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

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Bono as EveryChristian . . .

Because we are a multi-faith weblog, I generally try to stay away from straight-out proselytizing. However, since I can peg this to a celebrity, a major world rockstar (who is very newsworthy in his activities), I'll proceed with a humble spirit and ask that co-bloggers grant me a little latitude.

I was reading an excerpt from a new book made up of extensive interviews between a journalist and Bono, the lead singer and songwriter for the band U2 and came across this segment that could speak for virtually any Christian you know. You think I sometimes get overly aggressive with a commenter or am maybe too sarcastic or uncharitable in a post? Believe me, I know that and much worse about who I am. Bono puts his finger on what all of us (Christians) are counting on:

Bono: You see, at the center of all religions is the idea of Karma. You know, what you put out comes back to you: an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, or in physics—in physical laws—every action is met by an equal or an opposite one. It's clear to me that Karma is at the very heart of the universe. I'm absolutely sure of it. And yet, along comes this idea called Grace to upend all that "as you reap, so you will sow" stuff. Grace defies reason and logic. Love interrupts, if you like, the consequences of your actions, which in my case is very good news indeed, because I've done a lot of stupid stuff.

When asked to make his confession by the journalist, Bono replies:

That's between me and God. But I'd be in big trouble if Karma was going to finally be my judge. I'd be in deep s---. It doesn't excuse my mistakes, but I'm holding out for Grace. I'm holding out that Jesus took my sins onto the Cross, because I know who I am, and I hope I don't have to depend on my own religiosity.

A Prayer for Europe

Today, August 9, the Roman Calendar of Saints commemorates St. Theresa Benedicta of the Cross, a 20th Century Carmelite nun.

St. Theresa's birth name was Edith Stein. She was the youngest of a large Orthodox Jewish family, born in Breslau in 1891. From her earliest days she demonstrated uncommon intellect; she was one of the first women in Germany to attend university on the same footing with the male students, and she early came under the tutelage of Edmund Husserl, the "Father of Phenomenology." She completed her PhD dissertation, On the Problem of Empathy, under his direction in 1916. (The late Pope John Paul II was another student of phenomenology, and his writings on the philosophy of personalism were influenced by Husserl's ideas.)

Stein's dormant Jewish faith, colliding with the implications of Husserl's philosophy, and tempered in the grief and sorrow experienced by much of her generation in the wake of World War I, led her into an intense search for religious meaning. Her journey ended on the pages of St. Teresa of Avila's autobiography. Stein was baptised in 1922, took up a post at a Dominican school for girls, and began translating the writings of St. Thomas Aquinas into German.

Stein's conversion did not shield her from the coming Nazi storm. She was dismissed from a lectureship at Munster in 1933; unable to find work in Germany under the anti-Semite laws she instead professed vows to the Order of Discalced Carmelites and entered their convent in Koln in 1934. She continued to write works of philosophy and theology, both in Koln and in Holland, where the Carmelites transferred her in 1938 in an attempt to keep her safe.

On Sunday, July 20, 1942, the Dutch Catholic bishops ordered read from every pulpit in the Netherlands a statement condemning Nazi racism. In swift retribution, the Nazi occupation authorities in Holland began arresting Jewish Catholic converts. Edith Stein was taken from the Echt Carmel on July 26 and sent directly to Auschwitz. She died in a gas chamber 63 years ago today, on August 9, 1942.

Sister Teresa Benedicta of the Cross left behind her a remarkable body of work. Her collected writings run to nine volumes, and include important contributions to philosophy and theology. She was beatified as a martyr in 1987, and canonized in 1998.

Today, Europe is shaken by another storm, remarkably like the one that swept away Sister Theresa Benedicta and millions more. It is a storm that would gladly crush before it thousands of Edith Steins if it could. May we always remember what happened when the men of Europe ignored the massing hatred, sought to appease it, and too late recognized it for what it was. Pray for us, St. Edith Stein, Patroness of Europe, that God will never allow us to forget.

Why Sex Isn't Fun Anymore

"Speak for yourself, Karny," you're probably thinking. But it's not for myself that I bring up Topic A here. It's a matter that affects us all, as J. Budziszewski makes clear in an excellent article, "Designed for Sex," for Touchstone magazine. What I like most about Budziszewski's article is the sympathy he shows for those caught up in the mayhem released by the Sexual Revolution of the past half-century—which includes, after all, practically any American who has not been living in a cave. Budziszewski writes:

Midnight. Shelly is getting herself drunk so that she can bring herself to go home with the strange man seated next to her at the bar. One o’clock. Steven is busy downloading pornographic images of children from Internet bulletin boards. Two o’clock. Marjorie, who used to spend every Friday night in bed with a different man, has been binging and purging since eleven. Three o’clock. Pablo stares through the darkness at the ceiling, wondering how to convince his girlfriend to have an abortion. Four o’clock. After partying all night, Jesse takes another man home, not mentioning that he tests positive for an incurable STD. Five o’clock. Lisa is in the bathroom, cutting herself delicately with a razor. This isn’t what my generation expected when it invented the sexual revolution. The game isn’t fun anymore. Even some of the diehard proponents of that enslaving liberation have begun to show signs of fatigue and confusion.

Budziszewski uses the subject as an apt occasion to discuss natural law theory, and even draws a bit on human biology, though much less than he should. It would be interesting to see a theist use the insights of sociobiology (which require, after all, only a consideration of microevolution, variations within a species over time, which no one doubts) to bolster an argument from natural law. For example, when Budziszewski correctly notes, "the longing for unitive intimacy is at the center of our design," it would greatly aid his argument if he were to use some of the copious scientific evidence regarding human behavior that seems to be wired into our very nature.

His concerns are more on the philosophical level, however, and within those limitations I think he does a fine job. I think that Budziszewski's emphasis on tying sex to procreation is too strong, but at least he does consider its value in strengthening "unitive intimacy." As noted earlier, Budziszewski is not a scold who wishes to upbraid people whom he imagines are having too much fun. On the contrary, he laments that the Sexual Revolution has largely taken the fun out of sex, and he writes with great compassion for the victims of that great disturbance. It is an article well worth reading.

Picture Perfect: Wlady P. on Peter Jennings

Longtime American Spectator editor Wlady Pleszczynski strikes just the right note in summing up Jennings career and legacy. Check it out here.

Planned Parenthood's Cartoon Fantasyland

You have simply got to drop everything and read this amazing post by Dawn Eden at The Dawn Patrol. She's got a scene by scene analysis of an animated feature Planned Parenthood uses for agitprop purposes (actually, it can't be agitprop when you're the establishment).

Go see it here. You will not be disappointed. (Hat tip: Southern Appeal)

Odd Man Out

The metaphysical makes some folks uncomfortable. If it gets under your skin, I'd hate for you to get undermined. So it might be rash for you to continue.

But here is my feeling about Peter Jennings. When you're part of a three-man generation -Brokaw, Jennings, Rather - and the other two retire, that's your signal not to hang on. Enough said.

Monday, August 08, 2005

TRC Rocks

The Carnival of the Capitalists rightfully and righteously recognizes the excellence of our own Kathy Hutchins' post exploring the economics of the dental hygiene and chocolate businesses, Mr. Wonka's factory, misappropriation of trade secrets, undocumented Oompa Loompas, and John Locke. (Spoiler: Properly capitalize labor, and you don't have to eat cabbage soup.)

Follow the link (above) back here to the post (below) in case you missed it; let's give the COTC some traffic. Cheers, Kathy. It's an everlasting gobstopper.


Got one of those pass-it-on emails from an English friend, so I thought I'd, well, pass it on:

Following the events in London last week the French government announced yesterday that it has raised its terror alert level from 'Run' to 'Hide'. The only two higher levels in France are 'Surrender' and 'Collaborate'. The rise was precipitated by a recent fire which destroyed France's white flag factory, effectively paralysing their military.

