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

Monday, July 18, 2005

Lance Armstrong Recycles

The first rule of effective writing is not to try to do too many things at once.

For example, if you wish to write a poignant celebration of the human triumph that Lance Armstrong has achieved over adversity and the best cyclists in the world, go right ahead. Or if you'd like to write some pungent derision of the French who watch like cross ants each year as he tramples their little Alps, be my guest. But please, please, don't try to do both at once.

An egregious violator of this sacrosanct principle has penned this screed in today's American Spectator.

Holy Steam Rollers

Atheists of the world, unite!

Today's article in the Los Angeles Times reminds us how fearful atheists must be in a climate where religion is burgeoning out of control. With all these weird sectarian fundamentalist types spouting their weirdo creeds against stealing from, insulting, striking and murdering people, it must be a hair-raising time indeed for the harried community of nonbelievers.

On Wedding Crashers, Freddy and Fredericka

Our visitors from National Review Online may be interested in another article I have had published today, at the Washington Examiner newspaper, on Mark Helprin's excellent new novel, Freddy and Fredericka. The editors titled the piece, "A Modern de Tocqueville," which is a rather apt description of what Helprin is doing in the book. You may read the review here.

Our visitors from the Washington Examiner site may enjoy reading "Crash Course on Marriage," my review of the film Wedding Crashers, which appeared in today's issue of National Review Online. An earlier, shorter essay of musings on the film was published on this site on Friday. You may read the full review here.

We hope that you will stick around and enjoy the other writings offered here.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood of Christ

I spent some time last week defending Harry Potter against the charge that he is incompatible with Christianity. I have now finished the latest installment in the Potter saga, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, and I now think that I was not only right, I understated the case. J.K. Rowling's vision is not just reconcilable with orthodox Christian thought, it uses elements of Christian theology as a moral underpinning and as an explanation of why the world is as it is.

Now, I'm not claiming that Harry Potter's world is an integrated and purposely-thought-out Christian allegory, like Narnia. Neither is it a coherent mythical world whose author is so steeped in Christianity that everything is viewed through this lens, like the worlds Tolkien invented. But neither is Hogwarts a secular adventure, where evil is defined as material harm to others. Voldemort is evil not just because he has caused mayhem, or killed people. He is evil because he has deliberately torn asunder something within himself that was created to stay whole.

This revelation of what, in the wizarding world, constitutes the ultimate -- yes, I will say sin, although Rowling does not use the word -- comes while Dumbledore and Harry are pursuing information about Voldemort's past through means of the Pensieve. This device, to which we were introduced in Prisoner of Azkaban (and which is, by the way, a tempting object for any wife whose husband insists on contradicting her based on his own obviously faulty recollections) enables third parties to enter a virtual reality of another's memories. Dumbledore has gone to great effort to obtain memories of those who surrounded Tom Riddle, the future Voldemort, in his youth, in an attempt to identify his weaknesses and so defeat him. A breakthrough comes when they obtain an honest memory from the new Potions master, Horace Slughorn, a elderly man who taught Defense Against the Dark Arts at Hogwarts when Riddle was a student, and who previously provided what was obviously an altered memory.

Riddle has stayed behind after a gathering to question Slughorn alone. He wants to know about the making and use of a Horcrux, an object in which a person has concealed part of their soul:

I don't quite understand how that works, though, sir," said Riddle. His voice was carefully controlled, but Harry could sense his excitement.

"Well, you split your soul, you see," said Slughorn, "and hide part of it in an object outside the body. Then, even if one's body is attacked or destroyed, one cannot die, for part of the soul remains earthbound and undamaged. But of course, existence in such a form....few would want it, Tom, very few. Death would be preferable."

But Riddle's hunger was now apparent; his expression was greedy, he could no longer hide his longing. "How do you split your soul?"

"Well," said Slughorn uncomfortably, "you must understand that the soul is supposed to remain intact and whole. Splitting it is an act of violation. It is against nature."

An act of violation. Against nature. I'm not sure you get much closer to an orthodox account of The Fall without actually quoting from the Philokalia. The language, and the idea, is right out of the Eastern Fathers of the Church. But there's more.

