"Go not for every grief to the physician, nor for every quarrel to the lawyer, nor for every thirst to the pot." —George Herbert (1593-1633)

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Review of The Ice Harvest

Fyi, my article on the recent crime film The Ice Harvest is featured today on Breakpoint.

A sample:

Like many modern crime films, The Ice Harvest presents an America rife with corruption but holding great possibilities for redemption. In these films, America is the Land of Second Chances.

Hence both money and religion are central to the story. The film takes place on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, and tatty, commercialized Christmas imagery is prevalent. The film opens with shots of a nativity scene, as cold rain falls on the manger and drops of water fall on the statue of the infant Jesus as if they were tears. Images of ice and cold water recur throughout the film, and director Harold Ramis uses this to suggest the pervasiveness of corruption (it is like a natural phenomenon) and where it leads: death—literally, in the case of most of the central characters.


Read the rest of it here.

There's Plenty of Hate to Go Around

It is quite possible that some of the incidents of hateful speech and harassment allegedly directed by the Left toward the Right, especially toward African-Americans on the Right, have been untrue or exaggerated. It is important, however, to keep in mind the big picture. And the big truth is that the American Left seems rather more willing to go for the jugular more quickly than anyone else these days, and rather more openly and viciously than in some times past.

As Jeff Jacoby noted in his December 28 column,

Nothing brings out racist slurs like an ambitious black man who doesn't know his "place." So when Maryland's lieutenant governor, Michael Steele, announced his candidacy for the US Senate recently, the bigots reared up. On one popular website, The News Blog, Steele's picture was grotesquely doctored, making him look like a minstrel-show caricature. "I's Simple Sambo and I's Running for the Big House," read the insulting headline accompanying the picture.

This wasn't some white supremacist slime from the right-wing fringe. The News Blog is a liberal site, and the reason for its racist attack on Steele, a former chairman of the Maryland Republican Party, is that he is a conservative. Specifically, a black conservative. As far as too many liberals are concerned, blacks who reject liberalism deserve to be smeared as Sambos and worse.

"Black Democratic leaders in Maryland say that racially tinged attacks against Lt. Gov. Michael Steele . . . are fair because he is a conservative Republican," The Washington Times reported. "Such attacks . . . include . . . calling him an 'Uncle Tom,' and depicting him as a blackfaced minstrel."

Once upon a time, segregationists excoriated white liberals as "nigger lovers." Today, racist insults in the political arena are more likely to come from the left -- and to target black conservatives. When Harry Belafonte was asked in August about the fact that black Americans hold prominent positions in the Bush administration, his response was to call them "black tyrants" -- and then to make a sickening (and ignorant) comparison: "Hitler had a lot of Jews high up in the hierarchy of the Third Reich."


Jacoby is by no means condemning vigorous debate:

By "hate speech," I don't mean the sharp put-downs that are an inevitable part of vigorous public debate. What I have in mind are the disgusting calumnies and malicious demonizations that should have no place in political discourse. Like University of Michigan historian Juan Cole, a frequent TV talking head, asserting falsely that Middle East scholar Daniel Pipes "has fond visions of rounding up Muslim Americans and putting them in concentration camps." Or US Senator Jim Jeffords of Vermont accusing the Bush family of planning to "start another war . . . next year, probably in Iran" in order "to get their son" -- Florida Governor Jeb Bush -- "elected president" in the next election.

If this kind of toxic rhetoric came only from crackpots, it would be easy enough to dismiss. When it comes from pundits, celebrities, and politicians -- people whose views tend to get respectful attention -- it does real damage, and should be universally condemned.


Jacoby cites additional cases, and he notes that Republicans who stray beyond the boundaries of reasonable discourse, such as Pat Robertson in his recent comments suggesting the assassination of Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez, are strongly and quickly denounced by both Left and Right. That is the way things should be. Jacoby is certainly correct in observing that the trend is real and that it should indeed be "universally condemned."

Monday, January 02, 2006

Plight of the Black Republican

Apparently, being a homeless activist can't even save you or your work, if you admit to being a black Republican.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

All Hayle to the Days

There was a time, not so long ago really, when all Christendom knew that Christmas was not a day but a season, that began rather than ended on December 25 and lasted for twelve days, until the Feast of the Three Kings on January 6. And smack dab in the middle of that season comes New Years' Day, which is also celebrated in the Roman Calendar as the Feast of Mary, Mother of God. So today is properly not the time to sigh with the weariness of a bloody awful hangover and take down the dried out and forlorn Christmas tree, but to prepare for another week of feasting, merry-making, and respite from toil.