Updates from around Europe...

The Italians have increased their alert level from "shouting excitedly" to "elaborate military posturing". Two more levels remain, "ineffective combat operations" and "change sides".

The Germans have also increased their alert state from "disdainful arrogance" to "full dress-uniform and marching songs". They have two higher levels, "invade a neighbour" and "lose".

Seeing this reaction in continental Europe the Americans have gone from "isolationism" to "find somewhere ripe for regime change". Their remaining higher alert states are "take on the world" and "ask the British for help".

Finally here in GB we've gone from "pretend nothing's happening" to "make another cup of tea". Our higher levels are "chin-up and remain cheerful" and "win".

After years of assault by their chattering classes, the BBC News and The Guardian, the English getting a bit of their pith and vinegar back does my heart good. I have a little more in praise of the Englanders' bottle ("guts" to us in the US) over here.

Karnick Steals Time From Family

To write this cutting and necessary bit on the "family" excuse for either quitting in disgrace or being an absolute promise-breaking renege-meister.

Here's a tidbit:

What is interesting is that (Terrell) Owens claims he is doing this for his family. "The most important thing is my family," he said.

This assertion has become so common and familiar among public figures as to become something like punctuation, a mere indicator of seriousness without any real content.

I won't back down on this matter, it suggests, and not because I'm a pompous, selfish donkey, but on the contrary, because I am so selfless that I will forego my own interests in order to avoid letting down my family. The invocation of family says: Even though my actions indicate otherwise, I'm not a fool, nor a scoundrel; I'm selfless and devoted to others.

Patriotism used to be the last refuge of a scoundrel, as Samuel Johnson said-until phony patriots destroyed the positive connotations of the term. Today, family is the scoundrel's first, last, and paramount refuge.

Stick around and browse a bit TCS readers.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

Paleface Scalps Indian

The NCAA is banning the use of Native American mascots for college sports teams even though the Seminole tribe thinks being Florida State's symbol is pretty cool, and probably not bad free advertising for their casinos and smoke shops. As tribal councilman Max Osceola puts it:

"It's like history--they left the natives out...They have non-natives telling natives what's good for them or how they should use their name. You have a committee made up of non-natives telling people that they can not use a native name when you have a native tribe--a tribal government, duly elected and constituted--that said they agree with Florida State."

It figures. The fascist patronizing paternalistic racist oppressor white male power establishment screws the Red Man once again "for his own good." I've half a mind to call the ACLU, but I lost their number. (Permanently.)

Just Call Him Governor Slim

The once rotund Christian governor of Arkansas Mike Huckabee (sort of an anti-Bill ideologically speaking) went on a diet and lost a person. He's now slim, trim, and has apparently run a marathon!

I bring him up because he has a new book out with the best title for a diet book I've ever seen:

Stop Digging Your Grave with a Knife and Fork!

Friday, August 05, 2005

Palm A Hero Off On Us?

By all external indications, my body appears to have returned to Miami, driving 1550 miles in three days. My mind, if it still exists, is clearly elsewhere.

But for what it's worth, some ruminations on Rafael Palmeiro, a Miami product, suspended for using steroids to enhance his performance at the great national pastime of baseball. Earlier, Palmeiro had angrily asserted to a Congressional committee that he had never done such a thing nor would he condone it in others.

Rush Limbaugh says that it seems like a Clinton-type situation, where the sins are not so great, but they are compounded by the finger-wagging moralizing against what he was secretly doing. (There are folks who try to put the same thing on Rush himself, but I never remember him as a big anti-drug crusdaer. Nor Bill Bennett as vocally anti-gambling either.)

President Bush says that Palmeiro is a friend and "I believe him" that he did not intentionally introduce steroids into his body. I would like to believe that, too. The recent update - to the effect that this particular steroid is not found in any over-the-counter supplements - makes such credulousness less tenable.

The irony is that until this year steroids were not illegal in baseball. Palmeiro could have said that he indulged in the past but would honor the new restrictions. And even if that was too embarrassing to say and do, wisdom would have dictated that he not try to beat the system now.

Or do you go with the other logic, the one used by Clinton's defenders? Since it's crazy and irresponsible to do this, it must be that he did not do it. Well, yes, wouldn't it be a lovely world if intelligent people never behaved crazily or irresponsibly?

This being a family magazine, we'll forgo the obvious humorous possibilities afforded by Palmeiro's role as pitch-man for Viagra. It would take an Act of Congress to change my position on this moratorium.

One last thought, apropos of nothing: 'Rafael' means Healer-for-God in Hebrew and is the name of the Angel of Healing. If nothing else, Raffy will have to... er, take his medicine.

Terrorist Chic

Rush Limbaugh tore into Anne Applebaum yesterday afternoon for this opinion piece, which appeared in Wednesday's Washington Post. And I don't understand why; it seems right on target to me. The support of the IRA by comfortable Irish-American Catholics, including prominent citizens and political figures (both Democrat and Republican) is a blot on American history. We could perhaps mitigate that blot in some small amount by examining the sorry episode for lessons that would help us understand, and deal with, the latest terrorism chic.

I am one of those melting-pot Americans who is a little bit of a lot of things, but as much or more Irish than anything else. I hold paper on the British too; I can work up a burst of righteous indignation about the famine and the Penal Laws without too much effort. Understanding why, thirty years ago, people like me were raising money in bars in Boston to buy guns for a bunch of thugs in Belfast is not making excuses for the arms-length applauders of the London bombers, it's just trying to learn from experience and introspection. Sometimes I think Limbaugh shouldn't be in such a Rush to criticize.

Faith, the Court, and John Roberts

I've spent a lot of time this week working on a post about John Roberts's Catholicism and why all the discussion I had seen was way off-base from the viewpoints of both Catholic moral theology and constitutional law. I knew what I wanted to say, but was having a harder time than usual making my argument cohere.

Well, I spend too much time on the post. Professor Steven Bainbridge has already published the article I wanted to, but was never going to be able, to write, complete with learned references and his trademark clear thinking. Go read it and I'll work on torture narratives in the lyrics of ABBA or something.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

The State vs. The People

Philosophers agree that language is an imperfect representation of reality and we get into trouble when we confuse the two. The word is not the idea.

For the same reason, at least one philosopher rightly observed that "thinking in terms of Law is inevitable for man but it is the obstacle par excellence to the understanding of reality." The letter of the law is not its spirit, and as the Law is the demigod child of both, in its clumsiness it's often an ass.

We also know that a key technique of sophistry, which is entirely unconcerned with the search for truth, is using the limitations of language as a weapon when it suits its purpose. Meaning, that is to say truth, is sacrificed for victory.

In its ruling and application of a recently passed law, in the now-historic Gay Golf Case, the California Supreme Court wrote:

The Legislature has made it abundantly clear that an important goal of the Domestic Partner Act is to create substantial legal equality between domestic partners and spouses...We interpret this language to mean there shall be no discrimination in the treatment of registered domestic partners and spouses.

This in spite of another recently passed direct initiative by The People of California (with 60+% of the vote):

308.5. Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California.

It's indeed proper to note that the court did not address Proposition 22; it bulldozed over it. Its meaning was plain, designating marriage between men and women as a unique societal institution. This wasn't a problem for the state--they simply erected an institution of equal legal force right alongside it, decreed it equal in substance, and named it something else. It's not marriage. It's exactly the same as marriage but it's not marriage. Get it?

Look, I don't know if the court's interpretation of the legislature's intent is correct or not, or if they "overinterpreted." No matter; the court's final word is now law. I'm not even a fan of the California's initiative process, and I'm not even commenting on the moral rightness or wrongness of gay marriage.

