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

Monday, December 05, 2005

May My Right Wing Lose Its Cunning

My response to the Randall Cunningham bribery case:

To succeed as a politician you must be a cunning ham.

Poor Randall. Not cunning enough. Too much of a ham.

Inflation, Energy and Gold

Larry White is an outstanding free market monetary theorist at the University of Missouri in St. Louis. At the Division of Labor blog he notes that although the nominal price of gold is back to the level of 1987 it remains much lower in real terms, after adjusting for the 75 percent rise in prices since then. But the real price of gold has nearly doubled over the past four years, which he interprets as hedging against inflation:

“The upsurge in gold over the last four years suggests that that investor confidence may be slipping again – and not without good reason. As Bloomberg reports: So far this year, consumer prices are rising at a 4.9 percent annual rate compared with a 3.7 percent increase at the same time last year.”

Yes, but . . .

So far this year, consumer prices less energy are rising at only a 2.0 percent rate -- down from 2.2 percent at the same time last year. Energy prices in the CPI rose 12 percent in September alone, but fell slightly in October.

If we look at the superior chain-weighted CPI, prices were up only 1.7 percent over the past twelve months for all items less food and energy. Food is rarely a significant factor (I'd prefer to drop the "core" measure), and food prices were up only 2.1 percent over the year while energy prices soared by 26.3 percent. Leaving out energy alone, the chained CPI would be close to 1.8 percent over twelve months. Since even chained price indexes exaggerate inflation, because of quality improvements and hidden discounts, an inflation rate of 1.8 percent for everything except energy is really quite low.

The main reason this distinction matters is not that rising energy prices don't hurt, or even that global oil demand is only indirectly related to Fed policy. The key reason we absolutely must look at inflation without energy prices is that energy prices cannot and will not keep rising forever. When they stop rising, we'll see how the underlying rate of inflation really is.

If the chained CPI less energy remains around 1.8 percent, then total inflation will likewise drop to about 1.8 percent if energy prices merely stabilize, and to a rate below 1.8 percent if energy prices keep falling.

It is theoretically possible that non-energy prices might accelerate if energy prices fall, because cheaper energy frees-up cash to spend on other things. In the past, however, spikes in energy prices in 1974-75, 1979-81 and 2000 were always followed by slower inflation in non-energy prices for at least a year or two. The Fed’s notion that energy inflation spreads like a virus from energy to everything else is factually false.

Non-energy inflation is now lower than it was during in any year from 1967 to 2001, and also lower than last year. So relax and enjoy a happy new year. But maybe it's time to trim those hedges.

More NYC Observations

1. The Value of the GOP in Local Government

I had to go out in the wee hours to get medicine for my infant at a Times Square pharmacy. The trip felt ultra-safe. I could have been walking through Disneyworld. One would not be able to say the same of Atlanta, Houston, or Birmingham. Message to those cities: try electing a Republican mayor every once in a while, even of the nominal type. Might improve your chances of attracting a little tourist revenue.

2. What You Get With Monopolies

We took taxis on a couple of occasions. Both times, one felt as though he were dealing with a mercenary instead of with a businessperson or a service provider. It's less "where do you want to go" and more "come with me if you want to live."

New York might consider dropping their system of authorizing only certain taxi services and let everyone compete who is willing to honor safety regulations. The market is captive right now. And it shows.

3. The Democratization of Cuisine

I think it was once the case that you had to travel to great metropolises or abroad to get outstanding food. That is no longer the case. I've had the opportunity to dine in a wide variety of locales and it is clear to me that you can get really good food almost anywhere there is a market of reasonable size.

So, the food may not make New York an attraction. What I think will keep NYC flowing with tourists is Broadway. You just cannot get live theatre like that in such abundance and quality wherever you go. Broadway is a fabulous distinctive.

Peters Dogging Drucker

Tom Peters' team likes to point out how influential he is. I've noted before that I have enjoyed reading his books, but his trendiness and political correctness become a little insufferable at times. However, I think when it is all said and done his work will not outlast that of Peter Drucker, who recently died after an amazing career.

Checking out the Peters website recently, I ran across this unsightly bit:

11.28 cover tribute to Peter Drucker, called him ... "THE MAN WHO INVENTED MANAGEMENT." Maybe he "invented" management—highly unlikely, since British trading companies among others have been doing it brilliantly for about half a millennium—but he sure as heck didn't "invent" leadership. (Nor say much about it, for that matter.)

Not very nice, Mr. Peters, especially when one is talking about the most eminent management theorist of the last half century and the gentleman with whom you like to think of yourself as competing.

Rock Around The Clark

The question of capital punishment for Saddam requires some pondering.

But this one is clear as day: I'm all for capital punishment for Ramsay Clark.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Ford: Write It Like This

This very poignant - and classy - elegy by President Gerald Rudolph Ford about the late Hugh Sidey was published a week ago in the Washington Post. It only came to my attention on Friday, and I believe that it is worth commemorating here, hardly less timely for being a week later.

Obviously, Ford has writers. But just as clearly, the sentiments are his, and they provide a rare window into the persona of our nonagenarian ex-President.


Truth Be Tolled

An apology is in order. It seems that in my haste I have made some waste, failing to provide a link for my fellow Clubsters to enjoy my column of Thursday last. This is a humorous exploration of the white lies that are woven into the colorful fabric of our lives.

A foretaste:

Imagine that we declare National Truth Day. Every husband will tell his secretary that his wife does understand him. In fact, having nursed him through various ailments and depressions, she understands him much better than you ever could sitting behind your desk with a People magazine.

And this:

Students will turn to professors to admit that the term paper about lowering crime by aborting black babies which was graded "chillingly racist but refreshingly irreverent" was bought for 100 dollars on the Internet and originally written by Bill Bennett as an undergraduate. (Just kidding, Bill.)

Friday, December 02, 2005

Evolutionary Head Scratcher

This was spurred on by a few lines in a Neal Stephenson novel, probably Cryptonomicon. At one point, Stephenson describes a weed as a stupendous evolutionary badass because it, like every other living thing on earth, was the product of millions of years of winnowing.

So, I carried that thought in my mind for quite some time and my wife, an OB-GYN, tripped a connection. She was talking about the large numbers of women who need C-sections and the many different pregnancy complications that are continually part of her world. I thought, wait a minute, why are there so many faulty child-bearers out there?

After millions of years of winnowing, the trait of having an inadequate cervix, or lack of pushing force, or failure to begin labor should have been bred out long ago. It's only been the last fifty years or so that we could save women like that. Previously, they and their children would have overwhelmingly met their end in labor . . . and did.

Question for the evolutionists: Why aren't we blessed with a flock of women bearing babes with maximum efficiency? Why have the bad childbearing traits survived in such great numbers?

The Evolutionary Tautology

A commenter on our ID post directed us to this supposed refutation of Karl Popper's arguement that the notion of survival of the fittest is a tautology.

The argument posits the following important premise:

This ["survival of the fittest"] is not a tautology, or, if it is, then so is the Newtonian equation F=ma [Sober 1984, chapter 2], which is the basis for a lot of ordinary physical explanation.

That is not true, however, for the two propositions are most definitely not identical in type. The Newtonian equation is a proposition that cannot be untrue; there is no alternative possibility that would explain the relationship between force, mass, and acceleration that we observe. There are, however, other possible explanations for the origin and variety of species. Just as two and two must equal four if the cosmos is to hold together, so must force, mass, and acceleration be related as Newton suggested. For the species we see on the earth to exist, however, Darwinian evolution is not a necessity, as the author of the article admits:

Recently, there have been attacks on the very notion of adaptive explanation by some evolutionary biologists themselves (eg, Gould and Lewontin [1979]). These fall into two camps - those who think adaptation is not enough to explain diversity of form, and those who think that adaptive explanations require more information than one can obtain from either reverse engineering or the ability to generate plausible scenarios. The reason given for the former is a kind of argument from incredulity - natural selection is not thought to be a sufficient cause, and that macroevolution (evolution at or above the level of species) is a process of a different kind than selection within species. Arguments about parsimony (Ockham's Razor) abound.

Darwinian natural selection is the preferred explanation of a great many people, but that is greatly different from it being a necessary proposition. And that is why it can correctly be classified as a tautology, as Popper did.

Have Yourself a Monky Little Christmas

As a public service to all Reform Club Monkophiles: tonight at 10 pm EST, USA Network premieres a special Christmas Monk episode, Mr. Monk and the Secret Santa. Since Monk's regular season doesn't start until mid-January, I thought some people might miss it.

Also on USA, and rather more improbable from my point of view: a very special holiday episode of.....The Dead Zone??

The Theological Opinions of Sports Talk Show Hosts

I was listening to ESPN's Colin Cowherd on the radio a couple of days ago when the host started ripping Michael Irvin (late of the Dallas Cowboys) for bringing up Christianity and the problem of generational curses in his discussion of the recent controversy in which he was found with a crack pipe in his car.

