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

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Canned Openers

Reform Clubbers get a five hour jump on the rest of the nation in enjoying the latest piece at The American Spectator by everyone's favorite columnist.

This one is a primer on how to begin an effective column with a witty opener. 25 examples should suffice to give you the idea.

Please drop by afterwards and share with us the tally of how many chuckles we scored out of 25.

Ben Stein’s Blunder

Ben Stein’s column in The New York Times, February 12, says, “CEOs routinely take home hundreds of times what the average worker is paid, whether or not the company is doing well. The graph for the pay of CEOs is a vertical line in the last five years.”

These statements are wildly incorrect. Estimates of CEO pay in 2005 won’t be available until April. But two pair of professional critics of CEO pay have calculated that compensation of CEOs of the largest corporations fell by 48-54 percent from 2000 to 2003.

Thomas Piketty and Emmanuel Saez gathered one set of CEO pay from Forbes, by cherry-picking a revolving list of top 100. By that selective measure (which is not at all “average”) CEO pay fell from $40.4 million in 2000 to $18.5 million in 2003, or 54 percent.

The reason should be obvious: As much as 78 percent of elite CEO pay in the late 1990s came from exercising options granted in the early 1990s, while options granted at the peak of the boom were soon worth little or nothing as stock prices crashed from about March 2000 to March 2003.

Another set of estimates was assembled by Lucian Bebchuck and Yaniv Grinstein. For S&P 500 firms, they figure that CEO pay fell from $17.4 million in 2000 to $9.1 million in 2003, or 48 percent. Among small-cap firms, CEO pay never got much above $2 million, where it was in 2003. Among mid-cap firms, CEO pay fell from $5.1 million in 1999 to $4 million in 2003.

Any increase in CEO pay since 2003 needs to be put in the context of what happened before. CEOs in the Piketty-Saez elite 100 earned considerably less in 2003 than a different “top 100” did in 1996. The broader, more comparable Bebchuck-Grinstein list of 500 earned no more in 2003 than they did in 1997. In those 5 years the "trend" in CEO pay was much closer to horizonatal than vertical (albeit with a big spike in the middle), and CEO pay has been almost steadily down since 1998 among all but the biggest firms.

As for Ben's comment about CEO’s supposedly earning “hundreds of times” what the average worker is paid, “The State of Working America 2005” from the Economic Policy Institute estimates “the ratio of CEO to average worker pay” at 145 in 2002 and 185 in 2003. The further-left pamphlet “Executive Excess” fabricated a figure of 431, but did so by such devices as multiplying weekly wages of part-timers by 52 weeks and calling that average worker pay.

When it comes to writing about CEO pay, it appears perfectly acceptable to make totally false statements of fact so long as the accompanying rhetoric expresses a righteous sense of outrage. Personally, I find the absence of journalistic standards on this topic far more outrageous than anyone's income, even in Hollywood.

Love Pistils

Forgetting for a moment whether Valentine’s Day has religious antecedents or it is just a Hallmark and FTD gimmick to sell cards and flowers, the pertinent question should be: “Is it positive for a society to have a day that celebrates love?”

One potential argument can be easily swatted away, the one that points at various manifestations of illicit love, or at any rate questionable sexuality identifying itself as love. Sure, it is fascinating to read that private detective agencies around the country are booked to capacity with surveillance work of wayward spouses whose paramours demand a surreptitious visit during the course of the day. Still, it is not reasonable to reject social institutions on the basis of their abusers; the sun itself served as a magnet for much idolatry in its early history. The only legitimate complaint would be if a case could be made that the holiday apotheosizes love in a way that encourages abuse. This is patently not the case here.

Still we ask. Is love a phenomenon that benefits society?


THE BIBLE HAS always fascinated me on the subject of love. Concentrating on the five books of Moses, we note that only two couples have their love, and its genesis, recorded in the text. Adam, Noah, Abraham, Joseph and Moses all get married at some point in the narrative, and some of the interactions in the marriages are transcribed, but at no point is their feeling for each other specifically described as love. The only two men whose love for their wives is noted are Isaac and Jacob.

Yet the evolution – you should forgive the expression – of those loves are a study in contrasts. In Isaac’s case, there is first extensive research undertaken by his emissary to determine that Rebecca is of a suitable character to be the wife of a great man. Until such clarification has been achieved, they do not even meet. Once all the legwork, and some footwork, had been done by proxy, then the couple finally met in an open field. Thereafter we are advised that Isaac “took Rebecca, made her his wife and he loved her” (Genesis 24:67). First the checklist, then marriage and finally love.

