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

Monday, December 12, 2005

About Child Commodity Futures

Earlier I posted an essay authored by Guillermo Sostchin (a prominent Cuban-Jewish attorney in Miami) but written by me as what I like to call a contract-writer. The book comprises a range of life lessons that he derives from Biblical narratives using some traditional commentaries as background for his incisive analyses.

Reading the fabulous post by Herb London about people seeing children as commodities, I recalled having seen something recently on the subject. Rummaging around, I found that in fact I had written for Mr. Sostchin a piece some months ago on that very subject. Here it is for your scrutiny and edification.

And he (Elkanah) had two wives, the name of one was Hannah and the name of the second was Peninah, but Peninah had children and Hannah had no children…
And the other wife (Peninah) would anger her again and again to hurt her, because God had closed her womb. She would do this every year when they went to the house of God, then she would anger her, and she (Hannah) would cry and not eat.
And her husband, Elkanah, would say, “Why are you crying and why don’t you eat? Why should your heart feel bad? Am I not better to you than ten sons?” And Hannah stood up (one year) after eating in Shiloh… And she was bitter of spirit, and she prayed to God and cried and cried.
Then she made a promise and said, “God… if… you give your maidservant a child among men, I will give him to God all the days of his life…” (Samuel 1:2, 6-11)

This story is read in the synagogue on Rosh Hashanah. It behooves us to ponder for a moment the message of this saga and how it relates to the observance of the New Year holiday. To do this, we must first examine the events themselves and plumb their underlying meaning.
The first thing that cries out for understanding is the fact that Hannah’s prayers were never answered before this day. After all, she was crying and fasting for many years, as described in the text. Why was none of that effective before this one special time?
Secondly, we wonder at the conduct of Peninah, her self-appointed tormentor. The Talmud (Bava Batra 16a) explains that she had good intentions; she was trying to motivate Hannah to pray. Yet we see Hannah crying and fasting and presumably praying, but Peninah will not back down, year after year.
Furthermore, Peninah’s manner of teasing also requires an explanation. Rashi cites the tradition that Peninah used to say to Hannah, “So, have you bought a jacket for your elder child or a vest for your younger child?” What was the purpose of using this particular approach?
Another peculiarity worth noting is the method that Elkanah uses in trying to soothe his stricken wife. He offers his love for her and his giving to her as a substitute for having ten children.
Aren’t these things apples and oranges? Having a child is one kind of desire and need and having a husband is another desire and need; one does not take the place of the other.

We would suggest that there was a flaw in Hannah’s original request for children, and it was this shortcoming that prevented her prayers from being answered.
Even her tears and her fasting went unheeded because God was waiting for her to reorient her thoughts and feelings in a way that would make her a person of true greatness. And ironically it was Peninah who had correctly diagnosed the problem from the outset.
Hannah’s initial desire for a child was a desire to “receive” a child. Indeed most ordinary people think of a child as a gift that they receive for themselves, for self-validation, almost like a possession.
This may be acceptable for average people, but a person of potential greatness like Hannah was called upon to live according to a higher truth. Her job was to be selfless, to ask not to be able to take but to be able to give. She had to learn to ask for a child strictly for the purpose of giving to a child and for giving to God by bringing up a human soul.

As long as she cried and fasted to receive a child, her prayers were not answered. Peninah, in an effort to communicate the solution to this quandary, kept asking “Have you bought a gift for your child?” The prayer has to be centered around the commitment to give of yourself, not the self-centered urge for fulfillment in parenthood.
The best proof for this is found in the cooing words of Elkanah. “Am I not as good to you as ten sons?” This argument works only on a woman who wants a child “to be good to her”.
In the search for self-validation, a particularly solicitous husband can replace what a child gives a mother. It is only in the search for a venue of giving to the helpless that the husband cannot step into the role reserved to the child. Once Hannah realized her mistake, she returned with a new prayer.

This time she came in as a giver, not a taker, promising to consecrate the child to the service of God in the Tabernacle at Shiloh. Once she made this the substance of her prayer, God was willing to answer it immediately.
This is a lesson to us on Rosh Hashanah, the New Year, when we request a year of life and a good livelihood. We must remember to seek those gifts not for self-validation or self-aggrandizement but to have the opportunity to make a contribution, to make a difference in God’s world, to make the world a better place.

Narnia from Another Non-Reviewer: Narnia v. LOTR

I caught the late show of Narnia last night. Paid full price. Worth it without question.