"But how do you do it?"

"By an act of evil -- the supreme act of evil. By committing murder. Killing rips the soul apart. The wizard intent upon creating a Horcrux would use the damage to his advantage: He would encase the torn portion --"

"Encase? But how--?"

"There is a spell, do not ask me, I don't know!" said Slughorn, shaking his head like an old elephant bothered by mosquitoes. "Do I look was though I have tried it -- do I look like a killer?"

Of course, later, the epicurian, comfort-loving Slughorn realizes that through his own careless attitude -- even telling Riddle that it's natural to feel some curiosity about these things....Wizards of a certain caliber have always been drawn to that aspect of magic.... -- he has contributed to the ascent of horrific evil in his world. His response? Instead of doing what he can to rectify his error, to assist those who are braver and more energetic than he, he succumbs to fear and shame and attempts to hide what he has done. The circumstances under which he relents lead me to another conclusion: in certain circumstances, magic in Harry Potter is a symbol of grace. But I think I'll leave that one for another post.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

He's A Survivor


The gentleman on the right in this picture is one of those many quiet heroes who came storming out of the soul-crushing experience of the Holocaust to fashion impressive careers in the United States. I use the word "fashion" advisedly, because this is Stanley Glogover, my grandmother's (father's mother) cousin, who grew up as a wealthy kid in Makow, Poland. His family owned the department store. In the United States, he became the fastest graduate ever of the Fashion Institute in New York City, doing three years of work in one. He was such an amazing student that they asked him to stay on and teach for a few years.

But between his Makow years and his stellar rise in the fashion industry, he had a six-year hiatus, replete with ghettos, concentration camps, a German experiment that consisted of opening his skull without anesthesia, a long stint at Auschwitz and a few years in Displaced Persons camps in Italy. Someday I hope to write the full story of his experiences.

His fashion career has made him much beloved of women the world over. He is the inventor of the maternity bra and the nursing bra.

Now he enjoys his retirement here in South Florida, where that photo was snapped a week or so ago. The question that puzzles me is: who is that funny-looking fellow on his left?

Saturday, July 16, 2005

This Is More Like It: Back to NadaGate

The latest addition to the NYT op-ed stable is John Tierney and he's got a piece out that's got to have Karl "the MSM-slayer" Rove feeling his oats:

Karl Rove's version of events now looks less like a smear and more like the truth: Mr. Wilson's investigation, far from being requested and then suppressed by a White House afraid of its contents, was a low-level report of not much interest to anyone outside the Wilson household.

So what exactly is this scandal about? Why are the villagers still screaming to burn the witch? Well, there's always the chance that the prosecutor will turn up evidence of perjury or obstruction of justice during the investigation, which would just prove once again that the easiest way to uncover corruption in Washington is to create it yourself by investigating nonexistent crimes.

For now, though, it looks as if this scandal is about a spy who was not endangered, a whistle-blower who did not blow the whistle and was not smeared, and a White House official who has not been fired for a felony that he did not commit. And so far the only victim is a reporter who did not write a story about it.

It would be logical to name it the Not-a-gate scandal, but I prefer a bilingual variation. It may someday make a good trivia question:

What do you call a scandal that's not scandalous?

Nadagate.

A Tale of Two Huskies

Eric Pfieffer goes where few men dare; he took a stroll down Pennsylvania Ave. Last Thursday to check out the MoveOn rally demanding Karl Rove's head on a pike in Lafayette Park. I suppose most conservatives would be more irritated by the hippie in the Che shirt, (is it Che? On second glance it might be Jimi Hendrix. Well, it's someone annoying, I'm sure) but I think another snapshot tells us more about the character of the bull-goose-loony-left.

It was 90+ degrees F. in Washington last Thursday, and this dog is not only sitting on concrete in the sun, it's wearing a cardboard garment. The photo caught my eye immediately because I also have a husky. On a day like last Thursday, she's allowed outside for no more than 30 minutes at a time, and even then she's in the shade on grass in a spot where she can dig in damp sand if she wants to. She usually wants to. Now I'm not claiming that this picture captures Kisa at the exact moment poor Left Wing Husky was baking on the sidewalk, but she certainly spent several hours in this spot on that day:


So there you have it. MoveOn.dogs are encouraged to perpetuate hysterical accusations with no basis in fact and are rewarded by being forced to broil in Husky Hell. Reformclub.blogspot.dogs are encouraged to live in tolerant peace with all their fellows and are rewarded with a spot on the couch in an air-conditioned living room, which is incidentally right next to the kitchen where even more almost-heavenly rewards are usually available.