Of course, our modern culture does not permit that of most of us. There has already been more than enough tomfoolery and corruption of productivity for our relentlessly commerical culture to condone. Happy New Year to all: let your resolutions lie lightly upon your shoulders and keep the merriness of the season in your hearts.


All hayle to the days that merite more praise then all the rest of the year;
& welcome the nights, that double delights as well for the poor as the peer:
Good fortune attend each merry man's friend
That doth but the best that he may,
Forgetting old wrongs with Carrols and Songs to drive the cold winter away.

The Court all in state now opens her gate an bids a free welcome to most;
The City likewise tho' somewhat precise doth willingly part with her cost;
And yet, by report from City to Court
The Countrey gets the day:
More Liquor is spent, and better content, to drive the cold winter away.

Thus none will allow of solitude now, but merrily greets the time,
To make it appeare of all the whole yeare that this is accounted the Prime,
December is seene apparel'd in greene
And January, fresh as May,
Comes dancing along with a cup or a Song to drive the cold winter away.

This time of the yeare is spent in good cheare,
Kind neighbours together to meet
To sit by the fire, with friendly desire each other in love to greet:
Old grudges forgot are put in a pot,
All sorrows aside they lay;
The old and the young doth carrol this Song,
To drive the cold winter away.

To maske and to mum kind neighbours will come
With Wassels of nut-browne Ale,
To drinke and carouse to all in this house, as merry as buck in the pale;
Where cake, bread and cheese, is brought for yr fees
To make you the longer stay;
The fire to warme will do you no harme, to drive the cold winter away.

When Christmas tide comes in like a Bride, with Holly and Ivy clad, --
Twelve dayes in the yeare much mirth and good cheare
In every household is had:
The Countrey guise is then to devise some gambols of Christmas play;
Whereas the yong men do best that they can
To drive the cold winter away.

When white-bearded Frost hath threatened his worst,
And fallen from Branch & Bryer,
& time away cals from husbandry hals,
& from the good countryman's fire,
Together to go to Plow and to sow,
to get us both food and array:
And thus with content the time we have spent
To drive the cold winter away.

Friday, December 30, 2005

Rights of Individuals Versus Rights of Communities

It is certainly true that hard cases make bad law, but they definitely provide a good way of figuring out principles. A particularly thorny case is outlined in an article on conflicts between African tribal customs and national legal systems, in today's New York Times.

The specific topic at hand is the decision of governments to overrule customs even when the individuals involved—the victims, as we would rightly call them—do not protest:

To many Zulus, . . . virginity tests are a revered custom, one that discourages early sex and, after falling into disuse, has been revived to fight the spread of H.I.V. But to many advocates of women's and children's rights, the practice is unscientific, discriminatory and - to girls who are publicly and perhaps falsely accused of having lost their virginity - emotionally searing. This month, their arguments persuaded South Africa's Parliament to ban some virginity testing, with violations punishable by up to 10 years in prison.

The ban is an example of how sub-Saharan Africa is slowly, but inexorably, enshrining into law basic protections that have long been denied women. But it also hints at the frailty of the movement toward women's rights in the region. Not only is the new law a watered-down version of what was proposed, but few here believe it will curb a tradition so deeply embedded in Zulu and to a lesser extent Xhosa culture.

"We will uphold our traditions and customs," said Patekile Holomisa, president of the Congress of Traditional Leaders, a political party in South Africa. "There are laws that passed that do not necessarily have any impact on the lives of people. I imagine this will be one of those."

The article goes on to discuss female genital mutilation, which I think we can all say should be stopped, regardless of the reasons people may give for the practice. However, it is interesting to consider just how and when government should override the will of a community. As Reform Clubber Edmund Burke pointed out, a society is made up of its countless "little platoons," and government should be loath to harm them. Yet civilization requires certain standards, and when communities engage in practices that do not achieve those standards, redress is called for.

However, if a society stops believing in standards or in the very concept of civilization itself, the basis for standing up to those who would flout those standards becomes highly unreliable. What, then, is to stop the West from continuing to move toward the kind of tribalism that societies such as South Africa are trying to grow out of? Claims of universal positions, such as individual rights, are plausible only when all parties agree that there are universal truths.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

The Chronic of Narnia

I hate to replace brilliant, nonsense-destroying posts with simple entertainment, but this hilarious video from Saturday Night Live deserves your undivided attention.