The unfortunate thing for Narnia is that it will inevitably be compared to Lord of the Rings. It can't quite stand up to that comparison. The main difference is that the Narnia stories are really intended for children, whereas the LOTR tales are written without an age group in mind. Thus, Narnia doesn't carry the same terrible feeling of impending doom or massive relief at the escape from doom.

One of the primary factors that makes Narnia so much less threatening is that we see so much of the villain, the evil queen. In LOTR, the ultimate villain is always beyond our grasp. So ancient, dark, and terrible, one can only strive in near blindness to prevail on faith. Here, the Queen is bad, but quite manageable by comparison. Like I say, Narnia is a children's story. They can't handle as much. In a way, Narnia is like The Passion of the Christ if you tried to make it endurable for kids. The result is entertaining, beautiful, reverent, and something that adults can enjoy, but is not FOR adults.

My distinction between what is for adults and children would possibly not hold up so well in an age where adults were not as world weary and jaded as we are. I suspect an audience from an earlier time would have all the violence and threat they would need to be pushed to the max by this film. That may be part of why C.S. Lewis wrote for children. They are still impressionable and in a good way.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Recalling An Unmet Friend

Truman Capote, a man very dear to my heart, a damaged but beautiful soul who left behind a legacy of beauty, of gentle harps with frayed strings, of fearing and loving life all at once, of echoing chasms in the heart, of twinkling lights and frosty nights, is portrayed beautifully by Philip Seymour Hoffman in the new film - but savaged by the script as monstrously selfish beyond redemption.

Perhaps the spirit of the season will move us to remember him in brighter hues.

(Incidentally, the TV movie made from the above-linked story, with Katherine Hepburn and Henry Winkler, was a true marvel and I cried like a baby throughout.)

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Eugene McCarthy, RIP

It seems absurd in retrospect, because I was only 10 years old in 1968 (although my prodigy status had gotten me into the 8th Grade), but I was very attracted to Eugene McCarthy's campaign. Had he or Scoop Jackson ever won the presidency, people like myself might well have remained Democrats.

McCarthy was an original. This article is fairly comprehensive. But to capture the mood of the time, you should read the James Jackson Kilpatrick write-up of that campaign in the National Review.

Slick Willie Speaks

President Narcissistic Swine, aka Bill Clinton, now solemnly informs the world that "climate change is real... and caused by human activities." Not so real, of course, to have induced him actually to submit the Kyoto Protocol to the Senate for ratification back in 1997; he would have received no more than ten votes in favor, and what's a little environmental destruction when his political interests are at stake?

Well, where Willie stands depends on where he (or someone) sits. So let us review the actual evidence on anthropogenic global warming, shall we?

1. Carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere have increased from about 290 parts per million in 1900 to about 360 ppm today. Over 80 percent of that increase occurred after the surface temperature peak around 1940, a sequence of event inconsistent with the standard left-wing argument. Many of the same people now screaming about global warming were screaming about global cooling in the mid 1970s.

2. The evidence shows that surface temperatures 3000 years ago were about 2 degrees C higher than today, abnormally low 1500 years ago, and over a degree C warmer 1000 years ago, after which the earth entered the Little Ice Age until about the year 1700, from which surface and atmospheric temperatures now are emerging. Temperatures now appear to be a bit below or at the 3000-year average, and the evidence does not support the claim that temperatures in the 20th century were unusual compared with the previous 900 years.

3. Satellite and weather balloon (radiosonde) measurements since 1979, corrected for orbital drift, instrument calibration shifts, and other such measurement error, show an increase in lower tropospheric temperature of 0.06 degrees C per decade, or 0.6 degrees C if extrapolated for 100 years. Other recent work correcting the IPCC models yields a similar modest warming of about 1.5 degrees C over the next century.

4. Surface temperature measurements over the last century show an increase of about 0.27 degrees C; since 1940, the figure is about 0.09 degrees C if extrapolated for 100 years. We do not know if adjustments in the data for urbanization ("heat island") effects are complete.

5. Since 1979, surface temperatures have increased about 0.18 degrees C per decade. The figure for the lower troposphere is 0.06 degrees C; but the conventional IPCC models predict that the troposphere should warm more than the surface. This suggests significant modeling error in the conventional models.

