thrown their lot in with Peter Singer, the great advocate of terminating live born children and sex with animals. I think I'll stick with my ethically harmless sugargreasebombs. Read about it, here at the Weekly Standard.


THE DOWNSIDE to the Whole Foods experience is that its success is driven by one of our era's more grotesque phenomena: the upwardly-mobile urban dweller, the one who wants to indulge class-conscious epicurean yearnings and save the world, too. Whole Foods is a wonderland molded to accommodate the psyche of the socially-responsible, guilt-ridden liberal--the crunchy Kucinich capitalist.

What other conceivable reason would the chain have for displaying Out magazine at the checkout stand? Even if the wishful demographic estimates of gay-rights groups don't economically justify this niche product's front-and-center placement at the point of sale. Out--with other unreadable yoga and nutritionist-approved lifestyle monthlies arrayed around it--screams: You are an open-minded, deep-feeling and wondrously spiritual person. You are now free to buy, buy, buy!

That's also why the fundraising tally for the crisis du jour--tsunamis, famines, whatever--for each individual Whole Foods store is artfully displayed near the ATM swipe. The website,, is designed more in the style of a charitable foundation than a billion-dollar grocery enterprise. "Seafood sustainability" and "commitment to green" are among the subliminal slogans seeded throughout the shopping experience, as if to say, Hey, we're in this together. Your total is $117.42.

He gets to the Singer part a little further down. I just thought the above paragraphs were particularly wonderful.

Get to Know Mike Gerson . . .

Carl Cannon has written a marvelously in-depth article on Mike Gerson, the chief speechwriter for the President. Cannon has clearly done his homework on this one. He displays more knowledge of the conservative Christian world than I've seen from any journalist. Although it's a National Journal piece, Joel Rosenberg has very graciously posted the article on his website. Just click here and start reading.

As is standard practice with a Baker post, here's an excerpt:

The trick isn't getting a guy who writes in your voice -- any reasonably talented professional speechwriter can pull that off -- it's getting someone with whom you can achieve Vulcan mind-meld. Kennedy had this with Sorensen, who was, author Theodore White said, "almost a lobe of Kennedy's mind." Saul Pett, the great Associated Press writer, described the challenge this way: "Writing isn't hard. Thinking is hard." And what Bush has in Gerson is -- for all their differences -- someone who thinks like him.

The Calling of the Apostle George W. Bush met his Ted Sorensen in early 1999, in an unlikely setting for the Lord to work his mysterious will -- if that is what happened.

Gerson came into the Marriott hotel room, shook hands with the Texas governor, and sat down. Also present were longtime Bush confidant Karen Hughes and David Beckwith, who was the newly hired spokesman for Bush's as-yet-unannounced presidential campaign. Rove was flitting about, too, but with a phone in his ear, typically doing three things at once. The governor's attention was not scattered, however. It was riveted squarely on Gerson.

"This isn't an interview," Bush said. "I want you to write my announcement speech, my acceptance at the Republican convention, and my Inaugural Address. And I want you to move to Austin immediately."

I take exception with the article on one point. Cannon goes into explaining what happened to fundamentalists (there's that word again) with the Scopes Trial and its aftermath. He correctly identifies Scopes as a mountain top experience for eastern liberals, but doesn't do nearly as good a job explaining the fundamentalist reaction to the case. For a really good account on that score, read Edward Larson's Summer for the Gods, a Harvard University Press book that won a Pulitzer Prize.

The Shadow Knows

Life is not always a fairy tale. Brother, it's grim out there.

For a writer like me, tending to good spirits, creating grim moods in prose does not come naturally. Still, the subject of sexual predators is one that looms large in our lives as parents; it behooves us to infuse our discussion of such matters with a tense overtone, a strained inflection, like speaking through gritted teeth.

That was the feel that I tried to impart in my article today about Megan's Law and various situations arising therefrom. Here is a link to the American Spectator for that essay.

In addition to the substance of my points, see if you think that I captured that mood.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

You Can't Review If You Don't View

If the greatest Editor of our time, the estimable S. T. Karnick, has deemed this book review worthy of publication, who are we to argue? The man knows his stuff.

Very Interesting Article on Phil Johnson in Washington Post

Check it out HERE.

In case you aren't in the know about Johnson, he's the father of the new Intelligent Design movement (as opposed to the old one with Paley). You'll get what you need in terms of background from the article.

The Need for New Religious Terminology: Fundamentalists

The term "fundamentalist" came from theologically conservative Christian scholars who wrote a series of volumes defending the Christian faith titled "The Fundamentals."

A perusal of the volumes indicates that the use of "fundamentalist" as a derisive term has no connection to the reality of those books. They were written by real scholars with serious degrees from serious institutions.

