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

Monday, December 19, 2005

Wendy Time Comes

Wendy's has decided to spin off its subsidiary, Tim Horton's, and make it into a separate company. Reading that over at Galley Slaves prompted me to write the following reminiscence:

Once, on a Sunday night about ten p.m., with three kids in the car, I got a flat somewhere between Toronto and Windsor. I got out in the freezing cold and changed the tire. But I had no full-sized spare, only the donut. I figured that I had no choice but to try to drive a hundred miles or more on the donut, perhaps stay overnight in Detroit, fix or buy a tire Monday morning.

Suddenly I get spinning cop colors in my mirror.

I pull over, puzzled; I wasn't speeding or otherwise in violation of the law.

The officer sidles up to my window and informs me that if I persist in driving three kids in a car with an inadequate tire he will have to toss me into the clink. Too dangerous."Okay, but what should I do?""Pull into this town right here and you'll see a garage at the first light. I called ahead; they're expecting you; they'll fix you up."

Every short story in an Alfred Hitchcock collection, every scary movie, echoed in my head. This was a bad dream. Oldest scam in the book. Cop pulls you into town. Garage charges you a fortune, makes you put it on your credit card. And who knows what further indignity they had in store? Sell me four tires and a new transmission for three thousand dollars? That might be getting off lightly.

In the end, all the fears were proven to be the absurd product of American faux-sophistication.

The people in the garage were nice beyond belief. They sold me a used tire that was in decent condition, and they charged me only 35 dollars (Canadian). All this at almost 11 p.m. on a brutally cold Sunday night. Just gosh-darn nice folks.

But where did the kids and I spend that half-hour while the fellas worked on the car? At the Tim Horton's that was wide open for business with a couple of super-sweet waitresses cluck-clucking over our predicament.

Who Knew?

As an alumnus of Yeshiva education, I was excited to see that Mortimer Zuckerman, the Editor of U.S. News and World Report, paid a visit to the Yeshiva in Lakewood, New Jersey. As you may know, that is the largest Jewish institution outside of Israel that offers a curriculum of only Jewish Studies. There are currently about 4,000 students. Yes, I was a student there for one year between the ages of 19 and 20 (not sure if they're proud of that, but I am); at the time, 1978-79, there were only a thousand students.

Here is how Zuckerman summed up the experience in an interview with American Jewish Spirit magazine.

AJS: You had the opportunity recently to visit the Lakewood Yeshiva... Can you tell us what that was like?

MZ: It was at the behest of a rabbi I study with that I went and visited the Lakewood Yeshiva. I had never been to a yeshiva before in my life and I sort of did this out of some degree of curiosity but more out of a sense of moral support for what had been such a central part of this rabbi's life. But I have to tell you, when I got there I was absolutely knocked out by it.

I will tell you that it was the single most intellectually active, energetic, fascinating environment I had ever witnessed. There was a sort of buzz and just sheer concentration and joy in the learning process and it was literally visible to somebody like myself.

I mean, I said it afterwards, it made Harvard Law School, which I happen to have attended, look like a kindergarten. It was absolutely extraordinary to see so many people - from various walks of life - in there for the sheer joy of learning about their religious tradition. And the sheer intensity and intellectual demands of this place made it such a unique place to visit.

So for me, it was absolutely a stunning experience and I wish everybody could have the chance not only to visit it but to have a guide like I did.

Booker T. and W.E.B.

I attended Booker T. Washington High School in Pensacola, Florida, so I've always paid attention to anything about the man that crossed my desk.

The popular/academic assessment has been that Booker T. was an Uncle Tom willing to settle for what the white man would tolerate, while his contemporary W.E.B. Dubois was a righteous civil rights warrior.

My friends over at the excellent blog Rock, Paper, Dynamite have a nice piece aiming at rehabilitating Booker T. and showing that Dubois and he weren't polar opposites.