But what I do know is it's time to dispense with our comforting fairy tale that in this nation The People are sovereign.

Sophistry rules.

On Torture and a Full-Orbed View of Human Rights

There exists great outrage about the possibility that some interrogation tactics used at the Guantanamo facility may constitute torture.

Some leftists, perhaps motivated more by the desire to score points than out of any righteous feeling, have drummed on the torture theme with great determination. If one accuses me of being less than charitable, I must ask leave in light of the tremendous lack of left-wing intellectual outcry against massive human rights violations of the worst type by governments that carry leftist premises to their full conclusions.

Nevertheless, to say certain persons never cared much for the fate of brothers who didn't go along with coercive state socialism or those who are snuffed out in the womb or dismembered in the birth canal simply ends the conversation by making the charge of hypocrisy and determining that these individuals have no right to complain or at least have no integrity in so doing.

So, let us assume that the concern with torture is righteous and should be dealt with on its face. There are several problems that arise and do not go away simply because the complainants raise their voices and charge others with stupidity, mercilessness, etc.

First, what is torture? Dictionary definitions include "infliction of severe physical pain as a means of punishment or coercion," "excruciating physical or mental pain; agony," "something causing severe pain or anguish." When individuals are asked, they frequently come up with notions of limbs being amputated, bones broken, sexual organs mutilated, blinded eyes, burnt flesh, etc. If methods like emotional intimidation and sleep deprivation are to be included, then it MUST be admitted that they are down the line on the torture scale and any rational person describing their choice of torture to endure would surely prefer the latter to the former.

Second, is torture (by a state) ever justified? If we agree the primary end of the state is to protect its citizens and maintain the peace, then there are a number of means that may be employed to attain that goal. In the case of secret conspiracies, particularly those knit together by fierce fanaticism, then it will come to pass that the state will at times apprehend members of said conspiracies and have them in their custody. It would be sheer folly (and perhaps negligence of the worst sort) not to attempt to gain information about planned mass murders from these individuals. Serious interrogation tactics will have to be considered as a means of obtaining that information.

In the case of tactics that are universally agreed to constitute torture, a large percentage of us will likely be unable to support the permanent mutilation or even summary executions that would come of them. (Though some would and perhaps an absolute majority if the crisis were great enough and enough innocents had been killed.) However, for a government to be unable to employ even the lesser measures of intimidation on the level of sleep deprivation is to tie that government's hands in such a way as to value the lives of the guilty more than the lives of the innocent.

Now, the answer may come back that we will make up the deficiency with better police work or that these tactics don't work anyway, but I have no idea how we can be expected to trust these answers. Where exactly do we come by these carefully constructed studies on whether these tactics work? If they don't and it is so clear, then why are they being used? Further, why would the prospect of being extradited to regimes that engage in real torture be a potentially useful threat? If better police work is so much more effective than strong interrogation of suspects, then why hasn't that yielded all the answers?

We don't know how much information gained through interrogation has prevented terror attacks, but imagine that even one mass murder had been blocked. Weigh that versus the misery of sleep deprivation or fear of dogs experienced by a likely terrorist or terrorist in training and determine for yourself whether these tactics cross the line.

For my part, I hold a high view of human rights. Some leftist is sniggering, but those giggles are supremely undisturbing given their own regrettable view of the disposability of unborn and elderly life and their utter lack of care for the victims of leftist governmental projects gone awry. So, as I state, I hold a high view of human rights. But such a view cannot be a full or fair one unless it likewise considers the stakes for both wrongdoers and their victims, actual and probable. Thus, a view of the situation that obsesses over the difficulties experienced by those who have associated themselves with wanton murderers, while paying little or no attention to what must realistically be done to protect innocent persons can only be an immature one.

If I must choose whom I shall protect with the greater zeal, it will be the innocents.

UPDATE: I removed the incorrect statistical claim wherein I confused attacks blocked by the Patriot Act with the unknown quantity blocked by information gained at Guantanamo. That's the accountability of the blogosphere.

Those Who Deny The Terrorist Threat

In the 1930’s Adolph Hitler made no attempt to conceal his ambitions. Mein Kampf spelled out a dark strategic vision. Yet the West chose to either avert its gaze or deny reality. The prospect of fighting a major war so soon after the horror of World War I catalyzed the rationalizers. Some said Hitler was engaged in mere bravado; others said, he was a reflection of German national sentiment, not imperial ambition.

Whatever the rationalizers said, they stood tremulous in the face of Hitler’s goals. Now the West is engaged in its latest act of denial vis-à-vis radial Islam.

The civil libertarians contend any modification of our laws in order to hunt down and destroy these shadowy killers in our midst represents a threat to the nature of our government and the Constitution. Therefore fighting an all-out war only damages our side.

The second group of deniers might be called “the rationalists” who assume there is a justifiable hatred directed at the West because we invaded Iraq, support Israel, have a degraded popular culture or some other reason which, if only corrected, would lead to peace and harmony.

The third is composed of those who actually hate the West even as they derive the blessings of an open society. Michael Moore serves as an exemplar of this position. In the view of self haters any position which undermines the status of the U.S. and the West is desirable. This is “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” syndrome.

Each stance, in my judgment, is deeply flawed. The civil libertarians ignore American history which suggests that even though President Lincoln abrogated habeas corpus during the Civil War, it was restored immediately thereafter. And while the U.S. took steps to intern Japanese citizens during World War II in order to prevent espionage activity, restitution occurred once the war was over.

If the Patriot Act helps ferret out those who want to kill Americans, it may be a desirable short term measure even as the civil libertarians speak glibly about the threat to our Constitutional liberties. So far more than 165 violent acts against the U.S. have been thwarted by the Patriot Act according to the Justice Department.

The “rationalists” suffer from post hoc analysis. We invaded Iraq; hence radical Islamic violence has increased. Overlooked in this exegesis are the many violent acts which occurred before the invasion in Iraq, e.g. the 1993 attack on the World Trade Center, Khobar Towers, U.S.S. Cole, the missions in East Africa, etc.

It is as if the rationalists suffer from historical amnesia. After all, they note, “there must be a valid reason for this hatred directed at the West.”

The idea that people hate us for who we are rather than what we do is a condition the rationalists cannot accept. Theirs is what I call the Enlightenment flaw: there must be a rational answer for all events.

Rationalists also contend that only a tiny fraction of the Moslem world shares extremist sentiments. That is true of course, but it glosses over a key fact: radical Islamists may represent an insignificant percentage of Moslems, but every terrorist is a Moslem. Even if one percent of that population which numbers 1.3 billion is extremist, more than a million Moslems can cause a lot of death and destruction.

Last, are the subversives from within who detest America so much they would prefer to see Osama bin Laden as president rather than George Bush. One might assume these people aren’t taken seriously; alas they shouldn’t be taken seriously, but in some circles they have influence.
So filled with hate is this group that they do not even respect the laws that offer their freedom to resist. Herbert Marcuse offered an explanation for the haters when de described America as the land of “repressive tolerance.” I wonder how this group would react to Sharia law. Can you imagine Jeanine Garofolo in a burkha?

These three groups may always be present in nations that promote self examination and allow protest. But when one considers the nature of the present threat, these groups can jeopardize national security or undermine our defense. The West should value its freedom, but first it should fight for survival, notwithstanding all the doubting in our midst.

Jacoby's First Law of Politics

Jeff Jacoby reminds us that Jacoby's First Law of Politics is directly relevant to the GOP/pork business:

Whenever One of Our Guys Achieves Significant Political Power, He Stops Being One of Our Guys.

So true, Jeff. Thanks for the wisdom.

