"There is always a philosophy for lack of courage."—Albert Camus

Monday, July 25, 2005

Turner South and My Yard

I happen to rent the crappiest house and yard on one of the best streets in Athens, Georgia. The property is a real outlier compared to the well-groomed beauties around it. My landlord says he has a plan to rehabilitate, but it hasn't happened yet.

I said that to say this. Turner South showed up on my doorstep and asked if I'm interested in letting them remake my horrible yard. I said yes and referred them to my landlord. If the family gets some TV time, I'll be sure to alert the Reform Clubbers.

Here's the link for the show.

Details One, Devil Zero

Because a minor comments box riot broke out over the weekend, I've spent more time than any sane human would staring at government receipts numbers. Several charges were made in re: the Reagan era tax cuts (specifically ERTA, passed in 1981 and effective with the 1982 fiscal budget, although Reagan also oversaw another major tax restructuring, TRA, in 1986) with regard to the effect on tax revenues, budget deficits, and total debt:

Claim: Tax revenue decreased after ERTA and did not reach 1980 levels again until 1994.

Evidence: I have looked at every variant of revenue I can find, and I see no indication that this is true. I can't even divine where such a claim could have originated. It's not true for total receipts, on-budget receipts, individual or corporate income tax receipts....if the person who made this claim could clarify the source I'll look further, otherwise this one's tagged false. Total receipts did fall from the 1981 FY maximum of $1.077 trillion (constant 2000 dollars) to $1.037 tn in FY 1982 and were lower yet ($0.962 tn) in FY 1983. Thereafter, however, they began rising again, and exceeded the FY 1981 level in 1985, when the government collected $1.083 tn. Moreover, while the major effects of ERTA should have been reflected in individual income tax receipts, there was never a decline in that series (although there was a decline in corporate income tax receipts in 1982 and 1983).

Claim: The national debt quadrupled under Reagan.

Evidence: I can't get this figure out of the historical data, even if I measure gross debt in current dollars. Using FY 1981 as the base year (this is the last budget prepared by the Carter administration) gross debt during Reagan's two terms increased by 161% in current dollars but just barely doubled, increasing by 102%, in constant dollars.

Claim: Reagan's tax cuts caused the deficit, and the national debt, to soar. This refutes the claims of the supply siders, who swore that the tax cuts would "pay for themselves."

Evidence: The deficit, and consequently the national debt, did increase substantially under Reagan. But to blame this on tax cuts is rather like saying that if my husband gets a $5000 bonus and I go out and buy $10000 worth of furniture the next day, that our budgetary shortfall the next month was caused by his employer. The one did follow the other, certainly. It may even be the case that the windfall motivated me to go furniture shopping, and things just got out of hand. But it would be stupid to suggest that everything would be far better next year if his boss just didn't give him a bonus. It would be better still if he got the bonus, but his wife restrained her impulses. And I think that pretty much sums up Reagan and the Democratically controlled Congress with which he was saddled. It's true that Reagan didn't spend any political capital trying to rein in spending. He thought it more important to increase defense spending and end the Cold War once and for all. In hindsight, he was right. To continue my lame analogy, it's like I didn't run a $5000 deficit buying furniture, but hiring an exterminator to get rid of the termites that are eating the joists.

All the numbers I have used are available as tables in Bush's last budget. Or if you prefer to do your own spreadsheets, zipped Excel files are available from the GPO website.

As The Jay Flies

Some magnetic impulse has drawn me away from my Miami cocoon of comfort, inching ever northward alongside the Atlantic Ocean.

I would love to have someone offer me a boatload of money to write a travelogue, in which case I would engage every convenience store clerk and motel chambermaid in conversation, but in the absence of such incentives, I mostly avoid eye contact and concentrate on piloting my automobile from Point A to point B - or, if the flesh is weak, to Point A +300 miles.

Here is one smidgen of free sociology: there is a peculiar convention of formality that attends the conversion of verbal instruction into signage.

For example, almost every person behind a counter will point to the receptacle in the corner and inform you that it awaits your "trash" or your "garbage". However, virtually any printed sign to this effect will refer to its subject as "refuse" or "waste".

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Further Thoughts on Masonry

In his comment on my Perry Mason post of yesterday, Hunter Baker is absolutely right about the difference between the TV character of Perry Mason and the book version. Original Mason author Erle Stanley Gardner had control over the TV show, so the Perry you see there is the one Gardner wanted to present at that time to a mass audience. However, I think that the Perry of the books—especially during the first couple of decades of the book series—is far more interesting, and I am convinced that the TV movie or miniseries format would be an excellent way to recapture the full effects of the books for a new audience.