Cowherd started in an interesting way. He said that God is not a prop and the Bible should not be used to deflect blame or criticism. Good stuff. Couldn't agree more.

The slip started to show a little bit as he then proclaimed that if a fellow wants to talk about the Bible, he had better be living it. Don't sin and talk about the Bible. Whoops. Colin, I think you missed your Sunday school class on that one. In fact, you may have missed the whole point. I don't know if Irvin is sincere about being a Christian, but the cup is for sinners, Laddie.

It got worse as Colin apparently got nervous and began to assure listeners he's not very religious (ya kidding bro, I never would have guessed it). Perhaps emboldened by having delivered that disclaimer, the good Cowherd (as opposed to the good Shepherd) provided his own carefully crafted theological opinion clearly informed by a lot of thought. "Religion is like a stream that runs through everything and we can just dip a ladle in and get some refreshment whenever we need it." This was an odd statement to make after he ripped Irvin and other athletes for bringing up religion whenever they are in trouble. No, that doesn't sound anything like dipping in a ladle as needed.

I remember years back reading a GQ article where a reporter ditched a college athletic ceremony because he didn't want to listen to the theological opinions of athletes. Maybe the shoe should be on the other foot and we should just let the athletes keep giving glory to God and have the sports reporters just stick to sports.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

The Nature of the Beast

Courtesy of Instapundit, Steven Den Beste's case for fixing Saddam once and for all (July 2003) is getting a fresh look. (I would add a few things, like the Clinton Administration's sanctions were universally blamed for killing thousands of innocent women and children, not just in the Muslim world, but in the West as well.) The US wanted to make a statement in the Muslim world after 9/11. True. Let's get that out of the way.

It was a strategy, not a tactic. One does not strategically fight a forest fire where it's burning, but with fire breaks, isolating from the flames the parts next likely to go up. Watering the warm parts before they get hot.

Islamism and the New Caliphate of al-Qaeda were fed by tyranny in Muslim countries, tyranny that was often aided and abetted by the West in the interest of stability, tyranny that saps all hope and dignity from Muslim people. But how to break up the logs? How best to confront the beast? What tyrant in the Muslim world had it coming more than Saddam? He continued to butcher his own people, had a decades-long fascination with WMDs, and openly supported terrorists.

Those with good memories will recall that the "Arab street" raised barely a whimper in his defense. Everyone knew he and his lovely sons Uday and Attila had it coming. The rest was politics and posturing, and so it remains today.

The beast? The beast is tyranny, whether it be religious, like bin Laden's and the Taliban, or secular like Saddam's. The strategery of the Bush Administration was to confront the beast, in all its forms, sometimes with arms, sometimes with ideas.

But I do not think that the strategic reasons for the Iraq war would have been appealing to those who get their news from Jon Stewart, the "American street." It takes more than a minute to absorb the idea, and there are no commercial breaks to go take a pee and mull it all over.

Fortunately for the civilized world, the United States is not a democracy. Sorry for that newsflash, but we're a republic. We expect our representives to do the homework and the deep thinking that we're too busy or too disinterested to do. No commercials, no bathroom breaks.

As many (including Bill Bennett) have pointed out, Democratic Senator Russ Feingold made the rounds of the intelligence community on his own, heard the evidence, and voted against authorizing Bush to whack Saddam.

This is why men of conscience like Sen. Feingold are respected and not vilified among us on the right.

As for the 100-odd Democratic members of our Congress who are having second thoughts, well, you helped Bush break it, so you've bought it now too.

Shut the hell up and help us win, because quitting and losing is not an option.

Now, when Russ Feingold, in typically principled fashion, calls for a drawdown, well, people like me listen. And he's not wrong. The Iraqi people do need to get off the welfare of American military protection. I was just hoping, and I think many prudent people were, that such talk could wait until after the December 15 elections, when a legitimately elected and constitutional (as of the October 15, 2005 plebiscite) government, not an interim one, will be elected in Iraq.

Sen. Feingold has been OK by me, but I think he's jumped the shark, which is almost inevitable. The desperation to be relevant once again makes one irrelevant, because even if Sen. Feingold were right back then, we're here now. Bush may have screwed up and we arguably should have left Saddam in place (arguably), but we as a nation crossed the Rubicon long ago.

Can anyone deny that defeat or retreat feeds the militant Islamist beast? I've been thinking that implacability is the true definition of evil. These guys blow up their own people while they're worshipping at mosques. What is it about "unity" movements that's so cannibalistic?

To answer my own question, it's the nature of the beast. To ignore the beast's nature is to willingly participate in one's own destruction.

Tom Bethell on Evolution and ID

Tom Bethell, who writes regularly for the American Spectator, is a favorite author of mine. His writings on science, economics, the environment, and just about everything else under the sun—and indeed about the sun itself—are fascinating in their clarity and pure logic. In today's edition of National Review Online, a perfectly fabulous publication read and admired by absolutely all of the Smart Set, Bethell writes brilliantly on the relative merits of the theories of evolution and intelligent design. You must read the entire article, lest you remain far less brilliant than you could be (and it will only be your own damned fault), but the following excerpt illustrates an important point which the present author has himself made over at the American Spectator, that both evolution and intelligent design are theories that are not falsifiable—and Bethell does us a great favor by reminding us that the philosopher who invented the "falsifiability" test himself said that the theory of evolution by natural selection abysmally failed it!. To wit:

Charles Krauthammer tells us that Isaac Newton was religious and if he saw no conflict between science and religion, why can't we take our thin gruel of evolutionary science like good children and be satisfied, without dragging a Designer into the picture?

Because it isn't real science, Charles. Newton, in fact, thought that the "most beautiful system" of sun, planets, and comets could "only proceed from the counsel and dominion of an intelligent and powerful being." But the laws of physics that govern these motions are simplicity itself compared with the immense complexity of the biological machinery that governs the development, proliferation, growth, and aging of millions of reproductive species. These mechanisms have yet to be discovered or described. To believe that the feeble tautology of natural selection — laissez-faire political economy from the 1830s imported into biology — constitutes a sufficient explanation of the marvels of nature is to display a credulity that makes our fundamentalists seem sagacious by comparison.

George Will has made one accurate criticism of the idea he so dislikes: "The problem with intelligent design is not that it is false but that it is not falsifiable. Not being susceptible to contradicting evidence, it is not a testable hypothesis." This is true; but he should have added that Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection is not falsifiable either. Darwin's claim to fame was his discovery of a mechanism of evolution; he accepted "survival of the fittest" as a good summary of his natural-selection theory. But which ones are the fittest? The ones that survive. There is no criterion of fitness that is independent of survival. Whatever happens, it is the "fittest" that survive — by definition. This, just like intelligent design, is not a testable hypothesis. As the eminent philosopher of science Karl Popper said, after discussing this problem that natural selection cannot escape: "There is hardly any possibility of testing a theory as feeble as this." Popper was the first to propose falsification as the line of demarcation between theories that are scientific and those that are not; both intelligent design and natural selection fall by this standard.

The underlying problem, rarely discussed, is that the conclusions of evolutionism are based not on science, but on a philosophy: the philosophy of materialism, or naturalism. Living creatures, including human beings, are here on Earth, and we got here somehow. If atoms and molecules in motion are all that exist, then their random interactions must account for everything that exists, including us. That is the true underpinning of Darwinism. What needs to be examined in detail is not so much the religion behind intelligent design as the philosophy behind evolution.

Bloody well right, Tom, as ever.

It Wasn't Just People Magazine, Either...

'Tis the Seizin'

Beware the 'New Wave'!

Baker's Dozin'

Perhaps we can enhance Mr. Baker's Manhattan hotel experience by providing some local color.

More NYC Blogging

One more thing about fancy hotels: they charge you for everything. If I were at the aforementioned Holiday Inn Express, I'd get local calls and high speed internet for free. Here, I pay $12.95 a day to use the internet and make phone calls. Just an observation.

Wandered to the Good Morning America studio window, but they were either on commercial or done because they were talking casually. Didn't see any of the principals. My wife refers to Katie Couric as "the devil," because of her cute image combined with occasionally mean interviewing techniques.

Took the kids all around Times Square, but they're a little young to appreciate it. I'm astounded by the sheer number of Broadway plays and musical productions. There is a musical about everything. I kept expecting to see Fantastic Four: The Musical!

More later . . .

Baker in Times Square . . .

Thanks to a conference my wife is attending, we're hanging out in Times Square at the Marriott Marquis. This is my second trip to the Big Apple. The first was memorable because I was convinced I would die if I went to New York. I grew up in moderate sized southern towns and everything I knew about New York came from 1970's and 80's cop shows. Grimy, corrupt, expensive, randomly violent.

I made that first trip because I was working near Washington, D.C. and my New York friend (one David Chang if he's monitoring) made it a matter of friendship that I come up for a visit despite my massive misgivings. The short version is that it was 1999, Rudy was in charge, and I found NY to be far less threatening than downtown Atlanta. Aside from paying about $300 worth of road tolls on the drive up, I was enchanted.

