"Go not for every grief to the physician, nor for every quarrel to the lawyer, nor for every thirst to the pot." —George Herbert (1593-1633)

Monday, July 11, 2005

More On What Is A Terrorist

This is really quite unbelievable. I refer to the comments on my previous post, offered by my friends Tlaloc, James Elliott, TVD, and LA. As I understand the general trust of their view, aggregated crudely, it is that the distinction between "terrorists" and "insurgents" is driven not by their tactics but instead by their objectives and by someone's dictionary.

I'm sorry, but this is sophistry, pure and simple. Attacks intended to murder civilians by the score (or more) constitute terrorism, regardless of whether the murderers are locals or immigrants, regardless of their goals (even if they can be discerned), regardless of the particular groups to which they do or do not belong, ad infinitum. Or do my friends want to argue that, say, the IRA attacks in London in the 1980s did not constitute terrorism? By the way, I did not put words into Tlaloc's mouth; I merely quoted him.

What Is a Terrorist?

My esteemed friend Tlaloc argues in a comment that "'terrorist' is a fine term for Al Qaeda. 'Insurgent' on the other hand is perfectly accurate for the forces in Iraq." Well, that just about sums it all up, doesn't it? If the Islamic fascists are bombing westerners, they are terrorists. If they are bombing Iraqi civilians in a direct effort to make U.S. policy appear doomed, well, then they are insurgents. Does Tlaloc actually read what he writes?

Kristol Right Again?

Now he's saying that Gonzales is the choice of the Bush administration to be the next chief justice.

He was dead-on about O'Connor, I'm hoping he isn't going to go 2 for 2.

Who Was That Masked Man?

In the comics and Zorro movies, the moment of the unmasking of the hero is always played with high drama. For some of us foreign policy dweebs and military big-thinker wannabees of the blogosphere, this is a similar moment. We've been asking for some time now, as we read with envy the latest piece of brilliance from The Belmont Club: Who is this Wretchard? And how can he be so damn smart? Who does he know? How come I don't know people like that?

Now we know who he is at least. (Hap tip: Chicago Boyz.)

Sunday, July 10, 2005

Journalists Gearing Up for Riots . . .

After stories of New York Times desecration by a jailed reporter. Read on at Scrappleface!

Fertile Fields

Since there was some resistance to my earlier assertion that demographers pretty much agreed that the world's population would begin to fall in the 21st century, I thought maybe I'd better go take a second look. It has been many years since I've done any fertility and childbearing research; the past ten years I was stuck at the other end of the lifespan, studying old people.

Nothing's changed; if anything, the models predict faster declines and lower levels of eventual fertility than I recall from 20 years ago. UNEP's World Population Prospects interactive website is a data geek's dream. I blame Reform Club commenters for the state of my lawn; I really should have been mowing grass yesterday, not constructing life tables.

Much was made of the fact that the UN projects population out to 2050 and at that point population is still rising. That's simply an artifact of the cut-off point that was chosen for the display. There's no mystery to how the predictions are constructed, and it's easy to extend the curves out as long as you'd like. But you don't even need to do that to conclude that the UN asserts just what I asserted: fertility rates will converge towards a rate that is less than replacement. It's right there on the methods page: based on the best models of fertility UNEP has, world-wide, fertility is converging on 1.85 children per woman, but not all countries will get there before 2050. They predict world-wide TFR below replacement (2.1 children per woman) starting in 2039. Annual growth rate peaked in 1965; excess of births over deaths peaked in 1985. Because of the lag between fertility changes and population changes, you don't see this translate into a decline in absolute population levels until later; from the UN data I calculate the growth rate goes below zero, and hence population peaks and begins to decline, in 2070.

The fertility transition is one of the most widely observed, predictable, well-established phenomena in social science. It is not a fantasy of right-wing nut job cornucopian economists; in fact it is such a bedrock of boring mainstream population science that a contrarian like me should be a little embarrassed spending so much time talking about it.

Saturday, July 09, 2005

Opening Weekend Film Review: The Fantastic Four

Ultimate fanboy site Ain't It Cool has savaged The Fantastic Four. These guys know from comics, so I almost decided to pass. Late Saturday night the kids were in bed and I decided to indulge even without an authoritative recommend from the fanboys.

The Verdict: The fanboys weren't wrong. They were too severe, but The Fantastic Four is not nearly what it could be.

I don't have the same degree of resentment the professional nerds do because I lived through the many terrible attempts to adapt comics to the screen before the early breakthrough of Christopher Reeve's Superman and the signal event of Tim Burton's Batman, which opened the floodgates for a series of far better efforts than what went before with wretched attempts at portraying heroes like Spiderman and Captain America. Television's The Hulk wasn't bad, but it was an absolute rip-off of The Fugitive and the basic schtick got old fast.

Within the period of reasonably good superhero flicks I have to rank Fantastic Four well below the Sam Raimi Spiderman flicks, below the Batman films except the wretched George Clooney version, and about even with Ben Affleck's Daredevil and Ang Lee's Hulk. (Like how I mix actors and directors? I'm not willing to look up whatever I can't remember about each film. I have to add quickly that Ang Lee's Hulk could have been great, but succumbed to a chaotic plot in the last 45 minutes.)

The problem with Fantastic Four is that it lacks action and takes way too many liberties with the original story. Doctor Doom's handling is particularly egregious. Instead of a man horribly scarred and encased in armor, we have Doom joining the original space incident with the Four and mutating just like they do. He's also no longer a dictator of a small nation, but is instead a business tycoon. No, no, no. It doesn't work. In order to tell an origin story, too many important things end up getting collapsed into more efficient form. Not great here.

There is an upside. Michael Chiklis is very good as The Thing. He looks right both in and out of costume and does a nice job of portraying Ben Grimm's pain at being the one member of the team to be horribly deformed, despite his power.

Again, I have to emphasize that if this film had been released during the bad old days of superhero flicks, I'd be praising it through the roof. But the bar has been long ago raised, and FF trips over it.

Russian Science Director Refutes Warming Claims

Yury Izrael, director of the Russian Academy of Science’s Global Climate and Ecology Institute, issued a scathing indictment of global warming alarmism, published June 28 by the Russian News and Information Agency (http://en.rian.ru/analysis/20050623/40748412.html)

The following are excerpts from Izrael’s comments:


According to 10,000 meteorological stations, average temperatures have increased by just 0.6 degrees in the last 100 years. But there is no scientifically sound evidence of the negative processes that allegedly begin to take place at such temperatures.

Global temperatures increased throughout the 1940s, declined in the 1970s, and subsequently began to rise again. Present-day global warming resembles the 1940s, when ships could easily navigate Arctic passages.

However, man's impact was much smaller at that time. A Russian expedition that recently returned from the central Antarctic says that temperatures are now starting to decrease. These sensational findings are one of Mother Nature's surprises.

The European Union has established by fiat that a two-degree rise in global temperatures would be quite dangerous. However, this data is not scientifically sound.

Many specialists estimate the peak atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration at 400 PPM.

Our calculations show that carbon-dioxide concentrations would increase by just 800 PPM if all known and produced fuel were incinerated in the space of a few hours. But we will never reach this ceiling. In ancient times the Earth had periods when maximum CO2 concentrations were 6,000 PPM (in Carboniferous period). But life still goes on.