It's interesting to consider the A&E Nero Wolfe and Granada Poirot TV series in this regard: neither felt it necessary to go to great efforts to make the central detective character more personable and easy to "relate" to than they were in the books. These great characters are largely as the authors wrote them (allowing for the natural difficulties of translating characters and stories from one medium to another), and the series benefit greatly from these interesting , complex, and often unpredictable central characters.

I think that the Perry Mason TV series' domestication and bourgeoisification of Mason makes the stories far less interesting and effective than the novels were and still are. Given the recent precedents, I believe that a new series of movies could work brilliantly.

It appears to me that this would be an excellent project for A&E, the Hallmark Channel, TNT, or the USA Network—or perhaps even Granada or the BBC—to take up. There are dozens of great stories there just waiting to be retold for a new audience.

Saturday, July 23, 2005

Tearing up Your Che Guevara Shirt

I got a few laughs from this funny article about Che Guevara t-shirts and accessories and other symptoms of political fashion victims, and you might like it too. The author asks a couple of very good questions:

"Why the hell was this moron wearing clothes advertising someone they have never even heard of? Furthermore, how the hell can any self-respecting person not know who Che Guevara is?"

The author goes on to suggest some alternative fashion items that just might become very big sellers too. Very amusing. Read it here.

Another Plum by Erle Stanley Gardner—and a Call for Action!

The Case of the Howling Dog is an excellent early installment in Erle Stanley Gardner's long series of Perry Mason novels—in fact, it is one of the best Masons I've read. It was the fourth Perry Mason novel to reach print, published in June 1934 after being serialized in Liberty magazine. In this book, Gardner clearly begins to indicate the kind of plot complexity he was ultimately able to bring to the Mason novels. Gardner was simply one of the greatest mystery plot writers of all time. In addition, the book displays Perry's legal manipulativeness at its very best, especially the outside-the-courtroom variety which was such an important element of the books (and so rare in the TV series).

The story has the classic elements of the Mason books: Perry going way out on a limb for his client, a damsel in distress; Della's intense loyalty and Paul Drake's good-natured professionalism; a tough, single-minded prosecutor in Claude Drumm; a cast of suspects and victims whose motives are perpetually murky; impressively clever and sneaky pretrial manipulation of evidence by Mason; a fast-paced, eventful story; direct, understandable prose; a good look at Mason's philosophy of the law; and fascinating, dramatic courtroom scenes with an effectively presented breakdown of a crucial witness. In addition, the central mystery of the howling dog is interesting and used to good effect.

Some flavorsome quotes for you:

"You're getting this case all mixed up, brother," Drake told him.
Perry Mason laughed grimly.
That's the way I want it," he said.

The courtroom atmosphere was stale with that psychic stench which comes from packed humans whose emotions are roused to a high pitch of excitement.

"What did Judge Markham think?" [Della] asked.
"I don't know," he told her, "and I don't give a damn. I know what my rights are and I stood on them. I'm fighting to protect a client."

[Mason:] "My idea of a fair trial is to bring out the facts. I'm going to bring out the facts."
[Drake:] "All of the facts, or just the facts that are favorable to your client?"
"Well," said Perry Mason, grinning, "I'm not going to try the case for the district attorney, if that's what you mean; that's up to him."

"We're a dramatic people," Perry Mason said slowly. "We're not like the English. The English want dignity and order. We want the dramatic and the spectacular. It's a national craving. We're geared to a rapid rate of thought. We want to have things move in a spectacular manner."

"If you don't put that woman on the witness stand, and she's convicted, it's going to mean that your reputation will be ruined," [Perry's legal assistant Frank Everly] said.
"All right," Perry Mason told him; "it'll be ruined then."

[Mason:] "There are lots of ways of trying a lawsuit. There's the slow, tedious way, indulged in by lawyers who haven't any particular plan of campaign, other than to walk into court and snarl over objections, haggle over technicalities, and drag the facts out so interminably that no one knows just what it's all about. Then there's the dramatic method of trying a lawsuit. That's the method I try to follow."

"If it doesn't go right," said Perry Mason, "I'll probably lose my reputation as a trial lawyer."
"But you've got no right to jeopardize that," said Frank Everly.
"The hell I haven't," Perry Mason told him. "I've got no right not to."

