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

Sunday, December 25, 2005

The Fessay Is Back!

My apologies for slacking off on fessay production due to my workload. I just wrote #6 and posted it at the special Fessay blog.


For those who are new to the site, a fessay is a fictional essay. Have a gander.

Hanukah For Spectators

Tonight is the first candle of Hanukah (usually written by Jews as Chanukah, with the "ch" pronounced gutturally like the "g' in Argentina), so I should provide a link to my pensees for the day, published over at The American Spectator.

And for here, a glint:

This is not viewed as a completed victory. In fact, even the military battle against the Greeks continued for many years after the Maccabees reclaimed the Temple. Eventually, every one of the major Maccabee leaders was killed in battle. Still, once they turned the corner, they were confident of ultimate triumph. The legendary Maharal (an acronym for Rabbi Judah Loew) of Prague (1512-1609) explains that Hanukah occurs in conjunction with the winter solstice, when light is least in the world...and then begins to gradually, inevitably increase.

And don't forget: for some light-hearted looks at the news, you can always pop into our little blog of two-liners.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Different Translation

Just as an educational tool, I thought it would be instructive to copy here from the most commonly used translation in synagogues. This is based mostly on the commentary of Rashi (1035-1105), which is considered authoritative. Rashi generally culls his explanations from the Midrash, a collaborative commentary that precedes the Talmud; it's about 1800 years old.

In the beginning of God's creating the heavens and the earth -- when the earth was astonishingly empty, with darkness upon the surface of the deep, and the Divine Presence hovered upon the surface of the waters -- God said, "Let there be light," and there was light. God saw that the light was good, and God separated between the light and the darkness.

God called to the light: "Day," and to the darkness He called: "Night." And there was evening and there was morning, one day.

The rest is about the same. But there are some key differences in that opening passage.

(I should add that the translation of "Divine Presence" is interpretive. The Hebrew words are more correctly rendered as "the Spirit of God", which Anders used.)

Where All Men are at Home

A Christmas poem from one of The Reform Club's patron saints:

There fared a mother driven forth
Out of an inn to roam;
In the place where she was homeless
All men are at home.
The crazy stable close at hand,
With shaking timber and shifting sand,
Grew a stronger thing to abide and stand
Than the square stones of Rome.

For men are homesick in their homes,
And strangers under the sun,
And they lay on their heads in a foreign land
Whenever the day is done.
Here we have battle and blazing eyes,
And chance and honour and high surprise,
But our homes are under miraculous skies
Where the yule tale was begun.

A Child in a foul stable,
Where the beasts feed and foam;
Only where He was homeless
Are you and I at home;
We have hands that fashion and heads that know,
But our hearts we lost - how long ago!
In a place no chart nor ship can show
Under the sky's dome.

This world is wild as an old wives' tale,
And strange the plain things are,
The earth is enough and the air is enough
For our wonder and our war;
But our rest is as far as the fire-drake swings
And our peace is put in impossible things
Where clashed and thundered unthinkable wings
Round an incredible star.

To an open house in the evening
Home shall men come,
To an older place than Eden
And a taller town than Rome.
To the end of the way of the wandering star,
To the things that cannot be and that are,
To the place where God was homeless
And all men are at home.

G.K. Chesterton, The House of Christmas

Many thanks to my good friend Brenda B. of Crazy Stable for bringing this lovely poem back to mind. May of all of us who are homeless -- that is, all of us here -- put our peace in the possible impossible things and find home in the coming year.

This Is Most Certainly True

1In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. 2(This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) 3And everyone went to his own town to register.

4So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. 5He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. 6While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, 7and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 9An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ[a] the Lord. 12This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger."

Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

14"Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests."

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, "Let's go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about."

So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. 17When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, 18and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. 19But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. 20The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.
—Luke 2:1-20

Merry Christmas to all, and may God bless you with truth, understanding, and above all, love.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Peace on Earth, Good Will Toward Men

It's getting to be an inside joke among those who don't really believe that there's anything Higher, Greater, and Kinder than ourselves to wish each other Io Saturnalia. I just can't get behind it: the costumes are tacky and the songs are terrible.

To my fellows of The Reform Club, thank you for taking me into your midst; it was the best present I could have received, and my warmest regards of the season. To our regular and irregular readers, your comments are always gelt. And to our friends who hang around like Billy Bob Thornton in The Apostle, I hope someday one of us can help you find what you're looking for.

So, Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah to all.

It was on Christmas Eve 1968 that the astronauts of Apollo 8, Frank Borman, Jim Lovell, and Bill Anders, became the first of mankind to see an earthrise from the orbit of the moon, and looking back on us, they spoke these words:

Anders: "We are now approaching lunar sunrise. And, for all the people back on earth, the crew of Apollo 8 have a message that we would like to send to you...

"In the beginning, God created the Heaven and the Earth. And the Earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. And God said, Let there be light; and there was light. And God saw the light, that it was good; and God divided the light from the darkness."

Lovell: "And God called the light Day, and the darkness He called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day. And God said, Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters. And God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament; and it was so. And God called the firmament Heaven. And the evening and the morning were the second day."

Borman: "And God said, Let the waters under the Heaven be gathered together unto one place, and let the dry land appear; and it was so. And God called the dry land Earth; and the gathering together of the waters He called Seas: and God saw that it was good."

And from the crew of Apollo 8, we close with good night, good luck, a Merry Christmas, and God bless all of you, all of you on the good earth."

It is good. God bless us, every one.

Another Success of Adult Stem Cells

Singer Don Ho has had great improvement in his heart function as a result of an experimental procedure that used his own stem cells, AP reports:

"I'm feeling terrific, 100 percent better," Ho told The Associated Press in one of his first interviews since surgery Dec. 6. "I'm ready to go, but I've got to listen to the doctors.

"When they say my heart is strong enough to get excited, I'm on."

The 75-year-old singer underwent a new treatment that hasn't been approved in the United States. It involves multiplying stem cells taken from his blood and injecting them into his heart in hopes of strengthening it.

"It was my last hope," said Ho, who suffers from nonischemic cardiomyopathy — a weakened heart muscle not due to blockages in the coronary arteries.

The experimental procedure he underwent was developed by TheraVitae Co., which has offices in Thailand and laboratories in Israel, where Ho's stem cells were sent to be multiplied. The therapy was supervised by Dr. Amit Patel, a heart surgeon from the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.

This is just another of the many impressive healings achieved by doctors using adult stem cells.

Clone Stranger

After weeks of increasing suspicion directed at Seoul National University researcher Dr. Hwang Woo-Suk, his resignation from the university was announced today. Dr. Hwang has for years been in the forefront of the media publicity storm accompanying mammalian cloning: supporters hailed such advances as cloned puppies and cloned human embryos created for the purposed of yielding stem cells for therapeutics. In addition to his position at SNU, he was the head of South Korea's Stem Cell Hub project until earlier this month, when he resigned amid allegations of improprieties in the process used to obtain human eggs from young women. Now not just the most current work, in which Dr. Hwang and his colleagues claimed to have created personalized embryonic stem cell lines for individual patients, is under question. The entire output of the South Korean stem cell research juggernaut will have to be taken apart and reexamined, bit by bit, by independent researchers, before any of it is admitted back into the universe of demonstrated scientific results.

The South Korean project has often been used as a stick with which to beat American government policy towards embryonic stem cell research: If only we had government funding, look what we could do! The rest of the world will leave us in the dust. These fundie cranks are standing in the way of reason and progress. Phooey. The scientific establishment should be ashamed this morning that, as Dr. Hwang's gang racked up paper after peer-reviewed paper, the only questions that were raised about his work came from people the press labelled as religious nuts and anti-rational Luddites.

For my part, I was suspicious of the whole enterprise the moment I laid eyes on Snuppy. Faced with a choice of over 200 dog breeds, an eminent scientist clones an Afghan hound? If you ranked dogs by intelligence an Afghan hound would place somewhere between a cicada and a head of cabbage.

Obituaries 2005

This is just an utterly amazing resource to remind us of notables who passed on in 2005. Kudos to the gentleman who compiled this staggering body of work. The sheer mass of information is a wonder.

I suspect you'll want to visit this compendium a few times between now and Jan. 2. Dig in. Laugh a little, cry a little.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Jack In The Box

Jack Kevorkian was denied parole, this despite evidence to the effect that his medical condition is grave.

Well, I'm with the Bard on this one. I say that the quality of mercy is never strained. Especially in the holiday season.

So let's show Jack some real mercy and kill him off painlessly.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Full of Joy, See?