Sometimes, we cook up roles for historical figures because we want to prove a particular point or tell a certain story. It looks as if Booker T. has been the victim of those who wanted to tarnish his halo, while polishing Dubois'.

Dissent Helps, Not Hurts, Our Troops and Freedom in Iraq


"They want an exit strategy, a cut-and-run exit strategy. What we are for is a successful strategy," said Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn, according to AP.

But Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said: "We want to change the course. We can't stay the course."

Despite the differences, today’s developments indicate a growing willingness by Congress to probe the president’s handling of the Iraq war as the U.S. military death toll rises, public support slides, and the Iraqi resistance grows.


"It was a big mistake. The American government made several errors ... one of which is how easy it would be to get rid of Saddam and how hard it would be to unite the country."

"The mistake that they made is that when they kicked out Saddam, they decided to dismantle the whole authority structure of Iraq ... We never sent enough troops and didn't have enough troops to control or seal the borders," Mr. Clinton said.

It would have been better if the U.S. had left Iraq's "fundamental military and social and police structure intact," he noted.

The current U.S. President George W. Bush has been trying recently to revive the public's fading support to his unjustified decision to invade Iraq, saying that many current critics warned that Saddam was a threat before the war started.


Rep. John Murtha, an influential House Democrat who once voted for invading Iraq called Thursday for immediately pulling out American troops from the country, a move described by analysts as another sign of growing unease in Congress about the war.

"It is time for a change in direction," Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., one of Congress' most hawkish Democrats said, adding that the U.S. Army "is suffering, the future of our country is at risk. We cannot continue on the present course. It is evident that continued military action in Iraq is not in the best interests of the United States of America, the Iraqi people or the Persian Gulf region."

Italics mine. Comfort and encouragement for the insurgent murderers to keep doing what they're doing, theirs.

The issue is not whether these Americans have the right of free speech, it's whether they are doing good in their exercise of that right. If they can question, so can I: Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Listening In

I know, I know, I keep saying that I'll do a long article on this someday. But for the meantime we should keep doing the small ones.

Media folks love to deny that they practice biased reporting. Their position is refuted easily enough, merely by pointing to headlines. One needn't trouble to seek proof in the fine print of the reporting itself. It proclaims itself in big letters right up top.

This link is to the ONLY fair headline on the domestic wiretapping story. It is to the London Times, with the headline reading: Bush defends secret wiretapping of Americans.

All the American headlines have cleverly slipped in a negative tilt. Some make the President seem ominous; others paint him ludicrous. Ominous ones read something like this: Bush Backed Spying on Americans (BBC). Or: Bush Defends Secret Spying in U.S. (ABC). Ludicrous ones go like this: Bush Says Eavesdropping 'Makes America Safer' (Reuters).

Jack Anderson, RIP

Reform Clubbers have the privilege of previewing my elegiac article about Jack Anderson which will be publicly available midnight tonight at The American Spectator.

Have a swig:

Jack Anderson died Saturday at age 83. He was one of the great columnists this country has ever produced, not noteworthy for his prose but for his "relentless pursuit of the truth," to borrow Mr. Limbaugh's phrase. So much so that, much to my consternation, I have to share an observation that I prefer to reserve for cocktail parties with lots of beautiful and famous people listening.

It always amuses me to hear people, especially conservatives, speculating about the transition from the hard-bitten cynical reporters of The Front Page to the young, idealistic journalists who think they can change the world. People attribute it to the Vietnam War, to Watergate, but the truth is that it had already begun a decade or so before that with Drew Pearson and Murrow and Sevareid and some of their buddies. The real influence that created the modern American (and from here, it has spread across the world) crusading journalist was Superman.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Listen Up

The Reform Club's own Herb London was a guest (along with Gary Bauer) on Bill Bennett's radio show this morning.

The topic was UN reform, and Herb's circulating a letter urging Congress to withhold UN funding until substantial reforms are made. Those who wish to remain on the cutting edge will access this historic audio here. Scroll down to select the interview.