Ha-ha-larious, booooOOOOOY.

The Road to Hell

.....contrary to popular myth, is apparently not paved at all.

I find this utterly hilarous on several levels.

In 2002, I was warned off of moving to Maryland because, among other things, I'd be subjecting myself to corrupt and incompetent local government when I could just as easily move to orderly, well-run Northern Virginia. The Maryland House of Delegates may be full of blowhard Democrats who would rather argue about slot machines for two years than pass a budget, but they do manage to throw a few truckloads of chip-n-seal on pretty much any flat surface that connects two inhabited points in the state.

Second, the visual image of a real estate agent fording Bull Run in his Jaguar is just priceless. If only Major McDowell had thought of that in 1861, the Civil War might have lasted mere weeks.

Third, we Washingtonians have just now begun what promises to be an interminable and ill-informed public argument about reducing traffic congestion through privately owned demand-sensitive toll lanes, popularly known as "Lexus Lanes" for the assumption that only the rich will be able to afford the tolls. I say the Loudon experience demonstrates we don't need Lexus lanes at all. We can throw some sand and gravel in the median strip on the Beltway and I-66 and let all these off-road warriors pretend they're blazing trails in the wilderness.

I am a little disappointed that you can negotiate Braddock Road in an Audi, though. I thought maybe me and my '96 Jeep Cherokee would have a clear road.

Backing Up the Family Breakdown and Poverty Connection

Interesting Quotes from Sociologists

"Sharply rising rates of divorce, unwed mothers, and runaway fathers do not represent ‘alternative life styles’. They are rather patterns of adult behavior with profoundly negative consequences for children."

--Elaine Kamarck and William Galston, Putting Children First: A Progressive Family Policy for the 1990’s, a publication of the Democratic Leadership Council

"I know of few other bodies of data in which the weight of the evidence is so decisively on one side of the issue: on the whole, for children, two-parent families are preferable . . .If our prevailing views on family structure hinged solely on scholarly evidence, the current debate would never have arisen in the first place."

-- David Popenoe, former Dean of Social Sciences, Rutgers University

"Children who grow up in a household with only one biological parent are worse off, on average, than children who grow up in a household with both of their biological parents, regardless of the parents’ race or educational background (italics added), regardless of whether the parents are married when the child is born, and regardless of whether the resident parent remarries."

--Princeton sociologist Sara McLanahan and the University of Wisconsin’s Gary Sandefur

"We know what the cause of poverty is in this country and, like it or not, it's divorce and non-wedlock childbearing. We know that for every three divorces, one family ends up below the poverty line. The average woman with dependent children who ends up in poverty stays poor for eight months. The federal government pays for part of that, but states pay the balance. Divorce, by itself, is a major economic issue."

--Sociology professor Steve Nock of the University of Virginia in a New York Times story

Relevant statistics and academic study conclusions (citations available):

• The poverty rate for children living with cohabiting parents is five times that of children with married parents. The poverty rate for children living with single mothers is seven times that of children with married parents.

• The average married father annually contributes about thirty thousand dollars to the welfare of his children. The annual contribution of a non-custodial father averages about three thousand dollars yearly.

• In 1998, 12% of black children with married parents lived in poverty, BUT 55% of black children with single moms lived in poverty.

• Only 6% of births to women above the poverty line are out of wedlock. To contrast, 44% of births to white women under the poverty line are out of wedlock.

• Children who grow up with only one of their biological parents are three times more likely to have a child out of wedlock, 2.5 times more likely to become teenage mothers, and 1.4 times more likely to be out of school and unemployed.

• Daughters of single parents are 164% more likely to have a premarital birth and 92% more likely to have a divorce than daughters of married parents.

• According to a 1994 report in American Economic Review, those who leave welfare because of marriage are the least likely to return.

• "Among married-couple households, the bracket with the largest number of households is $75,000 and over. Among ‘other family groups,’ the bracket with the largest number of households is that under $10,000."

• Children of two-parent lower income black homes perform better in college than children from single-parent affluent black homes.

• Children who grow up with one parent are twice as likely to drop out of high school than kids with both parents at home.

• Children whose parents are divorced are more likely to exhibit conduct problems, psychological maladjustment, and lower academic achievement.

• Children in two-parent families receive the highest grades in school of any family structure.

