Saturday, September 24, 2005

The Upbeat Mr. Hewitt

Hugh Hewitt astounded me with his consistent confidence that Bush would beat Kerry more easily than expected.

Here's his latest and my usual pessimism is rebelling:

The presidents' opponents have been declaring him down and out since the fall of '00. Keep the clippings handy for election night '06.

I hope he's right and I'm wrong. I'm expecting an election night more like the disappointment of 1998.

Friday, September 23, 2005

A Running Mate for Hillary

Back in town just in time to hear the ineffable Diane Feinstein do her finest Barbara Boxer imitation, complaining that Judge Roberts failed to pass the Oprah test, to wit, an explanation of his legal doctrine from the perspective of a father, husband, and son and/or eternal victim. Or something. Can she possibly be that dumb? Yes, she faces a reelection campaign next year, but she's effectively a shoo-in, given how very weak the Republican bench is in California, and given the kid gloves with which the media treat her. So what gives? Maybe she really is that dumb, which would explain a lot.

Anyway, this got me to thinking a bit about females in politics and the fair Hillary in particular. Hillary announced that she would vote against Roberts; obviously her vote in favor of the Iraq military campaign has created some nervousness with respect to the leftist base of the Party. So we can expect Hillary to do whatever is needed to keep the base of the Party---the teachers unions, the trial lawyers, the government unions, the abortion crowd, the protectionists, ad nauseam---happy. So I still believe that in the end she will be the Democratic Party nominee for the Presidency in '08.

Let's assume for discussion purposes that I'm correct. Whom will she pick as her running mate? It is clear to me that she could not pick another female. But what man with political aspirations would want to be her running mate? Number twos are just that: second fiddles, and the enormous difficulty faced by VPs and former VPs in terms of getting elected to the Presidency is evidence of that. In other words, it seems to me that any man running with her is going to be---please forgive the crude verbiage---castrated politically. So she might have to opt for some elder statesman. I have no idea whom that might be. But it's going to take some fast talking to convince me that being her running mate, even under the assumption that she wins the election, would be a political winner. And then there is the geographic balance problem, her obvious problems in the south, etc. Sure, she'll find someone. But I wonder if, a la George McGovern and Sargent Shriver in 1972, it will number 23 on her list.

Birth Dearth

We have noted on this blog in the past that birth rates among native-born Europeans are extremely low, and that the United States has been heading in the same direction. In an interesting review of Tim Burton's new film, The Corpse Bride, on Tech Central Station, Pinkerton considers the biological necessity of childbearing, and some of its social consequences, using insights from sociobiology and making reference to the original story on which the film was based:

. . . the ideas that animated the original "Corpse Bride" tale-tellers might animate us, too. Death at a young age doesn't loom over us today, as it did in centuries past. What we must live with instead is in a way even more mysterious and ominous -- the lack of young life.

If Edmund Burke was right -- that society is a compact between the generations; the dead, the living, and the yet to be born -- then something has gone wrong with our society. For two generations now, the world has lived in the erroneous thrall of Paul Ehrlich, author of The Population Bomb. Only now, as argued in a spate of important books, do we see that the real problem is not an explosion of people, but rather a dearth of birth. Pat Buchanan, Ben Wattenberg, and Phil Longman -- authors who respectively represent the paleoconservative, neoconservative, and center-left camps -- have all made the case for a return to pro-natalist attitudes in the West. Each author uses the language of politics and social science to express the same primal cry: "Have children! Have them for the sake of the living, and also for the sake of the dead, especially those who could never have their own, even though they wanted to."

No wonder the Right to Life movement continues to flourish. At the most basic level -- at the level of primal needs, and primordial tales -- there's a basic baby homeostasis at work. All those Baptists, Catholics, and others have a feeling, a feeling deep inside, that there aren't enough children, that there aren't enough little feet pattering around. On this issue, at least, God and Darwin are united.

The French government seems to agree. In repsonse to falling birthrates among the native population, the national government is offering additional incentives for the formation of larger families:

The French government has pledged more money for families with three children, in an effort to encourage working women to have more babies.