Because the books were so widely distributed and enthusiastically received by many Christians, the word "fundamentalist" was coined to show identification with the message of the books. Over time, the word became an epitaph very much like the infamous "N-word" that contributes virtually nothing to understanding or discourse.

The abuse of the term has become even worse now that it is used to identify certain segments of Islamic extremism. More serious still has been the tendency of American progressives to cross-identify American theological conservatives with aggressive Muslim terrorists. Thus, we hear of "Texas Talibans" and the like. Such identifiers are particularly ridiculous considering the fact that an outsize proportion of our troops fighting Muslim terrorists likely identifies with the basic values of early American fundamentalism.

In response to the false (or provenance-challenged) Newsweek story about a Koran being flushed down the toilet, we have heard news of a riot among Muslims causing the deaths of several people. Such a response is unheard of in Christian circles and readily highlights the perils of cross-cultural religious comparisons. In other words, a fundamentalist is not a fundamentalist is not a fundamentalist.

The Worldly Appeal of Religious Observance

Writing in Slate, Judith Shulevitz visits a 1994 article by economist Lawrence Iannaccone, "Why Strict Churches Are Strong," to consider whether there are some very good reasons for people to submit to the moral strictures of a church. Shulevitz observes,

". . . economist Laurence Iannaccone makes the counterintuitive case that people choose to be strictly religious because of the quantifiable benefits their piety affords them, not just in the afterlife but in the here and now.

"What does the pious person get in return for all of his or her time and effort? A church full of passionate members; a community of people deeply involved in one another's lives and more willing than most to come to one another's aid; a peer group of knowledgeable souls who speak the same language (or languages), are moved by the same texts, and cherish the same dreams. Religion is a '"commodity" that people produce collectively,' says Iannaccone. 'My religious satisfaction thus depends both on my "inputs" and those of others.' If a rich and textured spiritual experience is what you seek, then a storefront Holy Roller church or an Orthodox shtiebl is a better fit than a suburban church made up of distracted, ambitious people who can barely manage to find a morning free for Sunday services, let alone several evenings a week for text study and volunteer work."

Shulevitz points out that a church that becomes too restrictive creates a situation in which the costs to an individual outweigh the rewards, and she astutely notes that "America, one of the few countries with no state religion and a truly open market in religion, should be home to so many varieties of fundamentalism and orthodoxy. The explosive growth of conservative Christianity, Judaism, and Islam and the slow decline of more genteel denominations such as Episcopalianism may well represent not the triumph of reactionary forces, but the natural outcome of religious competition."

In describing churches as liberal or conservative, it is important to note, Shulevitz is talking about the level of commitment they expect from their members, not a political position.

Liberal Dilemmas

We have a wag about the office who regularly poses hilarious dilemmas for left-wingers. Here's the latest:

1. U.S. soldiers flush a Koran down the toilet.
2. It turns out they have a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.

Earnest left-winger, what should you think of this situation?

Monday, May 16, 2005

Narnia Trailer is HERE!

I'm pretty darn excited. The project is afoot.

See the Narnia trailer here. You'll have several URL's presented as options. By reading carefully, you'll probably be able to tell which files are bigger and better for high speed. Look for higher numbers. If you see 56, that's a 56k modem size. If you see 300, all the better.

A Critical Mis-step from John Podhoretz

In his Weekly Standard review of the latest Star Wars flick, John Podhoretz rages against the fact (SPOILER ALERT) that Anakin Skywalker moves to the dark side because of something terrible going wrong with his wife's pregnancy:

How is it possible that Lucas could have satisfied himself with the notion that the destruction of the galactic democracy and the triumph of evil over good could all have sprung from a single lousy pregnancy? Granted, Mrs. Darth Vader wears some very fetching beaded outfits--plus, she's a senator just like Hillary Clinton, only decades younger and way better looking. Even so, this is astoundingly thin gruel on which to hang six movies made over a period of 28 years.

I'm just sitting here thinking of other big stories (particulary one I think is true) that sprung from "one lousy pregnancy" and I'm thinking Podhoretz is not very imaginative.

The Bible: A Cultural Force Without Peer

Part of me wants David Gelernter to get back to revolutionizing our electronic lives, but if he can continue to produce articles like this, I don't mind his writing.

The formidable Ivy League computer scientist has become terribly interested in history and religion. The Weekly Standard seems to have been encouraging him because they publish all of his stuff (and it's good stuff). The latest piece ponders our Biblical illiteracy. Here's a nice bit:

Here is a basic question about America that ought to be on page 1 of every history book: What made the nation's Founders so sure they were onto something big? America today is the most powerful nation on earth, most powerful in all history--and a model the whole world imitates. What made them so sure?--the settlers and colonists, the Founding Fathers and all the generations that intervened before America emerged as a world power in the 20th century? What made them so certain that America would become a light of the world, the shining city on a hill? What made John Adams say, in 1765, "I always consider the settlement of America with reverence and wonder, as the opening of a grand scene and design in Providence"? What made Abraham Lincoln call America (in 1862, in the middle of a ruinous civil war) "the last, best hope of earth"?