Jacob’s story is quite the opposite. He goes to Haran, hoping to find a wife among the members of his extended family. Stopping at the well, he sees that the shepherds are gathering; it usually takes the combined strength of the entire group to move the stone off the opening to the well. Suddenly he sees Rachel leading her flock of sheep towards the area; immediately he is so energized that he single-handedly lifts the huge rock. The verse twice stresses that he loved her before marriage, even that his love was so powerful that the seven years he worked full-time as a shepherd to win her hand seemed like a small price to pay (ibid 29:1-20). Love at first sight, then a long grueling effort to bring the courtship to fruition and finally marriage.

Clearly the Bible sought to isolate and highlight these two models, each legitimate in a given setting. There is the conservative by-the-book approach of finding a good match, with the prospect of a cumulative love emerging from the shared experiences of marriage. Then we have the prophetic flash of love at first sight, where the bond precedes all the rationales and Fate emblazons its signature on the emotions before reason gets a chance to blink. Since in Jewish tradition Isaac represents the transitional figure whose charge is to be a guardian of the family patrimony and Jacob is considered the perfected man who brings history to climactic moments, their two versions of love and marriage seem to suit their roles.

Hollywood, along with most romantic literature, is more captivated by the second version, and our reading bears them out. Love at first sight may be exciting in a sensual way, too, but more than anything it is a spiritual experience; it reinforces the notion that there is a Creator who has a plan for you and has designed someone who complements you perfectly, like two puzzle pieces that seem awkward apart and symmetrical together. Add to that the idea that it is the Jacob-type personality, the closer, the man who makes big things happen, who has this experience, and it becomes the dream of every person. Perhaps destiny will visit me in this dramatic way and mark me as a candidate for an extra-meaningful life.

In either of its forms, love makes us whole. It takes us out of ourselves into the world of the other. We are reminded, sometimes a tad shrilly, that there are other ways to approach things, other ways to see the world, other tastes and flavors to life. Bring it on, I say, let us be a nation of lovers. Now where did I put that phone number for the florist…?

Monday, February 13, 2006

Where Nothing is Sacred, Nothing is Profane

Or so goes the Western thinking on the cartoons in question.

This article from the dreaded National Review points out that Muhammad has been shown in portraits all through Muslim history. That should be the counterargument in the current brouhaha, not an insistence of the "right" to bait someone else with cartoons. (Let's be frank---offense was definitely intended by them.) It's one thing to have some respect for a religion (which is really for the people who believe in it), quite another to give relativistic tolerance to the crazies' own interpretations of it.

If this clash of civilizations, and it is indeed one, is going to be kept from becoming a full-scale war, it's going to be up to those in the West to study up and engage Islam on its own terms. Hopefully, there's enough liberalism in its history to build on and enable it to turn the corner from the implacable enemy of Western Civilization to something that won't kill us or necessitate us killing them.

(A new scholarly approach to the Qur'an is discussed here. It is imperative that it or something like it succeed.)

My favorite GK Chesterton quote is "reason is always a kind of brute force; those who appeal to the head rather than the heart, however pallid and polite, are necessarily men of violence. We speak of 'touching' a man's heart, but we can do nothing to his head but hit it."

Beating Muslims about the head to teach them the absolute value of free speech rights shows a lack of prudence if not outright brutishness. If Muslims are willing to die for their faith (and they are), then faith is a matter of life and death, on a higher plane than the exercise of "rights." (I say this because I myself am not inclined to die for the right to publish aggressively offensive cartoons, but more importantly, I am certainly not willing to kill for it. But there are things for which I would do both.)

The West's exercise of the right to publish unflattering cartoons of Muhammad is consistent with its worship of reason. But to the Muslim mind, where faith is more important than life itself, and where personal identity, honor and dignity are inextricably linked with that faith, it is an unspeakable violence, as real as any violence in this world. Unless we are willing to kill and die for these cartoons to match the commitment on the other side, perhaps we ought to take a breath here.

One need not respect faith in order to respect the reality of the situation. The West uses pictures of Muhammad as a truncheon at its own peril, not so much for the threat of retaliation, but for the loss of opportunity. Better to learn the language of Islam, engage it as it understands itself, and find out if there's any way we can learn to share this earth. The hideous alternative will always remain, looming.