There is nothing funny about the linked article, is there?

It's just a straightforward report about the strenuous effort being put forth by the state of New Jersey to convince people to stop avoiding a visit. It's a wonderful place to be; there is no reason to stay away. That's not funny at all.

Except this. The dateline is Philadelphia. Yep, the reporter wouldn't cross the state line. He filed the story from Pennsylvania.

Tom Van Dyke on Washington, Du Bois, and African-American Prospects

As Hunter Baker has done below, I, too, wish to commend Tom Van Dyke for bringing forth a discussion of Booker T. Washington, a man whose thought has been insufficiently appreciated. I invite you to look at Tom's posts below and investigate the writings he mentions. To me, Booker T. Washington is an intellectual hero, and I am highly impressed with Tom's thoughtful assessment of the man and the controversies his ideas created.

Thanks, Tom.

TV Watch!

Our friend Spencer Warren sent us a reminder that Turner Classic Movies is presenting a very special film tonight:

Tonight Turner Classic Movies at 9.30 pm. is presenting the restored classic Western, Seven Men from Now, made in 1956 with the leading Western icon Randolph Scott and directed by Budd Boetticher. This film has not been seen on TV in decades. Readers who wish to gain moral sustenance and inspiration from this product of a Western civilization and popular culture when they still were vital should tune in.

In the later 1950's, Scott and Boetticher made seven modest Westerns, little noticed at the time. Today, Seven Men from Now, Ride Lonesome (1959) and Comanche Station (1960) are widely considered three of the greatest Westerns ever made. No films dramatize more powerfully the Western hero as knightly man of honor -- a man who forsakes personal happiness out of loyalty to the code of doing what is right. Seven Men from Now also has a scene (around the wagon) which is a masterpiece of understated, allusive eroticism -- possible only in a society that upheld and venerated moral self-restraint.

Readers who identify the Western only with the medicore—cinematically and morally—Clint Eastwood owe it to themselves to see this masterpiece. Those who are interested in the context of this film can read Spencer Warren's article, "Rediscovering the Classic Western," here, and his discussion of the greatest Westerns, here. (The last two [films] listed date from 1962 -- just before the cataclysm of the 1960's began.)

Spencer Warren is correct about the high quality of these films, and I am delighted to inform you of tonight's showing and grateful to Spencer for suggesting that I do so.

Let 'er Man The Torpedo?

Top ten reasons why not to give this chick a restraining order:

10. A flying saucer is not a legal address.
9. A secret decoder ring cannot double as an engagement ring.
8. If she wants the password to break the spell, all she has to do is watch Leno.
7. Helping a misfit survive is against evolution, and by definition un-Constitutional.
6. She can't read code for beans; he's actually sending atomic secrets to the Chinese.
5. That's not David Letterman signaling her; it's an alien who lives in her TV.
4. You can stop Letterman, but who will stop the CBS eye?
3. If she's still up at 11:30, then she's not taking her pills.
2. Letterman lives in New York, so the Federal government lacks jurisdiction.
1. David Letterman cannot be restrained.

Don't Miss Van Dyke on Race Below

I just realized that Tom Van Dyke gave us a thoughtful post (requiring a little actual work) on the race issue below and didn't want it to go unnoticed under a hail of other stuff. Just scroll down and take it in.

Evolution, Textbook Stickers, and Public Reason

Joseph Knippenberg of Oglethorpe University has been increasing his profile lately, first through the Ashbrook Center's blog "No Left Turns" and more recently as a columnist for The American Enterprise. Dr. Knippenberg's recent piece for TAE on the Cobb County textbook controversy shows why his work is becoming better known. He has the unusual knack of actually informing through opinion pieces.

I'd give you a snippet, but it just wouldn't do justice to the overall argument. As Instapundit likes to say, "Read the whole thing." You'll come out understanding religion in the public square a bit better than you did before.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Fetter All Logic

In a triumph of dispassionate, clear-eyed jurisprudence, a Federal judge in Pennsylvania decided today that a country whose Declaration of Independence cites inalienable rights bestowed by Nature's Creator has a Constitution that precludes the suggestion in a science class that Nature appears, in the view of some, to be sufficiently complex as to evidence creation by some higher intelligence. And right he is: there can be no higher intelligence than a Federal judge.

In response, The American Spectator is hosting some reflections by your humble servant. They will be available to the wider readership at midnight; our Club members get to peek.