• Seventy-two percent of America’s adolescent murderers, 70% of long-term prison inmates, and 60% of rapists come from fatherless homes.

• Boys raised outside of an intact nuclear family are more than twice as likely as other boys to end up in prison, even controlling for a range of social and economic factors.

• Married women are much less likely to be victims of violent crime than unmarried or divorced women. Only 14.4 married women per 1000 are victimized versus 60.6 never-married women per 1000 and 53.6 divorced or separated women per 1000.

• A cohabiting boyfriend is thirty-three times more likely to abuse a child than a married father who lives with the mother.

• A biological father who cohabits with the mother, but is not married to her, is twenty times more likely to abuse his own child than fathers who are married to the mothers of the child.

• Cohabiting women are more likely to suffer severe violence from their partners than are married women.

• Children without resident fathers are more vulnerable to predators, both sexual and physical, outside the family.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Chicago Tribune Says Bush Didn't Mislead on Iraq

I'm pasting in the verbatim analysis from the Chicago Tribune inquest on whether Bush misled the American people about Iraq:

THE ROAD TO WAR: THE BUSH ADMINISTRATION'S NINE ARGUMENTS

Biological and chemical weapons

WHAT THE WHITE HOUSE SAID

The Bush administration said Iraq had stockpiled weapons of mass destruction. Officials trumpeted reports from U.S. and foreign spy agencies, including an October 2002 CIA assessment: "Baghdad has chemical and biological weapons, as well as missiles with ranges in excess of UN restrictions."

WHAT WE KNOW TODAY

Many, although not all, of the Bush administration's assertions about weapons of mass destruction have proven flat-out wrong. What illicit weaponry searchers uncovered didn't begin to square with the magnitude of the toxic armory U.S. officials had described before the war.

THE VERDICT

There was no need for the administration to rely on risky intelligence to chronicle many of Iraq's other sins. In putting so much emphasis on illicit weaponry, the White House advanced its most provocative, least verifiable case for war when others would have sufficed.

Iraq rebuffs the world

WHAT THE WHITE HOUSE SAID

In a speech that left many diplomats visibly squirming in their chairs, President Bush detailed tandem patterns of failure: Saddam Hussein had refused to obey UN Security Council orders that he disclose his weapons programs--and the UN had refused to enforce its demands of Hussein.

WHAT WE KNOW TODAY

Reasonable minds disagree on whether Iraq's flouting of UN resolutions justified the war. But there can be no credible assertion that either Iraq or the UN met its responsibility to the world. If anything, the administration gravely understated the chicanery, both in Baghdad and at the UN.

THE VERDICT

Hussein had shunted enough lucre to enough profiteers to keep the UN from challenging him. In a dozen years the organization mass-produced 17 resolutions on Iraq, all of them toothless. That in turn enabled Hussein to continue his brutal reign and cost untold thousands of Iraqis their lives.

The quest for nukes

WHAT THE WHITE HOUSE SAID

Intelligence agencies warned the Clinton and Bush administrations that Hussein was reconstituting his once-impressive program to create nuclear weapons. In part that intel reflected embarrassment over U.S. failure before the Persian Gulf war to grasp how close Iraq was to building nukes.

WHAT WE KNOW TODAY

Four intel studies from 1997-2000 concurred that "If Iraq acquired a significant quantity of fissile material through foreign assistance, it could have a crude nuclear weapon within a year." Claims that Iraq sought uranium and special tubes for processing nuclear material appear discredited.

THE VERDICT

If the White House manipulated or exaggerated the nuclear intelligence before the war in order to paint a more menacing portrait of Hussein, it's difficult to imagine why. For five years, the official and oft-delivered alarms from the U.S. intelligence community had been menacing enough.

Hussein's rope-a-dope

WHAT THE WHITE HOUSE SAID

The longer Hussein refuses to obey UN directives to disclose his weapons programs, the greater the risk that he will acquire, or share with terrorists, the weaponry he has used in the past or the even deadlier capabilities his scientists have tried to develop. Thus we need to wage a pre-emptive war.

WHAT WE KNOW TODAY

Hussein didn't have illicit weapons stockpiles to wield or hand to terrorists. Subsequent investigations have concluded he had the means and intent to rekindle those programs as soon as he escaped UN sanctions.

THE VERDICT

Had Hussein not been deposed, would he have reconstituted deadly weaponry or shared it with terror groups? Of the White House's nine arguments for war, the implications of this warning about Iraq's intentions are treacherous to imagine--yet also the least possible to declare true or false.