Freedom of Speech for Them but Not for Us

Charles Krauthammer has it just right in his column on the Western intellectuals' and journalists' reaction to the "studied frenzy over the Danish Muhammed cartoons" in the Muslim world. Krauthammer makes the point that Western self-styled "moderates" are not being evenhanded when they endorse the principle of free expression while "they criticize the Danish newspaper for abusing that right by publishing offensive cartoons, and they declare themselves opposed, in the name of religious sensitivity, to doing the same."

In refusing to republish the cartoons, the Western media are giving in to a mob:

The mob is trying to dictate to Western newspapers, indeed Western governments, what is a legitimate subject for discussion and caricature. The cartoons do not begin to approach the artistic level of Salman Rushdie's prose, but that's not the point. The point is who decides what can be said and what can be drawn within the precincts of what we quaintly think of as the free world.

Krauthammer points out that the Western press and intellectuals have shown no sympathy whatever when Western leftists have created works openly insulting Christianity. You can easily find photos of "Piss Christ," a so-called art exhibition that explicitly did just that. When Christians are being attacked, the Western pseudointelligentsia and their journalistic catamites stick their fingers in their ears and shout "freedom of the press!!!!"

But when it is Islam being insulted, suddenly freedom of the press is less important than sensitivity. But why are the the intellectuals and their bag carriers so concerned about the sensitivities of alien people living thousands of miles away in self-created nightmare conditions when these same self-styled Western eminences are so unmoved by the concerns of their Christian neighbors? (Those same neighbors whose principles led to the modern idea of freedom of the press, incidentally.) Westerners who praise the Islamic "moderates" who are asking the mobs to quiet down, the Western press are, in Krauthammer's apt phrase, endorsing the goals of the mob while not endorsing the means:

What passes for moderation in the Islamic community -- "I share your rage but don't torch that embassy" -- is nothing of the sort. It is simply a cynical way to endorse the goals of the mob without endorsing its means. It is fraudulent because, while pretending to uphold the principle of religious sensitivity, it is interested only in this instance of religious insensitivity.

Have any of these "moderates" ever protested the grotesque caricatures of Christians and, most especially, Jews that are broadcast throughout the Middle East on a daily basis? The sermons on Palestinian TV that refer to Jews as the sons of pigs and monkeys? The Syrian prime-time TV series that shows rabbis slaughtering a gentile boy to ritually consume his blood? The 41-part (!) series on Egyptian TV based on that anti-Semitic czarist forgery (and inspiration of the Nazis), "The Protocols of the Elders of Zion," showing the Jews to be engaged in a century-old conspiracy to control the world?

A true Muslim moderate is one who protests desecrations of all faiths. Those who don't are not moderates but hypocrites, opportunists and agents for the rioters, merely using different means to advance the same goal: to impose upon the West, with its traditions of freedom of speech, a set of taboos that is exclusive to the Islamic faith. These are not defenders of religion but Muslim supremacists trying to force their dictates upon the liberal West.

Krauthammer says, "What is at issue is fear. The unspoken reason many newspapers do not want to republish is not sensitivity but simple fear. They know what happened to Theo van Gogh, who made a film about the Islamic treatment of women and got a knife through the chest with an Islamist manifesto attached." The Westerners' sensitivity, he says, is simply an attempt to keep the Islamic hordes' anger concentrated on the Danes and the few other European newspapers that reprinted the cartoons.

I believe that the level of fear is an important element, however. The Western intellectuals certainly fear Islam, but the threat appears quite distant and attenuated at this time, so they believe that they can dismiss Islamic rage as no real, immediate threat. They figure, if radical Muslims do anything really bad to us, as they did five years ago, we can always get behind our government in a concerted response as we did then, while the fear-adrenaline was still coursing through our veins. That should stop the problem. Plus, most Muslims are moderate and really don't want to kill us, and they certainly don't want to get bombed and crushed under Westerners' tanks because of a few big-mouthed religious fanatics in their midst. We can count on their good sense to stop the radicals among them, and if that fails, our government will step in and threaten the bad guys with serious retaliation, at which point they will retreat with their tails between their legs and resume murdering people in Indonesia, the Philippines, Saudi Arabia, Africa, and other places that don't affect us.

In short, they believe, Islam is a threat, but a distant and easily defeatable one.

Christians and believing Jews, by contrast, are all around us, the Western psuedointelligentsia observes, and these particular religious fanatics pose an immediate threat to our freedom. These lunatics want to force us to have replicas of the Ten Commandments on our courthouse lawns, to hear people pray in our forcibly tax-supported schools, to have voters (instead of the Supreme Court) decide what a human life is and how it should be protected, to teach children that Darwin's theory is just a theory, and other such instances of their repulsive Western version of Sharia law.