In other words, we must comprehend what will happen while the carbon-dioxide levels will grow from the current 378 PPM to 800 PPM, that will hypothetically occur when all the fuel on earth is burned.

Global temperatures will likely rise by 1.4-5.8 degrees during the next 100 years. The average increase will be three degrees. I do not think that this threatens mankind. Sea levels, due to rise by 47 cm in the 21st century, will not threaten port cities.

Friday, July 08, 2005

A Little Clarity For the Masses

Let the record show that the British media, invincible in its sophisticated arrogance, now is using the term "terrorists" (without quoatation marks) rather than "militants," "activists," and other such euphemisms employed when the murder victims are Israelis, Iraqis, Americans, and others less worthy of life. I propose a pool on when the Guardian will revert to form, blaming the Jews for the 7/7 bombings.

Rehnquist Retiring Today?

I just heard it. He may be out within the hour.

The Other Hunter, and John Creasey

I am grateful to Jay Homnick for mentioning Evan Hunter, the bestselling mystery writer who died this past Wednesday at the age of 78.

Pace Jay, I don't think Hunter was Jewish—his birth name was Salvatore Lombino. And like so many prominent writers who started in the '40s and '50s, he appears to have had no more religion than a lump of coal. (Think Bradbury, Asimov, Highsmith, etc.)

Hunter was certainly a talented writer, however, and his books sold in the tens of millions, especially the mysteries he wrote under the name of Ed McBain. His 87th Precinct series, set in the fictional city of Isola, was his most notable achievement. He wrote some non-genre novels under the name of Evan Hunter, including The Blackboard Jungle, and about 75 screenplays, the best of which was probably the script for Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds, freely adapted from a story by Daphne du Maurier.

The ideas Hunter held were far from original or deep, and I would add that his story lines were likewise. In addition, he was not the creator of the police procecural genre (which Jay did not claim for him but others have done).

That distinction goes to John Creasey, the English author of over 500 novels in a variety of series, most of them in the mystery and suspense field. Creasey's books are well worth reading. How he wrote so much so well, is a mystery in itself, even if the use of formulas did help a good deal. Creasey's Gideon series, written under the pseudonyn of J. J. Marric, established the police procedural novel as a form, and they are excellent (within the limitations of the genre, of course; we're comparing him to Hunter/McBain, Dell Shannon, Joseph Wambaugh, K. C. Constantine, and the like, not to Dostoyevsky).

Creasey's Baron series and his Toff books approached the genre from the rogue/adventurer side, with Saint-like characters at the center. Great fun, and some very good insights into human character along the way. I highly recommend that readers seek out some of Creasey's books. His tales are also free of politics (the ones I've read, anyway), at least on the surface. The stories have serious implications, but Creasey is content to let the readers find them for themselves if they wish to do so.

Over on this side of the pond, Evan Hunter was a first-rate writer of mystery genre fiction, with two huge, overriding gifts. One was that he worked very hard. Those of us who write much, know that the courage to forge ahead is a more important and valuable characteristic than most people can imagine. Hunter was blessed with great self-confidence, and he wrote for ten hours a day nearly every day. That is truly impressive dedication to a craft. In fact, it would surely be classified as pathological had it not been for Hunter's other great advantage as a writer.

That is that he was a born storyteller. Hunter knew just how much to tell the reader and when, and could intuitively push a story forward at just the right pace and the appropriate depth of scene-setting and characterization to keep a reader enthralled. Again, this is a rare talent.

In addition, Hunter had good taste in how far to push his subject matter into various areas of human behavior, was a fairly thoughtful person (though by no means deep, as noted earlier), and truly cared about people. He clearly wanted to be more than he was, which was a talented genre writer, and I do not think that there is much reason for many of his books to remain in print for very long after his recent death, but he was a highly talented, caring, and dedicated storyteller who wrote a lot of books that sold well for the right reasons.

People will continue to read Cop Hater and one or two others, and Hunter will have a legacy as the author who brought the police procedural to the U.S. audience. That is rather less than what he sought for, but it is a worthy achievement nonetheless.

Al Qaeda Kills Brits and Loses the War

The Al Qaeda freaks have zero political acumen. They should have just kept trying to destabilize Iraq and left the West alone. Eventually, our weak-kneed, no-policy-but-an-anti-GOP policy lefties would have managed to turn Iraq into another Vietnam and we'd be out of there just in time to welcome in a Hussein clone or even the man himself. Instead, they hammer the U.S.'s biggest ally. Error. More dead westerners with whom Americans strongly identify will simply mean a new infusion of determination.

This action looks like an unforced error. Why not let America's left-wing nuke the enterprise through constant agitation? The answer is that the error may not be unforced. The Afghan/Iraqi projects may be going well enough that Al Qaeda had to introduce a desperate gambit like this one. If they could make Britain "do a Spain," then America would truly seem alone and would be harder pressed to continue. Won't happen, fellas. You've given us what we need to marginalize the "hate America" Americans and the Bush-hating Eurofashionistas.

As S.T. Karnick would say, "Many thanks."

Evan Hunter, RIP

We have been speaking of detective novels these last few days. One important writer of mysteries, often credited with being the creator of the police procedural genre, was Evan Hunter, who wrote regular novels under his own name and mysteries as Ed McBain. He passed away tonight.

His 87th Precinct books are almost always excellent, although in recent years his Liberal politics had grown tiresome - and gratuitous insertions of same were not enhancing the books. Still, one of the greats. (He also wrote the screenplay for Alfred Hitchcock's film, The Birds.) And yes, another Jewish guy.

Rest in peace.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

London Calling

I gave Brian Williams a pass last week. When, in response to the rumors that Iran's newly "elected" president was a former American Embassy hostage-taker, he opined: What would it all matter if proven true? Someone brought up today: The first several U.S. presidents were certainly revolutionaries... and might have been called "terrorists" at the time by the BRITISH CROWN, after all... I chalked up the resulting furor to our tendency to forget that Brian Williams is not a sooper-genius political scientist, he's a pretty boy who's spent a bundle on elocution lessons so he can get paid to sit in front of a teleprompter reading the news out loud.

Sitting here with one window open on video of a red metal wreck that used to be a double-decker bus, and another streaming audio of Tony Blair (shaken, but somehow stirring) I'm not so generous. What does it matter? George Washington didn't pay the Sons of Liberty and the Green Mountain Boys to blow up Thames pleasure boats and Cheapside hackney coaches full of women and children. Iran, through Hamas and al-Quaeda, does the 21st century equivalent. George III was a nutty old coot, but I'm pretty sure even he could have discerned the difference.

Bernard Goldberg Is Back!

The author of Bias does the neocon turn by explaining why it became impossible for him to remain a modern liberal:

Over the years, we grew tolerant of all the right things. We grew tolerant of civil rights, we became more tolerant of women’s rights. We became tolerant of various kinds of rights, and it was a good thing that we did. But over the years, we became indiscriminately tolerant. We became tolerant of crap! To tell somebody, to make a comment about this crap is to be judgmental somehow. And somehow, being judgmental of crap has become a bad thing.

Preach it, Bernie. Certainly fits with S.T. Karnick's desire to remain in the classical liberal fold.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

People, People Who Breed People....

...are the LUUUUCKIEST people. Oh. Sorry. Got carried away. That happens sometimes when you're a natalfascist who wants to enforce the six-child rule on the enslaved women of AmeriKKKa.

