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

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Lost but Well-founded

Somewhat overlooked in the sad tale of the dozen miners was the truly heroic - some would say saintly - character of their dying moments, as reflected in the notes they penned. Their thoughts were only to assuage the fears and pain of their families. The scene was redolent of Balaam's pronouncement: "May my spirit die the death of the righteous..." (Numbers 23:10)

Over at The American Spectator, I composed a brief paean to their lives and deaths.

Herewith the merest foretaste:

"Let not Ambition mock their useful toil,
Their homely joys, and destiny obscure;
Nor Grandeur hear with a disdainful smile
The short and simple annals of the poor."

This was a very solid group of men; we need to mourn them and learn to appreciate more those that remain. They work hard and are not wont to complain. Nor do they come home and spew a gospel of resentment. Instead, they live a friendly small-town existence with strong religious affiliation: no atheists in that foxhole. Look at the beautiful letters that they left their families when they sensed that death was near. No bitterness, no complaint, just love and reassurance to parents, spouses and children. What does it tell you about the character of a person when his primary concern in his dying moments is to mollify his loved ones with the image of him passing painlessly?

Rest in peace.

Big Time Student Athletes

For years the NCAA (National College Athletic Association) has been making excuses for the appalling graduation rate of Division I athletes. According to the U.S. Department of Education (DOE), only 62 percent of athletes earn a degree. The NCAA recently disputed this figure, slightly. Whose figure is correct? Who cares? Both are awful.

The truth of the matter is that Division I athletes are generally engaged in gut courses and fail to meet even modest academic standards. Weight lifting, basket weaving and “communications” majors are hardly the basis of a liberal education. As B. David Ridpath, assistant professor of sports administration at Mississippi State University, bluntly says, “It’s too easy for colleges to water down their curriculums and let athletes take easy majors.”

Basketball programs had the worst graduation rate of any sport, with just 58 percent of players earning degrees within six years. At some colleges, only a tiny fraction of enrolled basketball players graduate, no matter how puny the academic requirements. Many of these athletes should not be in college at all. Far too many are there only to play basketball. In fact, student-athlete is an oxymoron. College means little more to many than the minor league from which they hope to land a pro offer. Yet only a very few “student-athletes” end up with one.

Graduation rates for Division I football players do not fare much better. Of the 56 Division I-A teams competing in bowl games this year, eleven had graduation rates below 50 percent. The University of Texas, whose football team went to the Rose Bowl and won the national collegiate championship, had a graduation rate of 31 percent according to DOE--40 percent according to the NCAA.

R. Gerald Turner, president of Southern Methodist University and vice chairman of the Knight Commission admits that, “Far too many schools are reaping financial rewards for post season play, while they’re failing to graduate the athletes who have enabled their success on the field.” What he’s really saying is that administrators tolerates the educational travesty because of the money successful basketball and football programs bring.

There is some hopeful news: Eight out of the 17 men’s sports had graduation scores of over 80 percent. Lacrosse led the way with 89 percent of its players graduating. But no one would confuse lacrosse with big time football or March Madness.

The two sports that generate the greatest revenue and alumni zeal, football and basketball, are in a class by themselves. Coaches earning seven figure salaries are naturally far more interested in the ability of a kid to hit a three point shot or run the “50” in 4.3 seconds than whether they can do calculus. In Tempe, Arizona during the recent Fiesta Bowl, I was amazed at how many Notre Dame and Ohio State alumni traveled long distances to see their teams play. At least 100,000 fans jammed into Sun Devil stadium. There were parties all over town; the restaurants and bars were filled to capacity. The money and alcohol flowed.

The kids on the field were filled with emotion. But when the curtain comes down on college athletics, how many of them will end up in the pros? How many will be prepared for the next chapter in their lives? How many will have the skills of even the most rudimentary college education?

Alumni fans might think a little about this, the next time they pump their fists for the home team.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Bush Hit List

Well, say it three times fast.

We at The Reform Club occasionally promote worthy riffs from our commenters to the main board, and in this case, I'd like to promote our own Jay D. Homnick's complaints about our current White House Occupant to give 'em their own air:

1) Blew the relationship with Senator Jeffords and cost the Republicans a Senate majority for two years.

2) Left the same stupid wet-foot Cuba policy where refugees are repatriated if they don't make it to shore.

3) Has completely ignored the immigration problem; in fact, he has actually made the border patrols weaker. This is bad government and bad politics, not to mention dangerous.

4) Has continued a completely hypocritical policy of saying that the U.S. must never negotiate with terrorists while insisting that Israel must kowtow to terrorists and accede to their demands.

5) Has shown an almost comical level of disengagement from, if not downright ignorance of, the political situation in South and Central America, which is becoming more dangerous to the United States with each passing day.

6) Has not really made a move (not that Clinton did either) to limit our dependency on oil or to improve the terms under which we acquire it.

7) Has not had the courage to fight environmentalists over their stranglehold on the building of new oil refineries.

8) Has not figured out approaches to getting the middle-of-the-road person in America to see him as a "uniter, not a divider".

I'll add not vetoing anything, like the heinous McCain-Feingold, and after drilling in ANWR was scotched, not figuring out how to make fuel out of caribou. Additions encouraged. (For maximum effect, keep 'em Homnick-short.)

A Very Gory Opportunism

Ex-everything (senator, vice president, sane person) Al Gore seized the occasion of Dr. Martin Luther King Day to excoriate the Bush administration by comparing its wiretapping of terrorist phone calls to the government's spying on MLK's personal life in the '60s.

Mr. Gore forgot to mention it was not a power-mad fascist Republican, but modern lefty saint Bobby Kennedy who authorized it.

Must have been an oversight.

Source Material Addendum:
"At the outset, let me emphasize two very important points. First, the Department of Justice believes, and the case law supports, that the President has inherent authority to conduct warrantless physical searches for foreign intelligence purposes and that the President may, as has been done, delegate this authority to the Attorney General."---Deputy Attorney General Jamie S. Gorelick, July 14, 1994


(Mr. Gore must have been out sick that day.)


This Niall Ferguson essay - essentially arguing that a failure to pre-empt Iran's nuclear ambitions will set the stage for a nuclear war in the near future - is both well-done and frighteningly plausible.

But it's worth remembering that there has never been real war between nuclear powers. The closest we've come to is the occasional shelling and raiding between Pakistan and India. (Hmmm....maybe China and the USSR, but I'm not sure China had nukes then or at least not more than a few). In any case, here's what seems to me a much more likely scenario:

The US draws down its forces in Iraq, beginning in 2006 and substantially completed by 2008. (Either we will be successful and will be able to draw down or the continuing instability will be exploited by the Kos wing of the Democratic Party to gain electoral success and force the withdrawal). If Iran's nukes are not pre-empted (and is there anyone who doesn't think the Iranians are trying to develop nuclear weapons?), then the Iranians will have achieved a strategic standoff with Israel. But I think they're still unlikely to initiate a nuclear exchange with Israel, simply because the Israelis have enough nukes to obliterate Iran (and, most importantly, its leadership). Rather, Iran will use the nukes as a way of making itself invulnerable to American and Israeli pressure and will then seek to establish itself as the *the* power in the Middle East. This means, first of all, exporting its Islamism to Iraq and Afghanistan, undermining their relatively pro-American regimes. Second, it means undermining the secular regimes in Syria, Lebanon, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia and attempting to establish a pan-Islamic confederation that both controls a significant portion of the world's oil supplies and, with Iranian and Pakistani nukes, remains relatively invulnerable to international pressure. (The Europeans can't impose sanctions because they are too dependent on the oil and the US will be unable to move against the Iranians because the Europeans - and perhaps the Israelis - will not want to risk the obliteration of one of their cities).