Waging war on terror

WHAT THE WHITE HOUSE SAID

Iraq was Afghanistan's likely successor as a haven for terror groups. "Saddam Hussein is harboring terrorists and the instruments of terror ... " the president said. "And he cannot be trusted. The risk is simply too great that he will use them, or provide them to a terror network."

WHAT WE KNOW TODAY

The White House echoed four years of intel that said Hussein contemplated the use of terror against the U.S. or its allies. But he evidently had not done so on a broad scale. The assertion that Hussein was "harboring terrorists and the instruments of terror" overstated what we know today.

THE VERDICT

The drumbeat of White House warnings before the war made Iraq's terror activities sound more ambitious than subsequent evidence has proven. Based on what we know today, the argument that Hussein was able to foment global terror against this country and its interests was exaggerated.

Reform in the Middle East

WHAT THE WHITE HOUSE SAID

Supplanting Hussein's reign with self-rule would transform governance in a region dominated by dictators, zealots and kings. The administration wanted to convert populations of subjects into citizens. Mideast democracy would channel energy away from resentments that breed terrorism.

WHAT WE KNOW TODAY

U.S. pressure has stirred reforms in Lebanon, Egypt and Saudi Arabia and imperiled Syria's regime. "I was cynical about Iraq," said Druze Muslim patriarch Walid Jumblatt. "But when I saw the Iraqi people voting . . . it was the start of a new Arab world... The Berlin Wall has fallen."

THE VERDICT

The notion that invading Iraq would provoke political tremors in a region long ruled by despots is the Bush administration's most successful prewar prediction to date. A more muscular U.S. diplomacy has advanced democracy and assisted freedom movements in the sclerotic Middle East.

Iraq and Al Qaeda

WHAT THE WHITE HOUSE SAID

President Bush: "... Iraq and the Al Qaeda terrorist network share a common enemy--the United States of America. We know that Iraq and Al Qaeda have had high-level contacts that go back a decade.... Iraq has trained Al Qaeda members in bombmaking and poisons and deadly gases."

WHAT WE KNOW TODAY

Two government investigative reports indicate that Al Qaeda and Iraq had long-running if sporadic contacts. Several of the prewar intel conclusions likely are true. But the high-ranking Al Qaeda detainee who said Iraq trained Al Qaeda in bombmaking, poisons and gases later recanted.

THE VERDICT

No compelling evidence ties Iraq to Sept. 11, 2001, as the White House implied. Nor is there proof linking Al Qaeda in a significant way to the final years of Hussein's regime. By stripping its rhetoric of the ambiguity present in the intel data, the White House exaggerated this argument for war.

The Butcher of Baghdad

WHAT THE WHITE HOUSE SAID

Then-Secretary of State Colin Powell: "For more than 20 years, by word and by deed, Saddam Hussein has pursued his ambition to dominate Iraq and the broader Middle East using the only means he knows--intimidation, coercion and annihilation of all those who might stand in his way."

WHAT WE KNOW TODAY

Human Rights Watch estimates that Hussein exterminated 300,000 people. Chemical weapons killed Iraqi Kurds and Iranians; Iraqi Shiites also were slaughtered. Tortures included amputation, rape, piercing hands with drills, burning some victims alive and lowering others into acid baths.

THE VERDICT

In detailing how Hussein tormented his people--and thus mocked the UN Security Council order that he stop--the White House assessments were accurate. Few if any war opponents have challenged this argument, or suggested that an unmolested Hussein would have eased his repression.

Iraqis liberated

WHAT THE WHITE HOUSE SAID

President Bush and his surrogates broached a peculiar notion: that the Arab world was ready to embrace representative government. History said otherwise--and it wasn't as if the Arab street was clamoring for Iraq to show the way.

WHAT WE KNOW TODAY

The most succinct evaluation comes from Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.): "Every time the 27 million Iraqis have been given the chance since Saddam Hussein was overthrown, they have voted for self-government and hope over the violence and hatred the 10,000 terrorists offer them."

THE VERDICT

The White House was correct in predicting that long subjugated Iraqis would embrace democracy. And while Kurds, Sunnis and Shiites have major differences to reconcile, a year's worth of predictions that Sunni disaffection could doom self-rule have, so far, proven wrong.