The reality of the coming demographic collapse of the major developed economies is a settled issue. And this isn't just about whites. India and most of South America are now where the US was thirty years ago. Very soon they will be below replacement as well. I could slather the blog with seven paragraphs of total fertility rates and negative rates of natural increase, but there's not a lot to be gained, because the people who are still insisting that there is a global overpopulation problem are immune to facts.

The issue of per capita resource use (I guess it's trendy to call it footprint now?) is just another diversion. Suppose you'd told a resident of New York City circa 1880 that in 100 years his city would hold about four times more people than it did currently. He probably would have wondered how on earth the resource base could bear such a load. Where they would put all the horse manure and how on earth they could build enough five-story buildings to hold all those people? Is there any reason to believe we're any more prescient about the future than the poor schlub who couldn't foresee the internal combustion engine and the hydraulic passenger elevator?

Liberals used to be optimistic about the future and conservatives used to be the fuddy-duddies who moaned about the good old days and couldn't adapt to change. Now it's the people like me who see every new human as a new creative force, born into the world with two hands and a brain, and people like Tlaloc who look at a new human as just another mouth, if not actually a useless eater.

Gray Eerier

"Do me a favor," my friend tells me today. "Don't write about me anytime soon."

His reason for teasing me is this: I wrote an article in today's American Spectator about L. Patrick Gray (and W. Mark Felt) and by the end of the day Mr. Gray passed away. Well, I know that the pen is mightier than the sword, but I doubt that he had a chance to read my essay before departing these earthly precincts. Rest in peace.

Hammett Time

Hunter Baker's thoughts on Dashiell Hammett, posted earlier today, are interesting and well expressed. Hammett's Continental Op is an excellent character that brought something fairly new to the genre, a realistic sense of the largely mundane and tawdry nature of the private-investigation racket. (But we should not pretend that even this was entirely original—right after the Sherlock Holmes stories became popular, British author Arthur Morrison explored this mundaneness of detection in his excellent Martin Hewitt stories, as did other authors of the prewar period.) The Op stories are largely believable and have a strong narrative drive. In addition, the characters of Sam Spade and Nick and Nora Charles are highly distinctive and memorable. The latter two are quite likeable, as well. The Thin Man is in fact my favorite among Hammett's books.

The Maltese Falcon is his best, in my view. It is a powerful story driven by the difficult moral choices the protagonist, Sam Spade, has to make as he pursues his partner's killer. Spade himself is far from perfect (though by no means a monster), which makes the twists and turns of his quest more interesting, as the reader is continually invited to guess at his true motives. In this way, the book is as much of a game between author and reader as are the most artificial of puzzle mysteries. Nonetheless, the events of the book always seem real, and Hammett's greatest authorial asset may well be his ability to convince the reader that his highly melodramatic romances are in fact entirely plausible and true to life. They are, of course, nothing of the sort, and that is what engages our imagination so strongly. They are romances we can believe—the most enticing romances of all.

On the deficit side, however, I find it rather annoying when people claim that Hammett originated the hardboiled genre. That honor belongs to Carrol John Daly, whose "Three Gun Terry" appeared in Black Mask on May 15, 1923, five months before the same magazine published Hammett's first Op story. Hammett has been more widely acknowledged as an influence on the many writers who followed in the hardboiled style, but Daly deserves credit for getting there first, and what is more, I think he deserves more credit as an influence that most critics have been willing to allot to him. Daly came up with an essential element of the hardboiled detective tale, which is the translation of the Western story into modern, urban situations. It was an ingenious idea, and it is surely the real foundation of the hardboiled form. In addition, Daly brought in the emphasis on political corruption as a major theme right from the start, another important element of the form.

Hammett, however, was a much more convincing storyteller. Daly's tales are frankly fantastic and just good, crazy fun. As greatly entertaining as they are (and they really are a treat), they do not involve the kinds of moral dilemmas Hammett's stories did. Race Williams, Satan Hall, Vee Brown, and Daly's other detectives are right, and whatever they do is therefore right. They have no doubts about that, and neither does the author, and neither does the reader. And that can be fun, and even sometimes rather inspiring.

It can never be very intellectually or morally insightful, however. That was the essential element Hammett added to the genre, and it is what makes his tales occasionally reach levels of real drama and insight.

Another Nero Wolfe Note . . .

S.T. mentioned a fan site in one of his comments, but I've found something better. Check out the Nero Wolfe Pack.

They happen to have the good taste to include Mr. Karnick's National Review essay on the A&E television series, too.

By Way of Introduction . . .

I'm delighted to announce that the lovely and talented Kathy Hutchins has consented to become a regular writer for this august forum. Ms. Hutchins is an economist by training, a dedicated wife and mother by present profession, a staunch Catholic, and a wonderful writer whose personal blog, Gathering Goat Eggs, is well worth visiting on a regular basis. Kathy will be writing about whatever she darn well pleases, and is certain to raise interesting points and the hackles of our many enemies. Please visit our comments section to make her feel welcome as she begins her tenure here. Welcome, Kathy!

Hard Boiled: Dashiell Hammett

I recently posted on Nero Wolfe, so I'm going to have to write about someone who is really starting to fascinate me which is Dashiell Hammett. I read his tale of gang warfare in Red Harvest featuring the short fat detective, the Continental Op, really liked it, and have since been working on The Continental Op, a series of short stories. Hammett does for crime fiction what Hemingway did for literary fiction which is to write very efficiently while maintaining emotional punch. The Op is a hard man working for The Continental Detective Agency (a thinly veiled fictional clone of The Pinkerton Agency where Hammett once worked). Though he's not physically impressive, he wins through sheer cussedness. He can't be bought or dazzled by a pretty face. On the other hand, he can booze with the best of them. Personality-wise, he reminds of Bruce Willis' character in the underrated The Last Boy Scout.

Based on what I've read so far, I can't wait to check out the Hammett books featuring Sam Spade and The Thin Man. Should be great stuff. Sadly, Hammett's productivity tailed off after he hooked up with commie/radical Lillian Hellman. He didn't write anything of note post the commencement of their stormy relationship.

Stephen Carter and the Supreme Court

Stephen Carter has a nice piece in the NY Times about confirmation battles and why they threaten the independence of the judiciary.

As for me, I'm thinking Carter would make a pretty good nominee in his own right. In fact, I'd take him second only to Michael McConnell.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Karnick, Kahn, and Cold War

The shadowy figure of S.T. Karnick once lurked in an organization founded by a mental superstar. The genius: Herman Kahn. The organization: The Hudson Institute. It was there that Karnick founded a magazine that combined ultra-high quality content with a low profile. See, it wasn't how many people read it. It was WHO read it. Kind of like the Reform Club.

In any case, Kahn, who was once supposed to be the highest IQ on record, lived an amazing life and produced a fascinating body of work, primarily on nuclear war. It seems he put his talents to better use than the person now claimed to have the highest IQ, one Marilyn vos Savant, who answers trivia questions and brainteasers in the pages of Parade Magazine, a Sunday newspaper insert. (Get a white coat and go cure cancer, Marilyn.)

Read all about the amazing Kahn here.

Mystery Corner: Nero Wolfe

Being a "man of the heft," I've always been a big fan of Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe, the brilliant detective who weighs "a seventh of a ton," cultivates orchids, and solves crimes by passively taking in data acquired by his leg man Archie Goodwin. You might notice that "Nero Wolfe" contains the same vowels in the same order as "Sherlock Holmes." Rex Stout created Wolfe after making a fortune with a school bookkeeping system he invented. About 50 million books sold later, one might imagine the Nero Wolfe fortune was a bit larger.