What the nuclear arming of Iran threatens is not a hot war ala WWII, but another Cold War where a radical ideology backed up by the gun takes over a strategically crucial part of the world. Israel might end up as a new West Berlin, hemmed in by its enemies. Not a happy scenario.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

NFL Playoff Observations

I'll do like Rush and mix in a little NFL commentary with the politics.

(However, I'll avoid making a controversy out of the actual non-controversy that is the black quarterback. For the record, I think Donovan McNabb is outrageously good. On the other hand, I'm quite annoyed with Daunte Culpepper, my first round fantasy pick who sunk me completely this year.)

Here we go:

1. Denver running backs are less and less likely to get big free agent dollars to go elsewhere. Shanahan knows how to make RB's look good. He is better at coaching the run than anyone else in the league. That team simply does not need high draft pick RB talent to succeed.

2. Rex Grossman of the Chicago Bears has the palest skin I've ever seen on any player in the National Football League. He is even more pale than "Whitey" Sven Ivory, the former albino third string safety for those great Vikings teams of the 70's. The man borders on being gray. He may actually have the proverbial ice water in his veins which would explain the pallor.

3. Indianapolis deserved to lose their game. This was not the same squad we've watched dominate virtually without effort.

I think this is a case of a team that needed more adversity on the field and less off the field. There is no way Tony Dungy (clearly an NFL supercoach) could have continued in the same vein of stupendous success after his son's death. When Peyton Manning waived off Dungy's punt squad late in the third quarter, you could see a legend just ready to be born as the QB took over for his beleaguered skipper. Unfortunately for the Colts, the transformation was too late in coming. Had Manning taken the reins a bit earlier his team might have had a chance.

By the way, for the record, Troy Polamalu DID intercept that Manning pass late in the fourth quarter. It will be a permanent mystery as to how an experienced NFL referee could botch a call so badly. Luckily for the NFL and everyone involved, the Steelers won anyway which left the mistake moot.

4. The Carolina Panthers are absolutely legit. Anybody that can score that many points and drive the ball so effectively against an unreal Bears defense is destined for the Superbowl. I'm going out on a limb to predict the Panthers beat the Seahawks in a close one to go to Detroit.

5. The Steelers are going to beat the Broncos. Both teams play a similar style, but the Steelers are cresting at just the right time. The pieces are all in place. Roethlisberger gets to be Tom Brady this time. The Steelers defense will pick Jake Plummer off and score points in the victory.

6. I've learned to dislike Tom Brady. He always struck me as a winner, but this year the ugly side of the overcompetitive player came out in the QB. He complained too much about being written off at mid-season and spent too much time whining about not getting calls during the Denver game on Saturday. Hopefully, a spell of not being the champion will be good for him and restore Brady to class-act status.

7. Michael Vick is overrated. He is overrated. He is overrated. The man is the most elusive open field runner in the history of the game this side of Barry Sanders, but he is not a good enough passer. As a Falcons fan, I don't want to see him shoved into a pocket passer mold, but it would at least be nice to see Atlanta become a little more hospitable to free agent wide receivers. Right now the Peach City is the place where WR's go to watch their dreams die.

8. My crystal ball is cracked on Brett Favre. I could see him coming back for a couple of great years to quiet the critics, but I fell in love with his gutsy play years ago and am incapable of being objective.

Things that Don't Mix: Horror Flicks and Kiddies

I've been kind of keeping this to myself, but DP of Rock, Paper, Dynamite and Thomas Hibbs of NRO have rekindled the flicker of a particular thought in my brain.

As he discusses the horror film Hostel, currently a low budget hit eclipsing older releases Narnia and King Kong, Hibbs noted a distressing phenomenon:

Yet, the most depressing and horrifying thing about these sorts of films is, alas, not the explicit gore. It is the fact that at nearly every screening of a gruesome horror film I attend (from Massachusetts to Texas), I see parents in the audience with young children. That strikes me as a serious form of child abuse and a more convincing sign of the impending apocalypse than anything depicted on the screen.

I had the same thought a few years back when I went to see Blade 2 with Wesley Snipes. I was shocked to see several small children in the theatre who had been brought by their "parents" who were engaging in their own mysterious version of "parenting." It wasn't quite Kill Bill, but the film had graphic portrayals of bodily mutilation that took tatooing several steps up the cruelty scale and mass murder with blood hosing everywhere.

I don't need to see a study to know that the children exposed to this kind of film will become insensitive to violence, killing, etc. To use a more biblical expression, I'd say it hardens hearts. My own experience bears this out. As a teenager, my friends and I took advantage of the combination of video rental privileges and driver's licenses to rent every horrible thing we could get our hands on. The more a film pushed the border of tastelessness, violence, and sexual priggishness, the more likely we were to give it a viewing. I particularly recall a film that portrayed graphic serial rape of a woman caught in the wilderness Deliverance-style by a group of bad men. The first time I saw it I was shocked and shaken. The fourth time I was laughing.

After years of exercising more personal vigilance in my viewing choices, I've managed to recover my sense of shock at the depiction of outrageous behavior onscreen. I can only imagine how warped an individual's sensibilities can become after dulling the edge of the conscience on reels and reels of bloody, sex and violence-drenched celluloid (or digital media), particularly when the process begins with non-parenting parents initiating their toddlers into onscreen bloodsport.

This damage to the mind's facility for perceiving moral distinctions is the basic problem with total liberation of entertainment from social constraints. All the barrier-busting and fun-poking at stuffy taboo protectors leads to an arena with no-holds barred. What demons will wrestle in the virtual stadiums of the future? I'm not at all sure we want to know.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Fashion Consultant to the Gods

So, I'm thinking---Sam Alito definitely has the makings of an ubersexual---brilliant, kind, and obviously confident in his sexuality, but he looks like a total wienie, let's face it.

So, I thought, to achieve a consummate ubersexuality, he might spruce up a little bit. A very cool facial hair statement, sometimes called a Van Dyke, might help.

Not. Bad.

Not bad at all.

Give the man a festive shirt and a decent tan, some pixelating to lend an air of mystery, and of course, some appropriate shades:

Yeah, baby. Ladies and gentlemen, the next Supreme Court Justice of these here United States. Destiny awaits, and rightfully trembles.

Friday, January 13, 2006

A Little Monk Grousing

I wasn't satisfied with the conclusion of Monk tonight. The writers successfully established that the lab tech was guilty of fiddling with results, but did not reach the same level of certainty with regard to the fashion designer being the murderer.

It was possible that only labels had been changed, but the lab tech could have engaged in more elaborate fraud and disposed of any evidence tying the fashion designer to the original crime. The loop remains open and I don't like it.

Otherwise a pretty good episode. I'll annoy the Karnickian by stating for the record that I still miss Bitty Schramm.

About a Million Words About "A Million Little Pieces"

Here's the link to the story by The Smoking Gun on the latest author to stir up controversy from Oprah Bookland!

There's a lesson to be learned here which is that there is absolutely no room for a crap artist on the scene today. YOU WILL BE DISCOVERED AND MADE TO LOOK LIKE THE LYING CRETIN YOU ARE!

Fortunately, if you managed your money well you can have a reasonably comfortable humiliation.

Monk Returns, and All's Right with the World

O.K., people, get out your toothbrushes and scrub the floors, and don't forget to dust the chandeliers. Grab a wet-wipe and a cool bottle of Sierra Springs and settle down for the first episode of season 4 of Monk, the best show currently running on American television, tonight at 10 EST on the USA Network. In tonight's episode, Malcolm McDowell guest stars as "Mr. Monk Goes to a Fashion Show."

There will be a quiz!!!

For those benighted souls who haven't seen the show, the last episodes of a daylong Monk marathon are now running on USA Network, and a free iTunes download is available here.