6. The IPCC models predict larger effects from increased concentrations of carbon dioxide than actually observed in the satellite and weather balloon data, an outcome consistent with the hypothesis that the interactions among water vapor, carbon dioxide, and other atmospheric components tend to dampen the effects of increased concentrations of carbon dioxide.

7. Data on solar activity and surface temperatures are correlated highly.

8. Satellite measurements of global sea levels show a downward trend for most of the earth, with the exception of the eastern equatorial Pacific.

9. The data since 1940 show trend declines in the frequency and intensities (wind speeds) of hurricanes.

10. Both theory and evidence suggest that prospective anthropogenic warming will be modest and will occur for the most part in the coldest and driest air masses, particularly Siberia and western North America in the winter.

Basic global warming theory is correct: increase the carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere, and the earth will warm a bit. The problem is that the conventional models in essence are disequilibrium models: The warming will cause more ocean evaporation, the resulting increase in water vapor concentrations will warm the earth even more, so water vapor concentrations will increase further, etc. This story is objectively false: The warming 3000 years ago, not caused by capitalism generally or SUVs in particular, did not yield a permanent warming. Nor is it at all obvious that a warmer earth would be worse than a cooler earth; that depends on the decrease in the value of the existing capital stock, the cost of adjustments, etc. All a topic for another day.

Dilbert, Blogging

I feel compelled to note that the wonderfully inventive Scott Adams (creator of Dilbert) is now blogging. Check it out, here.

The Non-Reviewer Reviews Narnia

Sam's probably got real reviews of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe running in half-a-dozen places, but I couldn't resist offering my own scattershot impression. I just returned from a first-day showing and I am blown away. This movie not only avoided every pitfall I dreaded upon hearing Disney was involved in the project, it is a gem. Not flawless, but a gem nonetheless.

There is too much in this movie to take in all at one go. Luckily I am guaranteed a return visit next weekend, as my husband, poor unlucky sod, was sent to Paris on business for five days and so missed tonight's outing.
  • The soundtrack is for the most part a work of artistic genius -- eclectic, original, and without cliche from beginning to end. The only choice I'm not sure about is Alanis Morissette over the closing credits, but we were the only ones left in the theater at that point anyway.
  • Technology has finally become so sophisticated that there is no longer a need for the audience to will belief in depictions of fantastic worlds. The centaurs were as convincing as the Pevensie children. Aslan is almost too perfect -- at one point I found myself marvelling at the way his mane rippled in the wind instead of paying attention to the plot.
  • There will be controversy over the beavers. I liked them, Rachel did not.
  • This is one of the few book to movie adaptations I have seen where I have agreed with the changes and omissions. At 150 minutes it is long for a movie aimed at a young audience, but there was no restlessness in the theater.

And now a review of the audience: there are now two full generations of people who have no earthly idea how to behave in public. I am accustomed to being surrounded by obnoxious morons in movie theaters. I am not yet accustomed to mother and son pairs offering non-stop commentary loud enough to drown out battle scenes. Sample dialog from the brace of mental giants directly behind us, on the appearance of a squadron of airborne war gryffons:

Hey! Is they Pegasus things?

You dumb%&@, they're cat-eagles.

They had to take time off from kicking the back of my head to think this stuff up.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Intuition In Tuition

It occurred to me that the following excerpt might be of interest. The writing is mine (as I have permission to reveal) but the book's author is Guillermo Sostchin, a prominent Cuban-Jewish attorney here in Miami. The larger opus comprises his analyses of Biblical passages and themes. This particular selection is an essay dealing with an aspect of the story of Noah's Ark.

And Noah entered, along with his sons and his wife and their wives, into the Ark, away from the (advancing) waters of the Flood.
From the pure animals and from the animals that are not pure and from the birds and all that crawls upon the ground, two at a time they came to Noah to the Ark, male and female, as the Lord commanded to Noah. (Genesis 7:7-9)

Away from the (advancing) waters of the flood. Noah, too, was of little faith, alternating between believing and not believing that the Flood was coming, so he did not enter the Ark until the waters were pressuring him. They came to Noah. On their own. (Rashi)