Taxpayers Porked Again

Jeff Jacoby has written an excellent column on the highway bill Congress just passed. The bill really is a scandal, and Republicans are entirely to blame, as Jacoby notes:

At $286.4 billion, the highway bill just passed by Congress is the most expensive public works legislation in US history. In addition to funding the interstate highway system and other federal transportation programs, it sets a new record for pork-barrel spending, earmarking $24 billion for a staggering 6,376 pet projects, spread among virtually every congressional district in the land. The enormous bill -- 1,752 pages long -- wasn't made available for public inspection until just before it was brought to a vote, and so, as The New York Times noted, ''it is safe to bet that none of the lawmakers, not even the main authors, had read the entire package."

That didn't stop them from voting for it all but unanimously -- 412 to 8 in the House, 91 to 4 in the Senate.

Democrats voted overwhelmingly for the bill, too, of course, but Republicans have continuously presented themselves as the party of fiscal responsibility. They have once again proven the absurdity of that posture.

It is especially revealing and contemptible that the bill's authors did not make it public until the vote was about to take place. No need to hear from the taxpayers before deciding how to spend our money. Perhaps there would have been less support for "highway" projects meant to benefit no one but the constituencies of particular legislators, such as the following:

Meander through the bill's endless line items and you find a remarkable variety of ''highway" projects, many of which have nothing to do with highways: Horse riding facilities in Virginia ($600,000). A snowmobile trail in Vermont ($5.9 million). Parking for New York's Harlem Hospital ($8 million). A bicycle and pedestrian trail in Tennessee ($532,000). A daycare center and adjoining park-and-ride facility in Illinois ($1.25 million). Dust control mitigation for rural Arkansas ($3 million). The National Packard Museum in Ohio ($2.75 million). A historical trolley project in Washington ($200,000). And on and on and on.

John McCain (R-AZ) was one of the few who voted against the bill, as Jacoby notes:

Arizona Senator John McCain, one of the four who voted no, called the bill a ''monstrosity" and wondered whether it will ever be possible to restore fiscal sanity to Congress. If ''the combination of war, record deficits, and the largest public debt in the country's history" can't break lawmakers' addiction to overspending, he asked, what can? ''It would seem that this Congress can weather any storm thrown at it, as long as we have our pork life-saver to cling to."

McCain is a Republican, and it might surprise younger readers to learn that spending discipline was once a basic Republican principle. Hard to believe in this era of bloated Republican budgets and the biggest-spending presidential administration in 40 years -- but true. Once upon a time Republicans actually described themselves with pride as fiscal conservatives. That was one of the reasons they opposed the promiscuous use of pork-barrel earmarks, which are typically used to bypass legislative standards, reward political favorites, and assert congressional control over state and local affairs.

Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely, Lord Acton said. And those whose power is not absolute, I would add, will find ways to augment it. Fiscally, the Republicans have just pushed us farther down the highway to hell, once again.

Michael Barone: Blogger

My goodness, the meister of American Politik has opened up his own blogshop under the auspices of U.S. News and World Report. Color me impressed.

Raises a question. Will the ranks of the independent blog operators survive as more than a footnote once blogging becomes the norm for the big-league commentators? I think so, primarily because blogs expose the talents of those who would ordinarily never have a platform beyond their immediate circle? Look at Ed Morrissey. The guy is a superb writer/commentator/aggregator of info. He has a large readership. Where was he ten years ago? Frustrated, probably.

In any case, Barone is in the game and looking good with both short posts and the longer essay style stuff. I particularly liked this one:

There are two postings in www.powerlineblog.com on Ted Kennedy's changing responses to recess appointments today and during years when we had Democratic administrations.
Surprise: he is against them now and was for them then. You could probably easily find similar inconsistent statements by Republicans. All of which only illustrates my First Rule of Life: All process arguments are insincere, including this one. My Second Rule of Life, if you're interested is: Never eat in a Chinese restaurant next door to an animal shelter. I am still working on my Third Rule. Suggestions welcome.

Third rule is, "Never go in against a Sicilian when death is on the line."

A Little UN Humor

The real story on John Bolton's recess appointment.

And a candid look at his first day on the job.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Wisdom from Dorothy Sayers on End of Life Issues

I read Dorothy Sayers's excellent 1927 murder mystery Unnatural Death recently, and noticed the following interesting passage, in which readers may find insights into some recent controversies:

[Detective Lord Peter Wimsey said,] "Supposin' somebody knows someone who's very ill and can't last long anyhow. And they're in awful pain and all that, and kept under morphia—practically dead to the world, you know. And suppose that by dyin' straight away they could make something happen which [someone else] really wanted to happen and which couldn't happen if they lived on a little longer (I can't explain exactly how, because I don't want to give personal details and so on)—you get the idea? Well, supposin' somebody who knew all that was just to give 'em a little push off so to speak—hurry matters on—why should that be a very dreadful crime? . . . [D]o you honestly think it's very bad? I know you'd call it a sin, of course, but why is it so very dreadful? It doesn't do the person any harm, does it?"

"We can't answer that," said [priest] Mr. Tredgold, "without knowing the ways of God with the soul. In those last weeks or hours of pain and unconsciousness, the soul may be undergoing some mecessary part of its pilgrimage on earth. It isn't our business to cut it short. Who are we to take life and death into our hands?"

It is easy to see how a disbelief in the soul and an afterlife would remove one of the important factors Tredgold cites as making it wrong to cut off the life even of a person in very bad condition.

Tredgold cites an additional problem: "I think . . . that the sin—I won't use that word—the damage to Society, the wrongness of the thing lies much more in the harm it does the killer than in anything it can do to the person who is killed. Especially, of course, if the killing is to the killer's own advantage. . . . That puts it at once on a different plane from just hastening a person's death out of pity. Sin is in the intention, not the deed. That is the difference between divine law and human law. It is bad for a human being to get to feel that he has any right whatever to dispose of another person's life to his own advantage."

Wimsey and Tredgold go on to observe that the ability to justify one murder makes it easier for an individual to justify others: Tredgold says, "Society is never safe from the man who has committed murder with impunity."

The conversation revolves around the likely effect on the individual murderer, because, of course, that is the subject of a murder mystery. (It is important to note that the characters are not referring to socially approved killings such as capital punishment and war, which are a matter for separate arguments.) At the time Unnatural Death was written, however, the eugenics movement was making very public claims about the positive social value of killing some types of persons. From our current perspective, after nearly a century of pro-eugenics arguments and policies, it is easy to see the greater significance of the situation Sayers describes: the effect on individuals when society accepts claims about the positive value of killing people who strike us as inconvenient.

Kim Jong IL and Eleven Aces in a Round!

According to a North Korean website (reported by Reuters), the magnificent leader posted eleven holes in one in a single round of golf. Who says Tiger Woods is number one in the world???

Church-State and Postmodernism

For those of you with access to services like JSTOR and Hein Online, I'd like to announce the publication of my article "Competing Orthodoxies in the Public Square" in the Journal of Law and Religion.

The basic thesis is that all of us, including the Court, are moving into a more postmodern way of looking at religion versus the alternatives (like say, Marxism, feminism, or various race-centrisms), and thus a strict separationist view is untenable because it singles out religion without treating functional equivalents the same way. As proof of the phenomenon at work, I discuss the movement of free exercise cases into the free speech realm.

No Chickenhawk

Steven Vincent was an eyewitness to the 9-11 attacks who went to Iraq to write about the war on terror from a different ground zero. His work was published at the New York Times and NRO, as well as several other outlets. He was also the author of the book In the Red Zone published by the Spence company.

Mr. Vincent has been found dead in Iraq, a victim of violence. Michelle Malkin has the round-up.