Dance of the Gay Puritans

Our sharp-tongued pal Bern Chapin has written an excellent rejoinder to Mark Gavreau Judge's article on the American Spectator site in which the latter claimed that people on the Right should abjure popular pleasures such as NASCAR, country music, and even rock and roll and football, as well as down-home clothing styles such as tee shirts, sneakers, and jeans, and that we should all shop at Brooks Brothers instead of Wal-Mart.

On our site, Hunter Baker took exception to Judge's suggestion that Christianity requires an individual to wear certain types of clothes and enjoy certain types of entertainment, a claim which Jesus would certainly have found ludicrous. Hunter is absolutely right about this.

Judge seems to be going for a sort of Gay Puritanism here.

Hunter is correct to take him to task for it.

Now, as I said earlier on this blog, I do agree that "Most prominent conservatives today have little appreciation of the fine arts, and they show little respect for style, just as Mark says. Among the causes for this, I would suggest the fact that conservatism used to be a more elite position than it has been since Reagan, who made real the populism that Goldwater's candidacy had begun." (I then left Judge and went into a discussion of the Omniculture.) But Hunter and Bern are right to bring out these other implications of Judge's elitism. The notion that the right should be a movement of people who shop at Brooks Brothers and not Wal-Mart is a guarantee of marginalization. There just aren't that many people who can afford to do the former and not the latter. (Otherwise, the president would be a member of the Green Party.)

In addition and even more importantly (if you can imagine anything as being more important than partisan politics), it's silly to place stylistic litmus tests on morality. Either people love God above all things and love their neighbors more than themselves, or they don't. Wingtips and sneakers provide not the slightest clue of an individual's position on that—or, if anything, one would expect a person who really keeps those two commandments to be wearing the more humble footwear.

Of course, if one has a certain amount of the ready and has come by it honestly, sure, looking nice is better than being a slob, and attending to elevating and edifying art is far better than wallowing in trash. But the particular standards Judge is suggesting are overly specific and snobbish, and they also praise a phenomenon, "metrosexuality," that should be laughed right off the earth as soon as possible. As Bern says,

A metrosexual is one who possesses a woman’s taste, and anyone who has ever cringed at the color pink or had glitter rub off on them knows that female taste cannot always be equated with the word “good.”

Another mistake is apparent as metrosexual has never, to my knowledge, been applied to opinions about art and music. The term has always been used in reference to fashion, grooming, habit, and social interest. I have never heard it applied to intellectual interests, but that is an assumption on which the rest of the piece rests.

This is an important point. In praising "metrosexuality," Judge is, perhaps unintentionally but definitely, siding with the notion that the differences between men and women are not largely natural but are in fact culturally determined. This is a crucial point, and one which Judge really should revisit and reconsider.

So, thanks to Bern for bringing this to the fore.

In addition, I want to add an angry complaint about Judge's disgusting, outrageous dismissal of football as a low-class endeavor. That is a simply contemptible assertion: football is in fact the greatest sport of our time. It gives young men a way to excel in an area that the modern world seldom allows, and it is a thing of great beauty, complexity, and subtlety. It teaches individual achievement within a structure of essential cooperation. A boy who plays football, and to a lesser degree anyone who watches the sport, learns that group success comes from each individual doing the very best at whatever he or she has been told to do. It is a beautiful matter of individuals cooperating to bring their personal abilities together in a group effort. The team that wins consistently is the team in which the most players do exactly what they are supposed to do on the greatest percentage of possessions.

I have coached football at the junior level, and it is a great way to help silly, uncontrolled boys become serious young men. It doesn't always work, as so many cases attest, but of the millions of boys who play organized football, I would suggest that it benefits all of them in some way. If Judge has never played or coached football, and is not even a fan of the sport, well, that says a lot about him, and something any real male would rather keep quiet about. Any woman who finds a contempt for football attractive would be far better off simply finding another woman to live with.

Now, I do think that style is important and that nice things are much better than crap. Much, much better. But Bern and Hunter are absolutely right to point out that Judge is into some very dubious stuff and shouldn't force his weird tastes on other people. Keep that in the closet, girl!

I think that the styles people choose do say important things about them, and I like to be as jaunty and prosperous-looking as possible, but to associate Christianity with metrosexuality strikes me as utterly grotesque. Brrrr.

I suggest that Mr. Judge punt and try to get his defense in order.

NPR, James Frey, and the Memoir

Listening to NPR this morning, I heard their segment
on James Frey, whose "memoir" (something about a million little pieces - I'll admit I must have missed that publishing phenomenon) has been shown by the Smoking Gun to be either an entire fabrication or extreme exaggeration. (Example: Frey apparently claims he rear-ended a police vehicle when in fact he just ran one wheel of his car up onto a curb. Almost the same thing). This made the news because the book made it to Oprah, who loved it and made it in turn a national bestseller. (Again, I'll admit I never heard of the book until I read about the controversy). His defense? Well, "memoir" isn't really the same thing as, say, "history" since we all know our memories are faulty. The NPR reporter, Lynn Neary, guts the excuse with some well-put quotes from another publisher who more or less accuses Frey and his publisher of being willing to flat-out lie in the pursuit of an emotional hit and the big bucks. Good for NPR.

It's worth noting as an aside that the sort of subjectivism and emotivism on display in this incident is a perfect picture of the postmodernist mindset. What matters is not whether something happened or not, but rather our interpretations of things and how that makes us "feel." And it's also worth noting - and this certainly is not an original insight - that this kind of subjectivism is a perfect match for the sort of consumerist, no-limits market capitalism that the Left is always decrying. Talk about being hoisted on your own petard...

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Life at the Bottom and How to Get There

This remains one of my favorite pieces of writing, and of social criticism---it's an excerpt from John Derbyshire's review of Theodore Dalrymple's Life at the Bottom: The Worldview that Makes the Underclass:

"The knife went in," three different stabbers told Dalrymple, when he pressed them, in the prison, to describe the deed that landed them there. Why should a low-IQ barely-literate youth believe in the doctrine of free will, when, for all he can see, his intellectual superiors have given up on it?

Dalrymple is particularly good on the squeaky-wheel syndrome that is so characteristic of modern social services. Defy your circumstances; manage to get some scraps of education; win some decent, if low-level employment; stay out of trouble; stay off the dole; maintain some minimal standards of honesty and chastity; and see what happens to you! If you are lucky, the authorities will ignore you; if not, they will actually harass you. Should your less disciplined neighbors make your life a misery, you will get no help from police or social workers. If, on the other hand, you follow your peers into the world of dysfunction and dependency, all the attentions of England’s extravagant welfare state will be lavished on you. You will be given a free apartment furnished with all modern appliances, a regular supply of money, free medical attention, and the doting ministrations of “health visitors,” “case workers,” “counsellors” and so on.

Americans may find it surprising that most of the people wallowing in this slough of ignorance, illiteracy, promiscuity, bastardy, intoxication, vice, folly, lawlessness and hopelessness are white English people. Much of what is described here is the sort of thing Americans instinctively associate with this country’s own black underclass. There is some satisfaction, I suppose, though of a very melancholy kind, to be drawn from the revelation that sufficiently wrong-headed social policies, persisted in with sufficiently dogged refusal to face simple truths, will visit moral catastrophe on people of any race.


Most of popular culture is a sewer and I'm happy to rarely switch on the tv (we don't even have ESPN or the 24-hour cable news shows). But I do try to catch the ABC drama LOST and last night, as Amy Welborn notes, included some nicely done dramatizations of issues regarding sin, forgiveness, and redemption. Maybe it's because the show (like, I think, the X-Files) trades in mystery, it just can't avoid religious claims. But I'm hard pressed to remember another time where two people sympathetically recite the 23rd Psalm as, seemingly, an act of religious devotion. Good stuff.

When the Going Gets Tough, the Left Shouts "Racist!"