I'm moved to bring him up because I just read my first disappointing Wolfe mystery. The standard formula is that Wolfe stays at home, Archie digs, and then Wolfe gathers everyone to his office for an entertaining explanation of whodunit. Impossible mysteries are thus solved. In The Black Mountain, Wolfe is forced to go out adventuring and it doesn't work. He solves the crime by overhearing someone confess to it. There's an exception to every rule and there is apparently such a thing as a bad Nero Wolfe.

Paul Ehrlich, Call Your Office

While idly reviewing the postings of the last few days and the really enjoyable give-and-take that has resulted on a broad range of topics, I suddenly discovered that way down in the 14th comment on my Royally Flush, our nonpareil kibitzer Tlaloc has referred to something that I thought had long since been laid to rest.

The population crisis! OMG!!! I feel like aliens have abducted me and flashed me back into the 1970s.

What's next, bell bottoms?

Dude, the current crisis is the population shortage in industrialized countries as our societies fail to replace ourselves. Ben Wattenberg was the first to write a book about this a few years ago, but by now recognition of this serious turn of events is well-nigh universal. Perhaps we should chip in for Tlaloc and buy him a see-a-nigh dog.

Monday, July 04, 2005

Blewitt Every Time

If you are morally opposed to all forms of gambling, or you avoid contact with it because it triggers a debilitating addiction, then please read no further.

Belmont Racetrack on its free website alternates articles between two writers, Eric Donovan and Jason Blewitt. They write assessments of the big races later in the day and although they don't specifically predict races, they will lay out their views on which horse is best and why. Although I have not done any wagering based on this, lately I have noticed that Blewitt is a fabulous analyst.

Today, for July 4, these are the predictions that emerge from his article and how well a bettor would have done if he ventured 2 dollars on each prediction.

1) Roman Ruler is the best horse in the 9th race. He won, paying $6.40.
2) Flower Alley is second best. He came in second, paying $3.10.
3) Proud Accolade is third best. He came in third, paying $3.80.
4) The sequence of Roman Ruler and Flower Alley paid $15.80.
5) The three-horse sequence (known as trifecta) paid $60.50.
6) Henny Hughes is the best horse in the 7th race. He won, paying $3.40.
7) Short Circuit is second best. He came in second, paying $2.80.
8) The sequence of Henny Hughes and Short Circuit paid $10.20.
9) These are the only recommendations in the article.

Had anyone made those eight bets, they would have won all (!) eight, and their $16 in would have produced $106, for a cool profit of $90 or almost six hundred percent. Although I did not make any of those bets and I read those articles mainly for sporting interest, I thought that this was an achievement worthy of note. For a free article provided by the track's own website to predict eight winning bets and a return of over 500 percent is absolutely astounding. Kudos to Jason Blewitt.

Rather Nifty Fourth of July Fact

Thomas Jefferson and John Adams both died on the Fourth of July, 1826. That day happened to be the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Jefferson served as Adams' Vice-President and then defeated him in the subsequent election of 1800.

And you tell me there's no God or that He is an absent landlord.

Sunday, July 03, 2005

Saudi Off Shotgun

The news from Saudi Arabia is that they have killed the Number One honcho of Al Qaida in their kingdom. They have now killed or captured 23 of their list of 26 Most Wanted Terrorists. It's getting so the Post Office hardly has any pictures left and now folks have to look at the drab old diamond walls.

The big question is: how much impact does it have when you chop off the head? Do you just get a more terrible, less temperate hothead in his place?

But all of this reflects badly on our rather pathetic inability to stop Zarqawi from operating with impunity inside a country that we occupy. I expanded somewhat on the matter in my most recent column at Jewish World Review.

Pray For Our Lads

It is rather disturbing to see that the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan claims to have captured a U.S. soldier from a special-forces unit. Our military has not acknowledged that anyone is missing but that may just mean that this was a top-secret operation with plausible deniability. If so, our boy is currently 'on his own' unless there is some behind-the-scenes negotiation (but with whom?).

Strangely enough, at precisely the same time, some Palestinian groups claim to have captured two Israeli soldiers, while the Israeli government denies that there are soldiers for whom it cannot account. This may also indicate that there was a mission of a clandestine nature. All terribly sad if true.

A flash of memory: when I served in the Israeli Army in 1991 (as a thirty-two-year-old American trying to become acclimated in a new country), my favorite duty was guarding the gate of the base. Many exciting 'nonexistent' missions began with clusters of soldiers buzzing busily near the gate and waiting for their signal to move.

Saturday, July 02, 2005

Constitution in Exile Debate

Faithful (and generally adversarial) commenter James Elliott has claimed the problem with conservative nominees to the Supreme Court will have to do with their adherence to the Constitution in Exile. I had not heard the term before, perhaps because I followed up law school with a lot of study of religion, so I went looking.

Pioneering legal blog The Volokh Conspiracy has an excellent post by Randy Barnett (a significant legal scholar) all about the Constitution in Exile and whether or not it's a load of crap. You'll have to read to find out.

Hint: There's a good chance that it's cr_p.

When Artificial Sweeteners Go Too Far . . .

My family has a particular recipe for tuna salad that I have loved my entire life. The perfect blend contains tuna packed in water, boiled eggs, apples, mayonnaise, and sweet pickles. I assembled the elements a few days ago and lamented a lack of sweet pickles. The wife went to the store and brought some home. I added them to the mix. Something was terribly wrong. I examined the pickle jar. My sweet pickles had been "sweetened" with Splenda. Completely unacceptable. The low carb diet has damaged our culinary dignity.

On a side note, I am a world class consumer of Diet Coke. I think it is the finest beverage known to man. Forgive me, winos. I recently tried a version of Diet Coke made with Splenda. Disaster. For some things, good old aspartame is better. In no case, however, would I like to see pickles sweetened with aspartame, either.

Friday, July 01, 2005

Great Interview with Christian Movie Producer

Ralph Winter is the producer of both X-Men films and the upcoming Fantastic Four. He is also a Christian.

Christianity Today has a great interview where you can get to know him.

Something that really impressed me is how well Winter sizes up the film American Beauty and the oft-wrongheaded Christian opposition to that movie.

As the original super blogger Instapundit likes to say, "Read the whole thing."

The O'Connor Replacement Issue

1. Compromise -- By my count, Reagan had two nominees that turned out not be very conservative at all. Nixon had one who became the king of abortion rights advocates. Ford had ultra-lib John Paul Stevens. Bush had another total lefty with Souter. I think we can stop the compromise and just appoint one who thinks the right way, judicially speaking.

When Clinton appointed the former chief counsel of the ACLU, we didn't complain much, did we? She sailed on through with nary a remark about extreme leftists.

2. Bill Kristol is CONNECTED -- He told us a week ago that O'Connor would be the one retiring. He's looking pretty potent right about now.

3. The decline of gender politics. Since a bevy of Bush minority and women candidates have been knocked around for ideological reasons, you don't see anybody talking about how the Pres. must appoint a woman. The Dems are far more concerned they get another Souter instead of a conservative African-American lady. The liberal plantation is alive and well.

4. The EXCEPTION: Being Hispanic still matters a lot because of the explosion that demographic. I predict Judge Gonzales is coming on board.

