Tuesday, June 21, 2005
I have been known to hire a babysitter so that I can watch the evening news.
Don't get me wrong; it's not that I don't want my children to learn everything they can about current events, foreign policy, economic issues that affect our lives. I would like nothing more than to sit down on the sofa for an hour before dinner with my family, turn on CNN and see what's going on around the world. In this little fantasy of mine, my preschooler asks me what trade sanctions are and listens, rapt, to my reply. He learns about world markets and the history of Islam. We go grab the encyclopedia and are off on a journey merging past and present, solidifying his understanding of what we're learning from the TV news.
The reality, however, is that the educational benefits of watching television news together are way offset by frightening and (I believe) unnecessarily graphic images of bloody, dead bodies on stretchers, film clips of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie smiling while shooting at each other with semi-automatic weapons, and commercials for TV reality shows featuring what appear to be bug-eating swimsuit models.
Everyone today is talking about "tweens" and the unprecedented amount of money this social group represents to product marketers. According to various websites I've visited, we're talking about more than twenty million kids between the ages of 8 and 14 who spend more than $40 billion a year. For these kids, like it or not, television is a major medium.
Well, let's get a firm grip on the obvious: It's time for a TV-G news channel.
I want to be clear that I am NOT talking about child reporters dishing on the Backstreet Boys' latest tour. At least not exclusively. We need serious news, with in-depth reports including background and context so that current events are driven home for young learners. I think the channel should be real news and weather reporting, something that adults will want to watch but also feel comfortable leaving on while their kids are in the room. Please somebody, let me get my news fix in the evenings without worrying that my son will inadvertently see or hear something that will have him up with nightmares for the next three days. Let us watch together so that I can talk with my kids about what is going on in the world and encourage them to be politically engaged and generally curious about the world outside their classrooms.
With a target audience from 8-14 years of age, advertisers will surely jump to support such a channel.
And I'll happily contribute the $10 per hour that I currently have to pay a babysitter to keep my kids out of the room while I watch the evening news.
Here's an excerpt:
It is true that, since those glory days, the Republican Party has lost some of its discipline. Once-loyal members of Congress have defied a threat of a presidential veto on both highway spending and stem-cell research. It is also true that the liberal wing of the party is enjoying an Indian Summer. Opinion polls suggest that John McCain and Rudy Giuliani are the two favorites for the Republican nomination in 2008.
But is this loss of steam really all that remarkable? All second-term presidents face restlessness in the ranks. And the noise is arguably a sign of strength. The Democrats would give a lot to have a big-tent party as capacious as the Republicans'. One of the reasons the GOP manages to contain Southern theocrats as well as Western libertarians is that it encourages arguments rather than suppressing them. Go to a meeting of young conservatives in Washington and the atmosphere crackles with ideas, much as it did in London in the heyday of the Thatcher revolution. The Democrats barely know what a debate is.
"Naturally we ask ourselves: Was [the Jackson trial] a waste? Did the Prosecutor, Mr. Sneddon, just dump a big load of taxpayer money down the drain?
"The answer strikes me as simple. It was well worth the expense. The situation is somewhat akin to the position of the police officer who knows that a certain fellow is definitely a criminal, although evidence is hard to come by. He can be excused for rousting and harassing and following this man, making it difficult for him to ply his illicit craft. As long as this power is not abused by stalking innocent citizens, we are comfortable with the use of intimidation as an instrument of policing.
"In much the same way, a prosecutor can arrive at a point where the guilt of a particular party is obvious. Sometimes he sits in his office and sees a traumatized rape victim fall to pieces at the merest mention of her attacker. He knows that he cannot subject this person to the ordeal of testifying. Whatever self-possession she clings to will be shattered by facing a sneering defense lawyer and seeing the man who hurt her simpering in his Sunday suit just a few feet away.
"That prosecutor is not without recourse. He has some weaker witnesses, some carpet fibers, some partial fingerprints, some fuzzy video. This is enough to take this rapist off the street for two years awaiting trial, put him through his paces and, if the man has a few dollars, make sure they end up papering the deck of some lawyer's yacht."
Thus, Homnick concludes, Michael Jackson's punishment for the transgressions Homnick believes the pop music star committed was accomplished by the trial itself, with the public humiliation and associated financial expense for the defendant. It appears to me that Jay is correct if we believe that Michael Jackson is indeed guilty of the crime for which he was indicted and tried, or similar ones of which it would have been impossible to convict him in a fair trial. In addition, to prosecute Michael Jackson in this instance was certainly within the letter and spirit of the law, or the judge would never have let it come to trial. Viewed from that angle, at least some little measure of justice for Jackson's purported victims was indeed achieved, as Jay says.
It is definitely an interesting argument, and one that has a certain elegance to it in a society where, for the wealthy at least, constitutional protections against reckless prosecution are highly effective. For most Americans, however, the notion that government prosecutors could destroy an individual citizen socially, financially, and psychologically without convicting that person of a crime is a chilling thought indeed. And it is most unfortunately true.
And here's a taste:
So now Baylor is in turmoil again. Evangelical graduate students who came to Baylor because of its growing reputation as a Christian university tell of being harassed by liberal professors now exulting in their victory. Evangelical faculty members supportive of Dr. Jeffrey are up in arms. The Board of Regents is now torn with new controversy, with some members angry at the apparent coup by the opponents of Baylor 2012.
"Why oust people and try to implant some committed to the 'old days,' when a new regime is about to begin?" asks Baylor professor Rodney Stark. "And why all the subtle attacks on faith?" Mr. Stark, a renowned sociologist of religion who came to the university because of Baylor 2012, believes that the vision is still alive, thanks to the nucleus of Christian scholars already assembled.
But, he warns, "It won't do to just continue to refer to Baylor as a Christian school. If, as Underwood seems to want, Baylor ceases to ask candidates for faculty appointments to make a confession of Christian faith, in very short order Baylor will be a formerly Christian school, just like hundreds of others—a place where students will soon encounter faculty who make fun of faith, or worse." But, he said, any new president who is willing to continue to require a confession of faith from new faculty members "will preside over the Baylor envisioned in 2012."
In July, the Board will choose that new president. The choice will determine whether Baylor will continue its quest to become, in Mr. Stark's words, "the only great Christian research university in the world." —•
Monday, June 20, 2005
Today, Cardinal Sin passed on at age 76. Requiescat in pace.
What makes this book really interesting and not another throwaway anti-Bill and Hill volume is that Klein is a journalist with all the right credentials (Newsweek, New York Times Magazine, etc.). Might be a must read.
Ben and Alan, you're free market libertarian types with heavy-duty economic training. Was Laffer right? I think so. I once did a constant dollar analysis of the federal revenues post the first big Reagan cut and saw a real increase year by year. Rates were cut and revenues went up. No lefty can believe it.
One more thing. Let's assume the revenues would be the same for a 15% rate and a 70% rate (I believe you'd collect a lot more with 15%, but let's accept it.). Wouldn't it be de facto better to charge 15%? Why are the lefties so hell-bent on high rates?
What happened to the time when you had to do something heroic or excellent to garner national esteem?
We have gone from Cool Hand Luke to Cold Feet Jennifer.
Sunday, June 19, 2005
Would I take investment advice from this man? Not sure!!!
Friday, June 17, 2005
Thursday, June 16, 2005
The best way to experience Batman is still to read the original DC comic books from years ago and watch the TV cartoon series. This one ain't bad, but they're the real thing.
I remember that the various filmmakers involved in Batman, Batman Returns, Batman Whatever, and Batman Yadaa Yadda Yadda were uninamous in pointing out how much more serious their films were than the 1960s TV series, as if seriousness precisely equalled intelligence, and as if being more serious than the Batman TV series were some sort of accomplishment. I could do that while telling knock-knock jokes in a tutu.