Friday, July 15, 2005

Monk Is Back—I Mean Really Back



Well, yes, the USA Network mystery series Monk has now been back for two episodes, and the news is good. The first two shows have both been excellent, with all the strengths of the series fully manifest.

Of course, the biggest concern going in to the season was the loss of Bitty Schram, who was abruptly fired at the midpoint of the past season, apparently over a salary disagreement. Many Monkophiles had expressed concern that the new character, Natalie Teeger, played by Traylor Howard, had not been particularly interesting during the second half of last season's episodes, after replacing Schram's Sharona. Of course, it was difficult to know exactly how Howard's character could fit in, given that she had obviously been shoehorned into scripts fashioned for Schram's character. And of course Bitty Schram was one of the many good things about the show.

I am an incurable optimist, however, and here is what I wrote to my fellow Reform Clubbers last week before episode 1 aired:

"I like Traylor Howard more than I liked Bitty Schram, actually. Sharona was fun and Schram just exploded off the screen, but I like to concentrate on the mystery, and Bitty Schram was so relentless in calling attention to herself that I found it distracting. (Shaloub does enough of that, and brilliantly.) Of course, the non-mystery stuff is probably what a lot of people like most about the show, so I'm perhaps in the minority on that.

"However, I thought the big problem with the Howard shows was that the scripts were weak: the mysteries were even more forced than usual, to the point of absurdity in the one where Natalie runs for office. That one was obviously written for Schramm, and is not at all right for Natalie. Bitty Schram helped distract us from the central absurdities of the show in her episodes, but with the more normal character played by Traylor Howard replacing her, it's pretty obvious when the stories are weak. The one that took place in Vegas last season was great, however, because the mystery was good. (Of course, it was easy to solve, but it was fun to watch Monk and Captain Stottelmeyer figure it out.)
"Hence, I have some hope that this season's eps will be better, in that they will have been written with the new character in mind. The fngers are crossed.

So far, my wish has been granted. Monk appears on USA Network Friday nights at 9:00, and is shown several additional times throughout the week.

Baker and Karnick Crash the Wedding . . .

It's the weekend, so let's enjoy a little movie trailer starring yours truly and S.T. Karnick.

Opening Night Movie Review: Wedding Crashers

Romantic comedies tend to revolve around weddings, but usually the nuptials are reserved for the end. And the wedding is typically a serious (though joyful) moment, the one toward which all the comedy has in fact been leading. As its title would suggest, Wedding Crashers starts with a wedding, ends with a wedding, and has numerous other ones in the middle. And in this film, the weddings are a big part of the comedy.

Wedding Crashers
is quite simply the funniest and most delightful comedy since Dodgeball. The film is amply studded with humor both high and low, and the lead performances, by Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson, are utterly superb. The two are absolutely at the top of their game, and Vaughn's comic acting is even more impressive than Wilson's.

The ability to play each moment as if it were absolutely real—that is the key to making a farce truly funny, and Vaughn's persuasiveness as actor makes an adventure of every moment he is onscreen. Wilson is his typical charming self in this film, alternately zany and terribly sincere, but likewise working at a very high level here.

The supporting cast is very effective, too, though Jane Seymour's character is largely dropped after just a few comically disturbing interactions with the lead characters. Christopher Walken is fine as Secretary Cleary, and Will Ferrell is Will Ferrell as the legendary Chaz, king of the crashers. The two ingenues are more interesting than most, as played by Rachel McAdams and Isla Fisher. Fisher is particularly impressive and funny as a romantically voracious girl who (quite unwittingly) turns the tables on Vaughn's Jeremy. The main antagonist (Bradley Cooper, I think), a young phony who is engaged to Claire Cleary (McAdams), is as stupendously evil and exaggerated a villain as he could possibly be without the filmmakers actually rendering him in animation.