France already has a generous childcare system, which has resulted in a birth rate of 1.9 children per family, well above the EU average of 1.5.

That term "has resulted" is incorrect, given that France's higher birthrate is a result of its much larger population of Muslim immigrants than is present in other European countries. Nonetheless, the government's policy is significant, as is its stated reasoning, which echoes Pinkerton's TCS article:

"The family has changed," Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin, himself a father of three, told a conference on the family.

"But it remains at the very heart of French society. It is a source of joy, of comfort, and a haven for its members. That is why we are announcing measures to help families in their everyday lives."

Of course, the real reason behind the French government's concern for family size is the fact that the nation's declining birth rate (it is below the replacement rate of 2.1 live births per female) makes the country's lavish social security systen entirely unsupportable, a problem that we in the United States, despite our higher rate of population growth (due to immigration) have only recently begun to consider doing anything serious about. The French government realizes that unless upcoming generations of French are much bigger than they have been lately, the Ponzi scheme that nearly every government-run social security system constitutes will lose all public support. Hence their newfound family-friendliness.

Seeing Double

Is this plagiarism? Or merely incompetence?

It looks to me like Article Number 1 is word-for-word identical with Article Number 2. The two articles are attributed to different authors.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

ID-ing My ID Article

Just in case you somehow missed my article about Intelligent Design, the Coast Guard, birds-of-paradise and helicopters, it would probably be civil of me to provide you with the missing link.

"Let the stranger praise you, not your own mouth," said King Solomon, so I'll shut up now. You, on the other hand, should feel free to heap accolades into the Comment box.

Cheaper Fuel = More Fuel Consumed

In his latest Boston Globe column, Jeff Jacoby explains "The Paradox of Fuel Efficiency," as the article's title calls it. Jacoby points out that people have been pushing for the production and use of more-fuel-efficient cars for several decades:

If the vehicles on our roads got more miles to the gallon, we have been told again and again, we could dramatically reduce the amount of oil we depend on -- and from that would flow benefits equally dramatic:

America's foreign policy would be strengthened, it is said, since we would no longer have to appease the unsavory regimes that control most of the world's crude oil. The economy would surge as money now spent on fuel was channeled to more productive uses. Mother Earth would be better off, since less fuel would mean less pollution and less drilling for oil. And at a time of $3-a-gallon gasoline, motorists would have particular reason to rejoice: Higher-mileage cars would need fewer expensive fill-ups.

The Bush administration, Jacoby notes, has proposed new regulations to require increased gas mileage in passenger cars, saying "the plan would save 10 billion gallons of gasoline by 2011." But Jacoby points out the the expected fuel savings will not come, and in fact the opposite will happen:

[The Bush proposal and other such measures] might be worth considering if using fuel more efficiently really would result in less fuel being used. But it won't. It will result in more fuel being used.

If that sounds counterintuitive, think about it this way: Would lowering the price of operating an automobile -- i.e., making driving cheaper -- lead to higher or lower consumption? Higher, of course: The cheaper something is, the more of it we generally want. Cars that run more efficiently make transportation cheaper by getting more miles out of each gallon of gas. Result: more miles driven and more gasoline consumed.

Jacoby points out that the creation of more efficient computers has brought not less use of computers but far more use of them. Just so with passenger cars, the evidence shows:

In The Bottomless Well, a myth-busting new book on energy and how we use it, Peter Huber, a scholar at the Manhattan Institute, and Mark Mills, a physicist and technology expert, acknowledge that this paradox -- ''the more efficient our technology, the more energy we consume" -- strikes many people as heretical. But the numbers bear it out. Thirty years ago, the energy cost of transportation was nine gallons per 100 vehicle miles. Today it is six gallons -- a 33 percent drop. Yet over the same period, the total amount of fuel consumed rose 56 percent -- from 115 billion gallons a year to more than 180 billion gallons.

This ''paradox of efficiency" is as true of cars and computers as of light bulbs, jet turbines, and air conditioners, Huber and Mills write. ''The more efficient they grew, the more of them we built, and the more we used them -- and the more energy they consumed overall."