We know of people who are certain of their destinies from childhood on. But nations?

Many things made all these Americans and proto-Americans sure; and to some extent they were merely guessing and hoping. But one thing above all made them true prophets. They read the Bible. Winthrop, Adams, Lincoln, and thousands of others found a good destiny in the Bible and made it their own. They read about Israel's covenant with God and took it to heart: They were Israel. ("Wee are entered into Covenant with him for this worke," said Winthrop. "Wee shall finde that the God of Israell is among us.") They read about God's chosen people and took it to heart: They were God's chosen people, or--as Lincoln put it--God's "almost chosen people." The Bible as they interpreted it told them what they could be and would be. Unless we read the Bible, American history is a closed book.

Putin In Overtime

Well, if I must be my own publicist, so be it.

For the edification and entertainment of friends, Romans and countrymen, I offer my most recent article on our estimable VP.

Cheney? No, no. By VP I refer to Vladimir Putin, initially.

Vet Vet News Better

Very lovely of Newsweek Magazine to apologize that they might have gotten their story wrong and - oops! - no soldiers at Guantanamo Bay abused copies of the Quran or flushed them down the toilet after all.

Their contrition arrives a tad tardily for the fifteen people who have been killed in demonstrations in Afghanistan protesting this outrage by the U.S. Government.

We can only hope that a lesson was learned. Before so inflammatory a revelation is published, the charges should have many layers of substantiation. One disgruntled Defense Department grunt trying to grind an axe against his boss or just to feel important... does not a story make.

Sunday, May 15, 2005

How Do These Arms Have Such Legs?

This quote is appearing over and over in coverage of our latest offensive against terrorist 'strongholds' in Iraq: "Pentagon officials concede that al-Zarqawi's men are better equipped and better trained than previously believed."

I don't understand. Better equipped? By whom? How? Better trained? By whom? Where? How?

All of this is extremely disturbing. It seems to indicate that there are depths to this situation that have never been fully revealed to us as citizens. Is there a chance that this 'insurgency' can continue to grow without the backing of any official state? I feel that we NEED TO KNOW more than we are being told.

Saturday, May 14, 2005

Making Secondary Primaries Primary

The linked article is very important to read if you are a political type. I suspect that this will be the first of many on this subject.

The Democratic Party is beginning to make noises about changing its primary system. Ostensibly, they are concerned about the fact the larger states are being unfairly deprived of their true strength by virtue of their later primaries. States like Michigan are loudly griping that the nomination has usually been decided before their primary is conducted.

The real reason behind these moves is the fact that only the most radical left-wing members of the party get emotionally engaged in the process early on, with the more sedate types tending to wait until later. This is forcing candidates to take radical positions in the early primaries which make them less viable in the general election.

If they bunch the primaries, with very large states being heard from right alongside the small ones, the condensed process will allow for more of a centrist voter base.

Friday, May 13, 2005

Who Is a Liberal, and Why Does It Matter?

Lawrence Auster has composed an interesting analysis of modern political labels for his View from the Right blog. Auster considers David Horowitz as an individual who has commonly been known as a conservative (since his conversion from leftism) but who does not show many of the characteristics normally associated with conservatism. In fact, Auster notes, Horowitz does not consider himself to be a conservative:

"I have on occasion said to David Horowitz that in my view he is a liberal, a comment with which he disagreed. Yet Horowitz seems to have had second thoughts on the subject. In a postscript to his exchange today with Jacob Heilbrunn, he writes:

"'I'm uncomfortable with labels myself. I am a liberal--free market, individualist, politically tolerant, even ecumenical, and progressive. But my reactionary political enemies who dominate the cultural institutions that are the arbiters of public language--the universities and the media--label me a right-wing conservative (and worse). There's not much I can do to redefine the political landscape, but I have given it a try by creating'"

Here both Auster and Horowitz reflect the arguments regularly made by this author on this site in regard to the flaws in today's political labels. Auster then goes on to provide a conservative's critique of classical liberalism:

"My point here is that Horowitz's typical mainstream mixture of liberal and conservative views, whether we call the mixture 'conservative liberalism' or 'liberal conservatism' or simply 'unlabeled,' is at bottom a form of liberalism rather than of conservatism, and as such will show the characteristic weakness of liberalism in relation to leftism. As long as a person's highest political values are the procedural liberal values of individual rights, equality, tolerance, and free inquiry, then, even though he is not a leftist, he nevertheless shares a fundamental orientation with the left: the lack of allegiance, or at least of primary allegiance, to a substantive civilizational or spiritual order. Such a person will be more concerned about defending and expanding individual freedoms than defending the social and familial order that makes such freedoms possible; he will care more about tolerance for other cultures and peoples than the preservation of his own culture and people. In the long run, liberals' inner commonality with leftists makes them incapable of standing firmly against the left's ongoing reconstruction of human society."