As Judge Samuel Alito endured his protracted questioning in the Senate Judiciary Committee with the Left still unable to make a plausible case for turning him down, the desperation became evident with some prominent Democrat Senators' allegation that the nominee is a racist. The charges appear to be utterly unfounded, but it appears that there may well be some unsavory racial activity in the past of one Democrat Senator on the panel:

Charles Schumer trying to tar Samuel Alito as a racist because of membership in some club? Don't make me laugh. The fact is that Charles Schumer came to power as a New York State Assemblyman in 1974 by virtue of an overtly racist scheme that he created and sold to a naive neighborhood in Brooklyn, New York. He convinced them that he would use his power to rid their area of black people. And who is my source for this serious accusation? Me.

Yes, me. I was there.

The article by Reform Clubber Jay Homnick in today's issue of The American Spectator Online documents the claim. It is a very interesting story indeed, and very revealing of some unsavory truths of modern politics.

Why My Husband Will Never Sit on the Supreme Court

My husband is a brilliant man, possessed of legal skills of rare quality and a true judicial temperament. His thought is organized and systematic, his grasp of, and ability to remember, detail is little short of stupefying to mere mortals like me, and he has, in addition, the sort of dry intellectual wit that would make reading his opinions the joy of any 2L. There are, of course, hundreds of lawyers like this in DC, and none of them will ever sit on the Supreme Court either. But my husband has a higher hurdle than any of them, and it is this: if he had been sitting in Sam Alito's seat yesterday, and I had been sitting in Martha Alito's seat yesterday, I would not have been weeping, I would have been using Ted Kennedy's severed head to beat Chuck Schumer senseless. Listen up, minority members of Judiciary: when you survey your peers and notice that Joe Biden is winning the good behavior prize, it's time to rethink.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Letterman's Swinishness, or: More Media Bias

This ties up our recent discussions into a nice little bow, I think.

If one googles "Letterman" and "pencil," he'll find numerous (with video) blog reports of David Letterman stirring his pencil into Bill O'Reilly's courtesy beverage before O'Reilly comes onstage. (Yes, O'Reilly drank from it, too. )

If one googles "Letterman" and "pencil" in the Google news section, which monitors hundreds if not thousands of mainstream news sources, one will get back zero hits.

That's zero hits, folks. Nobody in the media noticed? Nobody? A week later, and still...nothing?

Media bias includes what is not covered. It is impossible to conceive that this is not of news interest. Nor is it possible for me to conceive that if a right-winger had committed this bastardly deed, his career would not be over, and rightfully so.

Now, maybe the blogs are wrong: I didn't see the show, and haven't watched Letterman since he got terminally lazy with his fat contract and I got cable sometime in the last century and had moose mating or whatever to switch over to on Discovery. But even debunking this is newsworthy enough for a media that has nothing better to talk about than Lindsey Lohan's hip size.

That's zero hits, folks. Crickets chirping. Letterman's in the club.

(Mad props to The Political Teen for this photographic evidence (?), and to the exquisite Larry Elder for the riff. If his radio show isn't available in your area, give him an ear via the internet. The Sage rules.)

TV Show of Daniel

I finally finished watching The Book of Daniel, the new NBC-TV program that has raised the ire of conservatives and religious folk. It was rather difficult to achieve—the watching, that is—because of the show's glaring weakness: it is terribly arch and tendentious, and its author's obvious (too-obvious) intentions contradict one another. That is to say, my objections to the show are aesthetic.

Unlike most of the program's detractors, I didn't find it to be antireligious or anti-Christian. It certainly painted an unflattering picture of organized religion, but I didn't see that as being the point of the show, nor did I see it as being what most viewers would take away from the program if viewing it fairly. What the show's creator was apparently trying to do was make a Desperate Housewives knockoff set in Westchester County, and actually to emphasize the moral content by including a religious setting.

The latter decision was a huge mistake, however, because the moral content of Desperate Housewives is perfectly obvious to anyone this side of a psychopath, and hence does not need enhancement; and, perhaps more importantly, because the creator also clearly had another thing in mind which conflicts with the moral analysis. He wishes to transform our notion of morality: to place tolerance, kindness, and other such yummy things atop the moral pyramid and make them dispositive in all cases.

That may in fact be a fair picture of the atmosphere within a liberal Episcopalian church in Westchester County, but it waters down the significance of the characters' choices into nothing. If tolerance is the most important thing, what exactly is the significance of what any of these characters do? When one person causes another to suffer, that's just the price we have to pay in order to have a world in which others won't judge our actions. We cannot judge, lest we be judged. Of course, that leads to a situation in which a sort of Gresham's Law of Morality applies: bad behavior pushes out the good.

The Book of Daniel reflects exactly that process: these characters, who have grown up in a world of tolerance and a nurturing of whatever appears to be genuine in a person, do what they bloody well please as long as they think they can get away with it. This, however, kills any possible drama. Given that nearly all of the people depicted in the program are hypocritical, snide, selfish, morally obtuse, and utterly charmless, there is nothing with which to contrast the bad behavior. After all, every Lovelace needs his Clarissa: moral perfidy committed against other morally corrupt individuals is not so very interesting, especially in the rarefied atmosphere of this fictional Westchester County, where the great majority of the suffering appears to be self-imposed. The characters are dull, flat, and lifeless because their choices do not matter.

And that, of course, makes for bad drama—really, no drama at all.

As a result, The Book of Daniel commits the cardinal sin of failed entertainment: it is a bore.

Repent, Harlequin! Said the Ticktockman

I caution our annoying anonymous commenter(s) that your actions are now illegal.

Word up.

How Media Bias Works

Hunter Baker refers below to a recent study alleging liberal media bias in the news. The methodology used was to count citations of outside "experts" to see if there was a partisan balance.

The study found a strong tilt to the left in the reports of most media organizations.

Now is this proof in itself of bias? Let's look at a recent Washington Post article on the NSA domestic "spying" affair.

Aside from the contentious wording that the administration has "assertions" while the contrary congressional report has "conclusions," we see that the WaPo quotes two "experts," both of whom are dismissive of the administration's position.

I discussed this very article with a lefty pal of mine and he sees no bias. Me, I see not only Congress lined up against the executive branch (little surprise---this tug-of-war over national security authority has been going on since the founding of the republic), but 100% of the outside experts. I would expect the casual reader to conclude that the weight of arguments is against the administration, since they occupy the lion's share of the volume.

I find this article to be representive of the norm, and certainly my liberal buddy saw nothing unusual about it. Which is precisely the point.

Since I'm feeling magnanimous today, I'll offer that no Bush-friendly "experts" were consulted because the WaPo simply doesn't know any. But whatever the reason, the aforementioned study (and it is not the first such) clearly indicates it is the rule rather than the exception in our national news media that among third party commentators, the left get more air than the right.

Put simply, an article or news segment is imbalanced unless it presents both sides in roughly equal proportion, as spoken by third parties, not just the accused and the aggrieved themselves. We all tend to give credence to the views of third parties when making up our minds about things, as we should. For that reason, I find the theory behind the study's methodology entirely proper, and can think of none better.

The WaPo rounded up two "impartial" witnesses against the Bush administration and none in its defense. Any reasonable person would, based on the evidence presented, be obliged to conclude its guilt.

The WaPo article was biased, whether intentionally or not. I do not know which of those possibilities is more disconcerting.

A No-Brainer, Really...

This may qualify for some as "dog-bites-man", but here's a nice little precis on the link between family structure and educational outcomes. Unsuprisingly, kids in two-parent households do better across the board.

Where I live, there are two public elementary schools nearby. One is fairly diverse but mostly serves reasonably well-off folks with mostly intact families (and children of foreign graduate students). The other has a much larger population of public housing kids, almost entirely black and almost entirely from single-parent families. It's been striking how many of our friends, though thoroughly liberal and deeply committed to public schooling, have already decided that they won't send their kids to the second school if they can't get into the first. Not surprising, but a bit striking.