5. If I had my pick, I'd go with Michael McConnell or Alex Kozinski. Heavy duty intellects both and pleasantly non-left (though Kosinzki is more libertarian if I recall).

It Begins

The long-anticipated resignation of Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor begins what will surely be a time of great delight for the American press. O'Connor, known as a moderate conservative, was seen as the "swing vote" on the court on issues such as abortion, the death penalty, and church-state separation. In the case of abortion, this description is decidedly inaccurate given that the Court has been 6-3 in favor of retaining Rowe v. Wade since the Clinton-era changes in membership. Nonetheless, it is clear that the Senate confirmation process will in no way resemble the collegial, reasoned debate for which President Bush called in his speech this morning. The characterization of O'Connor as a swing vote ensures that the fight over the nature of her successor will be furious and venemous, barring some miracle.

President Bush has long promised that he will fill federal court and Supreme Court vacancies with judges who "strictly and faithfully interpret the law," and he is certainly not one to shy away from a fight. He will get one, all right.

One interesting angle I should like to point out is that Justice O'Connor's resignation letter states that her retirement is to be "effective upon the nomination and confirmation of my successor." That means that if the Senate receives a nominee from the President and does not vote on the nomination before the Court's next session begins on the first Monday in October, O'Connor will likely return to the bench, prevented by senatorial inaction from retiring and taking care of her ailing husband.

At that point, strong pressure will be on the Senate to bring the matter to a vote, given that Justice O'Connor will have given the President and Senate an entire summer to find a successor. For the pressure to be on the Senate, however, the President will have to nominate someone within the next couple of weeks, and if that person is not confirmed quickly, he or she will be a very public pinata throughout August, a month when nothing else usually happens in Washington, D.C.

That will be a delight for the press, which thrives on controversy, and misery for everybody else.

Also important are racial, ethnic, and gender factors, which have become an increasing consideration in these decisions.

Hence, some speculation. The best course for the President, it would appear, would be to nominate an African-American, Asian, or Hispanic female with no track record on abortion and a strong individual-rights record on economic matters. Such a person would appeal to the Right while blunting some of the potential criticism from the Left. Perhaps nominating someone who has never served as a judge would be a good idea, to reduce the paper trail further. The President should thereafter continually stress that he has acted quickly and that the Senate should do so also, while performing all due diligence, in tribute to the fine public service Justice O'Connor has rendered the nation and in fairness to the nominee. Above all, the President must make clear his resolve to stand behind his nominee until the full Senate votes on confirmation. At that point, the pressure will be on the Senate to decide the matter and allow Justice O'Connor to retire from public life and enjoy her last years with her husband.

If all of this sounds rather cynical, I may perhaps be forgiven given that the federal nomination and confirmation process of the past decade has certainly given ample motivation for such cynicism.

Thursday, June 30, 2005

Alan Reynolds Attacks Capitol Drunks!

Economic blogger par excellence Alan Reynolds has another superb column up at Townhall.com.

Here's a disturbing slice:

Ethanol already gets an indefensible tax break at the pump of 51 to 71 cents a gallon, but Congress now wants to compel everyone to add it to their tanks. But doing so would leave us with less fuel at higher prices. Why? Because there is much less energy in eight gallons of ethanol than in the seven gallons of gasoline it takes to produce it.

In his June 15 speech, President Bush said: "Ethanol comes from corn -- and we're pretty good about growing corn here in America; we've got a lot of good corn-growers. Therefore, it makes sense to promote ethanol as an alternative to foreign sources of oil. Ethanol can be mixed with gasoline to produce a clean, efficient fuel. In low concentrations, ethanol can be used in any vehicle. And with minor modifications, vehicles can run on a fuel blend that includes about 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gasoline. Ethanol helps our farmers find new markets ..."

Efficient fuel? Check the official mileage estimates at www.fueleconomy.gov. A Dodge Stratus gets 20 miles to the gallon in city driving on gasoline, but that drops to 15 mpg on E85 (the 85 percent ethanol fuel) -- and highway mileage drops from 28 mpg to 20 mpg.

Dude, Alan, you're freaking me out man! I don't need no steenking ethanol in my tank!!!!

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Royally Flush

Congratulations to Miss Jennifer Tilly for winning the women's World Series of Poker against six hundred top players.

Miss Tilly is an excellent actress who in recent years has not been getting major roles so, gamely enough, she keeps plugging along doing B movies. But when you have a few hours free, you might want to rent Music From Another Room, in which she plays a blind person as well as any sighted performer ever has.

She is probably the wealthiest actress in Hollywood, since she got about a twenty-percent interest in The Simpsons as part of her divorce settlement with Sam Simon, the show's creator. Sometimes I wonder whether there is some jealousy at work, keeping her away from stronger parts.

In any case, her dumb-brunette pose is only skin deep. She's a very bright, talented woman and she certainly proved that with the poker victory. Unfortunately, like too many of the high-achieving women of our generation, she has no children at age almost-47.

Fifth Amendment Ist Kaput

I strongly believe that the most siginificant and egregious Supreme Court decision in recent years was the Court's June 23 ruling that local governments may seize people's homes and businesses so that they may be destroyed and the land used by private developments that are expected to generate greater tax revenues. In the past, "eminent domain" decisions of this type had to be based on a serious public purpose, even though this limitation was often ignored. The June 23 decision, however, opens the floodgates fully. If your local government decides that it can obtain more tax money from somebody else who covets your land, that will suffice to allow the government to seize it, provided that it pays you the market price for it. Of course, if somebody wants your land and you don't want to sell it, you are out of luck. It's theirs.

The clauses of the Fifth Amendment designed to prevent governments from seizing private property for anything other than the most urgent purposes, have now been entirely cast aside. A local or state government can condemn your property and give it to another individual or group to use in some way the government prefers, typically in a manner expected to generate greater local tax revenues. This is utterly awful and is one of the most outrageous incursions on our liberties that has ever been attempted. It is a pity that very little media attention has been given to this matter, although perhaps not surprising in that U.S. media outlets are largely owned by corporations that hope and expect to benefit from this ability to use government to pave the way for the corporations' desired schemes for your land and mine.

I hope that the project to take Supreme Court Justice David Souter's home away from him will bring some much-needed attention to this issue. Read about it here, and please write your state and federal legislators to give your opinions about this matter.

Why We Need a Dead Constitution

Check out this fabulous little essay by Jonah Goldberg on the virtues of a dead Constitution.

Here's a nice bit:

We’ve all heard about how great living constitutions are. The most extreme, but essentially representative, version of this “philosophy” can be found from the likes of Mary Frances Berry or the Los Angeles Times’s Robert Scheer. They matter-of-factly claim that without a “living” constitution, slavery and other such evils would still be constitutional. This is what leading constitutional legal theorists call “stupid.” The constitutionality of slavery, women’s suffrage and the like were decided by these things called the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments. Also, contra feminists, women got the vote not through a living constitution but by the mere expansion of the dead one — via the 19th Amendment.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

George Will and the Big Ten (Commandments)

Back during the period when the death penalty was regularly in play with the Supremes, Thurgood Marshall and William Brennan published standard dissents in which they very briefly proclaimed the death penalty to be at odds with the constitution.