As hard as they may have tried to capture the essence of Bob Kane's comic book series (well, that's what they said they were trying to do), the Batman films were frequently silly and usually not very interesting. The first one, Batman, was endurable, although I think Jack Nicholson was incredibly boring as the Joker. OK, he's angry, we get it. Now can you try to do something interesting? At least the TV show was fun, and the actors playing the villains were first-rate and managed to find the right tone for their performances. Excellent performers such as Cesar Romero, Burgess Meredith, Frank Gorshin, Julie Newmar, Anne Baxter, Reginald Denny, and the like all seemed to be having as much fun as the viewer (and not more!). The movie series, by contrast, was like some kind of career graveyard. Remember Tommy Lee Jones as Two-Face? Alicia Silverman as Batgirl? Is it any wonder their careers went into the dumper after those stinkers? Heck, even Michelle Pfeiffer has pretty much disappeared, and I thought she did an excellent job as Catwoman.
Batman Begins is much better than that. Christian Bale is actually a decent Batman, although the affected, Dirty Harry-style growl he uses when in costume is, well, rather embarrassing for him after a while. But he's good, overall. The supporting cast is largely excellent, with Gary Oldman giving a standout performance as Sgt. Gordon (who will eventually become Commissioner Gordon, we presume.) Katie Holmes misfires in a poorly conceived role as an assistant district attorney, but Cillian Murphy is terrific as Dr. Crane/the Scarecrow, Rutger Hauer is splendid as Bruce Wayne's manipulative business partner, and Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine, Tom Wilkinson, and Liam Neeson lend their formidable presences in other important supporting roles. The acting is one of the real pleasures of this film, and Bale holds his own within this powerhouse cast.
In addition, Batman Begins actually has some consistent themes that are worked out in a surprisingly comprehensible way—such as the ways the theme of fear and human reactions to it comes up in different situations throughout the film. Well done, that. And it really does present the issues of vigilantism, justice, personal responsibility, and the role of government in a rather thoughtful manner.
That, however, is also one of the problems with the film. It is awfully slow, with more expository dialogue than a documentary on how to caulk bathtubs. Do really really need to see another version of how Batman obtains all his Bat-weapons and Bat-whatnot? (Hint, the answer starts with an n and ends with an o. Multiple explanation points are optional.) Do we really need to waste a lot of time watching Bale and Freeman reprise the Q-James Bond relationship? (That has become extremely wearisome in the Bond films, for goodness sake.) It's like showing us long, boring scenes from the early years of Hercule Poirot. OK, he can solve crimes, we get it. Gee, just let us see the dang Bat-things in action and we'll figure out that he must have got them somewhere. Who but an obsessive geek weirdo gives a darn where he got them from, anyway? Save that for the novelization.
And what's up with those early sequences in Asia, stolen from the film version of The Shadow and done a heck of a lot better there? It's all way much more than we need to know. We already understand the situation, people! He's a vigilante but he's conflicted about it. We can puzzle that out without watching him fight multiple Asian prison guards simultaneously or climb an unnamed mountain to get to some ancient hideaway for global vigilantes. We don't need to know about that, so just skip it. Now can we just get on with the Batarang-throwing?
OK, I understand it's Batman Begins and you feel obligated to show his beginnings, which is acceptable as a premise even though we've seen his beginnings some 55 times before, but that doesn't mean it has to Batman Begins with a Whole Bunch of Boring Dialogue and Puzzling Fight Scenes Shot in Close-Ups So That You Can't Tell Who the Heck Is Doing What or Why. That's another pet peeve for me: the fancy-schmancy tendency of Hollywood directors to cut the fight scenes up into close-up shots lasting approximately three tenths of a second apiece, quite obviously to disguise the fact that the actors couldn't fight their way out of a preschool birthday party. Man, make them learn the moves and then step back and let us see them fight it out a little.
Hong Kong directors use brief shots, too, but at least they know how to make the fight comprehensible by pulling the camera away from the protagonist's elbow or bad guy's ribs once in a while. In Hollywood films, the only way you know who's winning a fight is by how far we are into the movie: the good guy typically loses early and wins late. And in the climactic fight, he has to look like he's losing until the bad guy does something really dirty and then the good guy gets all morally outraged and wins really quickly.
Maybe if you'd let us actually see the fight, we wouldn't have time to think about how hokey the whole situation is. Just an idea, which I give you for free.
And by the way, a note to Hollywood's fine stable of directors and cinematographers: dark, muddy cinematography does not equal depth of insight. It equals dark, muddy cinematography, and that is absolutely all. You can see everything perfectly clearly in a David Lean film or an Anthony Mann epic or a John Ford drama, yet there is never any sense that the director is stupid and just doesn't know how to make us have to squint to figure out which character is the protagonist, which is the antagonist, which the leading lady, and which is actually a lamp emanating a dull, brackish nimbus. Actually allowing the viewer to see what's happening could even be thought to be an advantage, or at least common courtesy.
So, could you people buy some lights? I know, I know, that will mean that your actors will actually have to act, as the audience will be able to see their stupid, bovine facial expressions all too easily, but what you'll lose in employability of bad actors you might well gain in the ability to express the occasional insight into the human condition. At least, that's what Lean, Mann, Ford, and the like managed to do. Tom Cruise and John Travolta have enough money and can afford to be tossed aside for people who can actually act a little. Besides, they can always do some reality TV.
Nevertheless, even though Batman Begins was photographed through a jar of Smucker's Plum Preserves, includes the most boring love interest character of all the films in the series, steals ideas and scenes from countless other movies, and is more unreal than the average Wagner opera, it's a fairly thoughtful film with some real conflicts, tough moral choices for the characters, important themes and ideas, and good performances. Those things make it worth seeing. But it certainly would have been much better if it had avoided the silly stylistic cliches that blemish most of today's Hollywood action films.
Okay, no bonfire, although you might think they had from some of the comments about the list.
What has raised the ire of many critics is the decision of the Human Events contributors to include books like Kinsey's work on sexuality and Betty Friedan's feministic manifesto on the list with more obvious choices like Mein Kampf, Quotations from Chairman Mao, and The Communist Manifesto.
I'm not sure the Human Events crowd was as devastatingly wrong as many believe. What the list really demonstrates is that after you name the worst books, there's a steep drop-off to the next group. Thus, the raised eyebrows at names like Kinsey and Friedan, who didn't contribute to superstates annihilating millions of people.
What interests me is Ralph Reiland at American Spectator being critical of Human Events for including work by Nietzsche and Comte.
According to Reiland, Nietzsche simply told us "the world isn't run by moral rules." I think we could take issue with that. He was somewhat enthusiastic about "the blonde beast" enforcing his will to power on the world and provided important grist for the later National Socialist project in Germany.
Reiland acts similarly puzzled about Comte, who "said man could figure things out better through science than theology." That's not exactly all Comte had to say. He was so enthusiastic about science he envisioned a religion based on science with temples, priests, etc. He also was a leading proponent of the secularization thesis which saw traditional religion crumbling before increasing enlightenment, which was pretty much a shibboleth of those scary superstates we mentioned before.
If Human Events was too harsh in its assessment of some of these books, Ralph Reiland is a bit too charitable.
Wednesday, June 15, 2005
Really? Mea culpas for precisely what? Ms. Schiavo was not dying; she was severely disabled, and nothing in the autopsy report changes that. Her wishes were, at best, ambiguous, and---I am happy to say it again---Judge Greer was a moron for ascribing finality to Mr. Schiavo's assertions about her wishes given his obvious conflicts of interest and inconsistent position over time. If Tlaloc believes that Mr. Schiavo knew the future findings of the autopsy, let him say that explicitly.
Serious policy issues attend upon this case and similar ones, and the Schiavo autopsy resolves none of them. Do we really want to be in the business of starving/dehydrating the severely (and let us assume, irretrievably) disabled? Precisely how disabled must one be to be judged unworthy of food and water through a feeding tube? Who should pay for such care? The Schiavo case actually was relatively easy along this continuum of agonizing choices: Ms. Schiavo's wishes were highly ambiguous, her parents were willing to bear those costs, her husband was obviously compromised in terms of the credibility of his opinions with respect to what was best for his wife, and the federal courts--- usually the last refuge of those contemptuous of life---simply ignored Congress' clear direction that a de novo review be conducted of Ms. Schiavo's federal rights. And so: There will be no mea culpas issued from this corner.