The Bible is drawing our attention to a fascinating contrast between the human response to the impending Flood and the animal reaction. The animals came of their own accord, indicating that they had some instinctive sense of the impending doom and knew to seek out some form of refuge. (Of course, many more than two would have shared the instinct to find a way out, but only two were given the extra sense that the Ark being built on a particular man’s property held the key to survival.)
Human beings, on the other hand, do not seem to have sensed that anything was amiss. Noah had a prophecy, which he in turn relayed to others. All of his neighbors dismissed his warnings as sheerest fantasy.
Even he, as Rashi deduces from the text, had difficulty achieving a full acceptance of this idea which ran so radically counter to the human perception that the world was very solid and durable. Only the actual beginnings of a powerful storm convinced him thoroughly of the literal accuracy of the prophecy.
This, despite his accepting the message from G-d, communicating it to others and even putting into action the instruction to build an ark to specifications.
Indeed we saw this phenomenon confirmed in our own day, when a great tsunami struck Indonesia and Thailand. Many people were killed while lounging casually on the beaches. When the authorities arrived, looking for survivors to evacuate and bodies to bury, they were amazed to find that although almost two hundred thousand people had perished, not a single denizen of the animal kingdom had lost its life.
Zero: not one animal had died as a result of the tsunami. Clearly, they had been aware in advance that it was on its way and they had been able to find their way to the safety of the higher elevations.
Why is it that animals are more responsive to portents of danger than humans; why would mankind find this message so difficult to process?

It seems to me that the Bible (and Nature, in its recent rumblings) is trying to show us the proof against the notion that human beings might have evolved from animals in some manner that was not guided by a Divine intelligence.
Had there been a process that was random and achieved simply by nature taking its own course, there would have been a bridge that links the consciousness of animals and humans. There could not be a total shift from one system of processing environmental data to another without the slightest vestige remaining from the first system.
Instead, we see that animals respond to a network of instinctual stimuli alerting them to ripples in the tranquility of Nature. Humans, however, have no access to this data bank. They can only process information by importation through the five senses followed by an intellectual examination and deliberation.
Therefore, an animal senses a Flood by instinct; he immediately heads toward safety. A person, even a good person, even one who has been informed by prophetic means, finds it difficult to perceive danger through the intellect when the planet sits peaceful and solid beneath his feet.

Children As Commodities

For those upwardly mobile urban residents who live in Brentwood, the upper east side of New York, Chicago’s Gold Coast or places where the aspiring masters of the universe set up house, children are not small flesh and blood people; they are commodities. Their value fluctuates like the gold market. What counts, of course, is whether they can enhance the reputation of parents, and whether parents can live vicariously through the exploits of kids.

At a recent dinner event several guests regaled me with stories of their children’s achievements. That is well and good since parents who have something positive to say about their kids might as well let other guests in on the success. But at one point, a fellow said my son disappoints me, “he didn’t get into Harvard.” I asked if he (the dad) went to Harvard. He said, “no but I was counting on my son to get in.” I innocently noted that this rejection would probably not have the slightest influence on the young man’s future. Dad demurred, “of course it will; I was counting on it.”

This conversation has been repeated many times, in many places. Each time I come away perplexed. Why would parents be disappointed that a son or daughter didn’t get in to an Ivy League college, especially if they didn’t get in to one themselves? Moreover, why be disappointed in this child who didn’t get admitted to an elite school? It is precisely because it is elite that everyone doesn’t get in. This rejection doesn’t ensure failure in life, just as acceptance doesn’t ensure success.

The answer to this conundrum is that upper middle class kids are treated as commodities. It is what they do that matters, not who they are. The marketplace of conversation is dependent on the conditions that allow one to boast about the children in a social game of one-upsmanship. Here is reverse projection: the parents derive prestige from what their children achieved. I can remember a time when kids, who took pride in their parents accomplishments, wanted to emulate them. How quaint that seems at the moment.

This children’s commodities market has its up and downs just like the Mercantile Market. On some days Johnny’s stock goes up; he won his tennis match or got 1600 on the SAT. On other days his stock goes down; he didn’t win a Merit Scholarship or he struck out in the 9th with the bases loaded. This rollercoaster effect is found in everyone’s life and surely boasting about children is not uncommon. What makes this condition odd is the lack of intrinsic value in the child. Kids must produce to have value just as corporate value is dependent on earnings.

Not only does this put inordinate pressure on children; it is an attitude hostile to the very nature of a parent-child relationship. It dehumanizes the kid and grotesquely limns the parents. In this human calculus one weighs the scales of achievements and failures using the most superficial of standards to register a judgment. Is Johnny less of a person because he didn’t get in to Harvard?