(All major conservative luminaries are being asked to sign on to the letter. I haven't been asked yet, but I'm sure it's just an oversight.)

The Happiness of Married People

Health Day News reports that a large study by Cornell University found that married people are happier than others. I hope that this comes as no surprise to most people, but just in case, here's an excerpt from the HDN story for your enjoyment and edification:

Women and men in committed relationships are happier than other people, claims a Cornell University study. Researchers analyzed information collected from 691 people and found that the stronger the commitment, the greater the sense of happiness and well-being.

Married people had the highest sense of well-being, whether they were happily married or not. Next on the scale of happiness and well-being were people who were living together, followed by people in steady relationships and those in casual relationships.

The findings were published in a recent issue of the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships.

"Some commitment appears to be good, but more commitment appears to be even better," study author Claire Kamp Dush, a postdoctoral fellow with the Evolving Family Theme Project of the Institute for Social Sciences at Cornell, said in a prepared statement.

The finding that even people in unhappy marriages had a high sense of well-being and happiness may be due to the benefits they derive from the stability, commitment and social status of marriage, Kamp Dush said.

"Even when controlling for relationship happiness, being married is associated with higher self-esteem, greater life satisfaction, greater happiness and less distress, whereas people who are not in stable romantic relationships tend to report lower self-esteem, less life satisfaction, less happiness and more distress," she said.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

The Zebras

Oh, that's so unfair. But who are these "Democrats?" They call themselves donkeys, but I think they're zebras.

Are they represented by Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-CT)?

Here is an ironic finding I brought back from Iraq. While U.S. public opinion polls show serious declines in support for the war and increasing pessimism about how it will end, polls conducted by Iraqis [show]... a resounding 82% are confident their lives in Iraq will be better a year from now than they are today. What a colossal mistake it would be for America's bipartisan political leadership to choose this moment in history to lose its will and, in the famous phrase, to seize defeat from the jaws of the coming victory.

Nah, that ain't it. How about Democratic Party Chairman Howard Dean?

The idea that we're going to win the war in Iraq is an idea which is just plain wrong.

No, that can't be it, either. Chairman Dean says that remark was taken out of context. (Although it's tough to tell how.)

There's a story floating around (you NYTimesSelect subscribers can access it here) that French now-Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin noted during a conference that if Bush and Blair succeed,

"France would appear ridiculous."

There is a long silence. Another diplomat says, "The Americans and British are our allies."

Villepin ends the meeting...

Yeah, that's about it. Today's Democrats are like the French. They have no allies, only interests, and their greatest fear is appearing ridiculous. (Or being eaten.)

Like the zebras.

Strangely enough, those on the lefter side of the Democratic Party who want an immediate withdrawal of our troops from Iraq ala the glory days of Vietnam War protests at least have a principled position. They want to erase the Etch-A-Sketch. A do-over. But there are only three of them or so in the US government, and besides, there are no do-overs in life.

The rest want their political cake and eat it too: they want Bush and Blair to succeed in Iraq, while being seen in their own countries to have failed.

We shall give the last quote to Tony Blair himself, who like George W. Bush is loudly reviled in his own nation, although he, like Bush, recently won re-election anyway:

President Bush’s inauguration speech last week, marks a consistent evolution of US policy. He spoke of America’s mission to bring freedom in place of tyranny to the world. Leave aside for a moment the odd insistence by some commentators that such a plea is evidence of the “neo-conservative” grip on Washington – I thought progressives were all in favour of freedom rather than tyranny. The underlying features of the speech seem to me to be these. America accepts that terrorism cannot be defeated by military might alone. The more people live under democracy, with human liberty intact, the less inclined they or their states will be to indulge terrorism or to engage in it. This may be open to debate – though personally I agree with it – but it emphatically puts defeating the causes of terrorism alongside defeating the terrorists.

I think neither America's Democrats nor the French basically disagree with Tony Blair. They're just embarrassed they didn't think of it first, or if they did, that they lacked the fortitude to bear the slings and arrows that go with trying to make it a reality.