The story did not say whether Thogmartin had specified when the shrinkage had occurred, although his quoted statements seem to imply that he believed it happened when she suffered her collapse fifteen years ago.
According to AP, the findings confirm the contention of her husband, Michael Schiavo, that Terri Schiavo was in a persistent vegetative state. The autopsy did not uncover any evidence that she had been strangled or otherwise physically abused. The cause of her collapse remains a mystery at this point. Ms. Schiavo's parents, who insisted that their daughter had not been in a persistent vegatative state and could recover if proper therapy were provided, "plan to discuss the autopsy with other medical experts and may take some unspecified legal action" according to a statement attributed to their lawyer.
As medical advances continue and end-of-life issues become increasingly complex, such disagreements will undoubtedly become more common, and clarity in the laws and in individuals' directives will hence become increasingly important.
Just when you thought that Africa's biggest suffering was caused by AIDS, Karnick makes you wonder whether AID may be almost as big of a problem.
Tuesday, June 14, 2005
Anyway, it was a fun crowd at the after-hours cocktail gathering, a great, vibrant, colorful, multicultural conga line following the one waiter carrying an hors d'oeuvres tray. (Can't our tax dollars buy more than that?) There was the very attractive young lady wearing a skirt made of about as much cloth as a handkerchief; I know not---and my wife insists that I not find out---precisely how she was able to sit down at the sessions. There was another attractive lady wearing on her dress a huge carnation; only my finely-honed sense of diplomacy induced me to refrain from reaching over to see if it squirted water. And there was the King of the proceedings, a man known to all as Nanook of the North (not his real name), who wore a full, traditional Lapland outfit, complete with leather belt, hat, and moccasins to which was stuck some seemingly genuine dried bear droppings. Afterward, we tried to get a taxi back to our hotel, but not one was to seen anywhere in the vicinity; apparently all the diplomats have government-issued cars, many with drivers. The life of the deeply caring is not too shabby. And so we walked back, an outcome that proved quite fortuitous, and not merely for the exercise and the stroll along Lake Geneva. On the way we passed a store called the "Tax-Free Shop for Diplomats." And that just about sums it all up, doesn't it?
As we come off the mountain, we see a fresh, gleaming pile of deer droppings. "You gonna eat some?" he asks, since I had earlier promised to. "No chance," I tell him, "I thought you were kidding." He picks a few pellets up, and pops them in his mouth. After chewing them thoughtfully, he renders a verdict. "Buck," he declares. "What does it taste like?" I ask, now in medical shock. "Like s--," he says.
THE ADVENTURES OF SHARK BOY AND LAVA GIRL IN 3-D!
Having read the review, however, we all know now that the film contains deeper water than most would suspect.
Welcome back to the film reviewing business, Mr. Karnick. Mr. Roeper is not long for his chair alongside Mr. Ebert.
I'm currently reading Lectures on Calvinism, a reprint of Abraham Kuyper's Stone Lectures at Princeton. Having put away half of the book, I'm wondering how I could have possibly come this far in the study of religion and government and not read this man previously. He's always been out there, a ghostly image of a Christian statesman, newspaperman, pastor, and professor who was once prime minister of the Netherlands, but I had never engaged his writing. It is profound and enlightening.
One of the most interesting ideas I've come across from him is that of "sphere sovereignty," where the state is only supreme in its particular sphere. It is the rod that holds up a weak plant. It is in service to God as a restraining hand upon the evil sin may do. It may not disrupt the sovereignty of other spheres like the arts, the family, the university, the church, business, and the sciences. The key insight is that the state is not omni-competent and it is not the first institution of a society. Others are more organic and occur prior to it. This more limited idea of a state, Kuyper argues, is what lies behind the American constitutional impulse. He certainly seems correct in saying so.
Maybe more later, but in the meantime I urge any interested readers to get hold of Kuyper's Stone lectures in whatever form and pay particular attention to the section on Calvinism and Politics.
Monday, June 13, 2005
Their film isn't worth breaking up a marriage over, but I completely understand how Pitt and Jolie ended up having a tryst. It's like War of the Roses if the Roses were highly trained spies. They generally try to kill each other and end up with spicy opportunities to make up.
The plot is not believeable. The action is fun to watch, but equally unbelievable. Ten years from now, no one will remember the movie. However, it is a diverting way to spend a couple of hours. If you've got a choice, see the Russell Crowe film.
On the other hand, the plot is fantastic. The performances are superb. Paul Giamatti plays James Braddock's (Russell Crowe's) trainer/promoter and should easily be nominated for an Oscar. Crowe himself delivers his lines perfectly. When he is shown film of the champion killing another man in the ring, he simply answers, "What are you trying to tell me? Something like, boxing's dangerous?" The fight scenes succeed in being both more realistic than usual and still gripping.
If I were to try to sum up my feelings about the film, I think I'd say what came to me during one of the fight scenes in the movie: Nobody should ever be interested in watching those cheesy Rocky films again. That comes from a guy who REALLY enjoyed the Rocky films.
The Depression is the backdrop for Cinderella Man and it drives the plot completely. Braddock's desperate circumstances have everything to do with his unlikely comeback as a fighter. He is a boxer who has bottomed out and finds the heart to return to the sport with flair because he has nothing to lose and no one has any expectations for him. When you see the film, you'll understand the opening quote by famed sportswriter Damon Runyon, who explains that no fighter has had as compelling a life narrative as James Braddock.
Sunday, June 12, 2005
This is yet another manifestation of the longstanding disrespect for the Jewish intellectual heritage. Anyone who, like Hunter Baker, has taken courses in Jewish Law, knows the tremendous degree of intellectual vitality that is invested in its study and application. And that same law which, when studied at all in secular venues, is studied at the university level, was traditionally taught to Jewish kids from about the age of 10.
When you train a whole society to consider the realities of life through the prism of legal categories, you are in essence fomenting a culture of the mind. No one should be surprised - even if, like me, you have some criticisms of the priorities applied - that it produces stronger minds. (Cochran mentions this theory, but rejects it because professional Rabbis were less than one percent of the population. What he does not consider is that scholarship among Jews went well beyond careerism and many of the greatest scholars never assumed rabbinic positions.)
I intend to write a series of articles countering Cochran's paper, the first of which will run in Monday's American Spectator on-line. Reform Club visitors get to scoop the rest of the world and read it early by following this link.
Saturday, June 11, 2005
I have a friend in Nigeria. We met in the states while he was a graduate student. For about $100 I can send a child he knows to a Christian school. For about $1000, his church in America was able to purchase a well for a Nigerian village. I've seen the pictures. If we can purchase great help for people in Nigeria for such nominal prices, why are many in Africa still living in such abhorrent conditions.
I think the only answer can be corruption and inept government. No program of foreign aid will succeed until we resolve that basic problem. Either that or we all get friends in Africa who we can help directly. Anybody got any better ideas?
P.J. O'Rourke could help us. Clearly defined property rights, limited government, and democracy. Do those things and Africa can shine.
"The deal struck by finance ministers from the Group of Eight industrialized nations is part of a British-led campaign to rid sub-Saharan Africa of poverty and diseases such as malaria and AIDS that kill millions every year.
"British Finance Minister Gordon Brown said the deal would provide 100 percent write-offs immediately for 18 countries and that more countries would qualify for relief later."
Brtitain, chairing the G8 this year, is seeking to double aid to the world's poorest countries by issuing $100 billion of bonds backed by wealthy nations' development budgets. The United States and Japan oppose the plan.
Reuters reports that former rock music star Bob Geldof and others are "urging a million people to turn up in Gleneagles, Scotland, [at next month's G8 meeting] to demand a deal on aid for Africa."
The debt relief campaigners who are complaining that the deal is a drop in an ocean of need are correct, but there is great room for debate over whether debt relief and more aid directed to the governments of most African nations is the best course.