"A jury is an audience. It's a small audience, but it's an audience just the same. . . . [A]ll audiences are fickle."

"[District attorney] Claude Drumm, who had been smoking a cigarette in the corridor, came stalking back into the courtroom. . . . He strode with well-tailored efficiency, a dignified superiority toward the criminal attorney who must needs make his living from the trial of cases, rather than bask in the dignity of a monthly salary check, issued with the clock-like regularity with which government officials expend the money of taxpayers."

And here are the last words of the book (no plot spoilers involved), with Gardner's opinion on original sin:

"You," said Della Street, staring at him, "are a cross betwen a saint and a devil."
"All men are," said Perry Mason, unperturbed.

The Case of the Howling Dog is unfortunately out of print, but used copies are fairly easy to find, especially through online services. This is a Mason novel that all who enjoy the series—or would like to know what it's all about—should read.

It is also a book that ought to be adapted into a TV movie, and NOW!

The Perry Mason novels would surely be an excellent source for faithful adaptation into a series of films (as the A&E network did so effectively with several Nero Wolfe narratives a couple years ago, and Granada has done so beautifully with the Hercule Poirot series starring David Suchet). I think that enough time has passed since the Raymond Burr TV series for audiences to accept a new actor in the role, with the stories set in their original time frame. It is high time that some smart producer and TV channel undertook the project of bringing these wonderful stories to a new audience through film. Whoever chooses to do so will definitely reap great rewards.

Of course, I'm ready to begin work on the adaptations as soon as the contract is inked.

Friday, July 22, 2005

Christianity Today Cites Reform Club. . .

I recently used the TRC blog to publish my speculations about whether the story about a private investigator claiming to work for "rich and powerful people" (get the guy a better script next time, people) had been hired to successfully dig up dirt on Baylor interim President Bill Underwood. To my surprise, Christianity Today picked up on the story and what I thought about it. (Never assume you are blogging into obscurity, friends.)

Here's the relevant part:

The "Battle for Baylor" has more than its share of intrigue, not to mention ample opportunities for tea-leaf reading and code cracking.

The story took a turn to the ridiculous last week as the Waco Tribune-Herald reported (and editorialized) on a private investigator who claimed to be hired by "rich and powerful people" to dig up dirt on interim president Bill Underwood. Former Baylor insider Hunter Baker thinks it's a hoax—or that the investigator was actually hired by Underwood supporters in an attempt to "make Underwood look like a victim of evil conservative Christian types and let him ride into the presidency full time on a righteously indignant sympathy vote."

The rest of the article is worth reading, too, particularly for those watching the bold experiment still taking place in central Texas at the intersection of I-35 and the Brazos River.

The Confirmed Bachelor

Perhaps having been too much influenced by the sexual tint that pervades everything in our culture, I have often thought of "the confirmed bachelor" as a gay man whom everyone pretended was simply a fellow who avoided marriage and liked living alone. John Derbyshire has a few paragraphs in his discussion of former Conservative U.K. Prime Minister Ted Heath that causes me to reflect a little more deeply:

The bachelor life. Heath never married. He showed not the slightest sign of being homosexual, though, repressed or otherwise. He was a specimen of a type that, it seems to me, used to be much more common than it now is, and was certainly more socially acceptable: the confirmed bachelor. He simply had no interest in sex. Nowadays such a person is thought to be strange, to have issues, but the generality of people didn’t think like that 30 years ago.

Whatever you think of his politics (I detest them), it can hardly be denied that Heath lived a full and useful life. He reached the very summit of his chosen profession. He had an absorbing and uplifting hobby — playing and conducting classical and sacred music — to take his mind off his work. He was a keen and accomplished sportsman (racing sailboats). He had close friends, who loved him, spoke affectionately of him, and were loyal to him. In his youth he led men into battle, bravely and capably. He wrote, or at any rate dictated, half a dozen books. From the humblest of beginnings, he rose to wealth and power. He was very intelligent, though unimaginative and not well read. (Among his recorded remarks are: “I never read novels.”) He stuck to his principles, returned loyalty for loyalty, and committed no crimes.

Not many of us can hope to get as much out of life, or to leave as much of an impression on the world, as Ted Heath. Yet in that full and vigorous life, sex apparently played no part whatsoever. He simply wasn’t interested.