Short-Term Church Missions

[Our friend Greg McConnell, a reporter based in the Midwest, kindly sent us the following message. You may visit the web link below to see photos from the trip Greg mentions.]

While the popularity of short-term mission trips has been skyrocketing, many Christians aren't convinced that this is a positive development. Recently, Christianity Today examined whether or not short-term mission trips are even good stewardship (http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2005/127/22.0.html). At the heart of the debate is a study by Kurt Ver Beek, professor of sociology and third-world development at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan, which essentially concludes that most short-term mission trips don't accomplish much.

I think that this is a healthy discussion, and accountability on such matters is very important.
Besides, Ver Beek doesn't seem to have a vendetta against short-term missions; he wants to understand them and, if possible, improve the system.

On a personal note, I went on a short-term mission trip to Costa Rica this past June
(http://gjmc.blogspot.com/). I suspect that most anyone who goes on a short-term mission trip will tell you it was good stewardship, and I am no exception. However, I honestly do think that special relationships were formed with the Costa Ricans who hosted us. Only time will tell if this partnership lasts to bear long-term fruit.—Greg McConnell

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Taps for Mr. Scott

"Jimmy" Doohan died on July 20 at age 85.

I found this letter in Los Angeles' other paper, The Daily News, today and thought it worth passing on before it's gone forever.

I met Doohan 30 years ago, at the bar of a New York hotel where he was the guest of honor at a "Star Trek" convention. We were chatting over beers when another Trekkie asked him for his autograph. I vaguely noticed something odd in the way he held his pen, but it was the Trekkie who shrieked, "Jeez, Scotty, what happened to your middle finger?"

"Oh, that," he said. "In the war, I was under fire, diving for a foxhole, and I was so glad I made it, I gave the enemy the finger...and they shot it off!" He told it like it was a joke. I was stunned to read in his obituary that this took place during the D-Day invasion of Normandy, and that he was shot six times. What a modest, as well as charming, man.

Henry C. Parke
Van Nuys

Beamed up safely. Posted by Picasa

A man of duty, honor and good cheer, not only in fiction, but in fact. Rest in peace, Mr. Doohan. Well done.

So Much For Marriage and Self-Government

The "widely respected" (by the Los Angeles Times) California Supreme Court ruled yesterday that businesses offering discounts or other benefits to married couples must offer the same to registered domestic partners, most of whom are homosexuals. The sages argued that "A business that extends benefits to spouses it denies to registered domestic partners engages in impermissible marital status discrimination."

Got that? California law does not recognize homosexual marriage, and so it is the law---The People---that engages in "marital status discrimination." Put aside the issue of freedom of contract. Put aside the issue of what marriage means. Put aside the likely attendant effects that would follow upon a change in the fundamental definition of marriage. Ignore the implications of the evolution of marriage over the millenia in virtually all human societies in terms of the social function of marriage as an institution. Ignore the effects of weakening incentives for marriage. Put aside the opportunities for rampant fraud, as roommates, third cousins twice removed, and others register as "couples" so as to obtain insurance discounts, easier real estate credit, ad infinitum. Focus instead upon the deeper implication of this ruling: In the view of the sophisticates, self-government simply is unacceptable if it yields outcomes inconsistent with the demands of those interests favored by the modern high priests of political correctitude. So much for the separation of church and state.

The silver lining is that two initiatives proscribing homosexual marriage in California are likely to appear on the ballot this fall. The black-robed Solomons have improved the prospects for voter approval, in a blue state.

The Photo Fisking of Juan Cole (HT: Instapundit)

Juan Cole was mentioned as an authority in a comment to this weblog recently. Here's an interesting photo essay in his honor.

Hollywood Screamers

Cathy Seipp has a wonderful piece up at National Review Online about Hollywood prima donnas who revel in verbal abuse. The last bit is worth filing away for future use:

Screaming actors, it seems, can be easier to deal with, perhaps because they are not always famous for their brains. Many years ago, I read a story about how Roger Moore (a nonscreamer) took a younger actor aside and suggested he stop attacking everyone on the set. “I'm not in this business to win a popularity contest,” the screamer fumed. “I just want to be a good actor.”

“Well, you've failed at being a good actor,” Moore replied reasonably. “Why not try for the popularity contest?”

I always liked Roger Moore. My father and I used to watch him play The Saint on late night reruns.

Monday, August 01, 2005

Reform Club: Reviewing the Bidding

Reform Club has hit the summer vacation slump in posting, but don't worry, we'll be back stronger than ever in the days to come. For now, lets review what we're offering to the blogosphere:

1. The prose stylings of S.T. Karnick, one of the best all-around writers in the fields of political and cultural commentary. S.T. has written for every significant publication in those areas and has expanded his portfolio to the Christianity Today family of magazines in the last year. He is the former founding editor of American Outlook and current editor of several Heartland newspapers. Karnick is also the first books and culture editor for the forthcoming Crux magazine.

2. Two top economists in the persons of Benjamin Zycher and Alan Reynolds. Both bring a free-market libertarian flavor to their posts. Zycher's work can be found at Tech Central Station. Reynolds writes for the Wall St. Journal and Townhall.com. Reynolds and Zycher operate in the think tanks of the Cato Institute and Pacific Research Institute, respectively.

3. Master of wordplay Jay Homnick writes for Reform Club when he isn't busy with one of the most intensive freelance schedules in the business. His work regularly appears at American Spectator and Jewish World Review. He is also a working ghostwriter who never reveals his clients (hear that prospective clients?).

4. Hunter Baker is the junior member of the Reform Club and is an MPA/JD working on a Ph.D. in Religion and Politics at Baylor University. Baker is the former director of public policy at Georgia Family Council and maintains significant contacts throughout the community of cultural conservatives. His work has appeared at National Review Online, American Spectator, Christianity Today, and the Journal of Law and Religion.

5. New additions include Herb London, Kathy Hutchins, and Tom Van Dyke.

London is the head of the well-respected Hudson Institute, which was founded by Cold War intellectual Herman Kahn. He is also an astute cultural analyst and scholar (New York University). If that weren't enough, London once ran for Governor of New York as the most successful third party candidate in state history for the Conservative party.

Kathy Hutchins is an economist by training who combines acerbic wit with the riches of Catholic social thought. Prior to leaving full-time work to care for her family, Kathy worked for the Hudson Institute. Though we lured her away, she still blogs individually at Gathering Goat Eggs.

Tom Van Dyke is a former champion of both Joker's Wild (all-time champion) and Win Ben Stein's Money (where he did, in fact, win Ben's money). When he's not showing off his abilities with trivia, he's working on a new recording contract. Tom should be posting in the very near future.

In short, it's as interesting and varied a line-up as you'll find in any daily magazine of political analysis, economic reporting, and cultural commentary. We don't easily fit into a regular blog category. We're not a God blog, though we have strong theists of both Jewish and Christian stripes. We're not a pure politics blog. We're not an entertainment blog. We're not an economics blog. We're not a law blog. We're not an academia blog. We're not a war blog. You will, however, find elements of all of the above on a regular basis. Bookmark us and visit regularly.

Lawyers Loving Lawyers, Hating Doctors

I have to admit some serious prejudices with this post. I am married to an OB-GYN. We tied the knot while she was in medical school, so I know what residency was like and how hard it is to be a practicing obstetrician-gynecologist. During residency there were hundred hour weeks. If you look at her compensation during that time, it was probably sometimes less than minimum wage.

In private practice, the money is much better, but there is the constant need to practice defensive rather than optimum medicine and of course, the hours continue to be brutal. After my wife scaled-back to spend more time with our first child, she was still averaging more than 40 hours a week. People who don't live this life can't imagine what an enemy the beeper is and what it feels like to see your spouse called out of bed at 2 a.m. on countless occasions.