George Will has a similar idea for what he thinks should be majority opinions in religious display cases. It's a gem:

"Because the display on public grounds does not do what the establishment clause was written to prevent -- does not impose a state-sponsored creed or significantly advantage or disadvantage one sect or sects -- the display is constitutional."

When you're right, you're right.

Homnick and Reagan

Jay Homnick has delivered a superb piece on speechwriting for the American Spectator today. I once had a conversation with him in which I tried to get him to tell me some of the people for whom he had done some ghostwriting. He politely refused. I was disappointed, but I get it now.

Reagan is the hook in Homnick's piece and it hits particularly hard with me because I am one of those speechwriters who has too often been willing to acknowledge that I wrote remarks of public personalities. I take Mr. Homnick's piece as a well-deserved rebuke. The writer may write, but the speaker puts their reputation and position on the line.

My experience has been that the speeches are much more powerful if one can have a discussion with the speaker to get at his/her true heart. Make that investment and the speech will truly belong to the speaker. Homnick is right that we writers for public figures are merely ciphers trying to submerge ourselves in a persona. I suspect that was particularly easy with Mr. Reagan.

Shucking The Awe

The Ten Commandments are the subject of the day, with the omniscient Supreme Court deigning to distinguish between the Moral Ten and the Ethical Ten, the Universal Ten and the Parochial Ten, the Societal Ten and the Religious Ten. If you ask me, God still wins on points, 10-9.

I'll be honest with you. I'm not ready yet to ponder the legal question. I just can't imagine making a decision to have the Ten Commandments taken down from any place at any time. Where is the respect? Where is the awe?

Yes, my friends. AWE.

Monday, June 27, 2005

Ross Douthat Is My Ideological Soul-Mate

I've expressed some small misgivings about the idea of Albert Gonzales as the next Supreme Court appointee because of my fear that he would be wobbly on abortion (which means almost certainly voting pro-Roe). Ross Douthat of The American Scene (which I think is the best policy/culture blog period) has written a post that sums up my feelings entirely.

Here's a bit that really struck home:

It's no good saying that it's okay to replace a squish with another squish. On abortion, and all the "social issues" for that matter, the squishes run the Court. The vote to uphold Roe would be 6-3 right now, unless Anthony Kennedy is starting to get worried about the terms of the pact he signed with the devil - um, I mean, the Georgetown dinner party circuit - in Planned Parenthood v. Casey. And the whole bloody point of having a conservative President in office for eight years is to change the Court's unfavorable balance - not to ratify it! Does anyone think that if John Kerry had been elected President, and Rehnquist was about to retire, Kerry would be even considering a nominee who didn't pass the People for the American Way litmus test on abortion?

Kennedy forthrightly said that he thought Roe was wrongly decided and then voted to save it. Gonzales is custom made for those clothes.

My first scholarly publication argued that we've come too far in our knowledge of fetal life to continue the fetus-as-personal-property style of abortion jurisprudence that has ruled the day so far. I stand by that and believe that we will some day look upon Roe as yet another of the terrible sins of the most prosperous and successful nation on earth. Jefferson said of slavery that he trembled for his country when he considered that God is just. That sentiment is fully applicable in the current debate over people treated as chattel.

Let's save Gonzales for replacing Ruth Ginsburg.

Rule Of Law

The BTK killer of Wichita, Kansas, has pleaded guilty and confessed in open court, recounting his horrific crimes in that curiously detached manner common to the psychopathic serial killer.

This serves to remind us of the ever-present danger of the monsters in our midst. In my view, everyone who has a daughter should see to it that they read at least one of Ann Rule's books. Ann is a former Seattle police officer who is our greatest true-crime writer.

By coincidence - or by God's hand - she had worked alongside Ted Bundy on a Suicide Prevention hotline, and maintained a friendship with him throughout his first trial. It was a natural for her to write the definitive book about Bundy. That launched a great career and each new book she writes is a best-seller.

She and I maintained an e-mail correspondence for awhile, and I told her that I have no doubt that she has saved the lives of many young women by alerting them to the danger signals. This is a link to her rather comprehensive website.

Perhaps U.S. journalism has no class

Samantha Henig at Columbia Journalism Review Daily chided copycat journalism in The New York Times series on "Class In America" and curiously similar Wall Street Journal version. Then she added this cranky comment about my own piece in the latter paper:

"Reynolds' critique is worth reading," she writes, "simply for the fact that it's so cranky. . . But Reynolds' contention begs a point, perhaps because he did not include the Los Angeles Times in his jeremiad: If the issue is so agenda-driven, why is the Los Angeles paper the only one of the three that comes close to putting forward an actual agenda?"

My cranky answer appears on the CJR's blog, which may be a fun place to stir things up a bit.

Public Display of SC Confusion

The U.S. Supreme Court has become truly unmatched in its ability to displease everyone, and the recent dual decisions regarding religious displays in public places are a vivid example of this phenomenon.

AP reports that the U.S. Supreme Court has decided that displays of the Ten Commandments in and around public buildings are sometimes constitutional and sometimes not. The Court declared, in two separate decisions, that such displays are not inherently unconstitutional but can sometimes go over the line into endorsement of religion. The latter, the Court ruled, is not permitted.

Clearly the Court had a very difficult time establishing that the Constitution permitted some displays, such as its own courtroom frieze and various inscriptions on the nation's currency, while forbidding others.

Justice Antonin Scalia, in a barbed dissent against the Court's decision to disallow the hanging of framed copies of the Commandments in two Kentucky courthouses, saw an egregious inconsistency: "What distinguishes the rule of law from the dictatorship of a shifting Supreme Court majority is the absolutely indispensable requirement that judicial opinions be grounded in consistently applied principle."

The central question, the Court concluded, was whether a particular display constituted an endorsement of religion. Interestingly, Justices on both sides of the issue agreed that such displays are inherently religious, not just historical, thereby rejecting the arguments of many defenders of the displays. Chief Justice Rehnquist wrote, in the majority decision in the Texas case allowing a display outside a courthouse, "Of course, the Ten Commandments are religious — they were so viewed at their inception and so remain. The monument therefore has religious significance."

In his dissent in the Texas decision, Justice John Paul Stevens concurred with Rehnquist's assessment of the religious content of the display, noting that the monument proclaims 'I AM the LORD thy God,' in large letters. Stevens interprets the meaning of the display as follows: "The sole function of the monument on the grounds of Texas' State Capitol is to display the full text of one version of the Ten Commandments." However, Stevens parts company with the Rehnquist majority by concluding, "The message transmitted by Texas' chosen display is quite plain: This state endorses the divine code of the Judeo-Christian God."

I agree with Stevens in that assessment: the displays do suggest that the government of the State of Texas accepts the Ten Commandments as a divinely inspired truth. Really, that much should be fairly obvious. Such displays do also include historical and perhaps artistic aspects, but the religious on is surely paramount. In addition, I would suggest that these displays often express a more general public commitment to the God of the Bible.

Hence, I would agree that the Court is correct to hold that some such displays do constitute an endorsement of religion, and specifically of the Judeo-Christian religious tradition.

Where the majority of the Court is wrong, in the view of many constitutional scholars and a large minority on the Court itself (and this author), is in ruling that endorsement of religion in general, or even specifically of Christianity, is unconstitutional. The Establishment Clause of the First Amendment was clearly intended solely to prevent the establishment of an official national church as was the custom in most European nations. The idea behind it was to keep religion strong in the nation by allowing and indeed encouraging free play among religious groups. Consequently, the modern notion that the Establishment Clause requires government to be neutral between religion and irreligion goes against the letter, intent, and spirit of the clause. In fact, it turns the clause on its head and uses it to push religion out of the public square, the very opposite of its intended purpose.