The story, as most are probably aware, is of two not-so-young bachelors who crash weddings in order to hit on young ladies when they are presumably at their most vulnerable. (Later in the film, an even more opportune time for such activities is revealed.) Naturally, and quite comically, the biters are bit quite hard, shortly after the very funny plot-establishing opening sequences. John (Wilson) falls in love with Claire, daughter of the Secretary of the U.S. Treasury, and forces Jeremy (Vaughn) to go with him to the Secretary's house for the weekend.

From that point on, irony piles upon irony (in the classic sense of a reversal), and the film achieves quite a few truly hilarious scenes. There are also some moments of real drama and emotional truth, as the characters furiously try to figure out what they really want and find what is best for them. But those moments are appropriately few, and they flow naturally from the earlier events of the story.

The screenplay was written with great skill. There is, for example, a moment that we very much want to see happen, yet the screenwriters make us wait until the last minutes of the film before allowing it to come to pass—and it is all the more satisfying for having been delayed. As with most comedies, the proceedings start to drag a bit in the 1/2-3/4 segment, but the rest of the film is about as funny as you would want it.

The great literary scholar Northrop Frye pointed out that romantic comedies deal with issues of the perpetuation of life, and derive from ancient fertility rites. That, he said, is why they tend to revolve around marriage. The makers of Wedding Crashers have thus hit upon a theme that goes to the heart of what romantic comedies are all about. But they are also all about laughs, and Wedding Crashers delivers them in profusion.

It's a funny, dirty, messy, crazy film, and a real delight.

An African Perspective on Live8

A very interesting op-ed in today's New York Times, by Jean-Claude Shanda Tonme, a consultant on international law and a columnist for Le Messager (a Cameroonian daily, where a version of the article first appeared), uses the Live8 concert project as a reason to consider what he believes to be the real problems of Africa today.

Tomne says that he and other Africans certainly "hold nothing against" the organizers of and participants in Live8, but he avers, "We Africans know what the problem is, and no one else should speak in our name. Africa has men of letters and science, great thinkers and stifled geniuses who at the risk of torture rise up to declare the truth and demand liberty.

"Don't insult Africa," Tonme continues, "this continent so rich yet so badly led. Instead, insult its leaders, who have ruined everything. Our anger is all the greater because despite all the presidents for life, despite all the evidence of genocide, we didn't hear anyone at Live 8 raise a cry for democracy in Africa. . . . Don't they understand that fighting poverty is fruitless if dictatorships remain in place?"

Tomne points out that this is a highly paternalistic attitude, and he stresses that Africans are fully capable of taking on the responsibility ofself-government under liberal, Western-style principles.

"Africa's real problem," he says, "is the lack of freedom of expression, the usurpation of power, the brutal oppression." As a result, "Neither debt relief nor huge amounts of food aid nor an invasion of experts will change anything. Those will merely prop up the continent's dictators."

"What is at issue is an Africa where dictators kill, steal and usurp power yet are treated like heroes at meetings of the African Union. What is at issue is rulers like François Bozizé, the coup leader running the Central Africa Republic, and Faure Gnassingbé, who just succeeded his father as president of Togo, free to trample universal suffrage and muzzle their people with no danger that they'll lose their seats at the United Nations. Who here wants a concert against poverty when an African is born, lives and dies without ever being able to vote freely?"

Tomne's conclusion: "In Africa, our leaders have led us into misery, and we need to rid ourselves of these cancers. We would have preferred for the musicians in Philadelphia and London to have marched and sung for political revolution. Instead, they mourned a corpse while forgetting to denounce the murderer."

Movies' Box Office Tailspin Arrested—But for How Long?

Thomas Hibbs has provided a very insightful review of Fantastic Four in today's edition of National Review Online.

For me, the most interesting aspect of the review is Hibbs's observations about the decline in movie box office receipts from last year to this:

"One reasonable answer to the question of box-office decline is that the quality of the films is down this year. One of the little noticed features of this year's decline is the post-opening week dive that so many big films are enduring. Just last week, for example, War of the Worlds in its second weekend in release dropped about 60 percent from its opening. That's a sign that, while advertising and stars can create a big opening week, only solid word of mouth can maintain a film's popularity. (As a means of comparing quality with hype, consider that a documentary, not yet in wide release, about migratory penguins, The March of Penguins, ranked 13th last week but took in more money per screen than did F4.)"