Those people must be stopped, and any way we can undermine their faith is a very good thing indeed, think the Western intellectuals and their lapdogs in the media. That is why there is this disconnect between the Western press's treatment of Islam and its attitude toward Christianity and Judaism.

Flacking a Flick

Finally I had the opportunity to see The Great Raid, based on Laura Ingraham's recommendation a few months ago.

It is absolutely fabulous. It is done with balance, very honest and very powerful. Besides for being pleasurable and educational, I think that there is a social virtue in giving a few dollars to the producers of this sort of valuable work.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Plugging the Commenter's Work

We seem to have picked up comments from an author (Carl Olson) at Ignatius Press. Since I happen to be the happy owner of several of their volumes (despite my continuing status as an evangelical "separated brethren" type), I'm going to make it easy for those interested in reading further about the controversy over The Da Vinci Code by clicking here.

I haven't read Dan Brown's blockbuster and probably won't. I'm in the camp that thinks we're looking at a marketing sensation because the central thesis of the book has not been a recognized serious controversy in the scholarship as far as I know. If someone knows otherwise, please feel free to lay it out in comments to this thread.

Moral Majority Leader?

Due less to her penchant for privacy than to her connection to a political family, my friend would rather I did not mention her name as the author of this clever quatrain.

Hurray for old John Boehner
New broom and all of that
Morals pass through a strainer
Lives in a lobbyist's flat!

Still, if she's a friend of mine you could be sure that she was at one time Miss Someplace-or-Other. Nuff said!

The DaVinci Cod

Ross Douthat has a pretty persuasive post on why Christians (at the least) shouldn't bother
to go see the movie version of the DaVinci code. I think he's right, but not for quite the right reasons. He says it's just "anti-Christian" propaganda. I think that gives it too much praise. Philip Pullman's fantasy trilogy is anti-Christian propaganda - it's Nietzsche with a wizard's hat on, you might say. The DVC is pure marketing. Why do you think Dan Brown (the author) makes ambiguous claims about whether things in the book are true or not, hmm? It's right out of the "Blair Witch Project." Whatever the postmoderns around us say about the death of Truth with a capital "T" it's still pretty powerful and alluring. Even when it's false.

Bush Sr. Seconds My Emotion

He thought the funeral jabs were out of bounds, too.

Listen up, folks. When I run out of steam and do my own version of the great cross-over, I expect to have a few friends on the left, just as I do now. I dearly hope that no one speaking for me will seize the moment to pee on their heads from the lectern.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Consensus Nonsense

In a space of less than 24 hours, both "consensus science" and "evidence based medicine" have been mentioned on the Reform Club, and I gather from the comments sections that neither of these terms is being precisely understood.

"Consensus science" does not refer to the perfectly organic, Kuhnian process of scientific progress through hypothesis testing, replication, and peer review. While this process often does produce what might be termed 'consensus' on a body of theory, this is not what the term means. Consensus science is a particular process of reaching conclusions by committee. The rise of the scientific bureaucracies and the vastly increased interconnections between academic science and government that have grown up in the post World War II period have provided the culture medium that consensus science has colonized.

It's only important to produce a consensus if money is being handed out or regulations passed or actions forbidden on the basis of that consensus. From the 1950s through the late 80s these actions were typically intranational, of localized import -- the FDA allows a new drug on the market, NIH gives twenty million dollars to Johns Hopkins, that sort of thing. This changed in 1987 with the negotiation of the Montreal Protocol, an international agreement to phase out the production of chemicals that were thought to deplete stratospheric ozone.

The Montreal Protocol opened the door for similar treaty negotiations on the issue of global climate change. This happened despite the fact that the science underpinning Montreal had much more in common with the limited issues that had typified earlier consensus science than it did with the scientifically immature discipline of global climatology.

Evidence-based medicine is the clinical equivalent of consensus science: it's mass-produced medical treatment by anonymous committee. I am ashamed to admit that while my only role in consensus science has been mid-level onlooker (I was a GS-11 policy analyst at NSF for three years under Reagan and Bush 41) I have played an active, if minor, role in inflicting evidence-based medicine on American citizens. Evidence-based medicine, which sometimes travels under the alias 'best practices' is a centralized medical bureaucracy's attempt to ration care by only allowing those procedures approved by a committee of physicians. Paired with 'computerized medical records' -- another current bugabear that I was alarmed to hear mentioned in the SOTU speech -- you are moving towards having a computer tell your doctor what tests and treatments you should, may, and may not receive, based on running your computerized data through some algorithms coded by a couple of white coated eggheads at McMaster University. I know because I helped write some of them. I also helped design one of the main database applications that makes computerized medical results possible. I'm sorry. If it makes you feel any better, they didn't pay me very well.