Both Jacoby and I are drivers of fuel-efficient cars, as it happens, and we both support the quest for increased fuel efficiency. But it is important for all of us to know the real reasons for supporting this particular choice, and to recognize what the real social and economic consequences will be. As Jacoby notes, "fuel-efficient cars do have their advantages. Reducing American dependence on oil just doesn't happen to be one of them."

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

What Do You Call a Conservative Mugged By Reality?

We all remember Irving Kristol's great line:

What do you call a liberal mugged by reality? A conservative.

But I'm already a conservative and I got mugged by reality last night.

Just after dinner there was a knock at the door. A very down on his luck looking African-American man stood there when I opened the door, expecting a package for my son. He explained he was looking for work. I offered to let him wash my car and planned on overpaying him. I told him to meet me in the backyard.

After I brought him a bucket, soap, rags, etc., he asked for a cold drink and to come in and use the bathroom. I was worried about letting him in to use the bathroom because he had a cough and I have a six month old and a three year old. I got him the drink and told him frankly about my concern with contagious illness. He said it was asthma. Didn't sound like asthma to me, so I put him off and went back in the house to consult with my wife about it.

Looking out the window, I could see the man was beginning to wash the car. A flash of blue caught my eye out the side window and I noticed two police officers, one male and one female, walking into my backyard. When I got to the backyard, the man was talking to the cops. I approached and told the officers I had hired this man to wash the car. They explained a neighbor had called. He walked back to the car and began working again, but the officers didn't leave.

The female officer talked on the radio, while the male officer told me I'd made a mistake. He said the odd jobs request was a common tactic for casing a house for later burglary. When I told him the man had asked to come inside, he said that was likely part of the plan. The female officer said something I didn't quite catch and the male officer said, "It's him."

Meanwhile, a third officer walked up. At this point, I noticed all three were wearing bulletproof vests under their clothes. I asked if the man washing my car was wanted for a crime. The radio spoke up again, but I couldn't understand it. One of the officers said the man had a felony warrant, probably for burglary. I half-wondered whether the man would attempt flight or resist arrest.

They approached the man I'd hired and put cuffs on him. He protested, but they said they couldn't take a chance. He asked if he could finish the job. They said no. I felt terrible that he had worked while the police officers waited to hear whether they should arrest him. I told them I wanted to pay him. I offered the money and the policeman put it in the man's pocket. He thanked me. They went off. The whole thing was very quiet and calm.

I stood there feeling like an idiot for possibly putting my family in danger, but my instinct was to give the man a job and try to help him. Had I done the wrong thing? I don't know and still don't.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

SOS: Stuck On Stupid

The great General Honore has coined the ideal phrase to describe the diehard Bush-obsessives: "You're stuck on stupid, Reporter!"

If you have not seen or heard the soundbite of the General delivering that line during today's press conference about evacuation plans in advance of Hurricane Rita, you need to track it down. It is a treasure of our time, not to be missed.

Fiscal Relief from Hurricane Relief

As Hurricane Rita pounds the Florida Keys and heads toward the Gulf Coast just beginning the recovery from the damage inflicted by Hurricane Katrina, it is a good time to consider the fiscal implications of Congress's and the Bush administration's handling of disaster relief so far.

It is not a pretty picture.

As noted in a forthcoming article in the October issue of Budget and Tax News (of which this author is senior editor), published by The Heartland Institute, BTN managing editor Steve Stanek notes that Congress and the Bush administration have consistently ignored calls for hurricane relief expenditures to be offset by cuts in spending on other programs, particularly the numerous pork projects passed this year:

"We get strange looks [from fellow Congressmen] for even suggesting that we offset this disaster relief spending with funding from low-priority programs," said Matthew Specht, spokesman for Rep. Jeff Flake (R-AZ), who has called for this to be done. "We're a voice crying in the wilderness."

Since Hurricane Katrina flooded New Orleans while raking across Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama on August 29, the federal government has approved more than $62 billion of relief. Some estimates have put total relief costs at upwards of $300 billion, nearly double the cost of the Iraq war.