Hibbs is correct to note that receipts for a film's second and subsequent weeks are the best gauge of whether it has real appeal.

I think, however, that there is more going on here. As I have noted before, American culture is in fact in the midst of a Romantic era, and the box-office dominance of the comic-book style of motion picture is one clear manifestation of it. Cultural trends, however, are always in flux, and a move too far in one direction usually brings an equal and opposite reaction.

I suspect that our Romantic worldview is too deeply ingrained to become unstuck by one summer of slow movie ticket sales, but it seems possible that a more realistic style of presentation of an essential Romanic vision may arise. However, today's release of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory may well provide a boost to the current Romantic narrative trend and forestall a great sense of a need for change. In addition, it will be interesting to see what affect The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe has on the industry beginning later this year.

The Strangely Rewarding Novels of Charles Williams

Elsewhere on this site, Kathy Hutchins briefly mentioned the novels of twentieth century British writer Charles Williams. I agree with Kathy's implicit assessment that Williams's novels are excellent.

I think that their decidedly lower popularity compared with the major works of Williams's friends Tolkien and Lewis is explained by the great difficulty most readers encounter in understanding precisely what is going on in Williams's novels.

One problem is that the books do not lie in a single identifiable genre. They are part horror, part fantasy, part mystery, part action-adventure, and all simultaneously. The events are those of romance, but the texture is of a realistic novel. One's expectations continually prove wrong.

The greater difficulty, however, surely lies in the nature of the world Williams depicts. It is exactly like our own, except for one thing, and this thing makes it so unlike our own as to be continually puzzling.

In these "spiritual thrillers," ideas and concepts from the spiritual realm manifest themselves in the natural world, though they are not immediately identified as doing so. If that seems a rather difficult explanation to grasp, it is because the concept itself is something that is best experienced rather than summarized.

However, once one overcomes the surface strangeness of Williams's narratives, they are quite compelling.

I would suggest starting with the most conventional of his books, War in Heaven (1930), his first novel. It tells the story of the Holy Grail having been found in a country church, and recounts the efforts of two groups to gain control over it. If this sounds rather like Tolkien's later Lord of the Rings trilogy, one can only note that great minds think alike, especially when they are friends and read each other's books. (Obviously the influence in this case would have been from Williams to Tolkien.)

Most of Williams's novels can be obtained online through used-book services, and some are available as etexts. Project Gutenberg Australia offers a page where some books no longer in copyright in Australia are available online. (These books are still in copyright in the United States and many other nations.)

An excellent introduction to Williams's fiction is available online here.

I highly recommend Charles Williams's challenging and rewarding novels. Careful reading of them will fully repay the effort expended.

More ROVE REVERSAL

Jay's post just doesn't do justice to the sturm und drang we've had around here the last couple of days since he kicked over the lantern like Mrs. O'Leary's cow (no offense Jay and no harm since this town is electronic).

Let's have a little excerpt from the AP story that greeted me this morning:

WASHINGTON - Chief presidential adviser Karl Rove testified to a grand jury that he talked with two journalists before they divulged the identity of an undercover CIA officer but that he originally learned about the operative from the news media and not government sources, according to a person briefed on the testimony.

The person, who works in the legal profession and spoke only on condition of anonymity because of grand jury secrecy, told The Associated Press that Rove testified last year that he remembers specifically being told by columnist Robert Novak that Valerie Plame, the wife of a harsh
Iraq war critic, worked for the CIA.

Rove testified that Novak originally called him the Tuesday before Plame's identity was revealed in July 2003 to discuss another story.

And also this nice bit:

Wilson acknowledged his wife was no longer in an undercover job at the time Novak's column first identified her. "My wife was not a clandestine officer the day that Bob Novak blew her identity," he said.

The story seems to confirm what some on this blog have suggested, which is that the White House was allowing another firestorm to build only to cut the legs out from under opponents as with the Dan Rather controversy, thus making the MoveOn crowd look like MooreOn's.