More on Media Bias: I Mean, It's Serious.

Came across a fascinating article in Investor's Business Daily on dead tree (see, you accomplished something with that free trial).

The IBD staff compiled evidence of media bias via the various studies on the subject. Here are some of the results:

1. 2005 Study -- Every major media outlet except The Washington Times and Fox News Special Report leaned to the left. The furthest left (by a long shot) was the Wall St. Journal news division (as distinguished from their conservative op-ed group). Other groups leaning left were all the network morning news shows (with one exception), NPR Morning Edition, and the major newsmags. The closest to the center were Aaron Brown's Newsnight (now canceled, hmmm), PBS Newshour with Jim Lehrer, and ABC's Good Morning America. The authors of the study hailed from UCLA and Univ. of Missouri.

2. A 2004 study showed that nine of 10 major newspapers are more likely to portray economic data as negative if a Republican is president.

3. A 1996 study showed only 7% of Washington correspondents voted for George H.W. Bush in 1992, nearly half as many as voted for Bush in ultra-liberal Berkeley, CA.

4. A 2004 NYT story found only 8% of Washington correspondents thought Bush would be a better president than John Kerry.

UPDATE: I should have mentioned that I found item 2 particularly interesting. For years, I have had the sense that Republican economic data has been spun in a negative light relative to when Democrats are in office. Looks like the old intuition was right.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006


Many thanks to Hunter and everyone else over here at The Reform Club for allowing me to add my two cents' worth occasionally (and, as you'll discover, you get what you pay for). I'm a recent PhD in political science with interests all over the map, including the intersection of religion and politics (Pat Robertson's a pagan - more on that later), the fiery roasting of select meats, and good conversation. My wife and I have two small children. For the record Michael Simpson is a pseudonym - I would like an academic job and I see no reason to make it any harder for myself than I need to. Be seein' y'all around...

Blogging on Small Business

I have found an excellent blogger on small business matters. If you are thinking about getting into that racket. You'd be well-served to spend a little time with Jeff Cornwall.

Pat Robertson's Perspective

A friend, who wishes to remain anonymous (for good reasons which will be evident upon reading the appended message), sent me the following note which provides a very good analysis of what drives Pat Robertson and his followers to say the strange things they regularly say:

As the son of parents who have sent God only knows how many thousands of dollars to Pat Robertson, Jim and Tammy Faye Baker, Jimmy Swaggart and others of their ilk over the years, I have watched these TV preachers -- and their supporters -- with keen interest. You are absolutely correct about Robertson's reckless rhetoric, but it is precisely his willingness to make such statements that brings in the cash.

There is a paradox in people like my parents and other followers of the Robertsons of the world. They are true believers who doubt their beliefs. This is why they glom onto signs and become breathless at the prospect of a prophecy fulfilled. If they truly believed, they would not need constant reassurances and proofs. They are fearful believers -- afraid of God, afraid of Satan, afraid of Death, afraid of Themselves.

Robertson pointed to Sharon's stroke and then to the Bible and said, "See, the Bible said this would happen, and it happened!" It was his way of exciting his base of doubtful believers.

He not only bucked them up by giving them a proof. He also gave them a sense of superiority. They came away from his show believing they have knowledge others do not have, some because they are ignorant and others because they will not see the truth. His listeners believe themselves to be an enlightened elite.

There is a line in Daniel about the King of the North attacking Israel. My mother currently believes the King of the North is Turkey, and she is expecting an attack by Turkey on Israel any time. Over the years the King of the North has also been Iran, Iraq, the Soviet Union, the European Union, and the United Nations.

Pointing out to my mother that predicting attacks on Israel is like predicting cold in winter has no impact on her. Pointing out that she has believed in numerous Kings of the North over the years does nothing to temper her belief now. Each time a new King of the North is identified by Robertson or some other Evangelical preacher, she gets all fired up, and out comes the checkbook.

My parents are also believers in the Rapture (the righteous will go straight to heaven without the inconvenience of dying, and the rest will be left behind to endure seven years of tribulation ending in the battle of Armageddon and the establishment of 1,000 years of Heaven on Earth.) Israel plays a central role in this. Before the Rapture can happen, Israel must be fully established. Anything that holds back Israel holds back the Rapture.

There are plenty of Christians who opposed Sharon because they saw his position regarding the West Bank as holding back the Rapture. An expanding Israel gets them to heaven quicker.

So there really are three reasons for Robertson's remarks regarding Sharon. First, they keep the money flowing. Second, they give believers a feeling of superior knowledge. And third, they are a way of gloating over the destruction of a man whose policies were delaying Jesus' return to Earth.

This is how I see it, anyway.

Monday, January 09, 2006

On the Wing(le)s of Love

My young daughter invented a cute sub-adjective, the word "wingle". It exists only as a tagalong for "single", as in "you say that to me every single wingle time."

It occurred to me to convert it into a noun and write her this little poem about the pitfalls of excess.

I bought a single wingle
And it made me tingle
So I bought a double
And it made me trouble.

Ledeen on Osama and the Middle East

I'm amazed by Doc Zycher's mention of the possibility Osama might be dead. If this is true, then the two kingpins of 9-11 in the public mind (be sure to note that phrase Moore-ons, I'm asserting nothing) will have been taken care of via either imprisonment or the rigors of being pursued.

Here's the link to the Ledeen story.

If Ledeen is right, and I hope he is, then Bush should be due for another bounce. I'm waiting for the big Drudge headline or a CBS news rumble. Something, anything to confirm the event.

Here's an excerpt that leaves you singing:

This historical moment is not easy to understand, since we are in transition from a relatively stable world, dominated by a handful of major powers, to something we cannot yet define, since it is up to us to shape it. It seems clear, however, that there is a greater rapidity of change, accompanied — inevitably — by the passing of the leaders of the old order. This is particularly clear in the Middle East, where seven key figures have been struck down in the past six years: King Hussein of Jordan in February, 1999. King Hassan of Morocco in July of the same year. Syrian dictator Hafez al Assad in June of 2000. Yasser Arafat of the PLO in April, 2004. King Fahd of Saudi Arabia in May of last year. Ariel Sharon of Israel was incapacitated by a stroke in early January. And, according to Iranians I trust, Osama bin Laden finally departed this world in mid-December. The al Qaeda leader died of kidney failure and was buried in Iran, where he had spent most of his time since the destruction of al Qaeda in Afghanistan. The Iranians who reported this note that this year's message in conjunction with the Muslim Haj came from his number two, Ayman al-Zawahiri, for the first time.

This remarkable tempo of change is not likely to diminish, as old and/or sick men are in key positions in several countries: Israel's Shimon Peres is 82. King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia is 82 (and his designated successor, Prince Sultan, is 81, and was recently operated for stomach cancer). Iran's Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei, although probably in his sixties, is said to have serious liver cancer, and is not expected to survive the next year.

And, of course, the patient activities of the Grim Reaper are not the only source of revolutionary change in the region. Saddam was a relatively young man (mid-sixties) when he was toppled by Coalition forces; the deposed Taliban leaders were relatively young as well (Mullah Omar is barely 50); and the likes of Bashar Assad, the Iranian mullahs (Khamenei is probably in his early sixties), and even the legions of the Saudi royal family have to contend with mounting animus from the West, and mounting cries for freedom from their own people.

Much of the demographic component of rapid change comes from the enormous disparity between leaders and people. The wizened ayatollahs of Iran, like the gerontarchs of Saudi Arabia, seek to contain the passions of a population one or two generations younger, which is probably one reason why the mullahs turned to a youngster, the fanatical Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, to crush all potential opposition to the Islamic republic. Most Iranians, two thirds of whom are younger than 35, do not take kindly to the white beard and beturbaned tyrants who have banned Western music and just last week began speaking of segregating the sidewalks of the country by sex; males on one side, females on the other, even as they announced the execution of a woman who dared defend herself against a rapist.