I do not agree with Auster's claim that the highest values of a liberal are procedural. I believe that there are very powerful basic thoughts behind these values, as I have alluded to on this site before. However, I believe that he is asking the right questions; specifically, what are the real bases for the values we hold? As a consequence of this seriousness, Auster's piece is quite useful and shows the increasing interest in rethinking political labels today.

Friday The Thirteenth, Pre-quelled

So it's Friday the 13th, a day for which our culture seems to have conceived a dread. Somewhere in the murky historical memory is the tale of the birth of this superstition; one thing is for certain, it shows no signs of dying anytime soon.

Does anyone have any idea why this is taken to be an ill-starred time?

Well, let me share with you a theory that I heard in my youth. The Talmud (Makot 23b) says that the Jewish People were given 613 commandments, or mitzvot. (There are disputes between Maimonides and other early commentators about the exact list, but all feel obligated to arrive at that total somehow. Incidentally, most of them relate to aspects of the Temple service, leaving only 270 applicable in the present day.)

Thus, people who feared or hated the Jews saw the coinciding of the sixth day of the week with the thirteenth day of the month as a bad omen.

Interestingly, when Terry Wallis made his miraculous recovery in 2003, emerging from a coma after nineteen years, it was widely noted that his injury had occurred on Friday the 13th (July 13, 1984) and recovery had come on Friday the 13th (June 13, 2003), almost 19 (6 plus 13) full years later. Perhaps, then, 613 is one way that God signs His name.

Give Me A Vowel

...and this gem from an Associated Press story: Tom Delay is a "lightening rod".

One thing is for certain. The state of language in journalism today is "frightning", with no indication of "brightning" on the immediate horizon.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Bolton, Not Runnin'

Finally, the Republican Party showed that they have one of those long things in the middle of their backs, you know... that knobby thing.

Indeed the presence of spine was confirmed by standing up to the media blitz and the Democrat spin cycle - and voting out of committee the nomination of John Bolton for Ambassador to the United Nations.

Who knows? Maybe they will have the courage to move forward on the Nuclear Option to stop judicial nominees from being filibustered.

Best news of all: the strong message to the Congress (and, frankly, the world) that President Bush and his administration will stand behind its nominees and not back down at the first sign of resistance. Bravo!

Headless Headline

The job of a political and cultural columnist has oh, so many demands, the most strenuous of which is reading the Yahoo headlines more or less every hour. Yahoo News, incidentally, is provided by Reuters.

Over the years, I have had occasion to highlight the doozies that they seem to produce all too often. Perhaps my all-time favorite came after a man shot up a Wisconsin church a few months ago, murdering seven innocent parishioners. The headline of their follow-up story read: Church Gunman Upset Over Sermon. That may never be topped.

But I loved this one today: Jolie Hails 'Strength and Spirit' Of Sierra Leone. I guess you have to go to collagen to learn worldly stuff like that.

The Blog Syndicate

Roger Simon and a select group of others are heading up a new blog syndicate that plans to directly challenge the establishment media in the area of reporting. This could be big whether Simon's group implements it or someone else. George Gilder may have lost his internet investing fortune, but he was dead right in his predictions about the media future, particularly with regard to narrow-casting overcoming broadcasting. You're going to be able to get your news from someone you trust and from people who may have a lot more head knowledge about a particular happening than the cap-toothed or expense-accounted wonder with the NYT or the networks.

See Peter Hannaford's insightful American Spectator article about it here.

Bad News Bears

Reviewing some economic news of the past few weeks:

1. The price of oil has fallen by ten bucks a barrel – from roughly $58 to $48 -- ever since Goldman Sachs analyst Arjun Murti predicted it was heading for $105.

2. The U.S. Treasury announced that April tax receipts were astonishingly strong, leading experts to predict this year’s budget deficit has been overestimated by at least $50 billion.

3. Last month's surging exports and employment (previously called a "soft patch") mean the perfectly respectable 3.1 percent first quarter GDP growth is soon to be revised upwards towards 4 percent. So, while earlier reports said the pace of economic growth over the past 8 quarters had been running at a mere 4.3 percent pace (which gave Paul Krugman a “whiff of stagflation”), it was actually a bit better than that.

For Democrats planning to rehash Senator Kerry's 2004 nonsense about the economy to gain Congressional seats next year, all this goods news is very bad news indeed. Whenever reality goes against their theories, however, the Dems can count on The New York Times to “interpret” the news in imaginative ways.