The difficulty of having kids and managing a medical career actually prompted us to get out of medicine for a couple of years. My wife felt called back into it after helping a neighbor through a serious health crisis and acting as his advocate with the local medical establishment. This is a calling and a very challenging one.

I mentioned the items above simply to lay the groundwork for my outrage that the Wisconsin Supreme Court invalidated a law putting caps on pain and suffering damages. They invalidated the law under the rational basis level of scrutiny, which means such a cap is totally irrational as a method of lowering overall costs, ensuring quality care (like keeping physicians in the state), and dealing with skyrocketing medical malpractive insurance rates.

The first impulse is to say that we should simply go ahead and nationalize the practice of medicine and get rid of this headache. We'll accept our physician bureaucracy pay and go on with life. The second impulse seems more appropriate. Let's nationalize the practice of law and take the profit out of this parasitism. After all, the practice of law depends entirely on the existence of a government with a monopoly on the use of coercive force. There's a good case to be made that all the servants of the law should be public servants.

This is a little tongue-in-cheek, but I'd like to see the fatcats who've never held someone's life in their hands sweat a little.

Oh, couple more things. Is it at all worrisome that the two richest men in Texas are trial lawyers who made their money in tort actions? Second, should hospitals start putting up a sign that says, "Cutting into people's bodies with metal instruments is an inherently dangerous business, but the alternative is that you go back to the guy shaking a gourd full of seeds."

UPDATE: Something I forgot to mention. The Wisconsin Court said the statute limiting malpractice pain and suffering damages failed rational basis scrutiny. My constitutional law prof. (a wonderful New York liberal Jewish lady) used to say that to fail rational basis scrutiny a statute would have to declare something on the level of everyone must wear a green shoe on their left foot on odd days of the month. Is a limit on pain and suffering damages irrational like that or is the bar just taking care of itself?

Sunday, July 31, 2005

As The Jay Flies (3)

As earlier noted, I was privileged on Friday to behold the Liberty Bell. Although I was born in New York City (so were both my parents and my father's mother), I managed to reach the age of 47 before this very first visit.

What I found most fascinating was that when the original crack appeared it did not prevent the bell from ringing. In an effort to repair the crack, they tried some process that held only temporarily. When it rebroke, it was considerably more damaged and no longer functioned. Sometimes, if it ain't all that broke, it's still better not to fix it.

I was reminded of the Jewish law against repairing vessels that were used in the Holy Temple, because of the principle that "there can be no poverty in a place of wealth". However, this applies only if the original break caused it to be unusable. In that case, the item can be utilized only as the result of the repair, which renders it a specimen of "poverty" that is inappropriate in a place of generous munificence. This creates a counterintuitive premise: "If it is broke, don't fix it."

The Talmud adds a story that relates directly to the Liberty Bell. It reports that there was an oboe that had been crafted in the days of Moses and was preserved through all the generations, eventually being used in Solomon's Temple (built 440 years after the passing of Moses). Later, it developed a crack but still made nice music. They tried to repair the crack with some gluey substance but the music was not as sweet. So they just scraped it off and went back to using it, crack and all.

As The Jay Flies (2)

Aah, depression: now there is a subject I would love to write about, if I could only lift my hand...

Actually, I plan to write an article on the subject soon. It would deal with different Biblical models of depression: Moses, Elijah and Jonah. Maybe if you guys would put in a good word for me, we could coax Karnick into publishing it in Crux.

In the meantime, I'm still busy recording the exciting doings of Washington, D.C. If perchance you overlooked my latest offering, perhaps this link will fill your appetite - that is, if you don't mind the nitrates.

As to my peregrinations, I have moved beyond Washington to Philadelphia and am sorry to report that the Liberty Bell is still cracked. About which, more on a separate post.

Saturday, July 30, 2005

Blog Depression

As a public service, we are releasing this image from The Nonist's helpful brochure on blog depression.

Please consider the dangers of blog depression before embarking upon your own electronic printing press project.

Blog depression can be staved off in many ways, one of which is to add think tank all-stars to the contributor list. Welcome, Herb London.

Friday, July 29, 2005

More Leadership From the Left Coast

I have a short essay today in Medical Progress Today on an initiative on the California ballot forthcoming this November. It essentially is a full-employment act for the lawyers, masquerading as pharmaceutical "compassion" for the middle class. If passed, upheld, and implemented, it would destroy the pharmaceutical sector nationwide. It can be found at

Comments welcome.

U.S. Economy Continues Growth

From AP: "The economy clocked in at a chipper 3.4 percent annual growth rate in the second quarter, fresh evidence the country's business climate is healthy despite surging energy costs." (See "Economy Grows Despite High Energy Costs.")

The story notes, "The solid increase in the gross domestic product for the April-to-June quarter, reported by the Commerce Department on Friday, came on the heels of a larger 3.8 percent growth rate in the opening quarter of this year."

Unemployment continues to fall: "With the economy on solid footing, the nation's job market continues to plug ahead. The unemployment rate dropped to 5 percent in June, a nearly four year low, as employers expanded payrolls modestly."

The AP story noted that growth has been slighly slower than expected: "Economic growth averaged 2.8 percent over the last three years, down from the 3.1 percent that originally had been reported for the period.

"For all of 2004, the new figures show the economy expanded by 4.2 percent, versus the old estimate of 4.4 percent." However, the story noted, "Even with the slightly lower growth, last year's performance was still the best since 1999."

The Bush economy began in 2002.

Columbo: Season One, Pilot

I am now in possession of the first season of the Columbo television movies. Last night I viewed the pilot for the first time. Very interesting. Peter Falk's Columbo is a little different in this version and so is the obligatory villain played by Gene Barry.

Barry is a psychiatrist who crafts the perfect murder of his wife who is threatening to ruin his medical practice with a scandalous divorce. His execution is picture perfect. Enough issues to keep Columbo on his tail, but no proof, not even circumstantial evidence. The scenes where Columbo and the murderous psychiatrist engage in conversational duels are outstanding, particularly when they begin to speak more frankly.

At one point, the two speak of a hypothetical murderer and Columbo asks the psychiatrist to construct a profile. They both know he will be speaking of himself. He states that the murderer is highly intelligent, a professional man, patient, strong nervous system, etc. Columbo interjects: "But wouldn't someone who takes a human life in cold blood be insane?" "No," the psychiatrist answers, "Morals are all relative and murder is simply one option among many. An intelligent man would use it if need be." Paraphrasing a bit here. This is the great part. Columbo says, "Well, that's interesting. I guess a fellow like that would figure he's very hard to catch, but there's a problem. The murderer gets one chance to commit the crime. One chance to learn. But a man like me sees a hundred crimes like this in a year. It's my business." Finally, the psychiatrist begins to pale a bit as he realizes he may be outgunned.

The Columbo of the pilot is a little bit different from the detective of the long-running series. He is younger, better groomed, and angrier, much angrier. Any fan of the series needs to see this episode, which is surely the least-aired of the bunch.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

And Now for Something Completely Different. . .

Click here to read the real story of how Supreme Court Justices finish their careers.

Fighting a War Against Fanatics

The jihadist attack on innocent London residents as they made their way to work during the morning rush hour two weeks ago, and the subsequent failed attack, illuminate the grim reality of this era. Despite all of the claims about assimilating radical Moslems or moderating their sentiments, it is clear that whatever Western motives may be, jihadist goals are unremitting: undiluted destruction and sanguinary nihilism.

With another 700 injured and at least 50 killed, it is time to face this truth. These fanatics are intent on killing and maiming as many people as they can. Negotiations are not possible. With whom would one negotiate in any case?

Difficult as it may be for well meaning liberals to accept, jihadists are different from those of us who share Judeo-Christian principles. They are at war with the West and it is a war in which civilization itself is at risk.