In short, both demography and geopolitics make this an age of revolution, as President Bush seems to have understood. Rarely have there been so many opportunities for the advance of freedom, and rarely have the hard facts of life and death been so favorable to the spread of democratic revolution.

The architect of 9/11 and the creator of Palestinian terrorism are gone. The guiding lights of our terrorist enemies are sitting on cracking thrones, challenged by young men and women who look to us for support. Not just words, and, above all, not promises that the war against the terror masters will soon end with a premature abandonment of what was always a miserably limited battlefield. This should be our moment.

Ozzie Laid to Rest

According to Michael Ledeen on NRO today, that ineffable friend of freedom, Osama Bin Laden, departed this world in mid-December as a result of kidney failure. Ledeen's sources seem unusually good in such matters---even his dear departed James Jesus Angleton, available only via Ledeen's ouija board, is not to be discounted---and so I am quite reluctant to dismiss this as disinformation or such.

In any event, my question is somewhat irreverent, but here goes: I wonder if Osama, or Ozzie, as his friends knew him, at the end wished that he could have availed himself of infidel medical technology and care? After all, the seventy-two virgins could have waited a bit longer, non? Maybe Ozzie will come back as a K Street lobbyist for a defense conglomerate.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Democrats: Tax Parasites

Remember those wack maps Democrats came up with after the Bush-Kerry election?

A similarly self-serving wackiness arose around the same time, that, presumably due to their larger populations (as unaethstetically if not bizarrely illustrated above), the 19 Blue States pay Washington more money than they get back, so they'd be better off seceding from Bush Country.

True, as far as it goes.

But let's take a closer look.

Kerry made the election close only by carrying by nearly 20 percentage points the 23% of the electorate that makes less than $30,000 a year. They pay little or no income tax, and many of them receive federal subsidies like WIC or the Earned Income Credit.

Now, Bush and Kerry split the votes of the $30-50,000 income voters, but Bush carried every other income group above $50,000 (who represent 55% of all voters) by 10 percentage points or more.

And as we all know by now, or should, the top 50% of wage-earners pay over 96% of all federal income taxes.

So let's bury once and for all this canard that the highly evolved Blue States subsidize bucolic and backward Jesusland. More accurately, it's the productive, taxpaying Red Staters both inside and outside the Blue States who largely foot the bill for all.

Elvis' Birthday

I heard somewhere that if he'd lived, Elvis would have been 71 today.

Man, I didn't even know he was sick.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

The Ultimate Refutation of Skepticism

Joe Gibbs.

The Redskins have sucked virtually the entire time since he left after winning yet another Super Bowl. Gibbs, on the other hand, went on to major success as a NASCAR team owner.

Daniel Snyder, the much disliked owner of the team in the post-Gibbs era, tried Norv Turner, Marty Schottenheimer, and Steve Spurrier. Not much luck in any case, despite the fact that the latter two are all-time greats and Norv Turner has twice been a very successful offensive coordinator.

This season the breaks are all falling Washington's way. I conclude, in reverse Pat Robertson style, that the blessing of the Lord is upon Joe Gibbs and Dan Snyder was smart enough to hire him and get out of the way.

Friday, January 06, 2006

The Pay for Op-Eds Business and My Experience

When I was newly minted with J.D. in hand and some conservative organization experience built-up, I called friends and asked for help finding work. One of the referrals was to a high profile lobbying/public relations firm with a high profile head. I will not name either of the above for fear of getting sued by them. I attended an interview and they explained the nature of some of the work.

One of the things it was proposed I could do was to write op-eds that would later be issued under the name of more famous persons in favor of some public policy initiative or position. At the same time, I'm sure that some of these persons would write their own op-ed, sufficiently proud of their own style and convictions not to turn the job over to the hired gun at firm X. It never occurred to me that anything in that process was wrong. The famous person would be someone who could agree with the stated position. What they would be selling would be their access to the editorial pages of the nation's newspapers and magazines. This is not bribery, but rather someone paying you to say what you would already say if the opportunity arose.

Now, I've heard the Cato Institute's Doug Bandow is basically done for, having taking significant money from Abramoff for columns he wrote. That is a shame. Doug Bandow is a strong writer and thinker.

On the surface, the problem goes like this: I like cake. I want to eat cake. I'm going to eat cake. Somebody steps up and says, "Hey, why don't you eat that cake NOW and I'll pay you for it?" And you do. Wouldn't seem to be an ethical lapse.

But it is and the real answer is revealed by imagining that everyone had full information. The newspaper or magazine wouldn't run the piece if they knew about the payment. The think tank you might work for wouldn't allow you to take the payment because their credibility is even more important than yours. And you haven't told anyone these things because deep down, you know how they would have reacted.

And that's why it's wrong. Take away the self-interest and look at the interests of others and it shines forth bright as day.

Now, I never took that job. Nobody ever slipped me a check in exchange for my promotion of a particular view at their urging. But I might have done it and could have done it without getting as far down the moral analysis as I did in this post.

In the final analysis, I'm sorry for Doug Bandow and damn glad I've had this opportunity to think it through before anyone offered me the chance to screw up.

Pat Robertson's Comments

I agree with Jay Homnick when he states, below, that Pat Robertson, as a spritual leader and ordained minister, has a right to make claims about what God's will might or might not be.

However, I also believe that rights bring responsbilities. Given the necessary ambiguity of any spritual dimension behind secular events, it is incumbent upon leaders such as Pat Robertson to be highly careful and circumspect in the public claims they make about God's intentions in "managing" worldly affairs. In addition, given that evangelical churches have a less rigid structure than older denominations, it is particularly tempting for evangelicals to make such statements. God's will is such a serious matter, however, that one should be reluctant to say in public some things that one might well think and say in private, given that the incorrect attribution of motives to God could in itself be a serious offense against that very God.

This is something to which Robertson seems regularly to give far too little consideration.

Pat Answers

Goodness me, I don't suppose that I'll make a lot of friends with this post. As a matter of conscience, I feel obligated to defend Pat Robertson for his remarks of yesterday.

Robertson, on his famous (or notorious) 700 Club show, said that Ariel Sharon's medical condition was the result of his dividing God's land "and I say woe unto any Israeli prime minister who takes a similar course..."

A range of criticisms has been advanced. 1) How can he presume to know the mind of God? 2) This is the wrong time to say this, while a man is fighting for his life. 3) Mr. Sharon is 5 foot 7 and weighs 260 pounds in a high-stress job; if anything he has lived longer and more effectively than actuarial tables would predict.

None of these points is without a degree of validity. However, it is eminently within the province of a minister to interpret events in a Biblical light and to share his conclusions with his flock. That is the very definition of spiritual leadership in the Judeo-Christian sense.

Robertson believes, as do many practitioners of Judaism and Christianity, that it is not only possible to know the mind of God in many instances (perhaps most), but it is a human duty to see if He has left clues to the message of His handiwork. For a man to be stricken immediately after giving up a part of the land, complete with evictions of devoted Jewish settlers, suggests to this minister that there is spiritual causation present. To say that he has no right to communicate such a view to his students or parishioners is the height of absurdity.

Is Robertson right? I don't know. Is he wrong? I don't know. But I believe that he has every right to that view; that once he holds it he has a right to promulgate it; that once he has those rights he may well have a spiritual imperative to speak.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Letterman, Schmetterman

I am glad that Hunter Baker posted a transcript of the recent dialogue between David Letterman and not-exactly-honored guest Bill O'Reilly on the former's TV program, below.

It is very revealing indeed. I never have liked Letterman, as I found his politics to be all too evident and all too peabrained from the very start. Nobody else with whom I spoke about this ever saw it this way, until now. By the audience's reaction of laughter and applause, it appears that they were in strong agreement with O'Reilly and that Letterman came off as an oaf and thoughtless jackass.