Last Sunday, New York Times writer Daniel Gross warned of “The Perfect Storm That Could Drown the Economy.” I naturally assumed he must be writing about some other country, but apparently not. Mr. Gross presumably reads the sort of news we just reviewed. Yet he somehow sees in these same tea leaves “many obvious and worrisome portents” that could lead to a “major recession” or even a “full-blown crisis.” In fact, Mr. Gross imagines “some [U.S.] imbalances are eerily reminiscent of conditions that helped touch off recent economic crises: Mexico in 1994, Asia in 1997, Russia in 1998 and Argentina in 2002.” “What's more,” he adds, “a recovery would be comparatively slow in coming.”

I long ago stopped expecting New York Times reporters and columnists to accurately report the economics news. But you’d think they might at least try reading the economic news.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Brian Wilson's Art

Fred Schendel, songwriter and keyboardist for the progressive rock band Glass Hammer, has written a highly interesting disquisition on differing aims of popular music artists, taking as his starting point Brian Wilson's great album SMiLE. Looking at the rise of popular music in critical estimation in the 1960s, Schendel writes,

"Inspired by the provocative style of Bob Dylan, the Beatles began to speak out on any and all subjects to an ever-eager press, and their words spread like gospel. And so it has been throughout the subsequent history of rock music. From the ├╝ber-angst (brilliantly articulated) of the Who to the antiwar and antiestablishment blathering of almost every acclaimed late-Sixties band to the political ramblings of the Bonos and Michael Stipes of today, the idea that rock music (and musicians) had a chance—no, a duty—to speak out about things traces directly back to the Beatles.

"And the manner of this speaking shall be negative, depressing, and anger-inducing to the extent possible. This is the unwritten commandment of rock and roll consciousness-raising, and it has been followed to the letter by countless so-called artists of the last forty years: Grumpiness equals respectability.

"Meanwhile, shifting our story back to the Sixties—there were the Beach Boys, with nothing more important to say than Have Fun and Be Happy. They were doomed. They could be fun, and popular. But never Important; never really respected."

Schendel's observation that an artist must be somber in order to be considered serious by most critics is quite accurate. Like the writings of P. G. Wodehouse and the films of Buster Keaton, there is much more to the music of Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys than many critics are willing and able to see. By definition, those critics are superficial.

Monday, May 09, 2005

The Notion of Atheocracy

Baylor Prof. Francis Beckwith hit me with a fascinating new term last week -- Atheocracy. It is simply the opposite of a theocracy. Atheocrats want a governent and public square completely denuded of religion. I thought the term would be good for spurring conversation and BOOM, Dr. Beckwith turned it into a web site and blog. You can check it out here.

Here's a little snippet:

Welcome to the Atheocracy Report, a website dedicated to supporting the political liberty of religious citizens to participate in America's liberal democracy. intends to accomplish two goals: (1) To offer a positive case for the right of religious citizens to participate in America's liberal demorcacy by critically assessing the burdens placed on them by those who mistakenly claim that an atheocratic public square is a neutral one; (2) To document and offer commentary about unjust and uncharitable discrimination, depictions, and marginalizaiton of religious believers who seek to participate as citizens in the public square and shape the laws and policies of their communities. Because this injustice is often supported and perpetuated by groups and individuals that maintain that all religious belief is irrational and thus ought to be sequestered from the public square, we refer to these groups and individuals as atheocratic, which literally means supporting "atheistic government."

These atheocratic groups and individuals often misrepresent, charicature, and enage in ad hominen attacks against serious religious believers. The Atheocracy Report believes that church and state ought to separate, and that a theocracy is just as bad as an atheocracy. However, religious believers often come to the public square, not merely with blind faith and sacred Scripture, but with arguments and reasons that are distinctly pubic. We believe that these ought to be assessed on their own terms. Citizens should not be dismissed by an atheocratic litmus test that excludes them from the conversation because they happen to be religious believers. Nor should these citizens have their arguments ruled out a priori because they happen to be consistent with views congenial to belief in God and inconsisent with atheocratic views on the nature of law, morality, the good life, or human beings.

Check it out and encourage the good professor to follow through on a great idea.

The Beverly Hill-Bill-y Story

Hey, if you have a few minutes of time on your hands, no way can you afford to miss the text of the lawsuit of Peter Paul against Bill and Hillary Clinton. Paul, a Beverly Hills producer type, was the single largest contributor to Hillary's Senate campaign, although he did not really want to be quite that big.

The story as laid out in the complaint is absolutely fascinating and will give you a window into how the Clintons operate.

My favorite part? The news that Bill Clinton allowed Chaka Khan to be photographed sitting on his desk in the Oval Office.

And to think that Washington journalists still sneer at R. Emmett Tyrrell for getting too carried away over that pair's shenanigans!