It also confirms what Rush Limbaugh has said (yes, the much hated Mr. Limbaugh), which is that Valerie Plame's covert career ended when she married the high profile Mr. Wilson.

UPDATE: Clifford May has a very interesting column up at National Review suggesting that Wilson may himself have been responsible for bringing up Ms. Plame's former undercover status during his interview with David Corn.

ROVE REVERSAL

In light of this story, I retract my earlier call for Karl Rove to be jettisoned. If Novak told it to him rather than the other way around, it is no big deal that he was peddling it to beat reporters afterwards.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Terrorism, Treason, and Harry Potter

Over the past few days, some astonishing claims have been made. Claims like:

The Founding Fathers were terrorists.

Karl Rove is guilty of treason.

And now, there is an even more troubling claim, one that strikes even deeper at the heart of America than national security and foreign policy:

Papa Ratzi doesn't like Harry Potter.

The Hutchins household has been beset with Potterphilia since the first one hit paperback; I've followed the arguments that have raged at least since that time with a mixture of confusion and bemusement. Most of the troubles with Harry seemed to me to miss the point completely. They assume that because a world is depicted using a vocabulary which shares some words with the vocabulary of occultism, that Harry Potter depicts the occult. In fact, the reason occultism and diabolism are perceived as dangers by Christians is that it involves invoking the Devil. Harry Potter does not contain a Devil, nor angels, nor much of a concept of God. Witchcraft in Harry Potter is not a denial of God, it's an alternative technology. If Harry Potter says anything deeper than a wading pool about the real world, it's because it's a allegory of the moral choices we must make about technology. (I'm not claiming there is any deep meaning to Potter; it's imaginitively rich but substantively shallow. It's still a cracking good read.)

But it occurs to me now that this error pervades discussions about everything.

George Washington was rebelling against the British crown. The rump Ba'athists are rebelling against the Iraqi government. If the Ba'athists are terrorists, then George Washington was a terrorist.

Karl Rove revealed the identity of a CIA employee to a reporter. Aldrich Ames revealed the identity of CIA employees to the Russians. If Aldrich Ames was a traitor, then Karl Rove is a traitor.

The unwillingness to make distinctions, to care deeply enough about what one says to identify the essentials in the flood of accidents, is a kind of intellectual and moral infantilism. If man does not exercise his capacity for moral reasoning on the small things, at leisure, then he will lack the capacity to think clearly when it truly is important, and time is short.

Dick Morris on Karl Rove

Read it here. (Hat tip to Southern Appeal)

An excerpt:

Rove did not call Time magazine’s Matt Cooper. Cooper called him. He did not mention Valerie Plame’s name. He may not have even known it. He had no intent to reveal her identity. The context of the conversation was that Rove was trying to disabuse Cooper of the impression that CIA Director George Tenet had been the moving force in choosing former Ambassador Joe Wilson to investigate the nuclear dealings reported to be going on in Niger.

Rove said that it was not Tenet who pushed the appointment but that it likely stemmed from the fact that Wilson’s wife “apparently works” at the CIA.

To call that conversation a deliberate revelation of an agent’s identity designed to blow her cover is a far, far stretch of the statute’s wording and intent.

Employee Stock Options & the FASB Fiasco

More than a year has passed since I last criticized The Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) for what later became a mandate to U.S. companies to "expense" employee stock options. Law and economics scholar Jim DeLong – a powerful early critic of this ill-fated “expensing” crusade -- has written a terrific “We told you so” update on some unintended consequences it has already produced.