We used to be much more comfortable with that than we now are. (That “we” refers to we Anglo-Saxons: I think these remarks apply equally to both sides of the Atlantic.) There was a whole bachelor culture, certainly not homosexual, and not particularly hostile to women, though regarding them as a bit of a nuisance to be got away from as much as possible — in men-only clubs, on the golf course, on walking tours with other bachelors. Philip Larkin, who was heterosexual and liked sex, but unfortunately did not much like women, wrote very affectionately about that culture. It’s all gone with the wind now, alas. If I were to suggest to one of my male colleagues at National Review that we go on a walking tour in the Catskills together, I should get a very strange look.

The discussion reminds me that I have known some men of this type. They often end up living with mother after dad dies and plan trips to go golfing at St. Andrews because they have enormous disposable income. The part about the walking tour is reminiscent of C.S. Lewis who was a confirmed bachelor for many, many years before he met the woman he would marry as a pretense (for immigration purposes) and grow to truly love. He and his friends tromped all over England during his single days.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Ramesh Answers TRC: Another Wild, Wacky Post on the Constitution in Exile!

Never has the great liberal White Elephant Constitution in Exile been discussed more frequently and with less reason than here at the Reform Club, but we've become positively intoxicated by stretching this canard to the breaking point. After mentioning that Ramesh Ponnuru (a notable conservative) mentioned the Constitution in Exile in a blog post, Mr. Ponnuru took the opportunity to make clear his own position on the unicorn of the conservative world.

Here it is, in full, reproduced at the same level as the original post noticing his post! That's the kind of accountability you get in the blogosphere! Read below:

EXILE, CTD. [Ramesh Ponnuru]

Perhaps, given this post, I should clarify my views about the "Constitution in Exile."

1) I think it can safely be said that no conservative has ever used the phrase as much as Jeffrey Rosen and Cass Sunstein do.

2) In some sense, most conservatives believe that we are exile from the Constitution--that the way we are governed corresponds less to that document than it used to do and that we ought to increase that correspondence. I certainly do.

3) But the phrase, as used by the people who use it most, means something more than what I wrote in 2). It means that there is a movement, with a significant chance of success (or at least of doing damage), that wants to undo the New Deal and Great Society from the federal bench. This I do not believe. Nor would I want such a movement to exist.

Why Can't GWB Express Himself Like This?

Australian Prime Minister John Howard in response to a reporter's insinuation that British/American policies in Iraq are to blame for recent terrorism:

Can I just say very directly, Paul, on the issue of the policies of my government and indeed the policies of the British and American governments on Iraq, that the first point of reference is that once a country allows its foreign policy to be determined by terrorism, it's given the game away, to use the vernacular. And no Australian government that I lead will ever have policies determined by terrorism or terrorist threats, and no self-respecting government of any political stripe in Australia would allow that to happen.

Can I remind you that the murder of 88 Australians in Bali took place before the operation in Iraq.

And I remind you that the 11th of September occurred before the operation in Iraq.

Can I also remind you that the very first occasion that bin Laden specifically referred to Australia was in the context of Australia's involvement in liberating the people of East Timor. Are people by implication suggesting we shouldn't have done that?

When a group claimed responsibility on the website for the attacks on the 7th of July, they talked about British policy not just in Iraq, but in Afghanistan. Are people suggesting we shouldn't be in Afghanistan?

When Sergio de Mello was murdered in Iraq -- a brave man, a distinguished international diplomat, a person immensely respected for his work in the United Nations -- when al Qaeda gloated about that, they referred specifically to the role that de Mello had carried out in East Timor because he was the United Nations administrator in East Timor.

Now I don't know the mind of the terrorists. By definition, you can't put yourself in the mind of a successful suicide bomber. I can only look at objective facts, and the objective facts are as I've cited. The objective evidence is that Australia was a terrorist target long before the operation in Iraq. And indeed, all the evidence, as distinct from the suppositions, suggests to me that this is about hatred of a way of life, this is about the perverted use of principles of the great world religion that, at its root, preaches peace and cooperation. And I think we lose sight of the challenge we have if we allow ourselves to see these attacks in the context of particular circumstances rather than the abuse through a perverted ideology of people and their murder.

(Hat tip to Powerline) If G.W. spoke that way, he'd have been re-elected by ten points.

More on the Constitution In Exile or Less . . . Much Less

Found an interesting article on the CIE movement or lack thereof courtesy of our friends at Southern Appeal. Check it out.