Evangelical Christians' Love-Hate Relationship with the Arts

On the Internetmonk blog, Michael Spencer brings up a subject I find very interesting, evangelical and fundamentalist Christians' love-hate relationship with the arts. As a Christian but not of the American evangelical variety, I have never had any problem enjoying and relating to the arts both popular and elite, as regular readers of my writings here and elsewhere are well aware. Fundamentalists and evangelicals, however, seem to have significant difficulty engaging with the arts, perhaps as a legacy of their Puritan beginnings. Spencer writes:

The fundamentalist war on the imagination is old. It is not that fundamentalism offers nothing to the imagination. It does, but there is in fundamentalism a deep-seated and deeply wrong belief that the second commandment was a “closure” order on the imagination. There is a deep suspicion that anything imaginative violates a divine order and seduces us in the wrong direction. This is as true of the Christian imagination as of the secular imagination. There is often as much fear of Catholic art as there is of occultic art. The paltry artistic production of recent conservative Christianity bears witness to this imaginative desert. Little is planted, and little grows, and we lose most of our children not to the world’s propositions, but to the world’s illusions.

Spencer finds that this is changing (and not a moment too soon, I say):

[In recent years,] evangelical Christians have finally discovered that the world of the imagination may have something to offer them, and this discovery is increasingly being made, not in the world of literature, but in the more common medium of the movies.

While many of us have long known that fiction such as “The Chronicles of Narnia” repudiated the fundamentalist attitude toward the imaginative, it was the discovery of Christian appeals to the imagination in movies such as “The Matrix” and “The Lord of the Rings” that began to break the ice in the evangelical world. While media such as Focus on the Family and Baptist Press penned warnings about the dangers of Harry Potter, they gave surprisingly positive coverage to the evangelistic and homiletical uses of “The Matrix” and “The Lord of the Rings.”

This is a profoundly welcome development, in my view. Spencer calls on his fellow evangelicals to embrace this new understanding of their place in the world and feel free to develop a greater appreciation for the arts:

The emerging church suggests that rejection of the visual and the imaginative was a mistake from which we ought to vigorously repent. I agree, and even at the risk of a bit of silliness such repentance is worthwhile to at least make an effort to recapture the lost imaginations of millions. The interpretations of the second commandment I grew up hearing were nothing more than excuses for the impoverishment of the imagination. Evangelicals have produced enough bad art to keep someone in purgatory busy for thousands of years just watching, reading and listening to it. We’re beginning to repent of being the people who considered the local theater a subdivision of hell and whose response was Billy Graham movies.

Let’s do more than begin. Let’s become a people known for our love of the imagination and its possibilities of enjoyment, creation and worship.

The Great Christian Tradition- especially in its early centuries- was always visual without being idolatrous. It engaged culture through mind and imagination. The risks of idolatry were never absent, but the rewards of a holy, and living, imagination are too rich to avoid. In eras of illiteracy and spiritual warfare, the church sought to appeal to and capture the imagination of those who heard the Gospel. Whether liturgy, cathedrals, musical compositions or great works of visual art- all were arrayed for the purpose of taking the loyalties of the imagination captive for Christ the Lord.

Evangelicals have dabbled. They have denounced. They have demeaned. They have experimented. Are they ready to admit that we can preach through our engagement with story, image and aesthetic, and not only through propositions? Art and imagination, great writing and creative expresssion: they all preach the Gospel and engage human beings with the truth of God. If evangelicals are opening their minds to more than outlines and answers, will they seek out those God has gifted in the realm of the imaginative and release them to create, praise and evangelize?

In his Two Kingdoms theology, Martin Luther provides a fine place for evangelicals to begin to develop a theological approach that can repair the cultural damage that appears to be such a powerful legacy of Puritanism. I hope that major evangelical and fundamentalist thinkers will consider the wisdom to be found there and will encourage their brethren to act accordingly.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

When Will It Stop? T.V. Writers and Dumb Statistics

My wife is a big fan of House, M.D., which I agree is an enjoyable program. If memory serves, our own S.T. Karnick gave it a nice review over at NRO.

I was watching this evening when the physician team was treating an African-American death row inmate played by L.L. Cool J. The docs, of course, had to talk about social justice, the death penalty, racism, etc.. Fine with me. One of the docs said he's against it in principle, but is unbothered when the switch gets pulled. Another, a female doc, said she was against it because it is racially motivated. Her statistical claim was that black murderers are ten times more likely than white killers to get the death penalty.