This is not merely a war for hearts and minds, it is a war of life and death. The West is at the crossroads. It is one thing to say, as Tony Blair has, that we will prevail. How we will prevail; what we must do to prevail? These need to be answered.

It is instructive that MI5 reports that “only 1 percent of Muslims in the U.K. are extremists.” However, that one percent translates into 16,000 potential terrorists. The “only” in the intelligence report speaks volumes about British political correctness.

A call for realism is in order. We can no longer tolerate sermons from mosques that justify slaughter or martyrdom. We can no longer allow foreign-born, noncitizen fanatics to live in our nation or any civilized nation where they plan attacks or marshal support for attacks. We can no longer simply assume that through Herculean effort radical Muslims will embrace the essential creed of our civilization. We can no longer allow our Constitution to be used against Americans. Freedom of religion is not freedom to promote carnage. The Constitution is not a suicide pact.

Even after 9/11 our Secretary of Transportation refused to consider “profiling.” From any perspective he was more intent on the maintenance of a liberal agenda than public safety. That decision is a metaphor for the war on terror. We cannot fight this war effectively with at least one hand tied behind our backs.

Now that body parts have been exploded on to London streets, the public may awaken from its tranquilized state. This war depends on an all-out effort to win. Half measures won’t do, nor will good-will. The time has come to remove our ideological shackles and fight this war with every once of strength we, as a people, can muster. Our destiny and the destiny of our civilization depend on it.

A longer version of this item appeared on FrontPage magazine.

New Member of Reform Club Blog

I am delighted to announce that Herb London has joined the Reform Club blog. Herb is president of the Hudson Institute, Professor Emeritus at New York University, and author of hundreds of articles and numerous books, the most recent of which is Decade of Denial (Lexington Books). Herb, as most reasonably well informed people know, is a brilliant and respected commentator on a wide variety of subjects, and we are extremely fortunate to have him on the team.

The Economics of Willy Wonka

Update: Welcome, Carnival of the Capitalists readers! Check out more great stuff on the Reform Club homepage.

The Viking Child and I saw Charlie and the Chocolate Factory this afternoon. I’ve liked Tim Burton for a long time, and this film is one of his best. Johnny Depp is certainly one of the most interesting, and most talented, actors of his generation. A Dahl purist might object to the invented backstory of Willy’s disturbed childhood as the son of Saruman the Dentist; it didn’t bother me, it was sufficiently Dahlian to fit, and it helped flesh out the persona of a man who looks like Anna Wintour on purpose.

But if I want to blog about a movie two weeks in the theaters already, I have to have some oddball schtick and here it is: Willy Wonka as a primer on economics.

When we first meet the Bucket family, they are mired in comically desparate penury: one breadwinner, five dependents, and cabbage soup every night. Mr. Bucket is an honest and industrious man, but he can’t earn much, because he puts caps on toothpaste tubes by hand. Since an employer can’t afford to pay him more than the value he adds to the product at the margin, he makes a peasant’s wage and eats a peasant’s diet.

There’s a massive, modern, efficient factory right next to the Bucket house – the Wonka works – but there are no employment opportunities there. Grandpa Joe once worked for Mr. Wonka, but that all ended with a rash of industrial espionage. Some of the Wonka workforce were bribed to steal secret recipes for his competitors, and in response Wonka fired everyone and closed the factory. Wonka’s competitive advantage at candymaking is his fertile creativity; if his intellectual property rights can’t be defended, he can’t afford to keep inventing things. And although this was bad for Wonka, it was worse for Grandpa Joe. Wonka eventually found an alternative source of labor that wasn’t so untrustworthy. Grandpa had to go lie in bed with three other old people and eat cabbage soup every day.

Keep that in mind the next time you feel like bashing Big Pharma when they defend their drug patents.

Although things are bad for the Buckets at the beginning of the film, they get worse. Mr. Bucket loses his job at the toothpaste factory, when the demand curve for toothpaste shifts east in response to an exogenous demand increase for candy caused by the Wonka Golden Ticket craze (since of course toothpaste and candy are complementary goods). You might think that what’s good for toothpaste is good for the Buckets, but paradoxically the firm’s increased revenues give them the cash position to enter the capital market and purchase a machine that screws caps on toothpaste tubes and makes Mr. Bucket redundant.

Then Charlie finds a 10 pound note (or maybe it was a 10 euro note, or some made up currency. Ten somethings, though) half buried in the snow, takes possession of it, buys a Wonka bar and gets the last Golden Ticket. You might cavil that Charlie should have taken the note to the police and reported it as lost. I say he mixed his labor with an abandoned physical good, all according to John Locke, and it became rightfully his.

Most of the time spent in the Chocolate Factory is microeconomics free, but afterwards the Bucket fortunes improve when the toothpaste makers hire Mr. Bucket back at a significant wage increase to fix the machine that screws the caps on the tubes. This illustrates that Mr. Bucket’s previous poverty was in part due to insufficient capital to mix with his labor. While in the short run the capital purchase seemed bad for Mr. Bucket, in the end it’s once again shown that workers are more productive and better compensated when they have more capital to work with.

Next week: Baseball’s Antitrust Exemption and The Bad News Bears

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

The Philosopher's Dream

After yet another round of head meeting wall of denial in the comment room, I am reminded of a story about a philosopher who kept having the most interesting dream. In his dream, the philosopher saw himself meeting the greatest minds of history in debate. With a single remark, he sent each of them away despondent and defeated. No matter whether they were natural law theorists, Christians, atheists, agnostics, continental, analytic, Freudians, Marxists, behaviorists, nihilists, whatever, he sent them away with his awe-inspiring single remark.

The only problem was that he would wake up each morning completely unable to remember what his atomic statement was. The greatest piece of argumentation of all-time and he couldn't remember it!

After having the dream several more times he read that some dreamers could wake themselves long enough to take notes on their dreams before collapsing back into unconsciousness. He resolved to do so himself. He placed a pencil and notepad by his bed and spoke very sternly to himself about the need to wake up. Despite the tension caused by such rigorous concentration and self-talk, he finally managed to fall asleep.

The dream faithfully recurred. Amazingly, he managed to rise and scribble the deadly argument on the pad. As he finished his note unconsciousness descended and he immediately returned to slumber.

He awoke to the sound of his alarm clock with great expectation. He remembered having woken from his dream and having made a note. He could barely get his eyes to focus on the pad he held with shaking fingers. With great discipline he mastered himself and read the inscription only to go pale with disappointment as he read what it said:

"Well, that's what you say. . ."

Krauthammer on Gitmo

I'm linking to this column by Charles Krauthammer because it recapitulates my sense of what's happening in Guantanamo and how we should respond to it.

I'm open to a revised opinion based on hard fact, but for now I think Krauthammer has it about right.

Here's an excerpt:

The self-flagellation has gone far enough. We know that al Qaeda operatives are trained to charge torture when they are in detention, and specifically to charge abuse of the Koran to inflame fellow prisoners on the inside and potential sympathizers on the outside.

In March the Navy inspector general reported that, out of about 24,000 interrogations at Guantanamo, there were seven confirmed cases of abuse, "all of which were relatively minor." In the eyes of history, compared to any other camp in any other war, this is an astonishingly small number. Two of the documented offenses involved "female interrogators who, on their own initiative, touched and spoke to detainees in a sexually suggestive manner." Not exactly the gulag.

The most inflammatory allegations have been not about people but about mishandling the Koran. What do we know here? The Pentagon reports (Brig. Gen. Jay Hood, May 26) -- all these breathless "scoops" come from the U.S. government's own investigations of itself -- that of 13 allegations of Koran abuse, five were substantiated, of which two were most likely accidental.
Let's understand what mishandling means. Under the rules the Pentagon later instituted at Guantanamo, proper handling of the Koran means using two hands and wearing gloves when touching it. Which means that if any guard held the Koran with one hand or had neglected to put on gloves, this would be considered mishandling.