That debate will certainly arise, and it will undoubtedly be heated.
As we evaluate that argument in the coming weeks, it will be important to bear in mind one central fact:
Nobody in any position of responsibility wants Africa to be mired in poverty, disease, and despair.
Nobody—not the United States and Japan, not Great Britain, not the leaders of other wealthy nations, not the leaders of African nations—nobody wants Africa to be poor.
Everybody, on both sides of the argument over African aid, wants Africa to become healthy and prosperous.
The question is, how to do it. Government-to-government aid and NGO-to-government aid have proven ineffective. There can be no doubt of that. The request for debt forgivness shows that, for if the past half-century of aid directed to African governments had been effective, the present discussion would be moot. Fast growth is possible, but aid to the post-colonial African governments has been a failure. The legacy of colonialism is reall but cannot explain or excuse this failure, for other post-colonial nations have prospered greatly during the same period.
Moreover, it is axiomatic that debt forgiveness rewards profligacy. The relief that is sent seldom trickles down to the people and is instead used to prop up corrupt governments. These are facts, not moral judgments.
The people of Africa, like all people anywhere, deserve better.
The current and proposed rounds of debt forgiveness probably will not do much harm in encouraging corruption among African governments, and should probably move forward. FOr all too many African governments, it would be difficult to be less responsive to the needs of their people.
There are other ways to accomplish aid to Africa, however, and it is time that these move to the fore while we work out the debt relief question.
One excellent proposal is to make the World Bank a true bank, one that allows private organizations in developing nations to draw on accounts that will enable them to implement individualized projects covering a wide variety of constructive activities that give aid where it will do the most good, such as in construction of hospitals, water treatment, malaria prevention, agriciultural technology, building of roads (a critical problem in many African countries), literacy, immunization, AIDS prevention and treatment (including unbiased research into the causes of Africa's high incidence of the disease), and much, much more.
Other, similar, new financing approaches could fund a great flowering of help for Africa, directed where it will do the most good. People in the wealthy nations want to help, but their aid has not been effective.
Governments all over the world have perpetually proven that their first priority is that of retaining their own power. That is a given, and we cannot change it. We can, however, use it to force those governments to allow help from other nations to reach their people. The next wave of aid to Africa, therefore, must include requirements that governments receiving aid allow the kind of targeted, widespread aid outlined here to reach the people of Africa.
Only then will the wealthy nations truly be able to help the people of Africa.
Friday, June 10, 2005
Read about it here.
Thursday, June 09, 2005
One of his special gifts is writing screeds in which he severely punishes left-wing orthodoxy as it manifests itself in various "news" stories. Check it out here.
I particularly liked this bit:
The ongoing freak-out of Deaniacs over religion is becoming a source of great amusement, really; it’s as if they just discovered that those big old buildings with purty glasss windows and pointy spires on top are actually used by people for something other than voting and annual pancake breakfasts.
Identifying the central obstacle that school choice has encountered throughout the half-century since Friedman set the ball rolling, he writes, "we have been repeatedly frustrated by the gulf between the clear and present need, the burning desire of parents to have more control over the schooling of their children, on the one hand, and the adamant and effective opposition of trade union leaders and educational administrators to any change that would in any way reduce their control of the educational system."
Friedman correctly sees grounds for optimism, however:
"The good news is that, despite these setbacks, public interest in and support for vouchers and tax credits continues to grow. Legislative proposals to channel government funds directly to students rather than to schools are under consideration in something like 20 states. Sooner or later there will be a breakthrough; we shall get a universal voucher plan in one or more states. When we do, a competitive private educational market serving parents who are free to choose the school they believe best for each child will demonstrate how it can revolutionize schooling."
I think that Dr. Friedman is right (as usual!) in predicting that the movement may finally be reaching a point of real influence. A crucial element of this was the Supreme Court's 2002 decision ruling the Cleveland voucher plan constitutional. Prior to that ruling, it was very difficult for school choice to get traction. Since then, however, activity has increased rapidly.
I don't consider school choice a panacea by any means. There are numerous reasons why the American education system is declining. (Friedman aptly quotes Paul Copperman as published in the National Commission of Excellence in Education's 1983 final report, "A Nation at Risk": "Each generation of Americans has outstripped its parents in education, in literacy, and in economic attainment. For the first time in the history of our country, the educational skills of one generation will not surpass, will not equal, will not even approach, those of their parents.") Alas, that statement is more true today than it was in 1983. And it is a scandal.
Although school choice is not all that needs to be done to fix the American education system, I do see it as a necessary condition for any real reform of America's schools. The current system is too powerful and sclerotic to allow change. The diversity and parental choice that vouchers would bring are a critical element of real educational reform in the United States.
Read the article, and then go out and get a copy of Friedman's brilliant book Capitalism and Freedom and read it right away, if you somehow haven't done so yet.
Close your eyes and imagine this.
President Bush is introduced at a great gathering in Topeka, Kan. It is the evening of June 9, 2005. Ruffles and flourishes, "Hail to the Chief," hearty applause from a packed ballroom. Mr. Bush walks to the podium and delivers the following address.
Thank you, ladies and gentlemen. I want to speak this evening about how I see the political landscape. Let me jump right in. The struggle between the Republican Party and the Democratic Party is a struggle between good and evil--and we're the good. I hate Democrats. Let's face it, they have never made an honest living in their lives. Who are they, really, but people who are intent on abusing power, destroying the United States Senate and undermining our Constitution? They have no shame.
But why would they? They have never been acquainted with the truth. You ever been to a Democratic fundraiser? They all look the same. They all behave the same. They have a dictatorship, and suffer from zeal so extreme they think they have a direct line to heaven. But what would you expect when you have a far left extremist base? We cannot afford more of their leadership. I call on you to help me defeat them!"
Noonan created this imaginary speech by using statements from Howard Dean and Hillary Clinton about the Republican party. It helps us understand why Howard will never be president and Hillary probably won't either.
Here's a bit:
What has changed is the class status of evangelicals. In 1929, the theologian H. Richard Niebuhr described born-again Christianity as the "religion of the disinherited." But over the last 40 years, evangelicals have pulled steadily closer in income and education to mainline Protestants in the historically affluent establishment denominations. In the process they have overturned the old social pecking order in which "Episcopalian," for example, was a code word for upper class, and "fundamentalist" or "evangelical" shorthand for lower.
Evangelical Christians are now increasingly likely to be college graduates and in the top income brackets. Evangelical C.E.O.'s pray together on monthly conference calls, evangelical investment bankers study the Bible over lunch on Wall Street and deep-pocketed evangelical donors gather at golf courses for conferences restricted to those who give more than $200,000 annually to Christian causes.
Their growing wealth and education help explain the new influence of evangelicals in American culture and politics. Their buying power fuels the booming market for Christian books, music and films. Their rising income has paid for construction of vast mega-churches in suburbs across the country. Their charitable contributions finance dozens of mission agencies, religious broadcasters and international service groups.
On The Chronicle of Philanthropy's latest list of the 400 top charities, Campus Crusade for Christ, an evangelical student group, raised more from private donors than the Boy Scouts of America, the Public Broadcasting Service and Easter Seals.
Now a few affluent evangelicals are directing their attention and money at some of the tallest citadels of the secular elite: Ivy League universities. Three years ago a group of evangelical Ivy League alumni formed the Christian Union, an organization intended to "reclaim the Ivy League for Christ," according to its fund-raising materials, and to "shape the hearts and minds of many thousands who graduate from these schools and who become the elites in other American cultural institutions."
How about the post-modern version of it, where the supervisor who gets stuck with the incompetent that he cannot demote, decides to falsely promote him just to clean up that department? Is this my discovery?
Read all about it in my article today about the case of the Doctor who kept messing up and kept getting better jobs....
Wednesday, June 08, 2005
Patrick Ruffini is the GOP's top webmaster and he's got a dead-on opinion about the continued implosion that is Howard Dean. In Ruffini's opinion, the early Dean success had a lot to do with Joe Trippi's team and their web savvy. The problem was that they couldn't carry off the conventional political stuff and Dean was a time bomb waiting to go off.