On this second trip, I've already been reminded of one thing. There is a war between cars, other cars, and pedestrians. David picked us up from the airport and drove us to the heart of Times Square. At various points, I was certain he was going to run into cars that darted in front of him or that he forced his car past. He also came super close to various pedestrians who didn't budge an inch. In any other American town, I think we would have witnessed tragedy on our ride to the hotel, but not here. Everybody seems to know just how much margin there is for error, but it's right up to the edge at all times.

The hotel we're staying in is hideously expensive. On the way over, we discussed the price and location and I said, "The room accommodations will probably be a lot like Holiday Inn Express, Dayton, Ohio." And whaddya know? They basically are. But Holiday Inn Express is pretty good these days.

I'm now awaiting a letter of thanks from Holiday Inn Express and a threaten to sue unless I remove this post about the Marriott Marquis in Times Square.

Finally, a point on multi-culturalism and New York. You know this is a global city when you see a pedecab (modern rickshaw) with a white guy peddling away as an Asian couple whispers sweet nothings to each other in the back seat.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Hellish Overcrowding

The Los Angeles Times ran a long piece profiling a 70-year-old veteran abortionist from Fayetteville, Arkansas. He has personally dispatched 20,000 souls back to the big waiting list in the sky.

Apart from the bland horror of this urban abattoir, I was struck by this astonishing excerpt:

For the few women who arrive ambivalent or beset by guilt, Harrison's nurse has posted statistics on the exam-room mirror: One out of every four pregnant women in the U.S. chooses abortion. A third of all women in this country will have at least one abortion by the time they're 45.

"You think there's room in hell for all those women?" the nurse will ask. . . .

What heights of crassness and jejunity! What an insult to God and Man! What utter absolute irredeemable idiocy! A rape of the mind and the heart and the soul.

Not that it's necessary, but let us enumerate:

1) If a thing is wrong, it is not excused by its being commonly done.

2) If a thing is wrong, it should not be done, even if the perpetrator has a Get Out Of Hell Free card.

3) If people are sent to Hell by an infinite God for wrong behavior, and since every human being is given a choice of right or wrong behavior, then by definition there is room in Hell for every single human being, should they choose wrongly.

4) A variation on that point: if Hell has a limited capacity, then that might work to get you off on cold-blooded murder of a person who is walking around, too. Overcrowding, you know.

5) If you think that a vast number of people, by agreeing to all do a particular sin, can force Hell not to admit them, then why not do this for regular murder as well?

6) If large numbers doing a thing automatically make it into a good thing, does Islamic terrorism become a good thing, too? Or at least not a bad thing.

All in all, to make a remark like this to a person pondering a weighty decision with moral implications is the zenith of human crassness. Uggh.

My Inner Metrosexual Comes Screaming Out

My wife has a copy of the latest People magazine laying around and I noticed that Matthew McConaughey is the Sexiest Man Alive for 2005. In the issue, the magazine lists the winners of the honor for each year. For some reason, they did not name a winner for 1994. Can anyone explain why there was no Sexiest Man Alive for 1994?

I got's to know.

British PM Blair Moves to Right on Energy Policy, Endorses Nuclear Power

A story that has received all too little attention in recent weeks is the movement of British PM Tony Blair toward the American Right's positions on energy policy, positions that the Bush administration has held rhetorically but only fitfully in terms of action. (Although, for example, Bush has left Kyoto dead as it was when he entered office, and he has said the right things about it and other energy issues, his energy bill was loaded with pork, and he has done little to nothing to forward development of nuclear electric power in the United States.) Blair, by contrast, once supported Kyoto but has in recent months adopted the U.S. position.

(Kyoto would have set severe restrictions on U.S. emissions of chlorofluorocarbons, as well as those of other high-wealth nations, at great economic cost, while refraining from regulating emissions in highly polluting nations such as China and India, in an attempt to decrease global warming by a very small amount. The United States Senate voted down the bill to sign on to Kyoto during the Clinton administration by a margin of 95-0; then-President Clinton supported the bill but could not get a single vote for it in the Senate.)

The following excerpts from a forthcoming article in Environment and Climate News (which this author serves as senior editor) indicate the extent of Blair's change of policy:

In [recent weeks in] an editorial published in a leading British newspaper and in comments at a meeting of environmental ministers from the world’s leading economies, British Prime Minister Tony Blair distanced himself from the Kyoto Protocol and supported the longstanding U.S. position that developing nations must be included in any meaningful global warming treaties. Blair also agreed with the U.S. stance that technological development rather than top-down government mandates must drive carbon dioxide reductions.

“The difficulties with the current climate change debate,” Blair wrote in an October 30 editorial in the London Guardian and Observer (http://www.guardian.co.uk/print/0,3858,5321811-102273,00.html) titled “Get Real on Climate Change,” amount to “a reluctance to face up to reality and the practical action needed to tackle problems.”

“We must understand that neither issue [climate change and energy supply] can realistically be dealt with unless the US, the EU, Russia, Japan, China and India work together,” Blair explained. . . .

Blair noted that Kyoto will not do what its advocates claim, even if it had U.S. support:

Kyoto doesn't even stabilize [greenhouse gas emissions]. It won't work as intended, either, unless the U.S. is part of it. It's easy to take frustrations out on the Bush Administration but people forget that the Senate voted 95-0 against Kyoto when Bill Clinton was in the White House,” Blair observed. “We have to understand as well that, even if the U.S. did sign up to Kyoto, it wouldn't affect the huge growth in energy consumption we will see in India and China. China is building close to a new power station every week.”

“The first Kyoto commitment period ends in 2012,” Blair noted. “The challenge is what will come next. Will it be another round of division or what we need: a sound, rational, science-based unity, which ensures the right legally-binding framework to incentivize sustainable development?” Blair asked.

“None of this is going to happen unless the major developed and emerging nations sit down together and work it out, in a way that allows us all to grow, imposes no competitive disadvantage and enables the transfer of the technology needed for sustainable growth to take place,” Blair concluded.

Blair followed up on his editorial by telling the environmental ministers meeting in Britain, “The blunt truth about the politics of climate change is that no country will want to sacrifice its economy in order to meet this challenge. But all economies know that the only sensible, long-term way to develop is to do it on a sustainable basis” http://www.cnsnews.com/news/ViewPrint.asp?Page=\ForeignBureaus\archive\200511\FOR20051102c.html).

Moving from problems to solutions, Blair has embraced the production of electricity through greater use of nuclear power, which his party has long opposed. A week ago, November 22, Blair told the House of Commons liaison committee, "With some of the issues to do with climate change, and you can see it with the debate about nuclear power, there are going to be difficult and controversial decisions Government has got to take. And in the end it has got to do what it believes to be right in the long-term interests of the country. . . . About energy security and supply that will mean issues that are bound to be extremely controversial."

Speaking at a conference today, Blair made his position explicit:

"The issue back on the agenda with a vengeance is energy policy. Round the world you can sense feverish re-thinking. Energy prices have risen. Energy supply is under threat. Climate change is producing a sense of urgency. I can today announce that we have established a review of the UK’s progress against the medium and long-term Energy White Paper goals. The Energy Minister, Malcolm Wicks, will be in the lead, with the aim of publishing a policy statement on energy in the early summer of 2006. It will include specifically the issue of whether we facilitate the development of a new generation of nuclear power stations."

The Times of London noted that Blair and his top advisors have already made their decision:

"Although the Government remains officially neutral on the outcome of the review, environment campaigners say that Mr Blair has become convinced that building new nuclear power stations is the only way to secure future energy needs."

This decision led to a comically ineffectual protest by two Greenpeace members at the conference, which infuriated conference attendees despite its lack of effect. One suspects that the protests will increase in the coming weeks as Britain gears up to increase its production of electricity through use of nuclear power.

Now, if only President Bush would take a similarly bold stand on the subject.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Pique Abu

Ahem! Why is no one mentioning the elephant in the room? The elephant's name, in case you missed his flicks, Beheading I, II, III et al, is Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. My new column in TAS addresses this question.

Here is an excerpt:

This perfectly limns the schism between the Republican and Democrat perspectives of the war in Iraq. If you ask Republicans why our forces are still on the ground in Iraq, they will explain: "Because of our great success in defeating Saddam, we need to midwife the emergence of a historic new democracy. Because of our great success in luring the terrorists out of their hidey-holes, we now get a chance to mow them down far from our home turf."

Ask a Democrat that question, he will aver: "Because of our great failure in mistaking a tinpot kvetch for a fearsome tyrant, we're stuck babysitting the various corrupt and violent elements of a provincial society. Because of our great failure in waking a sleeping giant, we have spawned a new generation of terrorists that would not otherwise have existed." Whether this originated in sincere ideology or partisan one-upmanship, the fact is that we are witnessing a radical divergence of worldviews; to be honest, the chasm between the two positions looks to be unbridgeable.