For background, here are a few excerpts from my April 2004 piece:

“Public companies would be required to first estimate the "fair value" of such options at the time they are granted, and then subtract that estimate from revenues as if it were a known and current expense (rather than an unknown and future expense). . . . This proposed blurring of the critical distinction between actual costs today and possible costs tomorrow matters most to cash-starved younger firms whose earnings are typically reinvested in expanding the firm. There are two reasons: First, deferred expenses are particularly preferable to immediate expenses whenever revenue is expected to be higher in the future. Second, expenses that are contingent on both a higher stock price and employee retention are always preferable to larger fixed salaries from a stockholder's point of view. The fashionable trend of switching from options to restricted stock, by contrast, transfers risk from executives to stockholders -- dilution is immediate and restricted stock retains value even if the stock falls. . . . If the unique benefits of stock options in linking risk and reward are artificially discouraged by mandating an artificial redefinition of costs, that will reduce the information and comparability of reported earnings by increasing the portion of earnings that depends on inherently crude estimates constructed with assorted subjective techniques . . . . The FASB proposal to require companies to treat the estimated fair value of stock options as an actual and current expense rests on a dubious conjecture about what the cost of stock options to stockholders really is and when it occurs. In reality, the estimated value of options to employees at the moment they are granted is not at all the same as the cost to shareholders if and when those options are later exercised. The FASB scheme looks like a risky way to repair some problem that has yet to be seriously defined.”

Christianity Today Eye on Baylor. . . Again.

CT cuts in with a quick blip on the Baylor story as the Regents gather. Check it out here. If you want a lot of overview material just search our website for Baylor.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Is this Like Kryptonite to Lefties?

Wall Street Journal on Rove

The WSJ thinks Rove is going to easily survive and explains why.

Here's a bit:

In short, Joe Wilson hadn't told the truth about what he'd discovered in Africa, how he'd discovered it, what he'd told the CIA about it, or even why he was sent on the mission. The media and the Kerry campaign promptly abandoned him, though the former never did give as much prominence to his debunking as they did to his original accusations. But if anyone can remember another public figure so entirely and thoroughly discredited, let us know.

If there's any scandal at all here, it is that this entire episode has been allowed to waste so much government time and media attention, not to mention inspire a "special counsel" probe. The Bush Administration is also guilty on this count, since it went along with the appointment of prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald in an election year in order to punt the issue down the road. But now Mr. Fitzgerald has become an unguided missile, holding reporters in contempt for not disclosing their sources even as it becomes clearer all the time that no underlying crime was at issue.


As for the press corps, rather than calling for Mr. Rove to be fired, they ought to be grateful to him for telling the truth.

An Extraordinary Piece of Music

The Inconsolable Secret, the new two-CD release by the progressive rock group Glass Hammer is now out, and I can summarize my reaction with a simple exclamation:

Wow!

The album went on sale yesterday (sound samples are available here), but I have had a copy for about ten days. (Full disclosure: I helped edit The Lay of Lirazel, the lengthy narrative poem written by composer, singer, and multi-instrumentalist Steve Babb, on which the concept of The Inconsolable Secret is based, and which is included as a .pdf file on disc 1 of the set.)

The music is composed by Fred Schendel and Steve Babb, and the lyrics are by Babb. Schendel plays numerous keyboards and guitars, and Babb sings and plays keyboards and bass guitar. Matt Mendians is the band's superb drummer, and Walter Moore sings primary lead vocals, with Susy Bogdanowicz providing additional voice parts. Several guest players provide additional instrumental and vocal accompaniment.

I have listened to disc one about a half-dozen times now, and am finally beginning to assimilate it. It includes only two songs, one of which is about 15 1/2 minutes long and the other almost 25 minutes in length. Both songs are highly complex, with musical themes arising and recurring in varying instrumentation and unexpected combinations. The disc includes the basic progressive rock setup employing drums, bass guitar, a wide variety of keyboards, guitars, a variety of male and female vocals, etc. The meters change unpredictably, and the vocal melodies are anything but simple. Gaining a full understanding of the two songs has proven highly challenging to me. However, I am coming to the conclusion that the two songs are truly brilliant—classics of the form. I believe that I will require another half-dozen listens of that disc before I can review the album for a broader public. But I will do so soon.

I've just listened to disc two for the first time, and all I can say about it is that it is stunningly beautiful. This disc has grabbed me immediately. Combining very complex progressive rock instrumentation with beautifully written and arranged orchestral sections, the eleven songs of disc two hang together perfectly as a long musical suite following the narrative of The Lay of Lirazel. The musical styles on this disc range from intelligent art rock to classical and early romantic music, with several passages reminiscent of early twentieth century composers such as Ravel and Debussey. It has the beauty of great classical music.