The exchange will have no effect at all on his popularity, I suppose, as most viewers will ignore Letterman's politics, which is fine. But nobody should ever imagine that he's on our side.

The heck with him, I say.

Let us pray for him to retire in comfort soon and be replaced by someone (a) funnier and (b) smarter.

Prime Ministering

Here is a link to Acting Prime Minister of Israel Ehud Olmert's opening remarks at today's special cabinet meeting. I found it to be gracious, humble-but-confident, tasteful and entirely apposite.

We join Mr. Olmert in wishing Ariel Sharon a speedy and full recovery.

(Incidentally, I got a grim chuckle out of this page of the Prime Minister's Office website, offering a list of the "lastest" press releases. That's the only word misspelled at the site; I suppose it's a creative merger of latest and last.)

A City Of Two Tales

A small piece over at The American Spectator today, my first offering of the new year, makes the point that FISA is no more competent or judicious than NSA in monitoring wiretapping. All that is lost by not including them in a decision is one check-and-balance, not some fount of new wisdom.

Here's a tidbit:

Do you and I have any clear indication which of the two alphabet-soup divisions of government has the better judgment? Nah. It's just that there's a check-and-balance involved in having the NSA from the Executive branch be answerable to FISA of the Judicial branch -- and no one likes a canceled check or a zero balance. We would all like to see the I's dotted and the T's crossed, the round pegs in the round holes and the square in the square, but if someone skips a step occasionally we needn't lose much sleep. Even if a court eventually determines that it's not a proper deployment of Executive power, this is a technicality, not an abuse.

The more important question may be, is it working? That is more than the ends justifying the means. If it is working, it shows us that this partnership between NSA and FISA is balanced properly. When things are urgent, NSA acts unilaterally, at least for a few days. When a suspicion is less pressing, action is not taken until the FISA folks get to examine it more minutely. All in all, it adds up to an effective division of duties, like a good marriage.

And on the Abramoff front, permit me to immodestly remind folks that I jumped on that early, right behind Andrew Ferguson (whom I credited), to be exact. Here is my column of last Jan. 12, almost exactly a year ago.

Okay, if you insist, here's a tender morsel from that stew:

Is this as good as it gets? Do we have to adopt cynicism as our new realism? Perhaps we should sit around the bar of an evening, laughing hollowly over our second bottle of hooch, mumbling about how power corrupts. If large sums of cash belonging to goofy tribes and sleepy taxpayers are sitting in unmarked bills in a satchel with the note "Hold for collection by Rostenkowski," does the still-new Republican majority feel obligated to pick it up? After all, we must maintain continuity in governance.

It's starting to smell like a rodent and the miasma is bad for my asthma. The time has come to stanch the stench. This needs to stop, and stop now. If Republicans want to keep the public trust, they need to clear the air and clean the lobby. We know that these folks started out as good people: Jack and Armstrong, the all-American boys. They came as greenhorns to Washington; then, they could not resist trying to horn in on the green. We need to do a gut check and follow our own credo of respecting the taxpayer's money.

When Culture War Meets Late Night: Letterman v. O'Reilly

I have always been a David Letterman fan. Rooted for him, wanted to see him succeed. Still have fond memories of the old NBC days when he wore hightops with his blazers.

On the other hand, I have typically not liked Bill O'Reilly much. Have seen him as a blowhard. Have thought he thinks too highly of himself.

The proverbial shoe is now on the other foot. I read the transcript of O'Reilly's appearance on Letterman where the host was much less than gracious. Points against him. O'Reilly, on the other hand, stood up to a potentially very intimidating situation with a lot of class. Points for him.

Now, I think I like Letterman a lot less and O'Reilly quite a bit more.

Here's the transcript of most of their chat:

DAVID LETTERMAN, HOST, "THE DAVID LETTERMAN SHOW": How were your holidays, good?

O'REILLY: I had a nice winter solstice, yes.


You can't say Christmas.

LETTERMAN: You can't say Christmas?


LETTERMAN: Why is that?

O'REILLY: Because it's politically incorrect. And we did a lot of reporting on this.

LETTERMAN: I wasn't aware that you couldn't say Christmas.


LETTERMAN: When did this happen?

O'REILLY: I actually got a card from a friend of mine that said have a blessed winter.


I live in New York. You know what you can do with your blessed winter, you know what I'm talking about?

LETTERMAN: I wasn't aware this had happened.

O'REILLY: Yes, you weren't aware of the big, giant controversy over Christmas? You didn't hear that?

LETTERMAN: Well, it doesn't really affect me. I go ahead and do what I want to do. And you know - I mean, but isn't this the kind of thing where like once or twice every 20 years, somebody gets outraged and says, oh, by God, we got to put diapers on horses. Isn't it just about - is this like so what, let it go, it'll take care of itself?

O'REILLY: No. There is a movement in this country by politically correct people to erode traditions.

LETTERMAN: I don't think this is an actual threat. I think that this is something that happened here and it happened there. And so people like you are trying to make us think that it's a threat.

O'REILLY: Wrong.


Memphis, Tennessee, Bible belt, library, they have a little display where you can — say you are in a duck hunting club. You can bring in a dead duck and put it there and advertise your duck hunting club.

There was a church that wanted to advertise a Christmas pageant. So they brought in the manger scene. And the library said you can have the manger scene in Memphis, Tennessee, but you can't have the baby Jesus, Joseph, or Mary, or the wise men. We're not sure about the shepherds. That was the big debate. Now how stupid and crazy is this?

LETTERMAN: Yes, I don't believe you.

O'REILLY: It's true!


LETTERMAN: I just don't believe you. Let's talk about your friends in the Bush administration. Things seem to be darker now.

O'REILLY: It's pretty rough, you know, but they're not my friends in the Bush administration. I mean, they're not kicking the door down to be on my show.

In fact, you have an easier time getting President Bush to come on here than I have in getting him on "“The Factor”." But I think that the Iraq thing has been full of unintended consequences.

The simplistic stuff about it, hating Bush or he lied and all this stuff does the country no good at all. Our philosophy is we call it as we see it. Sometimes you agree. Sometimes you don't. Robust debate is good.

But we believe that the United States, particularly the military, are doing a noble thing.


O'REILLY: A noble thing. The soldiers and Marines are noble. They're not terrorists. And when people call them that, like Cindy Sheehan called the insurgents freedom fighters, we don't like that.

It is a vitally important time in American history. And we should all take it very seriously, and be very careful with what we say.

LETTERMAN: Well, and you should be very careful with what you say also.

O'REILLY: Exactly.

LETTERMAN: Have you lost family members in armed conflict?

O'REILLY: No, I have not.

LETTERMAN: Well, then you can hardly speak for her, can you?

O'REILLY: Well, I'm not speaking for her.


All right, let me ask you this question.

LETTERMAN: Let's go back to your little red and green story.

O'REILLY: Wait, wait, wait, this is important. This is important. Cindy Sheehan lost a son, a professional soldier in Iraq, correct? She has a right to grieve any way she wants. She has a right to say whatever she wants.

When she says to the public that the insurgents and terrorists are freedom fighters, how do you think, David Letterman, that makes people who lost loved ones by these people blowing the hell out of them, how do you think they feel? What about their feelings, sir?

LETTERMAN: So why are we there in the first place? I agree to you — with you that we have to support the troops. They are there. They are the best and the brightest of this country.


There's no doubt about that.

And I also agree that now we're in it, it's going to take a long, long time. People don't expect it to be solved and wrapped up in a couple of years. Unrealistic. It's not going to happen.

I'm very concerned about people like yourself who don't have nothing but endless sympathy for a woman like Cindy Sheehan, honest to Christ.