You might also recall that I addressed aspects of this in a previous article at JWR. But as Inspector Clouseau said: "I will not rest until this problem is sol-vedd."

More Shameless Self-Promotion

Here's a link to my recent short essay on why the feds ought not negotiate drug prices. Comments welcome. http://www.thehill.com/thehill/export/TheHill/Comment/OpEd/112205.html

Anti-American Crime Within Lady Liberty's Shadow

Thousands of tourists each day travel to Battery Park in lower Manhattan to buy ferry tickets for the Statue of Liberty. Many are imbued with patriotic fervor recognizing Lady Liberty as the symbol of American exceptionalism. Some consider it a site to behold, an entry way to the nation. Others buy their ferry tickets because the statue is on the itinerary.

When these folks enter the park they are flanked by dozens of hawkers, most are Senegalese selling knock-off Prada and Louis Vuitton pocketbooks; others are selling faux Rolex watches. They wait for the tourist buses on the north side of the park in plain view of the police. What they are selling is clearly illegal; moreover, many are illegal immigrants. Yet this practice has been going on for years uninterrupted by the authorities.

Yet that is not the worst of it. Unbeknownst to most of the peddlers and all of the consumers is that the revenue from this ostensibly illicit, but seemingly innocent trade, ends up in the hands of terrorist organizations.

The National Security Agency has been tracking this practice for some time well aware of the pernicious dimensions of this Battery Park commerce.

When I asked the Park Rangers if they were aware of what is going on they looked at me quizzically as if I were besotted. The local police contend that since the periphery of the park is federal land, they do not have jurisdiction over park matters. It turns out of course, that this isn’t entirely correct since the park itself is managed by the New York City Parks Department.

It is ironic that those coming to see the symbol of American liberty should be providing funds for organizations that want to destroy that liberty. Since the sales go on unabated, how is the consumer to know?

This is all happening several blocks from the World Trade Center site. In fact, the damaged dome that stood between the towers now stands as a permanent memorial for those who lost their lives on 9/11.

But the outpouring of patriotic sentiment after 9/11 which has encouraged many Americans to visit the perpetual flame in Battery Park, has been converted into a venal anti-American funding source. It is certainly horrible that a presumptive ally of the United States like Saudi Arabia is providing funds for al Qaeda, but it is an order of magnitude worse when patriotic Americans are being gulled into supporting terrorism at the very moment they wish to express national loyalty.

What can be done? First, it is imperative that police look into this matter instead of passing the buck. Second, this issue deserves publicity; these peddlers with knock-off products can be found in many other locations in New York and even on the streets of Rome, Paris and London. Third, fines can easily drive this trade out of business.

Surely some women may lament their inability to buy a fake Prada bag for $50, but they won’t sleep soundly if they know that money is being used to kill Americans and other innocent victims around the globe.

I should hastily note that most of the peddlers do not know what they are involved in. They are simply out to make a buck. In some sense, they are like the “mules” recruited to bring cocaine into the United States in pouches hidden in their stomach lining.

However, innocent or na├»ve they may be, their activity isn’t innocent. It is a threat to our very existence and it goes on as if it were a sale day at Macys. The police avert their gaze; the Park Rangers do not understand the issue and the consumers want a bargain.

This daily activity goes on within the shadow of Lady Liberty. No wonder I’ve noticed, when gazing at her impressive frame, that she has a tear rolling down her cheek.

Thinking 'Bout the Reality-Based Community

I was always struck a little weird by the leftist claim to inhabit "the reality-based community." Yesterday, I realized why. This is the same group of people who accept a basically Marxist methodology of economics and think that the solution to a recessed economy is to raise taxes. Reality-based community?

Listen, if you can't figure out why the Soviets failed and the socialism-lite nations of Western Europe have big problems with unemployment, reality is not the bottom line of your thought-life. Better to go back to the stoner thing.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Dubai Them A Wedding Gift

Here's the new government-sponsored wedding gift for the couple who has everything: testosterone for the bride and estrogen for the groom.

Ushpizin: A Review

You really must see this movie. I saw it tonight. It is simply fabulous.

To me it means something a bit different, that's true. First of all, I understand the Hebrew and do not need the subtitles. Secondly, the Orthodox Jewish world that I grew up in is radically different than what this film portrays. I grew up in the environment of the Lithuanian-type Yeshiva, a super-intellectual society following a very cerebral system in which scholarship is the be-all and pretty much the end-all. My experience was similar to what you might have if your father was a Princeton professor and you grew up on campus. This movie, by contrast, is based in the Hasidic world, where most of the focus is on emotion and faith. (The Hasidic movement began in Eastern Europe in the 1700s and created a bitter war among religious Jews that lasted for about a century. Now the two sides tolerate each other, more or less.) Thirdly, I did live in Israel and encountered some of the types of people described.

But trust me, wherever you are "coming from", you need to see this film. It is extremely well-acted by the four main stars, and some of the secondary characters were quite endearing as well. The husband and wife acting team who play the husband and wife communicate genuine love, and are totally comfortable in each other's space, but they never touch each other in any scene.

The insight into Hasidic life in Israel, particularly for the born-again types who are accepted into these incredibly conservative communities despite their secular - and occasionally criminal - backgrounds, is very profound. It is absolutely pitch-perfect in its accuracy. There were scenes there that must happen every day in virtually the same language.

The star, Shuli Rand, wrote the script and it is full of wit and pathos. The moments of love, the moments of disagreement between husband and wife, the conflicts between doing the right thing or not, the analysis of trying to identify the right thing, and even the moments where he takes you right to the edge of violence, all ring true and register very passionately.

And at the end of the day its message is truly universal, but I won't tell you what it is: see the movie. It opened in Miami on November 23rd; check your local listings.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

From Thanksgiving To Chanukah

Here is the ultimate moment for a practicing author/editor who works mostly on projects that do not bear his name. That is, when he can publish a review on the very book he edited. Here is such a review, headed for publication in a prominent Jewish magazine:

A sort of orthodoxy of superficiality has long predominated in the public perception of Chanukah.

The narrative is simple enough: bad Greeks came and tried to stop Jews from being Jewish until a small heroic army known as the Maccabees fought back and won against overwhelming odds. They then entered the Temple in Jerusalem to restore Jewish sovereignty. There they found that the supplies had been raided and damaged by the Greeks to the point where there was not even oil with which to light the candelabra. They first thought it would be necessary to wait eight days until a delegation could travel to the olive-producing region, prepare new oil and return. Suddenly they managed to find a tiny flask that contained one day’s oil. They decided to light it, if only as a symbolic gesture for that day’s victory. Instead, the oil burned for eight solid days, which they took to be a miracle. We celebrate the victory by being happy and having parties with special foods; we celebrate the miracle of the lights by lighting candles.

Perhaps it was inevitable that a winter holiday, practiced at home after a full day’s work, would tend to drift toward the boisterous and rambunctious and away from the analytical and intellectual. And arguably the Jewish People has benefited from this shallowness: more Jews observe Chanukah than any other holiday and it has a wonderful effect of affirming a sense of positive Jewish identity. But now, in our era of unparalleled renaissance of Jewish scholarship, that will simply not do anymore. As Patrick Henry might say were he alive today: ‘Give me liberty and give me depth’.

Pinchos Stolper has undertaken to fill this void with his newest tour-de-force, HIDDEN LIGHTS: Chanukah and the Jewish/Greek Conflict. (Full disclosure: I worked as an editor on the project.) This is a book whose target is truth, no matter how many feathers get ruffled in the process.

Some ruffling may be inevitable. There are some very powerful historical premises that may be uncomfortable for people to face. Firstly, he makes the claim that the majority of Jews had given up the practice of Judaism in favor of the Greek lifestyle. Contemporaneous historical sources are cited to support that contention, then he follows up by proving that many recent scholars, such as Rabbi Jacob Kamenecki and Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik, believed this to be the case. He also maintains that Rabbi Isaac Hutner seems to share that view, although Rabbi Hutner’s language on the subject is less than explicit.

Stolper even considers the far more shocking view that most of the oppression enacted against Jews during that period was the work of Hellenized Jews rather than the Greeks themselves. Once again, he quotes both Rabbi Kamenecki and Rabbi Soloveitchik at some length to establish that they held this opinion. In fact, they seem to believe that most of the Al Hanissim prayer recited on Chanukah is referring to victories achieved by the Jews against the Jews, and when they are celebrated as victories against the “evil Greek Kingdom” this is intended as a euphemism for turncoat Jewish Hellenists.

However, it is clear that Rabbi Hutner never accepts that conclusion: to him, the “Greek Exile” and the “Greek Redemption” are too bound up in the national history of the Jews struggling against the Four Kingdoms. The concept of the Four Kingdoms imposing Four Exiles is ubiquitous in the Midrash and to a thinker like Rabbi Hutner it is inconceivable to assert that the Hellenists made the exile happen. No, the Greeks made it happen and the Hellenists were their agents, sometimes voluntarily, sometimes involuntarily, sometimes eagerly and sometimes regretfully. Still, the presence of Jews in a significant role as proxies of the oppressor is treated in Rabbi Hutner’s work as a very important aspect of the theology of the Greek challenge to Israel.