According to Ruffini, what we've seen since then is Dean without his excellent producer and back up singers. Which leaves Howard with lots of fans who keep wondering why he can't come up with another hit after having three big singles on the first album.
Dean at the DNC is Dean without Trippi, Dean without the 15,000 person crowds (who can normally be counted upon to drown out the errant shriek), Dean minus the Movement. As it turned out, Dean was perfectly programmed to succeed in that in-between period (2003) where the activists are paying attention, but when the general public has yet to tune in. Once they did tune in, and the focus turned to personality over process, Dean flopped. The Dean chairmanship now is effectively the bookend to the Dean Scream. Now, virtually no one is tuned in – a development aided by keeping Dean in hiding for most of his chairmanship – which means that not even the activists feel vested in his leadership or committed to supporting him when he screws up.
Dean is also a victim of his own success. When he first arrived on the scene, leading Democrats were falling over each other to support the Iraq war, which made Dean's appeal unique. (His "What I want to know" DNC remarks in February '03 left me swearing he'd be the frontrunner before this was all over.) Today, every Democrat is anti-Iraq, and even Joe Biden is sounding like Dean. And when everyone is Howard Dean, the original doesn't seem all that necessary or appealing anymore.
Pretty much right, don't you think? (Hat tip to NRO's Jim Geraghty)
Schaeffer took in all kinds of hippies and teenagers and entertained ALL their questions. He was a master of synthesizing information and introducing Christians to the world of intellectual engagement. He ran from nothing. Listened to the disharmonic music of John Cage. Saw the films of Ingemar Bergman. Contemplated nihilistic art and philosophy. Schaeffer wasn't right about everything, but he shattered limitations many fundamentalists and evangelicals placed on the activity of the mind.
His son, formerly called Franky Schaeffer and now called Frank, had a very active role in his ministry and once was a well-known Christian author/filmmaker. After many years, he wrote novels about his childhood viewed as unflattering to his family and converted to Eastern Orthodoxy. Last year he showed up on Oprah and wrote articles for USA Today about being the father of a military man. One imagines they had no clue about his near-radical pro-life activities of younger days and his status as son of an evangelical celebrity.
David Mills of Touchstone now reports that the younger Schaeffer recently disparaged the new pope as a fundamentalist. Sometimes, it's hard for the son of a great man to find his own way in the world. Unfortunately for those of us who would have liked to see an alternate life for Frank Schaeffer, he's chosen one of the less attractive options. Perhaps he'll soon come out and clarify himself.
1) How many books do I own?
Probably about 500-700 well-culled volumes. I've shed at least that many in moves over the years.
2) What’s the last book I bought?
The Crisis of Church and State, 1050-1300 by Brian Tierney. Haven't read it, yet, but it's a new classic.
3) What’s the last book I read?
Jonathan Edwards, A Life by George Marsden. Extraordinarily informative about life in 18th century New England. Very thick, but very edifying.
4) What are the 5 books that mean the most to me? (I'm assuming we mean other than the Bible --HB)
I could just list Walker Percy titles here, but I'll try to be more open.
1. Lancelot by Walker Percy. Magnificent book. I went out and bought everything else by Percy right away and read all of it. A southern liberal discovers the existence of evil and draws some radical conclusions.
2. Witness by Whittaker Chambers. I can not think of a book that sums up the Cold War better.
3. In God's Underground by Richard Wurmbrand. Want to know what it was like to be an unsilent Christian behind the Iron Curtain? This is it.
4. The Power and the Glory by Graham Greene. Yes, I know Graham Greene was a bad Catholic. It's still true art.
5. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley. This is the full flower of the materialist worldview.
Honorable Mention: Roland Bainton's Here I Stand, a life of Martin Luther. No anti-Catholic sentiment intended, by the way. Just a great story about an amazing individual.
Next Honorable Mention: Born Again by Charles Colson.
This, while his opposite number at the RNC is Jewish and on the same day that a black Christian woman was voted on as a Bush nominee to the Federal Appeals Court.
The Democrats used to claim to be colorblind; now we see that they weren't kidding.
Tuesday, June 07, 2005
Baldwin takes the Bushes to task for Mrs. Bush's speech before the White House Correspondents' Association dinner in Washington, D.C.
Baldwin accurately recounts what happened:
"In a scripted 'interruption' of the President's remarks, Laura began by comparing herself to the sleazy characters of the television sitcom, Desperate Housewives. She said, 'Ladies and gentlemen, I am a desperate housewife. I mean, if those women on that show think they are desperate, they ought to be with George.' Her remarks only went downhill from there.
"Mrs. Bush continued by saying, 'One night, after George went to bed, [Vice President Dick Cheney's wife] Lynne Cheney, [Secretary of State] Condi Rice, [Bush adviser] Karen Hughes and I went to Chippendales [a strip club where women tuck cash into male dancer's skimpy thongs]. I wouldn't even mention it except [Supreme Court Justices] Ruth Ginsberg and Sandra Day O'Connor saw us there. I won't tell you what happened, but Lynne's Secretary Service code name is now "Dollar Bill."'"
. . . "Mrs. Bush then referenced President Bush's lack of ranching skills by saying, 'He's learned a lot about ranching since that first year when he tried to milk the horse. What's worse, it was a male horse.'"
Baldwin is horrified by this, writing as follows:
"[A]s our President and First Lady, Mr. and Mrs. Bush have a duty to hold high the moral standard of our nation. That they are willing to publicly use vulgar and profane innuendos, even in jest, reveals a serious lack of character and discernment."
Here I think it important to note that Baldwin's accusation of the President having used "vulgar and profane innuendos" in public is entirely unfounded. Mrs. Bush is the only one of the two to whom the accusation may apply.
But let us proceed to Baldwin's main contention:
"The real point of this story, again, is not the misjudgments and misconduct of the Bush family, but the unwillingness of the Religious Right to hold this President to the same standards that they would hold Al Gore, John Kerry, or any other Democratic president to.
"This is simply another glaring lesson on the dangers of Christians putting partisan politics above commitment to bedrock principle. Unfortunately, it's been going on since President Bush was first elected in 2000 and there is no sign that it will stop anytime soon."
Baldwin notes that Mrs. Bush has said that she supports Roe v. Wade, and once stood up to applaud a play about a transvestite (which I have not seen and hence cannot judge its merits, if any). Those are things of which the Christian Right strongly disapproves.
I am not aware, however, that Mrs. Bush made any statements supporting Roe v. Wade at the correspondents' dinner or at any other time since her husband was elected president. And even if she did, I would not care about it from a policy point of view: her husband is the president, and she isn't.
Of course Mrs. Bush's attempt at humor was vulgar and stupid—because it was so horribly inept and unfunny. Her writers should be shot. But that is not Mr. Baldwin's complaint.
It is that good Christian people, especially right-wing preachers, have not jumped up to denounce President Bush: "Their willingness to overlook, and even condone, the improper conduct of President Bush, or in this case, First Lady Laura Bush is appalling."
That may well be true, but it is important to recognize that there are serious religious reasons for much of the Christian Right to refrain from making a big deal out of this.
The big reason is to avoid being hypocrites and vipers.
Yes, Mrs. Bush's monologue was putrid and inane, and the Bushes don't remind us of the Cromwells.
But what, exactly, would Mr. Baldwin suggest President Bush do about his wife? Divorce her? Muzzle her? Beat her? Forbid her to go to the theater? This seems a rather strange attitude, to me.
The point Mr. Baldwin is aiming to make is that the Christian Right should condemn President Bush as a bad man, or at least a bad Christian, because he does not prevent his wife from acting a little weird at times. If that is correct, then my wife is a very bad woman for not preventing me from being as foolish as I frequently am.