Their only remaining hope of retaining their self-respect is to claim that their kibitzing, their questioning, their "speaking truth to power," will make the critical difference between success and failure in Iraq. So be it:

Without your help, the Iraqi people could not have made it even this far. They thank you, as does the entire free world, which counts on you guys not to destroy America, but to chasten it, keep it honest. They call referees "zebras" for their neutral black-and-white shirts.

Referees are an essential part of the game, although they are not in it. Ridiculous? Nah, even when they're wrong. They also serve who stand on the sidelines and move the yard markers as one team or the other marches to a touchdown.

Which team scores is of no concern to them. In their eyes, each team deserves to lose, and neither team particularly deserves to win, Bush's or bin Laden's. But we treasure them, and will make sure the zebras (and the French), who cannot or will not defend their own lives, are not eaten.

Evidence for Success of Embryonic Stem Cells Was Faked, Scientist Admits

I'll never understand the attraction of embryonic stem cells (other than as a way of making some good come from abortions and human cloning), for they have no practical use and show little to no real promise of ever having any, whereas adult stem cells (ASCs, including umbilical cord cells) are successfully doing so much good and have been doing so for several years. (Ever heard of the wonders of bone marrow transplants? That's a common use of ASCs.) The benefits of ESCs are perpetually on the horizon and never actually achieved, whereas ASCs are doing much good and show clear promise of doing much, much more if only sufficient resources were directed to the effort.

Accordingly, it should come as no surprise when the Times of London reports that one of the most prominent alleged successes of ESCs was in fact fabricated, and the scientist has admitted it:

The scientist who led the world in pioneering human cloning faked much of the data for his landmark research into embryonic stem (ES) cells, one of his close collaborators said today.

Woo Suk Hwang has admitted to fabricating key parts of a study that purported to show the creation of the first human master cells tailor-made to match individual patients, according to Sung il Roh, a senior colleague at his laboratory in Seoul, South Korea.

Dr Roh said that nine of the 11 colonies of stem cells featured in the study, which was published to worldwide acclaim in May in the prestigious journal Science, had not been authentic. The validity of the other two is still uncertain.

He said Dr Hwang had admitted to flaws in the study when Dr Roh visited him today in hospital, where the scientist is being treated for exhaustion. Both researchers had then agreed to ask Science formally to retract their paper. "Professor Hwang admitted to fabrication," Dr Roh told the MBC, a Korean television station. "Hwang said there were no cloned embryonic stem cells at all and he did not know that."

What is at fault here is the excessive enthusiasm for ESCs, which is far beyond the bounds of what they have accomplished or can realistically be expected to achieve, especially in comparison with ASCs. When the press start praising the authentic, documented achievements of ASCs with one-tenth the enthusiasm with which they greet the meager work that has been done with ESCs, the temptation to cheat in favor of finding false hopeful results for the latter will decrease accordingly.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

When Criticism Becomes Treasonous

There was a time not so long ago when Democrats crossed the aisle to support Republican positions in war and vice versa. These were not always instances of gentility and partisanship wasn’t ignored; this occasional gesture was a recognition of national welfare that transcended politics.

What one observes with the Democratic party at the moment is an astonishingly anti-American posture that I have not encountered in my lifetime. The impression has been created that critics of the Bush administration are more interested in capturing the presidency than in winning the war in Iraq. In fact, if success in the war is attributed to President Bush, they would prefer defeat.

Obviously this isn’t the position of every Democrat, as Senator Liberman’s stance demonstrates, but it is the Kennedy, Pelosi, Rockefeller, Kerrey and Reid stance. Moreover, two former Democratic presidents, Carter and Clinton, have engaged in what was once taboo for those who sat in the executive office: they have attacked the present administration abroad, in countries already hostile to American interests. Such behavior was always regarded as a “no-no.” You might disagree or even criticize a sitting president at home, but to do so outside the confines of the nation and in countries inimitable to U.S. interests was simply off-limits.