O'REILLY: No, I'm sorry. No way a terrorist who blows up women and children is going to be called a freedom fighter on my program.


LETTERMAN: I'm not smart enough to debate you point to point on this, but I have the feeling — I have the feeling about.


LETTERMAN: I have the feeling about 60 percent of what you say is crap, but I don't know that for a fact.

O'REILLY: Sixty?

LETTERMAN: Did I 60 percent? 60 percent, that's just — I'm just spit balling here now.

O'REILLY: Listen, I respect your opinion. You should respect mine.

LETTERMAN: Well, I — I - yes, OK.


But I think you're.

O'REILLY: Our analysis is based on the best evidence we can get.

LETTERMAN: Yes, but I think there's something — this fair and balanced, I'm not sure that it's — I don't think that you represent an objective viewpoint.

O'REILLY: But you have to give me an example if you're going to make those statements.

LETTERMAN: Well, I don't watch your show, so that would be impossible.


O'REILLY: Then why would you come to that conclusion if you don't watch the program?

LETTERMAN: Because of things that I have read, things that I know.

O'REILLY: Oh, come on, you're going to take things that you've read? You know what they say about you? Come on.


Watch it for a couple — look, watch it for a half an hour. You'll get addicted. You'll be a "Factor" fan. We'll send you a hat.

Frankly, handling things this way was stupid on Letterman's part. He alienated a significant portion of his viewership through disrespect of someone they may like and views they surely find agreeable. It's the politics of celebs all over again. You like them, enjoy their work, they shoot off their mouth, and game over.

And just in case you wonder whether Letterman was shooting off his mouth, read the transcript again. He admits he really doesn't know that much.

Abramoff! Abramoff!

This guy was supposedly hired for his political and public relations expertise:

If he was going for Johnny Cash, he missed the target. If he was going for Black Bart, the evilest man to occupy either the Longbranch Saloon or Enron, then he nailed it.


Do you hear that sound? It's Ralph Reed's candidacy going up in flames in Georgia. Before the primary, even.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Personal Style and Personal Substance in the Omniculture

I'm grateful to Hunter Baker for pointing us to Mark Judge's article on the American Spectator site.

Actually, I think that Mark makes some excellent points, although I agree that he pushes the relationship between style and Christianity too far. Other than that, however, I think Mark is quite right. Most prominent conservatives today have little appreciation of the fine arts, and they show little respect for style, just as Mark says. Among the causes for this, I would suggest the fact that conservatism used to be a more elite position than it has been since Reagan, who made real the populism that Goldwater's candidacy had begun. In addition, the paucity of widely agreed-upon, central standards, the lack of which is a major element of the Omniculture, ensures that elevation and excellence will become minority pursuits.

Another aspect of the Ominiculture that is relevant here is the overall cultural (and political and social) egalitarianism of American society during the past century. It is why, for example, both clothing styles and personal manners have become less formal: to allow those who have not been raised with elevated tastes, to feel that they too have social standing. The outcome of this honorable intention, however, is that instead of raising the manners and appreciation for beauty among what used to be called the lower orders, the standards have been brought down to enable all to reach them. It is the social equivalent of social promotion in schools.

That is rather a pity, I think, but this is a condition that will not necessarily be permanent. There are forces already arising to create a thirst for diversity and originality, and although at this point the manifestations of this phenomenon have not included a strong component of respect for elevation and beauty (indeed, rather the opposite), it is possible that such a thing could happen. However, unless and until most of society agrees on a common set of standards, that remains highly unlikely.

I'm Not Down with the Christian Metrocon Thing

Mark Gauvreau Judge is a good writer, but I think he should have left this one in the unsubmitted file. His basic thesis is that the red state identity basically celebrates cretinism. I disagree with that, despite not really loving NASCAR, Bill O'Reilly, and some of the other targets he picks.

But what is really offensive is that he somehow conflates wearing the right clothes and discriminating consumerism with advanced spirituality in the Christian sense.

I don't think so.

At the risk of repeating myself, I'll include my letter to the editor on the piece:

Dear Editor,

I've always liked Mark Gauvreau Judge's work, but I find at least part of his central thesis about the superiority of being a metrocon questionable and maybe even objectionable. While I agree that there is nothing to celebrate about being tacky or willfully ignorant (which I'm not sure his target group really is), I disagree vigorously that the "second growth" of spirituality involves learning how to purchase and wear the right clothing and accessories. Natty apparel has never been a sign of spiritual maturity as far as I can tell. Were it so the fashionistas would be the deepest folk on earth.

It is one thing to argue that many of today's conservatives don't hold a candle to William F. Buckley on style points (surely, they do not), but to conflate that point with spiritual maturity and depth evokes a Christianity of which I'm not aware. Certainly, a preference for Brooks Brothers over Wal-Mart does little to inform one about the nobility of a particular soul. In fact, the good book might make the opposite case.

Hunter Baker
Contributor to The Reform Club
Athens, Georgia

What's Wrong with Socialism?

Mary Katherine Ham is posting over at HughHewitt.com. If he let’s her post a little more often, I might forgive him for the Harriet Miers debacle.

She says something about socialism that resonates deeply with my own thoughts:

So, conversations with socialists. I have them. A lot.

I have them with that special brand of socialist-- the 20-something post-collegiate angsty intellectual who has the luxury of saying Fidel Castro "has some pretty good ideas" because, for him, it's not a national talking point enforced at the muzzle of a gun and the blindfolded brink of a ditch. That kind of socialist.

They're good folks. They truly do want the best for people. They think "equal" necessarily equals "good." They, therefore, want equality enforced.

Sometimes during these conversations, my big-government buddies concede, "All right, so maybe it doesn't always work in practice, but it's a nice thought."

I used to concede that point. "Yes, it's a nice idea in theory," I'd say, "But it never works in practice. In fact, it's disastrous, deadly, and scoops out people's souls like so many cold lumps of cosmic ice cream, splatted on the sidewalks of humanity. But you're getting the picture."

In the last couple years, I've had to revise that. The truth is that it is not a nice idea, in theory. Well, not if you actually think about what the theory implies.

Socialism is enforced equality. But someone has to enforce. Someone has to take all that a country of dynamic, amazing, different people has produced and slice it up into dull, government-approved parcels that go to each according to his need. So much for diversity, right?

This means that no one owns anything except for the guy doing the enforcing of equality, who without fail, feels a lot less strongly about his own equality with the proletariat than he does about the rabble's equality with each other. That's how Fidel Castro ended up on the Forbe's list of richest people.

This guy inevitably gets a little testy when folks step out of line by wanting to own the things they earn, thereby cutting down on his net worth. And by testy, I mean blood-thirsty and murdery.

Mary Katherine has it exactly right. Beware Chavez-istas. You won’t like the future.

The Ebooks Are Coming! The Ebooks Are Coming! No, Really!

What’s a guy with a carefully developed collection of books to do?  

My father-in-law was a high-level academic librarian for many years.  He always said the book is so good at doing its basic job, there will probably not be a solid replacement for it.

I’m beginning to suspect he might have been wrong about that.

Exhibit A:  I saw a fellow reading a book on some sort of electronic notepad device (possibly a tablet PC) recently.  He also appeared to be able to electronically mark it up.  Looked very good.

Exhibit B:  Michael Hyatt’s weblog keeps mentioning that something like an iPod for readers is coming and it will have a big impact on the market.  Since Hyatt is the president of big publisher Thomas Nelson, I think he knows whereof he speaks.  His latest post really has me sweating it.

Why am I sweating it?  

Because I realize that someday my collection may become quite obsolete and I will be able to do more, faster, better, etc. with a massive collection of books on some tiny media device.

Of course, I’m a Ph.D. student now and can’t wait for even next year.  Still, it hurts a little to know I keep moving all these boxes of books when obsolescence is around the corner.

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.