A glimmer:

I approach the issue of random evolution vs. designed development as more than a judgment call one way or the other. It is not enough to say that design is a more likely scenario to explain a world full of well-designed things. It strikes me as urgent to insist that you not allow your mind to surrender the absolute clarity that all complex and magnificent things were made that way. Once you allow the intellect to consider that an elaborate organism with trillions of microscopic interactive components can be an accident, you are in a menagerie of bizarrerie; you have essentially "lost your mind" as a tool that operates and defines within recognizable parameters...

OK, What Am I Missing?

Head above water, temporarily; only one last paper to finish this year. Just read---sorry, I'm a couple of weeks behind everything right now---that Harvard and Georgetown have accepted a ton of cash from some Saudi potentate for Islamic studies, or something. Can that possibly be true? These are universities that now are trying to get the Solomon Amendment thrown out, on the grounds that allowing those evil military recruiters on campus, with their "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" bigotries, would eviscerate the universities' free speech rights. Or something; they just can't say "No" to all that federal money. Anyway, at the same time that they make that utterly hypocritical argument, they accept tens of millions from the Saudis, who are happy to behead anyone who comes out of the closet. The modern university: Diversity in all avenues of shamelessness. Monty Python lives.


"The wisest among my race understand that the agitation of questions of social equality is the extremest folly, and that progress in the enjoyment of all the privileges that will come to us must be the result of severe and constant struggle rather than of artificial forcing."

It was for these words at the 1895 Cotton States and International Exposition in Atlanta that Booker T. Washington was tommed (although the term hadn't been invented yet), and a lifetime of vision and work toward making Black equality in America a reality was lost, perhaps forever.

For the thirty years since emancipation, Washington and his Tuskegee Institute had perfected a blueprint for the full assimilation of the Black man into American society. Washington, correctly and eerily, foresaw that unless he came into his own with tools and skills and good living, the Black man (who had been "freed" with only the clothes on his back) would remain resented by white society, both for his economic dependence and, in his plight, as a reminder of the shame of slavery and the failure of reconstruction.

In a deal with the Democrat south, the Republicans had ended reconstruction in return for Rutherford B. Hayes' ascension to the presidency in the dead-heat 1876 election. Without the presence of Union troops, Jim Crow, the systemization and institutionalization of the segregation and marginalization of Black America, began, and all of white America was in on it, either actively or tacitly.

By the time of Washington's Atlanta "exposition" of Black progress, Homer Plessy had already been arrested in 1892 for being in a "white" rail car, and Plessy v. Ferguson, the Supreme Court decision that enshrined Jim Crow into law, was only a year away. Washington asked white America to "cast down your bucket where you are" and hire America's Blacks (instead of white immigrants), who had to their credit, largely kept the peace in the postwar south. But it was not to be. Jim Crow, the lynchings, all of it, grew worse, not better.

W.E.B. DuBois, Harvard's first Black Ph.D., although initially sympathetic, correctly labeled the speech the "Atlanta Compromise" and by 1903 had written in The Souls of Black Folk:

Mr. Washington’s programme practically accepts the alleged inferiority of the Negro races. Again, in our own land, the reaction from the sentiment of war time has given impetus to race-prejudice against Negroes, and Mr. Washington withdraws many of the high demands of Negroes as men and American citizens... at this period a policy of submission is advocated.

In the history of nearly all other races and peoples the doctrine preached at such crises has been that manly self-respect is worth more than lands and houses, and that a people who voluntarily surrender such respect, or cease striving for it, are not worth civilizing.

For a man trained in the classics, where the pursuit of individual virtue and excellence is the highest purpose in life, DuBois could scarcely have held any other view.

To understand where we are today, add to the equation Marcus Garvey's later (1920s) demagogic Pan-Africanism and his conclusion that America would always remain a "white man's country", and it all starts to come together.

The irony is that WEB tommed Booker T., and was in turn tommed by Marcus, who in his radical way agreed with Booker T. (Later, Malcolm X was to similarly tom Martin Luther King, as Nation of Islam is a philosophical descendant of Garveyism.)