Justice Rehnquist came close to expressing this doctrine in the Texas decision:"Simply having religious content or promoting a message consistent with a religious doctrine does not run afoul of the Establishment clause," Rehnquist wrote. I would go farther and state explicitly that even endorsing Christianity itself is entirely within the bounds of constitutionality, as the history of the nation at the time of the adoption of the Bill of Rights and afterward amply confirms.

The two religious-display decisions handed down today confirm that the current condition of Supreme Court thinking on the Establishment Clause is something of a mess. Justice Clarence Thomas alluded to this in a separate opinion on the Texas case:

"While the court correctly rejects the challenge to the Ten Commandments monument on the Texas Capitol grounds, a more fundamental rethinking of our Establishment Clause jurisprudence remains in order," Thomas wrote.

That is probably the one thing on which both sides can agree.

Saturday, June 25, 2005

Rolling Stone and Kewl Christian Virginity

A friend sent me a link to a Rolling Stone piece that is absolutely the best secular media piece I've seen on young, hip Christian types I've ever seen. The focus is all on the strange Christian appetite for virginity.

I recall telling a friend in grad school I was waiting for marriage. His reply: "I thought you people were like unicorns . . . you don't exist." This article captures the unicorns pretty well and reminds me a lot of what it was like rooming with a bunch of Christian guys struggling with the purity issue.

The Rolling Stone writer comments that these Christians talk about sex all the time and he's right. We were the same way. But that's sort of how the Christian life is. You talk about the major tempations and when you're young, sex is the one. Money and possessions are usually far lower down the scale at that point.

I strongly advise anyone who wants to better understand the freaky Evangelicals and Catholics to read this article. It'll be good for you, like reading National Geographic.

Friday, June 24, 2005

Pressing Ahead in Iraq

As public doubts about the wisdom of the War in Iraq increase, the Bush administration and the American public are left with two options: cut and run, or press ahead. As Clausewitz pointed out and Gen. George S. Patton confirmed, defending territory is a formula for disaster. The forces that win conflicts are those that are mobile and take the battle into the enemy's domain.

For this reason, I think that the War in Iraq is definitely winnable, because the international coalition forces led by the United States have heretofore refrained from taking the war to the enemy since the extremely successful original invasion.

That invasion was a great success precisely because it took the battle drectly into the domain of the enemy: Saddam Hussein's Iraq.

Since then, however, coalition troops have been stranded in that country, defending territory. Most of the American casualties in Iraq have occurred since the original hostilities ended with the expulsion of Saddam Hussein.

The same principle that made for a successful end to the Saddam Hussein regime should have been the premise behind the postwar (or civil war or what have you) period. Toward this end, it is important to bear in mind that the great majority of the damage to coalition troops is being done by foreign jihadists.

As Barbara Lerner notes in National Review Online, "Foreign jihadists are responsible for almost all suicide bombings, and suicide bombings cause a disproportionate share of American and Iraqi casualties. Worse, because foreign jihadists come from all the Arab states as well as Iran, there is an endless supply of them. If we confine ourselves to hunting them down, one by one, only after they infiltrate Iraq, we will be there forever."

That is a highly astute observation. Echoing Clausewitz's principles (though without directly citing him), Lerner correctly identifies the appropriate strategy for this point of the conflict:

"Far better to act forcefully to stop the infiltration, and do it in a way that sends a message to all terror-succoring states: The free ride is over. The price for continuing to aid and abet the war against us and against a free Iraq has gone up."

This is made simpler by the fact that most of the jihadists are coming from a single source:

"[A]lthough foreign jihadists come from all over the Middle East, most of them enter Iraq from only one country: Syria. Syria is a police state, a small, economic basket-case of a country that hosts a multitude of terrorist groups and terror training camps, and which is working to defeat democracy in Lebanon as well as Iraq."

Lerner goes on to note that another country—one far less powerful than the U.S.-led international coalition now in Iraq—successfully closed this spigot in the recent past:

"Syria could stop the foreign terrorist influx into Iraq if it wanted to, and we could make Syria want to. The Turks did it in 1998, when Syria hosted the PKK terror group and sent them across the border to murder Turkish soldiers and civilians. Then as now, Syria claimed it was doing no such thing, but instead of spluttering impotently, Turkey massed her army on the border and made it clear that if Syria didn't end PKK infiltration, Turkey would invade. Surprise, surprise, PKK infiltration from Syria suddenly stopped."

I would add that an effective campaign to do this would achieve the additional benefit of slowing and eventually stopping the flow of foreign jihadists into Iraq from countries other than Syria: first by intimidation (as worked so well in stopping Libya's Khaddafi refime from sponsoring terrorism and moving forward to obtain nuclear weapons), and second by allowing coaltion forces to concentrate their efforts on these other jihadists, a much smaller number.

Lerner points out that this matter of taking the war directly to the most dangerous bases of the enemy could be as successful, in military-strategic terms, as the original invasion of Saddam Hussein's Iraq:

"We can make Syria stop too, and do it without putting additional strain on our hard-working ground troops. . . . We can use our air power to bomb the rat lines that feed terrorists into Iraq, and blow up all the terror training camps and weapons sites in Syria and Lebanon, hitting enemy targets from the Bekaa Valley to the Iraqi border in a new shock-and-awe campaign. That would end the easy re-supply of suicide bombers in Iraq, and reduce our casualties significantly. It would, equally, send a clear message to terror-harborers everywhere: Stop."

Lerner observes that the Bush administration seems to be contemplating this very plan:

"Defense Secretary Rumsfeld has been asking President Bush for a go-ahead to strike back at Syria from the start of the Syrian campaign against us, but has yet to get one. The president's toughening rhetoric toward Syria in recent weeks suggests he may, now, be considering it; and the excellent new tone set by our new ambassador, Zalmay Khalilzad, reinforces that possibility."

From a military-strategic point of view, the approach Lerner outlines is a highly likely winner. The entry of suicide bombers into Iraq is not such a simple thing that it can be done without the support of neighboring states. Stopping the state sponsorship of the jihadists presently invading Iraq would effectively end that threat.

Setting aside questions about whether the United States should be in Iraq at all, I think that for the sake of the international coalition troops now stranded there, especially our U.S. forces, a return to the successful principle of attacking the real and most dangerous enemy is the only honorable course at this point.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Dukakis Campaign Manager Defends Fox News

For the less political history-minded, I'm talking about Susan Estrich. Read her comments about what it's like to work for Fox.

Tantalizing Speculation

William Kristol (a very well-informed fellow) has suggested in his Weekly Standard that O'Connor will resign the Court within a week and Albert Gonzales will be the nominee to succeed her.

Very interesting. I have a hard time seeing the Dems filibuster Gonzales as the midterm elections come up.

As far as the complexion of the Court goes, Gonzales is maybe a little more conservative than O'Connor and is considered wobbly on pro-life, which if the past is any indication, means pro-Roe. It should be a rule: Every wobbly pro-lifer goes pro-Roe.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Fighting in Iraq has yet to peak, McCaffrey says

In an article in today's issue of the Washington Times, retired U.S. Army general Barry McCaffrey is quoted as saying that the violence in Iraq has yet to peak. His remarks were made after his third trip to Iraq, from which he recently returned.