Another Conservative Forced out of CPB

Another political conservative has left the federal-government-supported Corporation for Public Broadcasting as the corporation's leaders continue a purge of right-of-center voices that had joined the organization in the past few years, the New York Times reports:

The top television executive at the Corporation for Public Broadcasting announced on Thursday that he would be stepping down. This is the latest in a string of departures of officials and consultants who played central roles in an effort by conservatives to bring what they viewed as more balance to public television and radio.

The executive, Michael Pack, controlled a $70 million production budget and was described by the official who hired him as a conservative Republican. He chose to resign after Patricia S. Harrison, the corporation's new president, forced him to decide between renewing his employment contract and exercising a soon-to-expire option that gives him $500,000 to produce a documentary.

Ms. Harrison said the departures of Mr. Pack and a senior consultant, James Denton, were business decisions and were not part of any purge of ideologically driven officials. "You are connecting dots when there is no connection," she said in an interview. "I have not fired a single person since I came on board here."

But other officials in public broadcasting saw political overtones to the moves. Since being named president of the corporation last June, Ms. Harrison, a former co-chairwoman of the Republican National Committee, has attempted to tamp down a debate
[complaints from the right about leftward bias at the corporation] over balance in programming that has threatened to undermine financial support for public broadcasting from both Congress and private sources. Public broadcasting officials who had been at odds with the corporation said the personnel changes could shore up support among Republican moderates and Democrats, important traditional allies in budget fights.

My answer is the classical liberal one:

End government funding of the Corporation of Public Broadcasting.

I guess that makes me not a "traditional ally" in budget fights. Who would have thought it?

Noonan on King Funeral

A good deal has been said about the tone of the funeral for Corretta Scott King, mostly revolving around whether certain individuals disgraced themselves by turning it too political, and then about whether the complainers were being too sensitive. But it's interesting when ace speechwriter and opinionator Peggy Noonan comments on the affair, as she has done admirably in today's Opinion Journal. Noonan's conclusion is that the funeral was indeed a wonderful thing overall, and a great tribute not only to Mrs. King but to the nation in which she lived and worked:

Listen, I watched the funeral of Coretta Scott King for six hours Tuesday, from the pre-service commentary to the very last speech, and it was wonderful--spirited and moving, rousing and respectful, pugnacious and loving. The old lions of the great American civil rights movement of the 20th century were there, and standing tall. The old lionesses, too. There was preaching and speechifying and at the end I thought: This is how democracy ought to be, ought to look every day--full of the joy of argument, and marked by the moral certainty that here you can say what you think.

There was nothing prissy, nothing sissy about it. A former president, a softly gray-haired and chronically dyspeptic gentleman who seems to have judged the world to be just barely deserving of his presence, pointedly insulted a sitting president who was, in fact, sitting right behind him. The Clintons unveiled their 2008 campaign. A rhyming preacher, one of the old lions, a man of warmth and stature, freely used the occasion to verbally bop the sitting president on the head.

So what? This was the authentic sound of a vibrant democracy doing its thing. It was the exact opposite of the frightened and prissy attitude that if you draw a picture I don't like, I'll have to kill you.

It was: We do free speech here.

That funeral honored us, and the world could learn a lot from watching it. The U.S. government should send all six hours of it throughout the World Wide Web and to every country on earth, because it said more about who we are than any number of decorous U.N. speeches and formal diplomatic declarations.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

חי, or: God, Man, and Global Warming

A fine discussion can be found below this, led by our Hunter Baker, about the propriety of a group of Evangelical Christians inserting itself into the global warming debate. Previously noted was that the Biblical support for Kyoto is rather sketchy. In fact, there's a lot more there about Providence. I found "be fruitful and multiply," but not "blessed are exchangeable pollution credits."

Our friend and occasional commenter Timothy Birdnow cites the Good Book, then observes:

"In the World you have trouble but take heart; I have overcome the World."---John 16:33

An Evangelical Christian has a duty to work to save our good, and work within the political system, but to believe that MAN can destroy the Earth is to believe that God is not in charge.

Indeed. Thank you, Mr. Birdnow. I have mused on this myself.

