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.

Excerpt:

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, wholefoods.com, 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.