McCaffrey says that the War in Iraq will not peak until this coming January, and that international and Iraqi forces will have to kill approximately 20,000 highly dedicated insurgents among the Sunni minority, "adamant fighters," in his words, along with one or two thousand foreign fighters, before the trouble dies down. McCaffrey predicts that after next January, in "the following six months we will see much of the energy start to drain out of that process," meaning the insurgency.

McCaffrey described the U.S. forces as the best the nation has ever fielded, but is quoted as saying the U.S. is reaching the end of its capacity: "[I]in Iraq the fighting forces are superb. Morale is high and the troops are courageous."

The Times story also noted that "Political negotiations with the Sunni minority have failed to stop a wave of bloody suicide bombings," and quoted new U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad as saying, "Foreign terrorists and hard-line Ba'athists want Iraq to descend into civil war. Foreign terrorists are using the Iraqi people as cannon fodder," after his first meeting with Iraqi President Jalal Talabani.

President Reagan argued that a nation cannot negotiate with terrorists, and that only a willingness to go to war can advance freedom. Regardless of one's opinions of the merits of U.S. involvement in Iraq, the recent events do seem to bear out Reagan's principles.

Laffer Curve and Seven Nobel Prizes

In his June 20 post on “The Laffer Curve” below, Hunter asks me to weigh in on Steve Moore’s piece noting that recent tax receipts have been much larger than expected, in the wake of substantial reductions in marginal tax rates in 2003.

No op-ed can do justice to the distinction between a cyclical revenue rebound and longer-term incentives. Budgeteers at the CBO and OMB always underestimate cyclical revenue rebound in the early years of recovery (1985, 1995 or 2005), just as they overestimate future revenues at cyclical peaks (2000). Unfortunately, it is not self-evident whether decent economic growth over the past two years was mostly the result of lower tax rates or lowering the fed funds rate from 6.5 percent to 1 percent.

On the other hand, some serious statistical estimates showing that sensible reductions in marginal (not average) tax rates typically lose little or no revenue over time come from Greg Mankiw, a self-described neo-Keynesian.

When I borrowed the phrase “supply side fiscalism” from Herb Stein in March 1976, and gave it to Jude Wanniski at The Wall Street Journal, we had in mind a number of incentives that have since become associated with several Nobel laureates in economics -- including the unique “policy mix” solution to stagflation from Jude’s mentor Bob Mundell (who won the 1999 Nobel).

Ed Prescott (2004)now emphasizes the impact of labor taxes on work incentives. Bob Lucas (1995) emphasizes tax incentives to invest in physical capital. James Heckman (2000) and Gary Becker (1992) emphasize the way progressive tax rates weaken incentives to invest in formal education and on-the-job training. James Mirrlees (1996) and Joe Stiglitz (2001) emphasize the welfare and tax-revenue (Laffer Curve) gains from low marginal tax rates on highly-skilled individuals ("optimal tax theory").

One who has not yet received a Nobel Prize, Glenn Hubbard, emphasizes the effect of marginal tax rates on entrepreneurship. Another possible Nobel Laureate, Marty Feldstein, proved that income reported to the IRS by high-income taxpayers is extremely sensitive to changes in marginal tax rates -- which was always a key part of the Laffer Curve argument.

The original supply-siders combined all those effects, not just one or two. Much of what the actual and potential Nobel Laureates later discovered can even be found in Jack Kemp’s popularized 1979 book An American Renaissance, which I helped write. What Mr. Kemp's book said about the Laffer Curve and marginal tax rates has stood the test of time so well that bits and pieces of that message can now result in Nobel prizes being won without anyone remembering who started it all.

Jousting At Tourneys

For those folks who are concerned that I have advocated a new regime of fascism via oppressive prosecutions, I offer this reminder that I am also the author of the essay that I have herewith linked.

As for Jackson's prosecution, the evidence was certainly close enough to conviction that no one could possibly accuse the prosecutor's office of bad faith in the performance of its elected and appointed duty.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

News for the Whole Family

This was written by Melissa St. John who, among many other fabulous qualities, happens to be my daughter:

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.

Good News for the Right

Check out this article from a couple of Brits who write for the economist. They think the GOP and conservative future in the U.S. is very bright.

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.

Punishment for Michael Jackson

Jay Homnick has an interesting angle on the Michael Jackson case, in today's edition of The American Spectator Online. Jay observes that the very act of bringing a person to trial can be an instrument of punishment for a criminal who happens to be highly difficult to convict:

"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.

World Magazine on Baylor

The leading Christian weekly has done a quick story on Baylor that will hopefully lead to more in depth writing later. Here's the link.

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

Jaime Cardinal Sin, RIP

We once before pondered here the irony that Cardinal Law turned out to be a bad guy, papering over the tracks of serial abusers of children in his Boston archdiocese; by contrast, Cardinal Sin was a very good guy, who was instrumental in freeing the Phillippines from the clutches of the Marcos thuggocracy.

Today, Cardinal Sin passed on at age 76. Requiescat in pace.

Un-UN-confirmed Report

Dem damn Dems hammered a bolt in the coffin of the Bolton nomination.

Now it's a test of Republican gumption: will they start boltin' and runnin'?

The Full Scoop on the Hillary Book

NRO's Kathryn Jean Lopez interviewed author Edward Klein on his book about Hillary Rodham Clinton. The interview is surprisingly tough, particularly where Lopez cross-examines the author about the Drudge-hyped claim that Bill raped Hillary.

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.

More Shameless Self-Promotion

Comments welcome from all friends and foes: http://www.techcentralstation.com/061705C.html.

The Laffer Curve

Stephen Moore has a nice column at Opinion Journal today on how Arthur Laffer has again been proven correct as we analyze the after-effects of the Bush tax cuts.

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?

Will Bank On Attention

The latest media star is Jennifer Wilbanks, the runaway bride. Interviews, books, you name it.

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

Between Republican Kudlow and Democrat Cramer . . .

Cramer has the more interesting show. If you haven't seen Mad Money with Jim Cramer at least once, you have to tune in. He stomps around the studio sweating and screaming while he takes calls from investors wanting instant feedback on stocks. Cramer flashes 'em the bull or the bear and moves on at high speed. BOOYA!

Would I take investment advice from this man? Not sure!!!

Friday, June 17, 2005

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Batman Begins Again

I saw Batman Begins today, and what it said most powerfully to me was how bad the earlier films in the series were—and how crippled by stylistic cliches today's Hollywood action films are.

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.

That Famous/Infamous Human Events Book List

Human Events came up with a ten most harmful books list and then held a bonfire.

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

Mea Culpa? For What?

In the wake of the autopsy findings for Terry Schiavo and a related post from Sam Karnick, my esteemed friend Tlaloc argues that "One can only hope that the people who spewed venom at Michael Schiavo and Judge Greer will say a few mea culpas and not rush to judgement next time."

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.

Schiavo Autopsy Conclusions Released

AP reports that the autopsy overseen by Pinellas-Pasco Medical Examiner Jon Thogmartin found that Terri Schiavo, the Florida woman around whom controvery swirled as her husband worked to obtain permission to have her feeding and hydration tubes removed over the objections of her parents, had suffered from massive brain damage and was blind, and that her brain was less than half the size of a normal human brain at the time of her death.

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.