Fortunately this slice of life is restricted to an affluent portion of the population that has the opportunity to preoccupy themselves with fantasies of their offspring’s accomplishments. Very often what dad or mom couldn’t do for themselves, they expect from their children. After all, they offered every privilege money can provide, now results are expected.

Where this leads is already clear: psychiatrists treat more children of the wealthy than ever before. Children are driven to succeed and become depressed when unrealistic standards are not met. Parents, on the other hand, are frantic. If Mary isn’t always attentive in school, she becomes a candidate for Ritalin. If Johnny only scored 1500 on the SAT, Kaplan or Princeton Review sessions will be in his future. It is not merely the edge Mom and Dad want for their children; it’s the “stock price” of the offspring.

Children as commodities may seem as a harsh idea, but it is a part of current reality in my opinion. The problem is kids often can’t reach the expectations parents have for them and the market suffers from irrational exuberance. Perhaps this market will also burst like its analogue on Wall Street. That might release the pressure at home, but its consequence for society would be very profound indeed.

Losing Weight, Making Friends with Gravity

Those who know me are aware that I could never could be called "a man of the left," but maybe "a man of the heft" would be fitting.

Hitting age 35 while still carrying excess weight has landed me in the doghouse with my doctor. He threw the book at me and I'm now blogging about the experience as a way to stay accountable to dieting.

If anyone is interested in reading about that and maybe contributing their own comments, just slide over to I Might Be a Giant, a new weblog about cutting personal liabilities.

True Crime Is Stranger . . .

. . . than fictional ones. As AP informs us,

MEMPHIS, Tenn. - In an unusual case of mistaken identity, a woman who thought a block of white cheese was cocaine is charged with trying to hire a hit man to rob and kill four men. The woman also was mistaken about the hit man. He turned out to be an undercover police officer.

Sandy Booth, 18, was arrested over the weekend and remains in jail with bond set at $1 million on four charges of attempted murder and four counts of soliciting a murder.

According to police, Booth was in the Memphis home of the four intended victims last week when she mistook a block of queso fresco cheese for cocaine — inspiring the idea to hire someone to break into the home, take the drugs, and kill the men.

She told the undercover cop, whom she thought to be a hitman, that any children in the house old enough to testify would have to be killed.

To summarize: an eighteen-year-old girl decides to kill four men and their children, and presumably any spouses and girlfriends who chanced to be there, and any other innocent bystanders who might happen by, and take the men's imaginary cocaine money.

I hope she fries.

She won't, of course, but it would be the only reasonable response.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

The Tortured Anti-Torture Argument

Now, like many or even most Americans, I have a soft spot for John McCain. A war hero, an ex-POW, and a willingness to cross his own party. Still, it's hard to tell when he's grandstanding or following principle.

On his leadership against torture, since he was a victim of it, we shall give him the benefit of the doubt, although not his allies on the other side of the aisle and even on his own.

Torture is wrong, and it doesn't work, anyway.

Sweet. Grabbing the moral high ground, and anyone who disagrees is a sadist interested only in inflicting needless suffering. Cheney and Rumsfeld are Himmler and Heydrich.

But torture does work. Let's get that straight. The case of US Army Col. Allen West is easily as important as the Valerie Plame nonsense, but has disappeared from the public discussion (if it was ever there) because it puts the lie to framing defenders of the "ticking bomb" scenario as immoral sadists.

Briefly, while serving in Iraq, Col. West uncovered a plot to ambush him and his men. He treated rather roughly a man who had knowledge of the plot, fired a few shots from his pistol in the man's close proximity while threatening to kill him, and got the information, saving both himself and his men.

As a coda, administrative action was taken against Col. West under the Uniform Code of Military Justice for what "amounted to torture." His career is over.

So, torture is not only already illegal, it also works. It can save lives. So much for the moral clarity that the current anti-torture argument claims. There's a real-world dilemma here.

But what of the "'wrongness' of torture" argument that remains? It claims a moral absolute, but is in conflict with the first natural right, to survive. Was Col. West obligated to die because of this moral absolute of "wrongness"? Let his men perish?

The "wrongness" argument requires suicide. Let its proponents own it: I would rather die than have someone tortured to save me. Or to save my friends, my lover, my parents, or my children.

Further, I forbid anyone else from saving their own lives or those of friends and family in this way.

Legislating morality, foisting yours upon others? Torture is wrong, why, exactly? Because you say so?