Disc two appears to me to be a new step in the realm of popular music. It is that important. All told, The Inconsolable Secret strikes me as being something very, very special indeed, a true work of art. I greatly look forward to being able to assimilate it sufficiently to write about it in detail.

To Steve Babb, Fred Schendel, and the rest of Glass Hammer: Bravo!

The Summer Heat and the Press

Please correct me if I'm wrong---it hardly would be the first time---but the NY Times and the rest of the mainstream press, having proclaimed the Valerie Plame affair at the outset to be a crime, then not a crime when the special prosecutor began to demand their notes and the identities of their sources, now argue again that it was a crime, as Dr. Evil, aka Karl Rove, has proven to be involved. Even more amusing is the spectacle of the press---the ineffable LA Times is particularly egregious on this point---complaining about the impropriety of leaks. And the central reality is that Rove's "leak"---it was nothing of the kind, in that Time's Cooper sought him out rather than the reverse---actually was truthful, an adjective that never again will be associated with the name Joe Wilson. Actually, the "leak" was both truthful and not criminal in terms of the plain language of the Intelligence Identities Protection Act; and neither Dick Cheney (Halliburton Professor of Evil) nor the Director of Central Intelligence (I don't want to reveal his name) were involved. Instead, it appears clear that Rove revealed the nepotism involved in terms of Plame's suggestion of Wilson for the Niger trip, which Wilson then used as a platform for a disinformation campaign.

So: Has the summer heat affected the Beltway press? It is not even August yet! Or has the illusory press bias about which the vast right-wing conspiracy complains so much revealed itself yet again? Naaaahhhh.

Homnick Warns the West of Israelization

You can thrive despite being terrorized. It's a cheery depressing message from Jay Homnick at American Spectator.

U2, Oasis, and Evangelism

Interesting bit here about U2's Bono trying to convert Oasis' Liam Gallagher to Christianity.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

In Defense of Mr. Rove . . .

I'm including two links:

First, the Byron York piece, which is based on interview material with Rove's lawyer.

Second, Rich Galen's short essay (link should work for about a week, then check Galen's archive for 7-15-05) for his inside baseball politics list. Galen's essay captures my own feelings of how things will likely go. I think the White House hangs tough and the tempest is over by August.

Leaky Karl

My Republican credentials are displayed shinily on my sleeve. I like George W. Bush, Rush Limbaugh and that pre-diet-Limbaugh-lookalike, Karl Rove.

But it seems clear right now that Rove was the source who tipped the Press to the identity of CIA Agent Valerie Plame as part of a political effort to discredit her husband, Mr. Ambassador Wilson.

Wagons are being circled by loyal Republican "Guards". They'll do just fine, I suspect, without my company.

Count me out, I say. I'm not in favor of this type of dishonest clandestine back-stabbing manipulation of political stories, and I'll throw Karl Rove under the bus just as fast as I would Sidney Blumenthal.

It's dirty; we don't need to do that to win, and even if we did need it, that would not be sufficient justification. Throw the bum out.

Mid-release Film Review: The War of the Worlds

Grandma was in town and could watch kids, wife was on call, Grandpa and I slipped out to the local cineplex for the latest Spielberg offering. Among his blockbusters, I think The War of the Worlds is the least interesting. Bad word of mouth is going to make this film tail off rather quickly. It will still make a lot of money, but not mega-money and not massive DVD sales.

Tom Cruise has talent. He and Dakota Fanning make a convincing pair as they flee the devastation consuming both city and countryside around them. His scene with Tim Robbins is good and gives one a sense of small scale human drama in the midst of annihilation. One can't complain about the acting.

What one can complain about is the plot. It is absolutely full of holes. I don't want to put spoilers in the review, so I'll simply report that the willing suspension of disbelief is severely strained by a lot of "Yeah, but what about x?" from the viewer. Spielberg generates terror, but not compelling terror because there are too many pieces that don't fit.

I have to agree with S.T. Karnick that the film was unnecessary, and since we already know the ending, lacks even the punch that the Twilight Zone style twist would provide. I'd say skip it, but if you're a movie fan, there isn't much else out there right now.

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.