A False Claim We Hope Won't Stick

"I don't have to prove that it causes cancer," an attorney told the Associated Press. "I only have to prove that DuPont lied in a massive attempt to continue selling their product."

So reports Michael Fumento in this excellent report on the latest example of rich lawyers trawling for big corporate pockets to plunder. Fumento notes that two law firms have filed a class action lawsuit against Dupont, Inc., makers of Teflon, for $5 billion. Their claim: that a chemical called perfluorooctanoic acid, which is used in the production of Teflon, is dangerous to humans because it causes cancer in rats when administered in dosages just short of instantaneously poisonous levels.

The purpose of the tort system, of course, is to provide redress to individuals harmed by other persons within the society. And if anyone has truly been harmed by Teflon, they have a right to sue the persons responsible.

As the lawyer's comment above demonstrates, however, the nation's tort system has been perverted into a proxy for the criminal justice system: a means of punishing supposed wrongdoers through the use of a weaker standard of proof—preponderance of the evidence instead of proof beyond a reasonable doubt.

Frankly, abusing the tort system in this way is a crappy, cowardly thing to do.

Any decent judge in a reasonable system would throw such a suit out immediately. Unfortunately, that probably won't happen. Read Mike's account here.

A Little Happening Christian Humor . . .

The ad copy contains this gem:

Running from the floodtide of internet filth? Plagued by the merchants of obscenity? Maligned by the mercenaries of smut? Stop the madness and insist on the product that protects my family from the lewd, lecherous portal known as the world wide web.

Get the best Internet filter available from Integrity Online. Now with S.P.I.F.T.™, Superior Pornographic Internet Filtering Technology.

We're also alerted to the fact that this filter "PROTECTS THE JOHNSONS!"

The Incredible Lightness of Howard Dean

His Airness (and that doesn't refer to his vertical leap) Howard Dean fired another shot into the alternate reality-based community in which he lives. By Dean's account:

"The president and his right-wing Supreme Court think it is 'okay' to have the government take your house if they feel like putting a hotel where your house is."

Dean perhaps missed out on the fact that the four dissenters to the Kelo eminent domain decision included the three most conservative justices: Rehnquist, Scalia, and Thomas. Get that man a newspaper, wouldja?

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Club G'itmo

I've stated before that I think Rush Limbaugh transformed talk radio as much or more because of his talent and humor than because of his ideology. Assuming Guantanamo is more a detainment facility and less the raging chamber of torture horrors the Daily Kos groupies think it is, I'm linking to the hilarious merchandise Rush has for sale in the Club G'itmo line.

Sample lines from mugs, t-shirts, etc.:

"What happens at Club G'itmo, stays at Club G'itmo."

"My mullah went to Club G'itmo and all I got was this lousy t-shirt."

"Your tropical retreat from the stress of Jihad."

I think the last is my favorite.

Face Transplants and Face/Off

We've all seen the news accounts of the face transplants that will soon begin to take place. Interesting, hopeful stuff, particularly for those who have been severely disfigured. As I read, I began thinking of the highly implausible, but really entertaining film Face/Off which starred Nick Cage and John Travolta. What was hard to believe was that two men with really different bodies, hairlines, etc. could trade faces through surgery.

My wife, the doctor, pointed out a much better reason it would be implausible while I told her about the new transplants. She informed me (duh, why didn't I think of that) that face transplant recipients would not look like the donors because the bones of the face play a great part in defining the way the face looks. Interesting point.

Durbin/Turley/Roberts: The Real Scoop

Get it here from the good lawyers of Powerline.

Can a (Yuk!!!!) Catholic Uphold the Constitution?

There seem to be increasing doubts, among many on the political left, that U.S. Catholics are sufficiently respectful of America's constitutional system to be able to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court. There are, of course, partisan reasons for this. The ongoing efforts to find something wrong with President Bush's current choice for the vacancy on the Court, John Roberts, have failed to uncover anything sufficiently damning to give Democrats a pretext for filibustering his nomination or turning moderate Republicans against him. Hence the focus has turned—rather desperately, I think—to his religious beliefs and the beliefs of his wife.

This past weekend, the New York Times reports, Illinois Senator Dick Durbin asked Judge Roberts directly whether he could uphold the Constitution.

"An opinion-page article in The Los Angeles Times on Monday by Jonathan Turley, a George Washington University law professor, included an account of Mr. Durbin's question. Professor Turley cited unnamed sources saying that Judge Roberts had told Mr. Durbin he would recuse himself from cases involving abortion, the death penalty or other subjects where Catholic teaching and civil law can clash.

"A spokesman for Mr. Durbin and Senator John Cornyn, Republican of Texas, who spoke to Judge Roberts on Monday about the meeting, said Professor Turley's account of a recusal statement was inaccurate.

"But in an interview last night, Professor Turley said Mr. Durbin himself had described the conversation to him on Sunday morning, including the statement about recusal. Whatever the conversation in the senator's office on Friday, Mr. Durbin's question hit the fault line between liberal anxiety about theocratic intolerance and conservative fears about hostility to religion."

Durbin, however, would not confirm Turley's claim, and an aide cast doubt on the professor's interpretation of his conversation with Sen. Durbin, according to the Times:

"Mr. Durbin declined to discuss the issue on Monday. A spokesman, Joe Shoemaker, said, 'What Judge Roberts did say clearly and repeatedly was that he would follow the rule of law, and beyond that we are going to leave it to Judge Roberts to offer his views.'"

What I find fascinating here is the readiness to believe that membership in a church that has 65 million members in this country is sufficient to cast doubt on a person's devotion to their nation's constitutional principles. The Times story reports, however, that at least one major political activist on the left finds that conclusion to be unfair:

"Ralph Neas, president of People for the American Way said, conservatives were 'laying a foundation or somehow setting up a dynamic that if you are against John Roberts you are somehow anti-Catholic, and that is just pure poppycock.'"

But if there's nothing else particularly wrong with him, and people keep asking him about his religious beliefs, and then they say that they oppose confirmation of him for the Supreme Court, one can hardly blame Catholics for concluding something from that.

Unless, of course, it is all about abortion after all.

It would seem unwise for politicians in most states to offend Catholics by using religion as a stalking horse for abortion opinions.

In which case, I should respectfully suggest that the opponents of Roberts' confirmation simply come out and say that they will oppose any nominee who does not explicitly say that he or she will support Roe v. Wade with no alterations and no exceptions. Then, let the voters decide what to do about it when Senators from both sides of the argument face reelection. That is how a representative democracy is supposed to work, isn't it?

Moral Truth and the Existence of God

Joe Carter at the Evangelical Outpost has an interesting post on something we argue about quite a bit here, which is objective moral truth and whether God exists. Click here to read more. I particularly like this sketch of the argument because it includes stuff from the American C.S. Lewis, Elton Trueblood.

Harry Potter and the Editorial Half-Wit

The Writer's Write blog has the goods on the guy who missed out on the chance to buy the first Harry Potter book. Turns out his father missed Goodnight Moon, too. As Bugs Bunny would say, "Wotta Maroon!"

Here's a tidbit:

At lunch some time later I overheard our chief executive talking about the success of the Rowling book. So I happened to mention, with a chuckle, that we'd had a chance to buy it. Why is it that one remembers a long pause? "Chief?" I said, though to this day I don't know why, as no one called him that. "You what?" he asked, his voice trembling slightly. "May I speak with you in my office?"

The editor in question has moved on to another line of work.

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.