Sunday, May 08, 2005

Ogden Nash, Move Aside

Popular demand has been unrelenting. Everyone insists that I publish my bit of doggerel describing the United States taking on the war in Iraq without the assistance of France, Germany or Russia. So, in honor of the Prez' visit to Putin, here goes:

Fighting in the desert sans
"Look, Ma, no Hans"-
Constancy, not Ivan's

Friday, May 06, 2005

The Politburo Lives

In case you missed it, my essay from TCS (Tuesday) on the New York City Council and its latest descent into legalized theft can be found at the following link. I think you'll enjoy it.

Wlady P. on Medved

Hunter, and whomever else might be interested: if you have the Michael Medved Show in your area, you can hurry now to hear Wlady Pleszczynski being interviewed until 5 p.m. Eastern Time.

Labour Wins, and Loses, and Blair Loses BIG

Britain's Labour Party won a third consecutive majority in Parliament in yesterday's national elections, for the first time in history. However, as the AP reports, the party's majority shrank radically, by nearly a hundred seats (down from 161 to 66, out of 646 total seats), and as a consequence PM Tony Blair is definitely a lame duck. In fact, there is rampant speculation that he will be replaced before his term is up, by Treasury chief Gordon Brown, long thought to be Blair's natural successor.

Labour had run up huge leads in the pre-election opinion polls, and there was never any real doubt that the party would receive a majority and Blair continue as Prime Minister. However, the poll numbers had been tightening in the past few days. In addition, poll figures for the rightward, Conservative Party typically turn out to be lower than are manifested in the general elections, as in the United States.

As a result, political analyst John O'Sullivan predicted the following in an article in yesterday's Chicago Sun-Times (which I surmise to be a reprint of his coverage for the Evening Standard—though I'm sure he did not spell Labour without the u):

"If Labor's victory looks certain, what generates the excitement? Simple -- the possibility that Tony Blair will be struck down by his own party at the moment of victory. Well, perhaps not at the actual moment; but not long afterwards either. It is impossible to exaggerate the hatred and contempt that Labor politicians and activists feel towards Blair.

"Labor candidates go on television and when asked their opinion of Blair, utter sullen remarks such as 'He is the leader of our party at the moment.' Some ask to be elected so that they can control Blair or even oust him. And some activists are planning to vote Lib-Dem or even Tory so that Blair will be humiliated by a sharp fall in the majority and be replaced by Brown."

The Conservative, or Tory, Party leader, Michael Howard, has decided to step down. "As I can't fight the next election as leader of our party, I believe it is better for me to stand aside sooner rather than later so that the party can choose someone who can," he told what the Times described as "shocked Tory supporters" in a speech at Roehampton University. Howard is sixty-three years old and would probably be in his late sixties during the next election. He promised to stay on briefly while the party considers possible changes to the rules for choosing a successor.

The Liberal Democrats and some minor parties picked up a few seats, and the Times reports that the conservatives did much better than expected:

"For the Conservatives, it was a far more successful night than many expected: they gained Putney in south-west London, Peterborough, and Ilford North from Labour and took back Newbury from the Liberal Democrats. In Putney, Justine Greening achieved a 6 per cent swing from Labour to regain the seat for the Conservatives.

"Mr Howard said earlier that the result would give the Conservatives a fresh intake of talented MPs with which to build its future, including the party's first ever black MP, businessman Adam Afriye in Windsor.

"There were some major upsets for Labour. Stephen Twigg, the Schools Minister, lost Enfield Southgate and Melanie Johnson, the Health Minister, also lost her seat. The most painful loss for Labour, however, was probably that of Oona King, who was unseated in Bethnal Green and Bow by the former Labour MP George Galloway, fighting on an anti-war platform for his Respect party."

The Times noted that the Labour plurality in the popular vote was the smallest ever:

"At 36 per cent, Labour's share of the vote is the lowest ever received by any party that has won an election—reflecting the increasing success of minor parties and the steady rise of the Lib Dems. The Tories received 33 per cent of the vote and the Lib Dems 23 per cent."

The results in Britain are indeed good, from a (classical, English Whig) liberal perspective. Those tempted to see the result as an antiwar vote, however, had better think again. The Tories supported the war, and they made their biggest headway not with antiwar talk but instead with "a hard-hitting campaign focused on immigration, violent crime and 'superbug' infections in hospitals, contending that all were now out of control," as the Times of London correctly put it yesterday. A great many Britons truly hate Blair now because they believe he lied to them regularly. Yet George Bush the Younger was reelected despite similar problems. It seems evident that the social issues are what gave the Tories their traction, in addition to the popular dislike of Blair and the common characterization of him as a liar.