It seems that the Democratic party has imbibed the Michael Moore approach to politics which includes equal parts caricature and traitorous commentary. Moore has noted on several occasions that the Iraqi insurgents are the equivalent of the Minutemen and that we must suffer the bloodletting of our young for the misguided policies of our president.

Of course Moore is not alone. Frank Rich at the NY Times, among others, has engaged in a refrain that the president lied in order to promote the war effort. Despite the evidence that has been marshaled demonstrating a bipartisan concern about weapons of mass destruction prior to Bush’s election, the president’s detractors cannot let go of this theme.

It is instructive that the word “lie” is employed. Even if you embraced the Frank Rich stance (which I do not), you might say the president was “mistaken,” or “misguided” or “misread the signals.” But, of course, these words are equivocal offering the president an alibi, a concession the critics are not willing to consider.

The Democratic party position at the moment is search and destroy. Whether this is “get even” time for the Clinton impeachment or the venting of hostility over the 2000 election is anyone’s guess. What it does suggest is a parlous political state in which any move that harms the Republican leadership is deemed acceptable.

Bush, by contrast, acts as if Marcus of Queensbury rules apply to this street fight. He has been remarkably subdued in the face of continual vitriol heaped upon him. From my perch, I would prefer greater boldness on his part, a condition I did observe with his recent Annapolis speech.

Lest I am criticized for challenging criticism, let it be noted that I believe presidents should be criticized when it is appropriate to do so. What I’m getting at is criticism that verges on treason. When polls say that defeat serves us right, they either want to embarrass the administration without regard to the risks involved or they actually think a defeat for the administration is justifiable. That kind of criticism is beyond the pale.

This backbiting may be amusing for news aficionados, but the stakes are high and go well beyond amusement. The Fifth Column in the U.S. is growing, led by some officials who do not fully appreciate the consequences of their actions. Lives are at stake, regional stability is in the mix and civilization itself is in the balance.

This is not hyperbole. Al Qaeda is watching and listening. Every anti-American position is music to their ears. For them, it defines a nation that has lost its will and fortitude. The disloyal Americans only embolden the enemies. We’ve been down this path before, albeit historical lessons have to be relearned. Unfortunately lives will be lost that could be saved and this nation will suffer before the critics learn their lesson.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Why Capital Punishment Is Necessary

Herewith, a link to an essay of mine from a few years ago on why an effective system of capital punishment is necessary for a rational system of criminal justice, with additional discussion of such ancillary issues as the perverse incentives of prosecutors. Comments welcome.


Is There One Key to Tookie?

When they eliminated the gas chamber in California death penalties, they deprived me cruelly and unusually of the chance to publish this bit of Nashian doggerel:

After the appellate
in water, a pellet
It sank, went in
at San Quentin.

All that's left for me now is to inject a thought, or two.

Here's a nosh:

If it is true that he was a profound penitent, that his lectures and his children's books have been effective in curbing violence, then this is certainly laudable. If we preach a gospel that precludes murder from redemption because the victim's life cannot be retrieved, then we remove from the one-time murderer any motivation to restrain himself from killing his next annoyer. Instead, we hearken to one of the first stories in the Bible, where Cain, although banished as a penance, was given the opportunity to repair the rest of his life and achieve a measure of redemption. His children built cities (Genesis 4:17), invented the system of mobile cattle herding (4:20), instrumental music (4:21) and metalworking (4:22). Indeed, according to the Jewish tradition, Noah's wife was Naamah, a descendant of Cain, which makes him our maternal grandpa.

A Good Word for Lawyers

We in the United States are plagued by the antics of our nation's lawyers, as they and their clients try to game the system for monetary advantage, but it is important to remember the importance of lawyers in protecting the rule of law.