Stolper is never more incisive than when he follows the trails laid out by Rabbi Hutner’s philosophical discourses. (It is noteworthy that Hidden Lights is being published simultaneously with Chanukah In a New Light, Stolper’s translation of the Pachad Yitzchok on Chanukah. This is the second in a series of translations by Stolper of Rabbi Hutner’s set of Pachad Yitzchok, volumes of theological/philosophical essays on the Jewish holidays.)

Probably the most significant premise laid out in Rabbi Hutner’s work on Chanukah, which he attributes to the Maharal of Prague, is that the physical conflict against the Greeks is secondary to the spiritual conflict. Or, more specifically, the intellectual conflict. The Jews are seen as the first people who created a complete system for living based on a set of intellectual principles. Although the Torah adds some elements of faith that go beyond the intellect, its foundation is set in reason. First the independent reason of Abraham, then the revealed reason of prophecy and ultimately the revealed reason of Torah at Sinai. The Greeks, as the first nation to found a national culture built around an independent system of reasoned principles – or at least facts derived through scientific investigation – become unalterably opposed to the idea that Torah constitutes a higher form of reason designed to connect the mind of man to the mind of God.

This sets up a new paradigm for conflict. Rather than wars designed for building power and wealth per se, we have wars to promote ideology and alter cultures. The Greeks are actually exporting a lifestyle, which they are delivering from the barrel of a gun – or the blade of a sword, as the case may be. Every other nation in the world, when Alexander of Macedonia comes sweeping through to establish dominion, finds that the physical requirements are very liberal. The conquest is not about slavery and taxation but about creating a universal lifestyle, moving civilizations and economies forward from the primitive to the sophisticated; from the mundane to the mondaine. Realizing this, the cultures of the occupied nations prove to be tractable and accommodating. Only the Jew fights back.

Thus the ultimate test of the Greek intellectual system, culture and lifestyle is their ability to compete with their Jewish counterparts. The initial foray to achieve cultural dominion involved the physical invasion of the land of Israel and a cultural outreach effort which seduced many Jews into subordinating themselves to that culture: this movement of Jews produced the Hellenists. Not satisfied with the results of this hard-fight soft-sell two-step, the Greeks (often with the enthusiastic support of their Jewish fellow travelers) laid it all on the line by initiating laws forbidding the study of Torah and the performance of various key Mitzvos.

The happy ending was provided by the Maccabees deciding that enough was enough and undertaking a campaign of guerilla warfare that ultimately enabled the Torah-observant Jews to regain control of the centers of political power and culture. This vision of the primary war as intellectual/cultural and the secondary war as military infuses this book with a rich texture. The military details are very well-covered, too. The result is a multi-tiered appreciation of Chanukah as something with more resonance than a crisp latke and more nuance than a spinning dreidel.

And to the question, "Did I edit the companion volume of translations as well?", the answer is "Yes". And I can tell you all this because the author/translator chose to acknowledge my work. The choice was his, however; had he preferred to hide my role I would have to remain mum.

Machina Ex Deus

In honor of Thanksgiving, I wrote a few words at The American Spectator about a matter that I revisit as often as possible in speeches and essays: namely, our regrettable tendency to thank God for sunsets and watermelons but not for automobiles and computers.

Here's a taste:

Let's start with electricity to power our homes. This was not imported from another galaxy, it was something built into the fabric of our world. Yet it hovered beyond our reach for over five thousand years of recorded history. All the great men of history, all of our ancestors, all the people who brought us to where we are today, did it without the benefit of a heater in winter and an air conditioner in summer. They spent many an exertive hour flailing at frozen trees with hatchets for a few cords of firewood or hacking at frozen lakes to dislodge blocks of ice for cooling.

Our mothers lost so much of their lives in the arduous painstaking tasks of washing dishes and clothing by hand. Without washing machines and dryers, without dishwashers, every speck of grime on a dish or a cloth exacted a toll in strenuous labor. And time, always time, as great lives ticked away with hands elbow-deep in murky water. We are gifted with a great bounty of hours freed from bondage, open for creativity. Pieces of our lives have already experienced their Exodus and their Messiah; no woman should ever again have to lose an afternoon churning butter.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

"The Age of Unreason"

In a fascinating and insightful article in the current issue of the Spectator (UK), "The Age of Unreason," Frank Furedi points out that people today willingly turn over increasing amounts of authority to other individuals, a group of lifestyle gurus who teach us how to do everyhing from cooking to raising our children to how to shop:

To this day I am astonished when I hear that sensible, biologically mature adults allow themselves to be treated as if they were incompetent dimwits by a new army of professional surrogate parents. In days of old, traditional authority figures, like priests, instructed us how to behave in public and told us which rules to observe. Today’s experts are even freer with their advice. They do not simply tell us what to do and think, but also how to feel. A new army of life coaches, lifestyle gurus, professional celebrities, parenting coaches, super-nannies, makeover experts, healers, facilitators, mentors and guides regularly lecture us about the most intimate details of our existence. They are not simply interested in monitoring public behaviour but in colonising our internal life.

Furedi does not mention that religious bodies have long told people what to feel, but I think that this observation actually strengthens his argument:

Deference to the authority of the celebrity, makeover guru or healer is underwritten by the decline in the influence of conventional forms of authority. That is why the frequently asserted claim that we live in an age characterised by the ‘death of deference’ bears little relationship to reality. Yes, it has become fashionable to treat traditional forms of authority — monarchy, church, parliament — with derision. Criticism of traditional institutions has become so prevalent that it bears all the hallmarks of classical conformism. Scientists, doctors and other professionals have also experienced an erosion of authority. But the diminishing influence of conventional authority has been paralleled by the rise of a new ‘alternative’ one. We don’t trust politicians but we have faith in the pronouncements of celebrities. We are suspicious of medical doctors but we feel comfortable with healers who mumble on about being ‘holistic’ and ‘natural’. We certainly don’t trust scientists working for the pharmaceutical industry but we are happy to listen to the disinterested opinion of a herbalist. And, of course, alternative food and other consumer products gain our confidence because . . . they are alternative.

Furedi argues that the current rise of unreason involves a rejection of science in addition to a loss of traditional religion. Thus Furedi confirms G. K. Chesterton's observation that people who stop believing in God don't believe in nothing, they believe anything:

The cultural valuation of superstition over reason and the revival of ancient forms of mysticism testify to a profound crisis of meaning in contemporary society. . . . So how do we account for the ascendancy of the authority of the life expert and the mystical guru? Some argue that the rise of this authority is a response to the decline of religion and the rise of secularism. It is claimed that without clearly formulated moral signposts people are likely to be attracted to esoteric fads and therapies. However, it is important to remember that secularism and science have been around for a long time. Throughout the 19th and 20th centuries society experienced phases of moral confusion. Nevertheless, people often gained a sense of direction from the guidance they received through secular and scientific authority. So it is not just the decline of religion but also of conventional forms of modern authority that distinguishes our times. In previous eras a loss of faith in religion was sometimes compensated for by the plausibility of science, a political ideology or the capacity of a public authority to act in the interests of all.

Furedi does not mention it, but the leveling of social authority probably has at least some roots in technological change. It strongly resembles the phenomenon of leveling of heirarchies in the workplace, where layers of management and authority are breaking down as technology makes it possible for individuals to manage their own work with increasing efficiency and effectiveness, without layers and layers of bosses in place to ensure that everyone does what they are needed to do. One sees a similar pattern in the media: in television, there were once three major voices, whereas now there are literally hundreds of choices. Each major city once had a few big newspapers, which fell to just one or two in most place in the past couple of decades, but with the internet as with cable and satellite TV, there are now a multitude of choices.

This leveling of authorities and media access allows people to rise quickly to public prominence, and those with charismatic personalities can easily spread plausible but wrong ideas widely and rapidly. That is the big danger in this great leveling, and the rise of the lifestyle guru is a powerful reminder that people do need authorities, and that when tried and tested authorities are undone, others will arise. In an antiauthoritarian society, however, these new authorities will have adherence but not legitimacy. Hence, people will continue to search for new authorities when these fail them, but the public will have to do so without sound principles to guide them in their quest:

A civilised and enlightened society requires institutions of legitimate authority, and public respect for them. That is why the attitude of the anti-authoritarian seldom conveys the spirit of critical thought. It is not criticism but uncritical criticism that motivates the current temper of cultural cynicism. The authority cultivated through human experience allows people to gain a measure of control over their destiny. Without such institutions to guide us people have no choice but to defer to Fate and its earthly representatives in the makeover industry.

There are many interesting and enlightening details in Furedi's article, and I encourage you to read it.