In his pre-election article in the Sun-Times, O'Sullivan noted that a personal dislike of Blair on the part of the British public had become overwhelming:

"In the past these hatreds were held in check by Blair's popularity with Middle England and with the political elite. He was seen, however bitterly, as an electoral asset by those Labor people who thought New Labor was a sellout. But this is true no longer. Blair is deeply distrusted as a result of the widespread view that he deliberately lied to the British people in order to maneuver them into an unjustified and illegal war. That belief is at best an exaggeration and at worst a falsehood. But it moves large numbers of voters, generally on the Left, and senior opinion formers in and out of government."

As O'Sullivan suggests, Blair had lost a good deal of support among his political base, and his main opposition, the Tories, had finally begun to make some incursions from the right by running as actual rightists instead of watered-down Labourites. This is analogous to the situation in former PM Margaret Thatcher's last term. As a result, it appears that Big Ben is ticking toward Blair's imminent political downfall.

An AHA Moment . . .

And no, I don't mean the 1980's band from Norway.

I just figured out why people hide their money under mattresses.

Because liberals don't believe the government has any business in your bedroom.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Craig Ferguson Drops Bill Maher on Late, Late Night

Hat tip to Jonah Goldberg for this one:

Late Late Show
May 3, 2005

Bill Maher: "I think that there is no perspective. People have no perspective, especially about crime. You know, zero tolerance. You know, of course, nobody ever wants to see a child, you know, diddled. That’s just plain wrong. But even the people who are testifying against him, they’re saying that he serviced them. They didn’t service him."

Craig Ferguson: "You don’t have kids, do you, Bill?"

Maher: "No."

Ferguson: "No. I have a son. It makes me crazy, this thing, this Michael Jackson thing. It drives me, the idea of someone touching my kid, I would go, I nearly swore there. I’d go crazy."

Maher: "Very wrong. But, you know, I remember when I was a kid. I was savagely beaten once by bullies in the schoolyard. Savagely beaten. If I had a choice between being savagely beaten and being gently masturbated by a pop star. It’s just me."

Ferguson: "The always controversial Bill Maher, everybody."

Maher: "What? That’s it?"

Ferguson: "Bill Maher. We’ll be right back with Rain Pryor."

This is the answer to swine-ish behavior. Well done, Mr. Ferguson. I'll be tuning in.

A Doe In The Floodlights

Please read the story that I have linked, about the successful identification of Precious Doe in Missouri after four years.

The importance of the report does not inhere in the fact that her identity was finally ascertained, but in the genuine greatness of spirit that was called forth in so many of our fellow citizens who spent these years honoring her memory in a wide range of ways. There are still many wonderful folks across the fruited plain who are filled with love for every one of God's children.

Wlady P. on Savage?!!!

We used to ask what would happen if the irresistible force met the immovable object. Yesterday, I observed something familiar when one of my favorite people met one of my least favorite. Wlady Pleszsczynski (yeah, I can spell it) appeared for an interview on the Michael Savage Show. I've said in the past that I don't like what Savage does on the radio and that he's a net minus to the conservative (or as Karnick says, "liberal") movement, so you can deduce that I love Mr. P, the big man at American Spectator.

The two talked about the Laura Bush speech and I still can't quite figure how to view it. Savage played some clips and it came off to me like a really savage roast, funny and appropriate to the setting. "Milking the horse" probably goes a bit far for a culturally conservative prez, but we've got to avoid the deadly joyless culture warrior syndrome. Wlady took it as pandering, as has our wise Zycher. Savage hates Bush and was happy to hammer him again.

Having written some 20-30 pieces for Mr. P, all handled through email correspondence, it was great to hear his voice. Pretty much exactly as one might expect it to be -- articulate, measured, and carrying just a hint of his European origins.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Are They Going Native?

Oh, dear. Back from interminable time in airplanes, hotel rooms and conference centers, giving briefings, listening to dumb questions, maintaining a straight face. The life of a lonely economist running a one-man think tank. Or something. In any event, it seems that all has gone to hell in a handbasket in my absence; my friend and colleague, the Great Reynolds, seems not to have maintained, as they used to say in the Soviet Union, when standards meant something, the eternal vigilance promised when I paid him a huge honorarium to keep an eye on things in my absence. For this transgression he is likely to find himself in a nice, cozy cell with a gorgeous view of the Arctic Ocean. Better that than to find himself walking across a bridge in front of some thug carrying an umbrella. (Google "Georgi Markov.") So I return to find Laura Bush---a class act, a lovely Lady, the UnHillary---regaling the unwashed masses with off-color humor about President W turning in by 9pm, desperate housewives, male strippers, and attempts to milk male horses presumably wearing blue dresses. Is there a cigar in there somewhere? What do I mean by "is?"

Oh, well. What gives here? Is the fair Laura trying to expand the tent? Or are the Bushes now schmoozing the Beltway elite with signals about their true sophistication? Put aside whether the jokes were funny (yes) or in good taste (I think so). Can it actually be the case that W has decided that he needs the Beltway's approval? It strikes me that there is here both less and more than meets the eye: Nothing wrong with a little off-color bawdiness, but in front of this crowd? W and Laura will never have their approval, nor should they want it. And the more they pursue it, the worse off they will be.