Strangely enough, like capital punishment, I'm personally opposed to torture for reasons that resonate from my religious beliefs. But if I'm to park all that at the door when we as a nation decide important things like this, then my reason admits that the arguments for both torture to save life (and for capital punishment) are the stronger.

And to throw both the moral and practical arguments into a blender, especially when neither can stand on its own, and use the resulting incomprehensible slime to pour on one's opponents as "supporters of torture?" No, that just won't do. John McCain gets a pass. The rest do not. This is the real world, where if like Pilate one washes his hands and walks away, innocents die.

Babble On

The Spectator has graciously run a musing of mine on how some of the subtler decisions required in Iraq may be getting drowned out by the Democrats' shrillness and hyperbole.

Here is the merest morsel to clean your palate:

Even if the military obstacles are eventually breached, we are caught in a subtle conflict that simultaneously challenges our political, governmental, legal, and moral sensibility. Say we determine, as hitherto we have, that the peculiar morphology of modern terrorism requires the suspension of certain precious mores. It allows, even demands, that we imprison people for years with less-than-due process, or torture people who have urgent knowledge of pending or impending horrors. What, then, do we tell the new government of Iraq? Can we allow it to behave in this manner?

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Al Qaeda, Gentler Assassination

Over at The American Spectator, it's considered a great honor if one's article is featured in the headlining picture. That honor is still mine on Dec. 6 until midnight. You could actually click on that picture and it links through to my article.

Now that midnight is a muddy memory, and sic transit gloria mundi (even on Tuesdi), we can only link to the specific article.

My subject today was the assassination by person or persons unknown of the much bewailed and bemoaned Mr. Rabia, #3 potentate of al-Qaeda.

Here is a strand culled from amid the arabesque:

The real War on Terror may be kicking in now. Now we have to get individual al Qaeda members who may be lurking in attics and cellars anywhere and everywhere. At this point the logic of war between the United States of America and a private-sector gang involves bestowing upon them a sort of honorary sovereignty. They are the government-in-exile of the sovereign nation of al Qaeda and every one of them is an ambassador. Their home, in whatever host country, is a piece of enemy territory. The principle of embassy status and diplomatic immunity is applied in reverse.

Look, they came here and bombed us with their Air Force. Does it really matter that their fleet was acquired through piracy of commercial air craft? In the same way, we view Hamza Rabia's house in Pakistan as occupying a legal status distinct from the rest of that ally country. His house is an al Qaeda embassy with discrete sovereignty and as long as we don't mess Pakistani lawns too badly with shrapnel and body parts, we reserve the right to act on our declaration of war. Or better said, on our engaging of their declaration of war.

Also, please let me encourage you again to visit my new sub-blog for fun two-line comments on the day's news.

World Ends: Women, Minorities Hardest Hit

No, really.

Catholics, Evangelicals, and National Review

You know Catholics and Evangelicals have ceased hostilities when you read National Review's list of 15 Unsung Conservatives and find:

Carl F. H. Henry (1913–2003): Billy Graham was the greatest evangelical preacher of the 20th century; one of the greatest evangelical thinkers was Henry. An ordained Baptist minister, he gave the evangelical movement its intellectual heft through his books and, most notably, his editorship of Christianity Today, a magazine that he and Graham founded in 1956 to counteract the influence of the more liberal Christian Century. Although he defended traditional understandings of Scripture, he rejected fundamentalist rigidity and urged evangelicals to engage the wider world rather than to retreat from it — an encouragement that continues to motivate serious Christians to occupy the public square.

CFHH is one my personal heroes, but he wouldn't have been on the radar of NR twenty years ago. The fact that he is included now shows the religious interpenetration of the two camps and how well Henry's legacy is wearing.


In the beginning, Hollywood discovered that there was a market for serious Christians who would enjoy entertainments based on a more orthodox view of the faith. The prophet Gibson showed them the way. Though he was despised for revealing this unpopular truth, his already significant fame grew and the actor became an icon. And it was good.

Having learned Gibson's truth, the behemoth company Disney did seek to dwell in the promised land and thus became the makers of a film based on a story by an older prophet Lewis. By all accounts from those who have seen the early results, it too was good.

However, it may be the case that all this marketing sometimes goes too far and that may not be good.

A New Sub-blog

The two two-line blogs that I did here yesterday inspired me to create a separate blog for that purpose. This way I can comment, if briefly, on a number of news events each day - but in a maximum of two lines.

Please come down and have a gander.

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 (,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”\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.

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.