Where the Rubber Meets the Road

Or for the want of one of the former, as the case may be:

NEW YORK (Reuters) - An unmarried teacher says she was discriminated against and fired from her job at a Roman Catholic school in New York for being pregnant and has filed a federal complaint.

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn said on Tuesday that McCusker's situation was difficult, but the Saint Rose of Lima School had had no choice but to follow the principles contained in its teachers' handbook dictating that "a teacher can not violate the tenets of Catholic morality."

McCusker, 26, was dismissed from the school after telling school administrators she was pregnant and did not plan to marry.

She and the New York Civil Liberties Union filed a wrongful dismissal complaint with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on Monday asserting the firing was "intentional and unlawful discrimination based on McCusker's sex and pregnant status."

In a statement, McCusker said she did not "understand how a religion that prides itself on being forgiving and on valuing life" could fire her for choosing to have a baby.

In a termination letter to McCusker dated October 11, Theresa Andersen, the school's principal, cited the school handbook's provision on morality, but also praised McCusker's "high degree of professionalism."

© Reuters 2005. All Rights Reserved.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

I Like the Way This Guy Thinks

Matt Huisman has a few profound thoughts in comment world:

The tricky thing about moral condemnations is that you actually have to reference an agreed upon moral that has been violated. And the truth is that we’re not really capable of telling anyone that extra-marital sex is immoral anymore. We have developed the means to eliminate the physical harm - and why be upset with someone who has done no harm? What’s that? You say that some of us still slip up and make a mess? What a shame, but who can really blame someone for getting caught up in the moment and forgetting to take the necessary precautions – there but for the grace of God go I. Better make a note to redouble our appeals before the god of education, who is no doubt merciful and good, and able to save us from our current condition.

So where does this leave us as Christians? Should we be spitting fire and brimstone at those who scoff at their creator? Or do we simply need to recognize that the world has passed us (and God) by, and we’ve become irrelevant?

Neither. For while our compassion dictates that the church be useful to its fellow man as counselor, insurance policy and all-around handy man – it was never our central purpose.

General revelation is a good thing, and the world’s ever amassing competence and ability to overcome the obstacles that used to turn them to the divine will soon expose the hard reality of loneliness (or meaninglessness) that lurks behind every would-be panacea. Perhaps it is here where our efforts are best spent – where the real love of Jesus can best be understood.

We may be getting close to the time where ‘I told you so’ is no longer relevant as an introduction to the eternal – and that too is a good thing.

The Imminent Threat

Republicans and Democrats shouted, hurled insults and in the end gave new and ferocious meaning to partisanship. A debate over withdrawal from Iraq has descended into rancorous accusations that exemplify a nation divided.

As some noted, this is a replay of Vietnam, a war decided in the corridors of Congress rather than the Southeast Asian battlefield. Surely, the lessons of the past are not lost on al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations. They cannot defeat us in Iraq, but they can certainly test American fortitude.

Yet the ugly exchanges in the House of Representatives overlook critical dimensions of this war on terror, matters that have potentially catastrophic implications for the nation.

On November 5 the Global Islamic Media Front, a propaganda creation that disseminates al Zarqawi’s positions, announced a prize for the best proposed logo at its new website. The winner of the contest will be “privileged” to launch “three long range rockets against an American military base in Iraq (…the pressing of a button by a blessed hand.”

The announcement went on to note that Jaysh Al-Ta’ifa Al–Mansura, a radical Sunni Islamic organization composed of former military officers who served Saddam Hussein, has developed “a rocket, effective and precise, as we had promised you, using the highest level of technology …capable of launch from long range via remote control from anywhere in the world.” As these radicals note, they have the means – or claim to have the means – “to destroy the fortresses of polytheism and the infidels… .”

Whether this is merely an empty threat designed to appeal to adherents remains to be seen. However, it should be noted that this website has received more than 50,000 “hits.”

This website proposal is not unique. The Sunday Times of London reports that another al Qaeda website contains detailed instructions in Arabic on how to make nuclear, “dirty” and biological bombs. This site has 80 pages of instructions and pictures of kitchen bomb-making techniques.

Under the heading of the Nuclear Bomb of Jihad are instructions on ways to enrich uranium as a gift to the commander of jihad fighters, Osama bin Laden. Readers are encouraged to look for materials such as radium, which it claims is an “effective alternative to uranium and available on the market.”

Quoting the Koran, the anonymous architect of the site notes, “Fight them so that Allah will punish them at your hands and will put them to shame and will give you victory over them.”

John Hassard, a physicist at Imperial College London, maintains that this website offers “a proper instruction manual” for would-be terrorists. “It is a very real threat and one we can’t afford to ignore,” he said.

If this website is to be taken seriously, al Qaeda is striving to move directly from a stage where weapons of mass destruction are obtained to one in which they are deployed. Moreover, these threats serve as a propaganda vehicle and a recruitment device.

While the Congress dithers over whether we should leave Iraq precipitously or remain, our enemy is building or attempting to build weapons of mass destruction. There can be little doubt that if fissionsable material is obtained and converted into a weapon, it will be used.

This threat must be taken seriously. If it requires preemption, then preemption we must have. If it requires enhanced counter intelligence, then we must put that in place. If it means draining the Middle East swamp of fanatical jihadists, then we must be prepared to do so.

The websites that call for attacks against the United States and its allies cannot be dismissed as sheer hyperbole. We are at war and our survival is at stake. Those in the Congress who cannot recognize that do not deserve to represent the American people.

The appeasers in our midst believe that if we keep on feeding the carnivores red meat, they will become vegetarians. But history teaches a very different lesson. Those who refuse to fight are likely to die with their hands in the air. History can be merciless to those who won’t defend themselves. That is a point that must be shouted on the House of Representatives floor.

Charm City Offensive

I'm going to have to stop making fun of Maryland politics. There's no sport in it anymore.

Earlier this week, Baltimore was honored with a top ten spot in Morgan Quitno's annual Most Dangerous City award, snagging the coveted number six from Washington DC, which fell to 13th this year. So of course the Baltimore City Council took swift action. Faced with evidence that their city continues to be plagued with failing schools, corrupt and incompetent police, and drug dealer turf wars, they suspended all regular business to....pass a resolution calling for immediate withdrawal of American troops from Iraq. One council member, Keiffer Mitchell, said he had been moved by "the deaths of soldiers from Baltimore and Maryland" to vote in favor of the motion.

Hold on there, Mr. Mitchell. If you want to protect the young men of the Old Line State, maybe you should leave them where they are. Since March 2003, there have been 1,647 US fatalities attributable to hostile action in the entire country of Iraq. During the same time, there have been 885 murders in Baltimore, a city with a total population of about 650,000.

I can understand if Baltimore wants some military assistance in dealing with the war-torn streets of Park Heights and Canton, but I think we could spare a few from Quantico or AP Hill; there's no need to bring them all the way back from Iraq.

Yes, I Do His Evil Bidding, Too!

TRC's founder, S.T. Karnick has a dizzying rapid-fire survey of the new fall shows out at NRO. For those who need to catch up on what used to be a little box and is now a rather large screen, check it out.

Happy 10th Birthday, Dayton Accords

Yes, as of this week, it's been 10 years since President Bill Clinton assured peace in our time by settling the Yugoslavian question with diplomacy and sealing it with a treaty signed in the Versailles of Ohio, Dayton. Sure, war and a bunch of death followed, but making peace stick is a bitch, ain't it? The original Treaty of Versailles wasn't realized all that smoothly, either.

Ah, we remember it all so clearly, n'est-ce pas? Clinton lied (exaggerated? misled? made an honest mistake?) about 100,000 "missing" victims of Milosevic, et al. But it was a good war, because Milo was unmistakably bad. The actual bodies were never actually found, although I'm sure we looked hard. Where were the Women & Men Deceased (WMDs) we were promised?

Now, although he lacked UN authorization (or even an act of his own Congress), Bill Clinton did what he thought was right, and I'm cool with that because the bad guys had it coming and no innocent dictators were framed. Even though by reliable accounts the NATO bombing got a bit too indiscriminate, some felt the price, to quote Madeleine Albright, was "worth it."

What's done was done. As Stan from South Park might say, what have we learned from all this?

"Julian Lindley-French of the Geneva Center for Security Policy in Switzerland says
that Dayton offered a two-phased approach to resolving the Bosnia conflict."

"It recognizes that conflicts of this variety have a short-term and a longer-term component," Lindley-French says. "The short-term is simply to end the hostilities and to end the threat with the threat of credible external coercion. But in the longer term, what it said was, 'Look, we are here, we are here to stay, and we are going to invest in you, and we are going to invest in you to help you reach a regional political settlement in which all parties who have influence or interest in this conflict feel that there is something to invest in.' That was the very strong message of Dayton 10 years ago."

Yah, that's about it, and we should trust anybody with "French" in his name, especially if he's in Switzerland. One does not create peace from whole cloth. One invests in it and holds on, even when its stock price goes up and down.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Shame, Shame

The idea that the irresponsible use of sex should carry some moral condemnation has been kicked around here lately. But how? Shunning?