I think we can all agree that the Bushes are far from perfect, or even as moral as Chuck Baldwin claims to be. But I cannot get worked up about it, and I guess it is because I do not come from a pietistic religious tradition, as Mr. Baldwin evidently does, and am highly aware of my own imperfections. To me what counts is what you stand for, and if you are morally weak and unimaginably far from perfect, then we definitely have something in common.
Baldwin says that the preachers of the Right refuse to criticize President Bush because . . . well, he never does say precisely why the Christian Right supports President Bush so unquestioningly in this case and others. But it is a question he has to answer if his claim is to have any credibility at all. Exactly what is it that the Christian Right gets from President Bush that they would not have got from a President Kerry?
I would submit that what the Christian Right gets from President Bush is rhetoric, and that they are very grateful for it. Rhetoric is powerful and can change the world.
Many people stand for antinomianism and live like it, and they have a great effect on the course of society. The Bushes stand for morality and live it about as well as the rest of us do, on average. I certainly cannot claim superiority, and I suspect that some of the preachers Mr. Baldwin condemns feel the same way about themselves, that their own lives have not been devoid of transgressions, and they are acutely aware of their own weaknesses. As long as a person stands for morality, even though he or she falls short of Baldwin-like perfection, the Christian Right ought to be expected to stand behind them.
Hence, I shall respectfully refrain from casting stones in this particular case.
Earlier this year, at the time of the DNC hiring Howard Dean as its head, I maintained that Dean would calm down and act responsibly in that position, as he did in his years as Governor of Vermont, and there would be a net gain to the Democratic Party. Dr. Benjamin Zycher predicted that Dean would continue his bomb-throwing hijinks and provide much entertainment for us at the expense of the Dems.
Well, the results are pretty clear. Dean is consistently acting like a pit bull and is a disaster for the Democrats.
Verdict is in: Dr. Zycher was right, I was wrong.
First, on Felt:
Was Mr. Felt a hero? No one wants to be hard on an ailing 91-year-old man. Mr. Felt no doubt operated in some perceived jeopardy and judged himself brave. He had every right to disapprove of and wish to stop what he saw as new moves to politicize the FBI. But a hero would have come forward, resigned his position, declared his reasons, and exposed himself to public scrutiny. He would have taken the blows and the kudos. (Knowing both Nixon and the media, there would have been plenty of both.) Heroes pay the price. Mr. Felt simply leaked information gained from his position in government to damage those who were doing what he didn't want done. Then he retired with a government pension. This does not appear to have been heroism, and he appears to have known it. Thus, perhaps, the great silence.
His motives were apparently mixed, as motives often are. He was passed over to replace J. Edgar Hoover as director of the FBI by President Nixon, who apparently wanted in that place not a Hoover man but a more malleable appointee. Mr. Felt was resentful. He believed Nixon meant to jeopardize the agency's independence. Here we have a hitch in the story. The liberal story line on the FBI was that under Hoover it had too much independence, which Hoover protected with his famous secret files and a reputation for ruthlessness. Mr. Felt was a Hoover man who joined the FBI in 1942, when it was young; he rose under Hoover and never knew another director. When Hooverism was threatened, Mr. Felt moved. In this sense Richard Nixon was J. Edgar Hoover's last victim. History is an irony factory.
Next, on Colson (who I met while working at Prison Fellowship as a law student, so I'm partisan):
Were there heroes of Watergate? Surely many unknown ones, those who did their best to be constructive and not destructive, those who didn't think it was all about their beautiful careers. I'll give you a candidate for great man of the era: Chuck Colson. Colson functioned in the Nixon White House as a genuinely bad man, went to prison and emerged a genuinely good man. He told the truth about himself in "Born Again," a book not fully appreciated as the great Washington classic it is, and has devoted his life to helping prisoners and their families. He paid the price, told the truth, blamed no one but himself, and turned his shame into something helpful. Children aren't dead because of him. There are children who are alive because of him.
I think Noonan is right in her assessment of both men.
One of the reasons I never liked Dennis Miller that much or really bought into his re-emergence as a conservative hero is that I once heard him rip Chuck Colson in a way that showed he had no concept of the transformation the man had undergone both privately and publicly. You can't read Born Again and not see the sincerity.
Of course, what she suggests about Felt is absolutely fascinating. Nobody has really evaluated him as a dyed-in-the-wool Hoover man.
This last book is hardly necessary. Dean Kelley (of the liberal National Council of Churches, of all places) documented the trend decades ago. The reason for the loss of members to liberal churches has been commented upon repeatedly: there's no God there. The liberal churches simply proclaim a spirit of the age who is the same person as the people in the seats. Don't need no Savior. We're doin' just fine. "I'm okay. You're okay." Or something like that.
Nevertheless, Shiflett has done numerous interviews for the new book and it may prove interesting. He's done two pieces for NRO about it. Read the latest here.
I almost forgot, the title of the book is Exodus: Why Americans Are Fleeing Liberal Churches for Conservative Christianity.
Monday, June 06, 2005
1. Our packers (yes, for the first time we hired packers) stayed in our house for something like 13 hours. They were incredibly slow (we lived in a small duplex) and actually packed the contents of our filing cabinets, which was not a happy thing.
2. While wife and kiddies took a plane, I drove the cats 14 hours from Waco to our intermediate stopping point in Alabama where my folks live. After a round of cat urination and ear-rattling screeching from one of the felines, I found a small-town vet enroute to inject them with tranquilizers. The rest of the trip went better, but I couldn't stop for fear of rousing them. My only stops were gas and restroom visits combined.
3. I listened to a dense unabridged audio tape of George Washington's life. Like most such volumes, it made the man sound significantly less interesting than we think he was. It also made the Revolutionary War sound less exciting and victorious than advertised. I'm going to hope David McCullough's new book will revive both subjects for me.
4. I forgot to mention two massive interstate traffic jams along the way and a skull-ripping headache in the midst of the last jam a mere twenty miles from home. Did you ever want to know what makes a grown man weep? I know the answer.
5. We purchased a Honda Odyssey minivan (don't worry paleocons, it was built in Alabama) prior to leaving for Georgia. I love it. The family man thing has its compensations.
6. The cats rode in the originally urine-stained vehicle for the last leg of the trip, which my wife drove while I got kid duty. The same cat obliged again, despite being tranquilized.
7. Anybody know what gets out the nightmare ammonia smell of cat urine from a Honda Accord?
8. We arrived in our old house rental in Athens, Georgia. It has a lot of charm, but . . .
9. The basement floods a bit, the air-conditioner gave out on the fourth day, and the kitchen floor is approximately seven decades old.
10. Back with more later . . .
Sunday, June 05, 2005
The dialogue between writers like Karnick and Klinghoffer is interesting because it occurs within the confines of a political alliance. It's as if fellow soldiers turned to one another and said, "Let's talk about something that's been bothering me." Dangerous, but probably necessary.
Saturday, June 04, 2005
Thursday, June 02, 2005
"First the weather report. The heat is awesome now. Basically look at the
"Work was my embed with EOD – Explosives Ordinance Division. They’re a kick-butt bunch of guys drawn from all the services. Their job here is to handled unexploded ordinance, dispose of improvised explosive devices (IEDs), and investigate the aftermath of suicide bombings. It’s like a firehouse here. You sit around with every comfort in the world (except alcohol!) and wait for an emergency call. They got me up early in the morning for the first call, a 130 mm shell stuffed with plastic explosive dug into the dirt by the side of a paved road. A team whose job it is to spot IEDs found it and secured the area before we got there. Bomb disposal isn’t what it used to be. Now they use Talon robots, such as the ones I wrote about. They’re quite amazing. Later I saw them use it to open a door latch and crawl into the barracks. Unfortunately, while the Talon made it to the IED just fine the monitor went out. So the couldn’t use it to yank the wires.