One thing that makes modernity great is the rule of law. Without it, an economy cannot function well, and people are easily oppressed in a multitude of ways. Without rule of law, a society descends into the rule of force. With it, humans can plan on living in a fairly stable society that accommodates rapid change in technology, economic growth, and beneficial social change. Of course, bad government policies and bad laws suppress these good things and create terrible problems, but without rule of law, a society cannot function at all healthily.

Hence it is fascinating to see China's government trying to suppress a growing group of lawyers in that nation who are trying to force the government to enforce the laws fairly and make government agents serve the law instead of other agendas, as recounted in a story in today's New York Times. In China today, one can watch the classic struggle of a society trying to establish the rule of law, with the sitting government as the necessary target of change, as the Times story notes:

Ordinary citizens in fact have embraced the law as eagerly as they have welcomed another Western-inspired import, capitalism. The number of civil cases heard last year hit 4.3 million, up 30 percent in five years, and lawyers have encouraged the notion that the courts can hold anyone, even party bosses, responsible for their actions.

Chinese leaders do not discourage such ideas, entirely. They need the law to check corruption and to persuade the outside world that China is not governed by the whims of party leaders.

But the officials draw the line at any fundamental challenge to their monopoly on power.

Judges take orders from party-controlled trial committees. Lawyers operate more autonomously but often face criminal prosecution if they stir up public disorder or disclose details about legal matters that the party deems secret.

As a result, the government fights back, so that the individuals currently in charge can hold on to their power. The government's main weapon? The law itself:

One November morning, the Beijing Judicial Bureau convened a hearing on its decree that one of China's best-known law firms must shut down for a year because it failed to file a change of address form when it moved offices.

The same morning, Gao Zhisheng, the firm's founder and star litigator, was 1,800 miles away in Xinjiang, in the remote west. He skipped what he called the "absurd and corrupt" hearing so he could rally members of an underground Christian church to sue China's secret police.

The government sees Christians as a particular threat, as the current case indicates. What Gao and his fellow attorneys are counseling, however, is that the failure to fight this oppression will be worse than any likely consequences of fighting it. Their clients are listening, and the people are responding courageously:

"I can't guarantee that you will win the lawsuit - in fact you will almost certainly lose," Mr. Gao told one church member who had been detained in a raid. "But I warn you that if you are too timid to confront their barbaric behavior, you will be completely defeated."

Lawyers such as Gao remind one of the heroic attorneys of past American fiction (and fact), most notably Perry Mason (in particular the feisty Mason of the books as opposed to the domesticated one of the TV series):

Bold, brusque and often roused to fiery indignation, Mr. Gao, 41, is one of a handful of self-proclaimed legal "rights defenders."

He travels the country filing lawsuits over corruption, land seizures, police abuses and religious freedom. His opponent is usually the same: the ruling Communist Party.

The rule of law is at the heart of the fight:

He has become the most prominent in a string of outspoken lawyers facing persecution. One was jailed this summer while helping clients appeal the confiscation of their oil wells. A second was driven into exile last spring after he zealously defended a third lawyer, who was convicted of leaking state secrets.

Together, they have effectively put the rule of law itself on trial, with lawyers often acting as both plaintiffs and defendants."

People across this country are awakening to their rights and seizing on the promise of the law," Mr. Gao says. "But you cannot be a rights lawyer in this country without becoming a rights case yourself."

In watching this struggle, we can learn much about the pressing need to protect the rule of law in our own society:

"Most officials in China are basically mafia bosses who use extreme barbaric methods to terrorize the people and keep them from using the law to protect their rights," Mr. Gao wrote on one essay that circulated widely on the Web this fall.

Of course, we should stop short of characterizing our own federal, state, and local government officials as mafia bosses, given that the use of "extreme barbaric methods to terrorize the people" is absent in American except in the worst fantasies of radicals of both the left and right. Nonetheless, our officials can do much better than they have in respecting the rule of law, and it is up to us to remember that and keep up the fight against the miscreants among them, through the political and legal processes.

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.