Bayh to Run—Maybe, Probably, Most Likely

When Indiana senator Evan Bayh cast his vote against confirmation of Condoleeza Rice for appointment as U.S. Secretary of State, this reporter noted that the vote was in stark contrast to Bayh's previous voting record. The explanation I offered was that Bayh was deliberately going with the Left in a prominent vote, in preparation for a run for the Democratic nomination for the presidency.

Now there is open speculation that Bayh is indeed preparing for a run. A story on Bayh in today's issue of The Indianapolis Star-News notes that Bayh's father, former U.S. senator Birch Bayh (who unsuccessfully ran for his party's nomination in 1976), told reporters, "I think he's giving that serious consideration."

The Star-News story noted, "Bayh has $6.8 million in his campaign fund and is raising more, though he was just re-elected last year." The story also cited much more evidence pointing toward a presidential run by the well-liked Indiana senator who has positioned himself as a moderate throughout his political career. Sen. Bayh is quoted as trying to dampen the speculation.

With Hillary Clinton as the favored candidate on the Left and moving to to increase support toward the center, it will be interesting to see where Bayh attempts to position himself within the party.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Time To Open Ears, Open Hearts

For those of us who prayed our hearts out for Terri Schiavo and are still traumatized by our inability to save her, a sort of prophetic answer seems to be arriving piecemeal. One after the other, people who have suffered from brain damage long thought to be irreversible are having amazing recoveries.

The most recent is firefighter Don Herbert of Buffalo, N.Y., who suddenly began conversing this Saturday morning after nine and a half years without that ability. Note that the press is covering up the fact that his case, like Terri's, involves a spouse who defeated his parents in court and got a Do Not Resuscitate order posted on his bed almost seven years ago.

This case follows on the heels of the Miami Herald front-page story of a man who recovered his mind more than nine years after a traffic accident. The Herald article followed Terri's death by only a few days, so they compensated by headlining it: Delayed Recovery A Rarity.

The sad part is that this pattern began before Terri's killing, with the amazing recovery of speech by Sarah Scantlin in Kansas after 20 years! This occurred on Feb. 12, 45 days before Judge Greer in his wisdom allowed Terri to be starved.

Will we finally hear the call? How loud does it have to be before it penetrates to the heart?

Funny As a Rubber Crutch . . .

I've heard a lot of unhappy comments about the White House Correspondent's Dinner, but was inclined to chalk it up to ill-humored observers. Now that Wlady Pleszczynski of the American Spectator has panned it, I'm starting to think the whole affair may have truly offended.

Monday, May 02, 2005

Arnold's Lesson in Public Choice Economics

The states have long complained, and rightly, about the number of unfunded mandates Washington sends them, and although the Republicans promised a decade ago to stop doing so, state budgets are continually drained by two huge money pits: education spending, and Medicare/Medicaid. The latter is definitely imposed by Washington, whereas education spending is a state-level obsession as well as a federal one.

The problem is, these are extremely costly items when done entirely as government-run programs. As a consequence, state budgets keep rising and are strained. When the economy is growing, the budgets rise quickly, and when the economy and consequent tax receipts slow, the budgets do not decrease accordingly. The cost of state government ratchets up steadily and hardly ever decreases, even in inflation-adjusted terms. This is proving to be an increasing problem across the nation.

Public-choice economists point out that government expenditures at any level and in any jurisdiction rise to the extent that powerful interest groups benefit from the spending: they have a far greater incentive to push for additional spending that benefits them than an individual taxpayer has to oppose any particular expenditure item. Thus spending keeps rising, especially when the real beneficiaries (in money and power) can say, "It's for the kids!," or "If we don't help the poor and elderly, who will?"

In California this evil reality is playing out today. Governor Schwarzenegger's opponents have attacked him aggressively as "an uncaring, partisan Republican doing the bidding of big business," as an article on Schwarzenegger's political troubles in today's New York Times put it.

Led by various public employee unions, especially the teacher unions, the attack on Schwarzenegger has taken a powerful toll on his popularity, which has dropped some 20 percent in the past four months, down to 40 percent in the most recent reckonings. Schwarzenegger took a further beating this weekend for daring to suggest that Arizonans are to be praised for doing something about illegal immigration when their government simply refuses to deal with a matter about which a large proportion of the public there is truly concerned.

You can be perfectly sure, however, that all of this has precious little to do with concern for society's underdogs and everything to do with politically greedy individuals' grabs for money and power. It is always so, and the furor over Schwarzenegger's minor efforts to stem the grotesque ballooning of California's government expenditures shows just how hazardous it is to stand between a greedy person and the big grab bag of government money power and power.

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 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.