"But then they whipped out a tiny flat little robot they call a 'bomb-blower.' It’s only about 18 inches long and maybe six inches high. They put C-4 plastic explosive onto it, drove it over the IED, and blew it. Nice explosion; got pictures. But as per usual the actual IED, though disarmed, was still active. They collected pieces to be sent to forensics to make determinations about who might have made the made it. They even dust for fingerprints. Then they checked to see if there were wires leading to a detonator because they want to track what systems are being used. We found just six inches of wire but that was enough. Meanwhile, the MPs providing security nabbed two guys running away wearing jogging suits and tennis shoes. They were wearing scarves indicating they were from another Arab country and indeed neither looked the least bit Iraqi. I think they were Jordanian. Since they had absolutely no other purpose being there other than to set off the IED, it’s almost a given they were the would-be killers. Yes, got pictures.
"Then it was time to blow the device itself and the honor was given to me. The det [detonation] cord was bad though so we had to go through it again. This time two Iraqis drove danger close near it. We set off flairs but to no avail. When the charge went off, they both dived out of the truck and one landed in a shallow canal. At first we were horrified but we found them none the worse for the wear and explained with pictograms what we’d done. They were quickly all smiles. They don’t like IEDs, either. Yes, got pictures of everything. Literally a blast. We made several runs after that but they were all pretty worthless. One suspect IED turned out to be literally a bag of chicken s---!. They did collect a piece of mortar round where a poor Iraqi worker had stumbled across one and blown a hole in his chest.
"These guys are real pros. It was quite an honor being with them and yet almost nobody knows they exist. I hope to fix that a bit. After all, this is almost entirely a war of explosives. The bad guys are aren’t too big on standing and fighting."
This material has yet to be published, though it surely will be, and Mike has a lot more to report. His website, www.fumento.com, will be well worth a visit for those desiring more of Mike's excellent firsthand observations and his countless articles on other subjects.
This action will make it very easy for individual computer users to use blocking software to keep children and others from visiting these sites. However, use of the .xxx designation is to be entirely voluntary, and it remains to be seen whether porn sites will choose to move to the "red light district" or prefer to remain more accessible. The AP article noted that John Morris, staff counsel at the Center for Democracy and Technology, "predicted some adult sites will choose to buy 'xxx' Web addresses but others will continue to use dot-com."
The article did not entertain the question of whether governments will eventually require such sites to take .xxx addresses, but that would seem to be an obvious possibility. The U.S. Supreme Court might well find such a federal law to be constitutional, as not being a case of the Congress imposing censorship or prior restraint of protected communications and hence not a violation of First Amendment protections. The U.S. federal government would undoubtedly be able to claim that such a move was allowable under the Interstate Commerce Clause.
This will be an interesting debate to watch, should the move toward requiring the use of the .xxx designation come to pass.
Wednesday, June 01, 2005
I am linking here the best compendium ever written of Erle Stanley Gardner, his life, his career as a lawyer and as a writer. Well worth reading.
Perry's interest, however, is in the protection of his client—a classic damsel in distress, though highly modern in her moral dilemmas and the choices she makes—and the joy he takes in a good fight. Gardner had spent some time as a boxer in his college-age years, and Mason exhibits an open joy in fighting through conflicts, with both mind and fists. Perry shows much of the physical toughness of Gardner's earlier pulp-fiction heroes—he even threatens to punch out a policeman. Gardner strives to make the point that Perry is a fighter, returning to this theme several times.
Perry is also ingenious and knows the law thoroughly, enabling him to triumph through brains while protecting himself and his clients with sheer force when necessary.
Lucky Legs was actually the first Perry Mason novel Gardner wrote, though it was the third to be published. As a result, it is rather more hardboiled than most Mason novels (which are much more hardboiled than the TV series was), and the plot is far simpler than the average Mason book.
The atmosphere of the book is gritty and often somewhat sleazy, and Gardner's establishment of Perry as the moral center of the books is very effective. Even more than in the television series, Mason will do whatever it takes to get his client off—but only because he knows his client to be innocent. Mason, in fact, mentions in this book an earlier case (not written as a Mason novel or story) in which he obtained a good plea-bargain deal for his client who killed a man who had been abusing her. (Things have changed a bit since those days, thank Heaven.)
Much of the action in this book, as in other Mason novels, takes place in taxicabs or private automobiles on night streets in the big city, and in cheap hotel rooms. The sense of physical entrapment so common to the Mason novels is established quite well here, and it even comes into play in Mason's office suite, as police or a client await while he tries to get into or out of his office without their knowing. Instances of police or private detectives "tailing" a suspect are quite common in this as in other Mason novels, and Mason even tails a character by chartering an airplane to follow a mail plane on which the person is supposed to be flying—quite an unusual story element in 1933.
To me, the feisty Perry of the novels, especially the early ones, is a much more impressive and interesting character than the domesticated version Raymond Burr portrayed in the television series, and although Gardner would ultimately reduce the amount of physical action Perry got into in later novels, this pugnacious Perry is basically the one we see throughout the series of books.
Perry is much more of a loner here, also, largely running things himself and keeping Della and Paul mostly in the background. One can see that as Gardner developed the concept into a series, Della Street and Paul Drake became much more prominent characters as a way of giving the readers more characters to identify with and as a means of reducing the amount of description necessary; with Della and Paul so familiar to readers, Gardner did not have to spend much time introducing them and could move on to his favorite aspect of writing, the creation of incredibly complex plots. In addition, Lucky Legs is very unusual in that it does not have any courtroom scenes. There is a decent amount of discussion about subtleties of the law, but the courtroom scenes, which would become a highlight of the series, have yet to be established here. Lt. Tragg and DA Hamilton Burger have likewise yet to be introduced.
It is particulary fascinating to read a Mason novel that has such a (relatively!) simple plot--Gardner was one of the great plotters, and TCOT Lucky Legs is startlingly straighforward in this regard (though still more complex than most hardboiled detection novels). Here Mason is basically a rougher, more resourceful and tenacious version of Ken Corning, Gardner's earlier defense-lawyer series character. Once Gardner began to incorporate into the Mason series the plot complexity that he had used in his Lester Leith and Ed Jenkins pulp stories, he began to create true classics of the genre, such as TCOT Counterfeit Eye, TCOT Haunted Husband, and TCOT Silent Partner.
The Case of the Lucky Legs appears to be out of print at present but is readily available at libraries and in used book stories and online booksellers. I highly recommend the book, and would suggest that those interested in the Mason series begin with the first two books, TCOT Velvet Claws and TCOT Sulky Girl. The Mason books are quite addictive and are well worth reading.
Tuesday, May 31, 2005
Was it public-spiritedness that moved him? Or mean-spirited resentment at being passed over when J. Edgar Hoover's replacement was sought? Was he a man of conscience, a Deep man? Or a man of appetites, a Throat man?
Not terribly surprising, either, that 'Paris' turns out to be an epicene appellation.
If I write a book about this great romance, a title suggests itself: A Tale Of Two Cities. That is, if I can figure out what the Dickens this girl is doing as an icon in our culture.
Monday, May 30, 2005
About which, some observations.
1) It is my view that closing arguments should be very strictly regulated; they should be limited to recalling the evidence and arguing the inferences. There should be virtually no dramatic appeals allowed, because they create biases that are inappropriate.
Clemency (or outrage) has its place, of course, but much later: when the judge is sentencing or the governor is considering a pardon. Juries need to be focused entirely on the process of intellect and judgment required to produce the best rendering of a verdict from the facts presented.
2) This idea of conviction 'beyond a reasonable doubt' is honored in the breach rather than the observance [as the Bard said; er, the B(eyond) A R(easonable) D(oubt) of Avon, that is]. Juries are almost always subconsciously applying the civil standard of 'preponderance of evidence' rather than the criminal standard of 'beyond a reasonable doubt'.
In a case like Michael Jackson, the ultimate evidentiary standard may well be: "Does he just look goofy weird? Or does he look nasty weird?"
Saturday, May 28, 2005
Their April 29 “Tastings” said, “If you were planning g to head to the wine store tonight to pick up a bottle of American Chardonnay under $20, we have one word of advice: Don’t.” After more than 50 inexpensive chardonnays, and found only four worth drinking -- St. Francis, Clos du Bois, J. Lohr and Rutherford (in that order).