Here's the telling paragraph:

In short, I despair of our supposed plans for toppling the New Deal. And in truth, there is no Constitution in Exile movement. Google the phrase, run it through Lexis-Nexis, search far and wide: No conservative or libertarian activist, theorist, or judge has used the term since its casual mention in 1995 (and few have ever heard of it).

This helps explain my shock as a dues-paying, secret meeting having, long term member of the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy at having never heard the term until it was brought up quite recently by a left-leaning commenter.

London Bombings—Some Interesting Facts

Consider the following, from Reuters today ("Blasts hit London again, 2 weeks after bombings":

"London police chief Ian Blair told reporters: 'We know that we've had four explosions or attempts at explosions. It is still pretty unclear what's happened. . . . The bombs appear to be smaller than the last occasion.'

"He said some devices appeared not to have gone off properly and only one person was injured, adding that he hoped London would now 'get moving' again."

This does not sound like the kind of well-planned and -coordinated attack that occurred two weeks ago.

The Reuters report noted that a witness at the Oval underground station in south London reported what appeared to be a would-be bomber alone in a carriage after a small blast:

"We all got off on the platform and the guy just ran and started running up the escalator. . . . He left a bag on the train."

Again, this is very sloppy work, and it is not clear whether this bomber intended suicide.

London Bombing Reprised

My article after the London bombing of two weeks ago turns out to have been stunningly prescient.

It might be worthwhile to reread.


London Explosions—Early Speculative Thought

I believe that the explosions that took place in London today may turn out to be the work of a copycat, not the same group that arranged the bombings two weeks ago.

(Credit goes to my wife, Kristine, for this observation.)

I will explain later, as the situation develops.

Zycher, Bennett and the Genesis of Reform Club

Dr. Benjamin Zycher (a great sci-fi name) included a hit on Bill Bennett in his speculations about the new Supreme Court nominee. The drive-by shot reminded me of a more extended assault on the virtue guru by yours truly. I was and am a fan of Bill Bennett, but I felt a tremendous disappointment in hearing about his gambling habits. It seemed to me the conservative zines were determined to give Bennett a pass, so I tried to preserve the integrity of social conservatives (particularly of the evangelical set) with this piece for American Spectator.

Because it was original and not a whitewash, it was quoted by Howard Kurtz of the Washington Post and several other web outlets. The best part, though, was that I saw an email one S.T. Karnick sent to the editor of American Spectator praising the short essay. That led to me writing for his magazine American Outlook and ultimately to this weblog, which we hope to someday expand into a more full-featured website with archived essays, short fiction, reviews, etc..

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Call Me Dr. Sunshine

In the time-honored Zycher tradition of finding a cloud in every silver lining, please allow me to ask a few irreverent questions during this swoon period for Solomon, oops, John Roberts, whom I assume to be a very, very good guy in the overall scheme of things, on the basis of reactions and such from many people whose judgment I trust. Nonetheless...

First: Will he be more like Rehnquist or Thomas, that is, will he be more or less willing, respectively, to defer to the whims of the state legislatures and Congress? Or will he be willing---make that intent upon--- enforcing the Constitution? Beats me.

Second: How deferential toward precedent will he prove to be? Or will he be willing/intent upon throwing out such silly and destructive decisions as that on "public use/takings" in Kelo? Beats me.

Third: Will the enthusiasm for Roberts among the Republican base allow W to nominate a squishball like Gonzalez when Rehnquist retires next year? And what about the prospective departure of that giant of legal reasoning, John Paul Stevens? Beats me.

Fourth: It is very good that W decided not to take the easy path and preserve the O'Connor seat as a Womyn's appointment. But it would have been nice to send a signal that shrinking from a real fight with the lefties is not in the cards, and the Roberts appointment is a missed opportunity to shove the nuclear option down their throats. Will W avoid a fight the next time around? Beats me.

Fifth: I assume that Roberts will not acquiesce in the latest fad, to wit, the use of foreign law and purported "international opinion" as a criterion with which to allow the judges to impose their own views on everyone else. Will any of the Republicans on the Judiciary Committee ask Roberts about this? Beats me.