Well, that might have been OK for the Bad Olde Days, but who can deny that there are no illegitimate children, only parents? Surely we wouldn't visit the sins of the parents on an innocent child. That happens all by itself.

And the pro-life crowd, to its credit, has realized that shaming unmarried mothers will only engender the Gordian Knot solution of abortion.

By coincidence, or perhaps not, my colleague Jay Homnick mentioned abstinence counselling below. Songs are (unfortunately) better at conveying emotions than ideas, even in the lyrics, but I haven't forgotten a word of this since I first heard it, perhaps the greatest lyric of the entire Motown era:

You think that I don’t feel love
But what I feel for you is real love
In other’s eyes I see reflected
A hurt, scorned, rejected

Love child, never meant to be
Love child, born in poverty
Love child, never meant to be
Love child, take a look at me

I started my life in an old, cold run down tenement slum
My father left, he never even married mom
I shared the guilt my mama knew
So afraid that others knew I had no name

This love we’re contemplating
Is worth the pain of waiting
We’ll only end up hating
The child we may be creating

Love child, never meant to be
Love child, (scorned by) society
Love child, always second best
Love child, different from the rest

Mm, baby (hold on, hold on, just a little bit)
Mm, baby (hold on, hold on, just a little bit)

I started school, in a worn, torn, dress that somebody threw out
I knew the way it felt to always live in doubt
To be without the simple things
So afraid my friends would see the guilt in me

Don’t think that I don’t need you
Don’t think I don’t wanna please you
But no child of mine’ll be bearing
The name of shame I’ve been wearing

Love child, love child, never quite as good
Afraid, ashamed, misunderstood

But I’ll always love you
I’ll always love you
I’ll always love you
I’ll always love you...

(Pam Sawyer/R. Dean Taylor/Frank Wilson/Deke Richards)

Even without any of us taking it upon ourselves to cast shame, the sins of the fathers visit themselves on their children, not just for the lack of his strong right arm, but for lack of what he alone can teach them.

In No Sense

The Sunday Miami Herald featured the following headline: Innocence Lost is Not Easily Restored.

I was curious to see what had suddenly led the Herald to take an interest in abstinence counseling. However, closer scrutiny revealed that this was an article about young Iraqi kids who have lost their innocence about violent death by being in a war zone.

In theory, such an article could have been sensible. But predictably, it was not.

Two examples:
1) One four year old has been affected by seeing beheadings on the Internet. Presumably, we are meant to sympathize. Hello-o?! That has nothing to do with being in a war zone. That has to do with having imbeciles for parents. Creepy imbeciles, too.

2) An example of the terribly traumatized children is cited: two kids are playing a game in which they pretend to shoot each other. Whoever kills the other, wins. Hello-o?! I grew up in Brooklyn and I played that game, too. Sometimes it was called Cowboys and Indians; sometimes Cops and Robbers.

Then again, maybe 1960s Brooklyn was a war zone.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Advancing the Discussion on Prostitution: Another Comment Promotion

M.J. Watson offered something particularly interesting to our conversation about prostitution. So here it is:

At the root of the view that prostitution is harmful to women, and men, is (the idea) that there is something intrinsically valuable about our sexuality that should not be commodified. To engage in prostitution is to treat oneself as a means rather than an end. Connie's view seems to rely only on the criterion of consent. Whatever one consents to is legitimate.

My view is that one can consent to an activity that nonetheless is demeaning and immoral. I don't know that there is a prior principle to appeal to that would prove either of us right or wrong, but let me give two illustrations of why sex is intrinsic to us in a special way, even at the risk of making this too long of a comment.

1. Imagine Fred says to Steve, "Hey Steve, Betty and I are playing tennis on Thursday night. But I can't make it, would you be willing to fill in?"

Now imagine Fred says, "Hey Steve, Betty and I are having sex on Thursday night, but something has come up and I can't make it. Would you be willing to fill in?"

We may laugh at this, but our laughter reveals that we know there is something not quite right about this scenario. Sex is not just another activity.

2. On a more serious note, consider why we think rape is wrong. Leon Kass has an amazing article about the rape of Dinah in Genesis. He notes that today rape is seen as wrong merely because it violates a women's consent and because of the physical harm. But on the older view rape is also considered wrong because it also violates her "womanliness", or, to really use antiquated language, her virtue (her specifically sexual virtue).

But on the consent-only view it's hard to understand what makes rape the specifically awful crime that it is. It is a violation unlike any other because of the special nature of our sexuality, and thus the act of rape is intrinsically different from a punch in the nose or another violent assault.

I grant these examples don't prove that the consent-only view is wrong. As I said, I'm not sure what would do that. But I hope they illustrate why we have good reason to think there is something intrinsically valuable about our sexuality and that it thus should not be treated like a widget to be commodified.

Friday, November 18, 2005

St. Thomas and the Ho's

I'm a feminist more than a moralist on prostitution. It hurts women.

My friend and colleague Mr. Homnick writes:
However, we must also recognize the right of polities to place transactions of that nature outside the law. The vast majority of localities have exercised that right and most of them enforce those laws to some degree.

I think the right of a society, namely ours, to uphold its mores and sensibilities is under great scrutiny these days, if not outright attack.

Although the philosophical father of our constitution John Locke pays homage to "natural law," which asserts that one doesn't require a Bible to believe that prostitution should be proscribed because it is intrinsically harmful, I wonder if he meant it. I'm tempted to think he would view it as a question of the property rights of a vulva's legal owner.

Thomas Aquinas, the champion of natural law, holds that prostitution is a violation of natural law because it's a misuse of the teleology of sex, that is, the purpose of marital act, to engender intimacy and love. The Catholic obsession with procreation is in there too, but not even a Darwinist could argue that procreation is anything but a natural function. Interestingly and compassionately, Thomas' objection is mostly that the unintentional products of such unions will grow up without fathers, which he sees as indispensible to the proper development of a human being.

The repercussions of prostitution are harmful on the personal level in a number of ways then, and we religionists maintain that natural law does not descend from revelation (i.e., the Bible, etc.), but that the two cannot help but be in harmony as they are both functions of a moral order that supercedes man's will and desires. There's a vibe to things. Prostitution hurts women, and everybody else involved, too.

But Aquinas, as political philosopher, is pretty pragmatic: the open toleration of prostitution would be harmful to the social order, but a jihad, if you will, against it would create even greater social ills. Political philosophers are good that way--even the best of a society's laws, constitutions or aspirations should not be suicide pacts.

Thomas (scholastic types call him "Thomas"), as any good philosopher should, defers to practical wisdom but recommends that we gear the law to the highest, not the lowest or easily achievable in man, because the latter is incapable of fostering what Aristotle saw as the true end of a society, to enable and inspire civic (and individual) virtue, virtue being a positive thing, not an absence of "sin."

I myself am very uncomfortable with discussions of hypocrisy. It's a word thrown around far too loosely these days, and has become a rhetorical weapon instead of an tool for understanding things. Yet I seem to be defending it. I find our drug laws ridiculous, yet here in Los Angeles, we saw firsthand the carnage of the crack epidemic, which was mostly not the result of crack being illegal but of the overwhelming hunger for it that addiction creates. It strips the individual of every shred of his or her human dignity. We cannot legalize drugs.

But I can also say that consideration of these things led me to change my mind and disagree with the administration about its opposition to proposed laws banning torture of terror suspects. The law must be morally directed toward the best in us, not to accommodating the worst, toward moral progress rather than regression to the slime we rose from. There are circumstances where some of us would break anti-torture laws to save innocent life, but the law should not make such moral courage easily achievable.

To requote Mr. Homnick, "we must also recognize the right of polities to place transactions of that nature outside the law." If we can proscribe the soul-numbing effects of prostitution and drugs (and I believe we must), then surely torture should be one of those transactions that our polity places outside the law as well. If it's true of an addict or a whore (or a drug dealer, or a pimp, or a john, or the john's poor bastard), how could being a torturer (or the tortured) not numb one's soul?

A Bit of Biblical Archaeology

I wouldn't suggest making too much of this at present, but it is an interesting tidbit: archaeologists recently discovered that there was indeed at least one person named Goliath living in Gath during the time that the Bible says David slew a Philistine giant of that name from that village.

According to the UPI story on the subject, the archaelogist responsible for the find, Prof. Aren Maeir, thinks it very unlikely that the Goliath referred to on the tiny ceramic shard mentioning the name is the Goliath mentioned in the Bible. However, as noted in the Yahoo! story on the matter, Maeir "said finding the scraps lends historical credence to the biblical story."

Many scholars have argued that the story of David and Goliath is a myth made up hundreds of years after the reign of the Jewish king. The scrap indicates that, at the very least, there was indeed at least one person named Goliath in the region during the time the encounter is supposed to have taken place.