I haven’t tried Rutherford but the other three are fine. Clos du Bois was my January pick as the top party wine, because it comes in a 1.5 liter size for $16. But that price is so far under $20 it makes me wonder what other wines Gaiter and Brecher tasted. They mentioned being disappointed by Bogle (which does a better job with Merlot), but that too is only about $8. J. Lohr is about $9. Perhaps they should have spent, say, $13-14 before deciding only four U.S. chardonnays under $20 are worth drinking.
It may be true that many Americans are too stuck on chardonnay, but it is not true that you can’t buy a very good bottle for less than $20. Here are a few readily available chards with WS (Wine Spectator) ratings above 90 – the bottom edge of outstanding. Some years may be better than others, and prices are approximate:
Chateau Souverain WS91 $14
St. Clement WS91 $15
Chateau St. Michelle “Indian Wells” WS90 $18
Sebastiani WS 90 $13
Villa Mt. St. Eden WS90 $13
Here is one I like from South Africa:
Glen Carlou (So. Africa) WS91 $14
And one from New Zealand:
Allan Scott (New Zealand) WS 90 $14
If Gaiter and Brecher tried any of those and didn’t like them, or if they haven’t tried them at all, then they’re not wine experts.
Friday, May 27, 2005
It's good to see Christianity Today is still pursuing the Baylor story. Check it out here.
Any historical drama, of course, will reflect ideas and attitudes of the period in which it is written, often to great advantage. However, this is an aspect that must not be overdone, lest the historical anachronisms undermine the effect of the drama, at least for those who have some knowledge of the relevant history.
This is particularly true of Kingdom of Heaven. Director Ridley Scott presents a story line that speaks well to contemporary issues, but in doing so, he and his screenwriter have had to distort the history of the time well beyond recognition or even plausibility. It's a pity, because Scott is a talented filmmaker who typically makes a commendable effort to understand and express his characters' motivations. Kingdom of Heaven, however, has a certain emotional distance to it, attributable in good part, I think, to the unreal nature of the situation. As the distinguished historian Thomas Madden notes in today's issue of National Review Online,
"As a matter of plot logic, one might reasonably wonder why all of these Crusaders wearing crosses on their breasts and marching off to hopeless battles care so little for Christianity? When preparing for the defense of Jerusalem, Balian proclaims that it is not the stones that matter, but the people living in the city. In order to save the people’s lives he threatens to destroy all of the Christian and Muslim holy sites, 'everything,' he says, 'that drives men mad.' Yet if he is only concerned with defending people, why has Balian come all the way to Jerusalem to do it? Aren’t there plenty of people in France who need defending? The truth is that Scott’s Balian has it exactly wrong. It is the stones, the buildings, the city that mattered above all else. Medieval Christians saw Jerusalem as a precious relic sanctified by the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. The people were there to glorify God and defend His Holy City. The real Balian, faced with the inevitable conquest of Jerusalem, threatened to destroy the Dome of the Rock if Saladin did not abandon his plan to massacre the Christian inhabitants. That plan is airbrushed out of the movie. Indeed, the good and noble Saladin of this movie lets all of the citizens depart with a hearty, good-natured smile on his face. The real Saladin required them to pay a ransom. Those that could not — and there were thousands — were sold into slavery."
Madden acknowledges that Scott has repeatedly said that Kingdom of Heaven is “not a documentary” but a “story based on history.” As Madden notes, however, the use of history has its limits, and to turn a real-life story of the Crusades into a call for religious tolerance requires too much distortion to allow the film's characters and their choices to remain credible. In removing much of what motivated the real-life characters on which the film was so loosely based, the film flattens the characters and their choices into highly artificial constructs subservient to an all too banal moral, however fine that idea might be. That is destructive to art, and I would suggest that it is what makes it a far less interesting and enjoyable film on an aesthetic level than it could have been.
Madden's critique includes much detail on the real story behind the characters in Scott's film. Read it here.
Later on Baylor hired Francis Beckwith, a philosopher, and Walter Bradley, a mechanical engineer, to positions in other departments. Beckwith had argued ID could permissibly be taught in public schools (but not required) and Bradley pursued ID (from the cosmological angle) as a sideline to his primary work. Their hires attracted conspiracy theorizing from Barbara Forrest and Glenn Branch in Academe. To Academe's credit, they published Beckwith's and Bradley's responses. Here they are:
TO THE EDITOR:
Barbara Forrest and Glenn Branch misleadingly depict my appointment at Baylor and my academic work on intelligent design in the January-February issue. They falsely imply that I was sought after by the Baylor administration and hired autocratically as part of some conspiracy to turn Baylor into an academic enclave for intelligent design. Until my on-campus interview in February 2003, I had never met or spoken to a Baylor administrator. That interview occurred while I was on the faculty at Princeton as a James Madison Fellow, five months after I had applied for the Baylor post in response to a national advertisement.
The authors state that twenty-nine descendants of my department's namesake (J.M. Dawson) requested that Baylor remove me from my post. They don't mention the support for me from my provost, department chair, department colleagues, and numerous professors from around the world, some of whom disagree with my views. One of them, Kent Greenawalt of Columbia Law School, was so aghast at the Dawsons' use of a quote of his to hurt my appointment that he wrote a letter to my chair condemning it.
I argue that it is constitutionally permissible to teach intelligent design in public schools, which is the conclusion of the thesis I wrote in 2001 as part of my M.J.S. degree at the Washington University School of Law. It was published as a book in 2003, and various portions of it appeared in articles in Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy, San Diego Law Review, and Notre Dame Journal of Law, Ethics, and Public Policy. I'm not an intelligent design advocate, and I don't think it should be required in public schools. I do think, however, that some intelligent design arguments raise important questions about philosophical materialism and the nature of science that should be taken seriously and may indeed have a place for discussion in public school classrooms. Academic liberty knows no metaphysical litmus test, whether it's religious or irreligious, or proposed by Jerry Falwell or Barbara Forrest.
Although I stand by my work on intelligent design and public education, it is only a recent interest of mine. I had already established myself with scores of articles and many books in the areas of ethics, religion, and politics. In fact, my monograph on abortion is cited several times in the Encyclopedia of Philosophy article on that subject.
In my opinion, Forrest and Branch are blacklisters whose witch-hunt tactics should be shunned, and not published, by Academe.
FRANCIS J. BECKWITH
Associate Director, J. M. Dawson Institute for Church-State StudiesBaylor University
TO THE EDITOR:
I am writing in response to the article in the January-February issue by Forrest and Branch. In this article, my hiring at Baylor University is portrayed as being part of a grand conspiracy by the administration to pursue a secret intelligent design agenda, casting aspersions on my academic qualifications and on the administration's integrity. What is particularly galling is that the authors never bothered to contact me or my department head or dean to inquire about this matter.
Why was I hired at Baylor? Maybe it was because I am very academically qualified to help build an outstanding graduate program in engineering that will be synergistic with our under-graduate program. During my eight years at the Colorado School of Mines and twenty-four years at Texas A&M University, I published 140 refereed articles and book chapters, secured $4.5 million in external research funding, served as department head at TAMU, and received five local and one national research awards and two teaching awards. I am an elected fellow of the American Society for Materials and the American Scientific Affiliation.
During my interview at Baylor University, there was no discussion of my work in intelligent design. I spent most of my time in the School of Engineering, giving a seminar and visiting with all of the school's professors. I was told that the recommendation of my hiring was supported unanimously by the faculty in the school. The focus of my work since joining the school has been to begin to develop excellent master's programs and secure external funding to support them, which I have done.
Let me be very clear that I have done and will continue to do work in the areas of intelligent design, cosmology, and the origin of life. However, it is a blatant lie to pretend that my hiring was in any way connected to this extracurricular interest of mine as a "member of the Wedge," whatever that means. I am a fellow of the Discovery Institute in recognition of my work in the origin of life, not as a functionary in some fantasy conspiracy theory. This McCarthyism by Forrest and Branch has no place in the academy or in a publication by the AAUP, which is supposed to be a champion of academic freedom.