Floyd was one of the few members of Congress to vote against the Sept. 8 bill approving President Bush's request for another $51.8 billion. "Congress has the responsibility to cut spending elsewhere if we are going to commit this amount of money," Flake said in a statement after the vote.

Stanek notes that the House leadership killed an amendment calling for spending offsets:

An amendment to the bill to do that was offered by Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-TX), a member of the House Committee on Budget and the House Financial Services Committee and chairman of the Budget and Spending Task Force of the Republican Study Committee. The House leadership did not allow the amendment to be considered.

"We're doing our best, but our battles are many and our victories are few," said Mike Walz, Hensarling's press secretary. The Hensarling amendment would have offset the $51.8 billion of hurricane relief with spending cuts across the board over the next five years, with exemptions for entitlement spending, defense, homeland security, and veterans funding.

In announcing his amendment September 8, Hensarling pointed to billions of dollars of dubious spending approved earlier this year by Congress. He argued, "When so many lives have been shattered and relief is so critical, Congress cannot continue to fund projects like the $800,000 outhouse, $1.2 million for panda research, or the $1 million indoor rainforest in Iowa. The fundamental question is who should tighten their belt to pay for this damage, American families or the federal government?"

Democrat leaders have stepped up their criticism of the increasing red ink, though their proposed solution is to raise tax rates, which would do nothing to hold back the expansion of federal power. Critics on the right suggest that cutting pork spending would more than suffice to offset the new expenditures:

[Veronique] de Rugy [a research fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and Bruce Bartlett, senior fellow at the National Center for Policy Analysis, both suggested an easy cut would be to remove pork in the recently approved transportation bill.

"That bill has more than $20 billion of pork," Bartlett said. "I've been sending emails saying our response should be to reopen the highway bill and cut spending out of that."

Bartlett noted President Bush started out saying he would veto the transportation bill if it came in at more than $256 billion, and it came in at $295 billion and he signed it anyway.

"If we go back to the president's own veto number, we have most of the $62 billion [in approved disaster relief] right there," Bartlett said.

The pork-laden energy bill also has billions of dollars that could be cut, said Tom Schatz, president of Citizens Against Government Waste.

The federal government uses every situation as an excuse to spend more and control citizens' lives in additional areas and more ways. It is high time for a federal Taxpayers Bill of Rights.

Monday, September 19, 2005

So Who Wants to Be an Anarchist?

A question posed earlier on this blog, probing the possible interpretations of the word 'anarchist' as used by a product of Western civilization circa 2005, took on a different and more personal hue for me this weekend. Hue, saturation, and contrast, to be specific.

My husband's employer dispatched him to New York City for a couple of days last week. He never goes anywhere without his Contax U4R digital camera; it's the sort of object Sidney Reilly might have used to great advantage before the Bolshies executed him in 1918. He spent his small ration of spare time wandering around Manhattan and Brooklyn snapping pictures.

This photo was taken at the corner of Wall and Broad Streets. It is 23 Wall Street, the J.P. Morgan Building, built in 1914.
Wall Street, 2005

He went to that spot as a sort of pilgrimage, in homage to Paul Strand, one of the towering pioneers of 20th C. photography. Strand stood on that spot in 1915; the resulting picture is an icon of New Realism fixed in platinum and potassium oxalate, and one of the most famous images ever printed.

Wall Street, 1915

If you really, really look at this picture, for a few moments you can see the world through the eyes of the people he captured walking down Wall Street. Yes, I know the critical consensus is that the picture captures the shrinking of modern man in the context of his overwhelmingly gargantuan surroundings. I still think it's a photograph overflowing with empathy.

Obviously a few things have been added since 1915. The food vendors and No Parking sign bleat out in color. There is another addition, more subtle, and much older: these pockmarks in the pink Tennessee marble facade. They have been there for 85 years, and were put there by anarchists.

On September 16, 1920, a horse-drawn wagon was pulled up to the sidewalk on the Wall Street side of the Morgan building. Seconds after noon, the wagon exploded. It had been filled with 100 lbs of TNT and 500 lbs. of amateur shrapnel. The sidewalks were crowded with lunchtime pedestrians; accounts of the damage are not exact, but approximately 400 people were injured and between 30 and 40 died. The horse didn't make it either.