It cannot be said that either Booker T. or WEB was wrong: such is the nature of true tragedy. However, now that Black America has wrested the equality before the law that DuBois fought for, Booker T. and Black self-empowerment are shown to be the longer view, and the more stunning of the two visions. What today is agreed upon among Black Americans from Sowell to Farrakhan is that, as Washington observed in the very next sentence of that 1895 speech that ended up destroying him, "[n]o race that has anything to contribute to the markets of the world is long in any degree ostracized."

The Achilles' heel of the visionary is that he sees too far ahead, and cannot answer the question, "What about today?" As in a dream, Booker T. Washington saw the slow train coming, but like in a nightmare, he was powerless to get us out of the way. But I shall keep up my hopes that visions do not die, that they are only postponed, and Washington will someday be forgiven his gradualism and recognized for the astonishing prophet he was.

Technology Empowers (Some) Individuals

The truth that great power brings great responsibility applies to all of us, and it is reinforced in the current The New York Times story on a natural evolution in the use of the webcam: live pornography of children and adolescents. Modern telecom technology confers great power to us very ordinary individuals, and naturally enough, that power is often used for great evil. In our modern society of easy divorce and family breakups, the young are at truly severe risk as they become instantly connected to the entire world and are vulnerable to the manipulation of wily strangers who know exactly how to use these people's insecurities to obtain their own perverse gratifications:

Justin had hooked up a Web camera to his computer, hoping to use it to meet other teenagers online. Instead, he heard only from men who chatted with him by instant message as they watched his image on the Internet. To Justin, they seemed just like friends, ready with compliments and always offering gifts.

Now, on an afternoon in 2000, one member of his audience sent a proposal: he would pay Justin $50 to sit bare-chested in front of his Webcam for three minutes. The man explained that Justin could receive the money instantly and helped him open an account on PayPal.com, an online payment system.

"I figured, I took off my shirt at the pool for nothing," he said recently. "So, I was kind of like, what's the difference?"

Justin removed his T-shirt. The men watching him oozed compliments.

So began the secret life of a teenager who was lured into selling images of his body on the Internet over the course of five years. From the seduction that began that day, this soccer-playing honor roll student was drawn into performing in front of the Webcam - undressing, showering, masturbating and even having sex - for an audience of more than 1,500 people who paid him, over the years, hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The power of cheap, widely distributed technology, which is of course a very good thing overall, has made this sort of activity possible and indeed common:

Not long ago, the distribution of child pornography in America was a smallish trade, relegated to back rooms and corners where even the proprietors of X-rated bookstores refused to loiter.

By the mid-1980's, however, technology had transformed the business, with pedophiles going online to communicate anonymously and post images through rudimentary bulletin board systems. As Internet use boomed in the 1990's, these adults honed their computer skills, finding advanced ways to meet online and swap illegal photos; images once hard to obtain were suddenly available with the click of a mouse.

As the decade drew to a close, according to experts and records of online conversations, these adults began openly fantasizing of the day they would be able to reach out to children directly, through instant messaging and live video, to obtain the pornography they desired.

Their dream was realized with the Web camera, which transformed online pornography the way the automobile changed transportation. . . .

By 2000, things had worked out exactly the way the pedophiles hoped. Webcams were the rage among computer-savvy minors, creating a bountiful selection of potential targets.

Through the same technology, the users can easily communicate the tricks of their appalling trade with one another, honing their skills at exploitation and providing justifications for their actions:

Not long ago, adults sexually attracted to children were largely isolated from one another. But the Internet has created a virtual community where they can readily communicate and reinforce their feelings, experts said.

Indeed, the messages they send among themselves provide not only self-justification, but also often blame minors with Webcam sites for offering temptation."

These kids are the ones being manipulative," wrote an adult who called himself Upandc in a posting this year to a bulletin board for adults attracted to children.

Or, as an adult who called himself DLW wrote: "Did a sexual predator MAKE them make a site? No. Did they decide to do it for themselves? Yes."

The central narrative of the story includes other ghastly facts, including meetings of a boy with molesters and the involvement of his father in the scheme.

These are, of course, developments that we had to expect, but the ubuquity of the phenomenon is hair-raising, and the story is a rather depressing though necessary read.

One more thing. Although we often hear tales about journalists exploiting people for a story, there are also instances of great good that people in our profession do, beyond just presenting the news. In that light, I wish to commend the author of this story, Kurt Eichenweld, for his immensely honorable actions toward the young man at the center of the narrative. Eichenweld's part in the story is not emphasized in his article, but it is quite inspiring.

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.