WFB's Birthday Tribute

NRO is celebrating Bill Buckley's birthday party today, even though it's really on Nov. 24. I'm wistful in hearing about it because while I've been blessed to meet many of my heroes and even become friends with some of them, I've never managed to meet Buckley. I've read about him, written about him, carefully followed his career, and heard him speak. The recurring thought is that few persons have lived a more interesting life or worked more tirelessly for what they believed.

The website has an interesting page of tributes. This one jumped out at me:

James Piereson

I recall an event from the 1970s, a debate on a midwestern college campus between Bill Buckley and a liberal or left-wing speaker whose name I have justly forgotten. I had never met Mr. Buckley at that time, though (as the saying goes) I had seen him on television and was taken by what he had to say, though not yet persuaded on all counts. That would come later. Of course, having spent time on that campus, I had become accustomed to the boorish and juvenile manners of academic leftists, who were not beneath screaming insults at those with whom they disagreed or, more politely, stalking out of the lecture room in disgust at the thought that another person should be allowed to advance views that they did not endorse. During the course of the exchange, Mr. Buckley presented his views articulately, as he always did, and in good humor, which was something I had not expected and which left a deeper mark on me than anything he actually said. He made his case amid hisses and boos from some members of the audience, and some less than dignified remarks from his opponent on stage. I was astonished, when the debate was over, to see Mr. Buckley walk across the stage with his wide smile to extend a hand to his adversary in debate, who was surprised as well, not being accustomed to gentlemanly conduct of any kind. Indeed, that is precisely the kind of conduct one never expected to see on a campus at that time.

Mr. Buckley thus impressed upon me the enduring truth that there is a connection between the way leftists think and the manners by which they conduct themselves, and also between his own gentlemanly conduct and his conservative ideals. Mr. Buckley is a powerful debater, but that night he went a long way to making a convert through his own exemplary character.

I have met Bill Buckley on many occasions since, and on every occasion I have walked away with one over-riding thought: What a wonderful man this is!

My own thought upon reading this reflection is that it's not so difficult to be gracious in victory. And Buckley experienced a great deal of that.

Wanna See the New Zorro Flick?

S.T. Karnick, the greatest living film critic in the English language™, has a new review of the latest Banderas/Zeta-Jones bash over at Tech Central Station.

As usual, you will emerge refreshed, edified, and just a little bit smarter than you were going in.

For instance, did you know this?

First, a little history. McCulley began publishing his Zorro tales in pulp magazines in 1919, with the serialization of The Curse of Capistrano, which was published in book form as The Mark of Zorro after being adapted for a highly successful Douglas Fairbanks movie of the same name in 1920. McCulley published his last Zorro tales in 1951. Although the series evolved over time, especially the film adaptations, the central premise remained constant: an unprepossessing young nobleman assumes a disguise as Zorro ("the fox") and uses his wits, sword, and whip to fight an unjust and oppressive political order. (The concept is obviously based on Baroness Orczy's hugely successful "Scarlet Pimpernel" series.)

Thursday, November 17, 2005

For Love Or Money

A friend of mine who has a political role in a country other than our own was describing to me her battle on behalf of free government health care for prostitutes. She maintains that she is doing this on a moral as wall as a pragmatic basis. The efforts of the Catholic Church to thwart her initiative were viewed by her with disdain.

I made the following points in my response.

1) I am not convinced that prostitution should be illegal, but I think it should be against public policy so that we don't get absurd anomalies like the German government denying a woman unemployment benefits because she had a job offer - as a prostitute - that she was not accepting. I would be perfectly content to live in Nevada where the populace has deigned to allow prostitution as a legal enterprise subject to licensing and registration requirements.

2) However, we must also recognize the right of polities to place transactions of that nature outside the law. The vast majority of localities have exercised that right and most of them enforce those laws to some degree.

3) Inasmuch as this is an illegal activity in these venues, it is inappropriate to attach any special rewards to this activity. The conferring of a free health-care program is a sizeable financial award.

4) Furthermore, this constitutes a benefit attached to this field that is not present in waitressing or house-cleaning or other things that unskilled people do to scrape by until they can better themselves. So besides for the reward for those already engaged, we are now offering an incentive for those who are considering.

5) The same set of inferences that are drawn from illegality as a profession (contrasting prostitutes to waitresses) can be drawn from the conflict with social mores (pitting prostitution against marriage). We cannot give advantages to a prostitute that we are not giving a wife.

6) In general, there is no such thing as "free" health-care. This is a euphemism for taking money from taxpayers to give to others. This means that we are making those waitresses and wives pay taxes so the prostitutes can receive a benefit that they do not. This is a palpable absurdity.

There are more details that could be added to this, but for now this should suffice to the case.

Europe: Revitalization Or Decline?

The question that any analyst of Europe asks is whether the E.U. can be revitalized or whether it is fated to continue an incremental downward spiral to marginality. While pundits on both sides of this political equation have opinions, answers aren’t readily available.

All one can look at are signs, but these are available in abundance.

The French who often tell rude jokes about Boring Belgians are now seeing rich French figures who have found their next door neighbor an escape from draconian French taxes. The Halley’s of the Carrefour supermarket chain have settled in Belgium as has Philippe Jaffre former head of Elf Aquitaine, the state oil company.

Fiscal exiles include singers Charles Aznavour and Patrica Kaas; the actress Emmanuelle Beart and Isabelle Adjani, among others.

For those who are obliged to pay at the highest income bracket (80 percent) as well as a “solidarity tax on wealth,” it often means an annual tax bill greater than their income. In order to conceal the effect of onerous taxes, the French government estimates that the flight of capital accounts for a loss of about $2 billion a year while unofficial estimates have it closer to $30 billion.

France obviously needs this tax revenue to support the generous compensation for the unemployed. All an out-of-work person has to do to maintain generous benefits is call in every six months to confirm that no new job has been secured. Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin has proposed giving the unemployed a bonus of $1200 for taking a job, even as the government weighs a three strikes rule - a loss of payments if three job offers are turned down.

When the government tried to make it easier for small companies to lay off workers, thousands of strikes took to the Paris. Apparently French workers don’t realize the easiest place to lose a job is also the easiest place to find a job.

Whenever enlightened French officials discuss the value of privatization, they are obliged to retreat from that position because union leaders refuse to give ground from the commanding heights of the state guided economy.

According to one study the average French pay stub lists more than 40 deductions, compared to two in Britain and four in the United States. The government says it doesn’t want anyone’s tax bill to exceed 60 percent of household income, but as long as it refuses to eliminate the anomalous wealth tax, the proposal is little more than an empty wish.

France, of course, is not alone on the socialist scale. Germany has a minimum wage almost twice as high as the one in France and it also suffers from an unemployment rate of over eleven percent.

Mrs. Merkle’s lead during the recently completed campaign virtually evaporated when she discussed the need for social welfare retrenchment. A dose of the medicine needed to put a charge in the lackluster German economy is still not politically acceptable. As a consequence, the near tie in the election has left Germany without a policy direction and close to political paralysis.

Clearly if things get worse, change might be more readily accepted. Yet the downward slope in Germany with the precarious status of the banks and the intractable high unemployment rate might well have served as a catalyst for reform. But a mandate for change did not emerge from the election.

This analysis, of course, is a snapshot. History, on the other hand, is a montage. Yet a montage is composed of snapshots. What one sees is ominous. Decline is palpable. In fact, the axis of the world’s economy has already shifted from the Atlantic to the Pacific. World shaking events surround us and for most Europeans the news cannot be good.

Alito Bit Of This, Alito Bit Of That

Although they were written without knowledge of the other, R. Emmett Tyrrell's essay and the one penned by yours truly form a perfect complementary tandem in today's American Spectator. Both are responses to the Alito job application which was discussed below by the estimable Mr. Karnick, who astutely assayed its radioactivity.

Tyrrell focuses on the fact that liberals have been pretending for at least a quarter-century that Reaganite ideas do not exist, and to the extent that they do exist they are outside the "mainstream" - this despite these ideas being in the political ascendancy since 1980.

I concentrate more on the need within the conservative camp for a pact of total loyalty, not to abandon Alito come Hell or high water. Here's a teeny excerpt:

All the gung-ho movement types were itching to volunteer for the battlefield. Okay, here it is. They had better be as good as their word. Because there will not be another chance. If Alito ends up twisting in the wind, with conservatives suddenly finding some taint in an obscure ruling of his and leaving his carrion in the open field for the vultures, then it's over for them. They won't get another chance. Not now, not ever. Not with this President. Not with any future Republican President.

It's very nice that everyone thinks of himself or herself as a person of principle. Not a sell-out. Motivated by morality. Informed by reason. Modified by experience. Calibrated by individuality. Guided by the spirit of the past. Animated by the spirit of the present. Inspired by the spirit of the future. We know all the lines, pal, but now is not the time: now it's time to put up or shut up. To, er... do your business or get off the pot. Push, as we have noted, has in fact come to shove.