This is where my eyebrows tilted up. Not quite, lassie. As I recall the cases in law school where the question of racism in death penalty sentencing was considered, the race of the killer turned out to be statistically insignificant. Guess what was signifant? The race of the victim! Killers who murder blacks are less likely to get the death penalty than killers who murder whites. Very interesting. So, if there is racism, it is in the fact that killers of African-American victims should theoretically be less deterred than killers of whites.

Television would be more interesting if writers would take the time to do a little research.

For my part, I kind of agreed with what the African-American doctor character said when confronted with the (as I just established, fallacious) racism charge in death penalty sentencing. If that's true, "we just need to kill more white folks." Of course, the show isn't over and he may be dramatically converted by the end of the episode.

The "Road to" Movies and the Great Bob Hope

A commenter mentioned the "Road" movies of Bob Hope and Bing Crosby, in response to my post on Meet Me in St. Louis, and I am glad that he or she brought the subject up.

The Road movies are indeed great fun, and most of them are must-see cinema. The first one, Road to Singapore, is not as funny and likeable as the others, but Hope and Crosby and the gang learned a lot from that one and went on to make a terrific series of simply flat-out-funny movies. Their goal was simply to make people laugh, and they have succeeded admirably at that over the years. My favorite of the series is Road to Utopia, which is set in Alaska and includes a delightful intermittent narration by Robert Benchley and probably the best jokes-per-minute ratio in the series. Road to Morocco is another highlight of the series, with great gags such as a talking camel, and terrific interplay between Bob and Bing. Zanzibar, Rio, and Bali are all quite funny too. The last one, Road to Hongkong, is amusing and likable but not as inspired as the others.

More Hope:

On Christmas Day, my family and I enjoyed our annual viewing of The Lemon Drop Kid, while visiting a friend who is also a great fan of Bob Hope and this wonderful Christmas film. I have seen the film well over a dozen times, and upon each viewing I discover something I hadn't noticed before. This one was no exception. The film, loosely based on a Damon Runyan story, concerns a scheme by racetrack tout Sidney Milburn, the Lemon Drop kid of the title (played by Bob Hope) to institute a confidence scheme that will accumulate $10,000 so that he won't be killed on Christmas by the gangster to whom he owes that sum. The movie is full of some of the wittiest comments and funniest sight gags Hope ever laid onto celluloid, which is saying a lot. But in addition to that, The Lemon Drop Kid has a highly serious meaning behind it, as the events of the film explore concepts of sin, repentance, and redemption. The film is so funny and delightful that most viewers will absorb these meanings without realizing it, which makes it that much more enjoyable and effective.

For more on Bob Hope and his achievements, you will find articles by the present author here, here, and here.

A Film Well Worth Watching—and Rewatching

G. Tracy Meehan III has provided a very nice appreciation of the 1944 MGM musical Meet Me in St. Louis, directed by Vincente Minnelli, over at National Review Online. The film features a fine performance by Judy Garland and demonstrates how a good movie can deal with interesting issues in a sophisticated way without becoming the slightest bit didactic. The situation—a turn-of-the-last-century family facing the various little crises that arise in life, along with one major one—might not seem to be the stuff of great drama, but the observant screenplay by Irving Brecher and Fred Finklehoffe and sensitive realization by Vincente Minnelli enable the viewer to understand and feel the full importance of the issues the family members face and the fact that these seemingly little things are what life is really all about.

Set aside a couple of hours for it, and you will be refreshed and inspired. It's that good.

Spouting Off

Incidentally, I would like to go on record as supporting Greenpeace in their activist campaign to stop Japan from whaling.

There is an international convention forbidding the hunting of whales. As far as I know, this has not caused any sort of upheaval in undersea ecology. I have not seen anyone make the argument that the whale herd really needs culling and it's some left-wing delusion preventing that from occurring. It seems that there is a legitimate international consensus that it's in the interest of the healthy conservation of the planet to avoid killing whales to the extent possible.

Japan has flouted this for years, ostensibly for some scientific purpose. But observers of the Japanese social scene consistently report that whale meat turns up on the menu at trendy dinners.

Godspeed for Greenpeace. They're doing what we should be doing, enforcing the international standards of responsible use of nature.

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.

http://fessays.blogspot.com/

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.
http://twolinenewsviews.blogspot.com/

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.

8
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."

13
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."

15
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."

16
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.

Vision>Caution>Impatience>Demagoguery

"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

Read.

"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.


Al.

"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.



Jazeera.

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.