Anarchists were immediately suspected, since there had been wave after wave of such violent attacks in the recent past, and the target was such a figurehead of unrepentant capitalism. This suspicion was solidified when circulars were found in a postbox at Cedar and Broadway, proclaiming

Remember we will not tolerate any longer. Free the political prisoners or it will be sure death for all of you. American Anarchists Fighters.

No one was ever arrested in connection with the bombing; decades later historian Paul Avritch fingered Mario Buda, an Italian anarchist and acquaintance of Sacco and Vanzetti, claiming their prosecution was the motive for the attack. This theory remains unsubstantiated.

If you ask most people who went to American public schools after World War II who the "anarchists" were, they'll be able to mumble something incoherent about Sacco and Vanzetti, and how they probably weren't guilty and were executed because of bigotry towards Italian immigrants. Not one in 50 could give you a concrete example of the violence wrought by anarchists between 1870 and 1925; that one might know that President McKinley was assassinated by a self-professed anarchist. In fact, anarchists were responsible for assassinating half a dozen world leaders in the early 1900s, including the Prime Minister of Spain, the President of France, and the King of Italy. Their code of "propoganda by the deed" justified random acts of violence and murder; they believed that only by exploding the old order, literally, could freedom be gained.

Their tactics caused a backlash of anger, not just against anarchy, but against any group or movement that formed their base or lent even tacit support: immigrants, labor agitators, small c communists. Given that, what is the motivation, in 2005, of calling one's self an anarchist? Many of us know modern anarchy only through reading Anarchy, State, and Utopia, Robert Nozick's book length reply to John Rawls's A Theory of Justice. Nozick later backed away from much of this book (and even in his original formulation, he believed that pure anarchy was unachievable, although the barest minimal state that could be contrived was the only one he could endorse). Nevertheless, it remains a philosophical lodestode for the more rigorous type of political libertarian. These folks lack one notable animus of the bomb-throwing anarchists: they don't hate capitalism. In fact, they often call themselves anarcho-capitalists. They celebrate anarchy as the blossoming of enterprise, and in that and most others senses seem to have little to do with the other set of people who call themselves anarchists these days, the anti-globalization Nike-haters, Frankenfood neurotics, tree sitters, and people with "Free Rob Thaxton" bumperstickers.

Why, in the absence of a clear philosophical or tactical similarity, do either of these two groups call themselves "anarchists" ?? I am interested because of the abuse I've taken at times as a supporter of states' rights, which other than pasting a Confederate battle flag in the back of your domestic pickup truck window, is the best way to get yourself called a segregationist bigot these days. It's bad enough having to put up with the baggage when there is a philosophical connection. Why would you do it when there's not?

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Peeling The Onion

Peeling the onion will make you cry but reading The Onion can still make you laugh.

Future First Man Speaks Out

What the hey is President-for-Life, Bill Clinton, talking about? He says that never "in the history of our Republic" have we financed military conflict by borrowing from other countries.

Whuh? What am I missing here? I thought that we ran deficits all through the Vietnam War and Grenada and Panama and Somalia and Bosnia and Gulf War I. Doesn't that mean that we were borrowing money from folks to make war on other folks?

Justice Stevens Grew Some

Driving around, listening to "Best of Laura Ingraham" shows: there must be a better way to spend a Saturday night in Miami.

Anyway, she was doing sound bites from Justice Stevens and taking pot shots. And I suppose that as a former Thomas clerk she's entitled. Still, for the record, I disagree with her disagreement with the main point that Stevens was making.

He was talking about the admission of gruesome evidence about the crime into murder cases, saying that these tend to stimulate jurors into using emotion instead of reason in what he called the "decisional" process. (Yes, it's a word, but you and I would just say 'the decision process'.)

Sadly, he is quite right. What's more, every prosecutor worth his saline solution knows it. Show a jury a picture of a dismembered corpse and they're that much more likely to decide that whoever is sitting in the defendant's chair is guilty. Human nature.