Sixth: Will anyone point out that we are in a legal/Constitutional mess not only because of the lefties and the desire of judges to get invitations to the Georgetown cocktail parties, but also because of such self-promoting gasbags as Bill Bennett, a hypocrite perfectly willing to put others in jail for their vices while making excuses for his? Because of Bennett, we wound up with the ineffable Tony Kennedy on the court, instead of Doug Ginsburg, because the latter smoked some pot while at Harvard, or something like that truly significant. Ginsburg would have been the best guy by far on the Court in a long time; will anyone tell Bennett to shut up when he starts to pontificate about strict constructionism and the like? On this one I think that I know the sad answer.

Anyway: Just asking.

Personal Request

Curt Purcell, if you're reading this blog, how about shooting me an email? You can get it off my contributor profile on the left side of the page.

Ramesh Ponnuru Cites Constitution in Exile!!!

We had a small tussle over whether various appointees embrace a theory of "The Constitution in Exile" which would require extreme rollback of federal powers. Karnick and I, plus citees from The Volokh Conspiracy (heavy legal experts), called B.S. on one of our commenter's assertions about the CIE. I have to give some credit to the commenter because Ramesh Ponnuru of NRO talks about it as a going concern with at least one judge here.

Supreme Court Thoughts

Of course, we now know John Roberts was the nominee. The Prowler at AmSpec helps us understand why Edith Clement was everywhere. She was a very good feint aimed at forcing Moore-On.org to send out their attack email and then have to send the same email with name altered. Message: we oppose anybody.

My reasons for thinking Clement was it were not related to the press buzz, but it doesn't matter now. After reading the AmSpec article, I'm wondering whether Rehnquist didn't influence the choice of Roberts, his former clerk. He may have threatened not to retire unless Roberts was picked. Pure speculation on my part (and we may have some sense of how good my speculative powers are).

The Prowler always has juicy inside-the-camp Democrat quotes about whatever's going on. So much so that some doubt their reality. Not I, being a big fan of the magazine's editor. Here's the latest one:

"We are expecting one, if not two, more nominees to the Supreme Court this calendar year," says a senior Democratic strategist. "We have to be true to our values and defend them against a nomination like Roberts, but we have to be realistic. He's going to get through. But we have bigger fights ahead that will be even more pivotal. We've advised folks to keep their powder dry and not to waste it on this fight. Wait for the biggies to come."

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

What People Forget About Bork . . .

This Supreme Court nomination brings back discussion of Bork because the left would like to see something like that happen again. It's the model. Of course, they had a majority and were still the dominant party then. The memory is that Bork lost for being extreme. I recall a little history and can suggest a different reason.

The reason Bork was demonized was simple payback. He was in Justice during Watergate. Nixon told Elliott Richardson to fire Archibald Cox (special investigator). Richardson resigned. Next guy down resigned. Bork agreed to do the firing at the behest of Richardson and his lieutenant because someone had to do it lest a full-blown constitutional crisis emerge. That act earned Bork everlasting enmity from the left.

Some commenters will ask why I'm making a post out of a response I gave to comments earlier. The answer is, "I feel like it."

Date It! Time-Stamp It! The Next Supreme Court Justice Will Be . . .

Edith Brown Clement. My prediction is in.

UPDATE: I'm now hearing that I am gloriously wrong! We'll see. I'm still hoping for McConnell.

UPDATE II: National Review Bench Memos says Roberts because he's just come back from London. Pretty strong reasoning.

UPDATE III: It's Roberts. Next time we get Alan Reynolds to make the prediction.

Love that Bob Newhart . . .

As a longtime fan of Bob Newhart who has since discovered as an adult the man was even funnier than I'd previously believed, I happily point you to an interesting story by Cathy Seipp in National Review.

Here's a funny bit:

Contrary to Hollywood tradition, the 76-year-old comedian has been famously and happily married for 42 years to the same wife he started out with. When she gets the last laugh on him, he likes to tell the story. “I said, ‘Do you think Joanne Woodward makes Paul Newman take out the recyclables?’” he said, recalling a complaint he made on garbage day. “She said, ‘If you were Paul Newman, I wouldn’t make you take out the recyclables.’”

All this is an especially good thing because Newhart lived with his parents until he was in his late ‘20s and almost never dated. “We didn’t need to dig for dirt to make this interesting,” an A&E producer noted a few years ago, when the cable network’s Biography series premiered Bob Newhart: The Last Sane Man. After a perfectly timed pause, Newhart added then: “Luckily, the bestiality thing never came up.”

The old show is apparently coming out on DVD. I'm priming for a 70's nostalgia moment and may have to pick it up.

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?


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.


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.


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:


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."