I admit there are many verses in the Bible that have escaped my notice, and the ones I'm familiar with I don't always hold to a literal interpretation. But the underlying philosophy of the Bible has always struck me as a trust in Providence, and that mean-spiritedness ("mean" in its more original use, common, miserly, an ungenerousness of spirit) is really a sin against the dynamic of life.

There's certainly a Biblical and rabbinic tradition against waste, but it's against wanton waste, the intentional, not accidental, profaning of the gifts showered on us from above.

(I have to tell a story here---I drive my [35 mpg] car almost everywhere by myself. Like most Americans who were disgusted by the roadside litter that peaked in the 70s [and were deeply moved by the commercial with the fake Indian crying about it], I proudly keep my garbage in my car. But I don't always get around to taking it out, so when a friend went to get in the passenger side and a couple dozen burrito wrappers and Big Gulp empties tumbled out, he gasped, "I know how the trash gets out of your car, Tom---it escapes!")

So our aesthetic sense, emotions and our reason lead us to keep our garden clean, but many of the solutions proposed by the worshippers of the environment these days perversely involve not using the garden at all, as if man, God's greatest creation and for whom He created the garden in the first place, is an offense against it.

That seems quite in opposition to what Tevye sang, "L'Chaim," an appreciation of the gift of life, to חי, "living." One lesson I've never got from the Bible is, "Dear Man: You didn't worry about material things enough, so now you're dead. Sorry. Signed, God."

To turn from theology to simple human nature, I also agree with our correspondent Matt Huisman, who writes:

Has anyone ever put together any thoughts on when a point of no return might be (or might look like)? You know, something where the world can look at itself in the mirror and say, "Man, did I let myself go."

Yeah, ain't that how mankind is. I believe we reached that point in the '80s when we could not see through the air in our cities. Then we finally did something about it. Los Angeles was getting unlivable. Now it ain't bad atall.

Push probably will have to come to shove again, as it usually does, but this time the shoe will be on the other foot:

If and when global warming gets too intense, the mean-spirited environmentaloids will have to shut the hell up, and then we'll build a few thousand nuclear power plants in 10 years and use the power to create hydrogen fuel to propel a few billion new hydrogen cars. The earth will chill and the subsequent economic boom will bring us out of the global warming-induced depression.

Life will go on. Those who believe God didn't put us here just to die some miserable ecological death will continue to be fruitful and multiply, to the consternation of those who believe that man was made to serve the garden instead of the other way around.

To the first, I toast L'Chaim, to life. To the rest, I consecrate the burrito wrappers in my car that haven't escaped yet.

Desperately Trying to be Relevant: Evangelicals and Global, Ummm, Warming

I don't know a lot about blog etiquette, but I know what I like and so I'm reproducing this entire post from The Evangelical Outpost's Joe Carter:

Let’s Melt the Ice Cap:Evangelicals, Scientific Consensus, and Global Warming

A group of more than 85 influential evangelical leaders has released a statement, the Evangelical Climate Initiative (ECI), expressing a “biblically driven commitment to curb global warming” and calling on the government to “enact national legislation to reduce carbon dioxide emissions that are contributing to global climate change.”

The group's manifesto, "Climate Change: An Evangelical Call for Action", includes a FAQ explaining the urgency of the issue. “Millions of people could die in this century because of climate change,” notes the website. “Why? Climate change will make natural disasters like floods, droughts, and hurricanes more damaging.” The site also notes that “few are in denial about the reality of the problem, a scientific consensus that climate change must be addressed has actually existed since 1995.”

Is there a scientific consensus that climate change is occurring? An article in Newsweek appears to provide strong evidence for that claim:

There are ominous signs that the Earth’s weather patterns have begun to change dramatically and that these changes may portend a drastic decline in food production– with serious political implications for just about every nation on Earth….

The evidence in support of these predictions has now begun to accumulate so massively that meteorologists are hard-pressed to keep up with it. In England, farmers have seen their growing season decline by about two weeks since 1950, with a resultant overall loss in grain production estimated at up to 100,000 tons annually. During the same time, the average temperature around the equator has risen by a fraction of a degree – a fraction that in some areas can mean drought and desolation. Last April, in the most devastating outbreak of tornadoes ever recorded, 148 twisters killed more than 300 people and caused half a billion dollars' worth of damage in 13 U.S. states.

To scientists, these seemingly disparate incidents represent the advance signs of fundamental changes in the world's weather. Meteorologists disagree about the cause and extent of the trend, as well as over its specific impact on local weather conditions. But they are almost unanimous in the view that the trend will reduce agricultural productivity for the rest of the century. If the climatic change is as profound as some of the pessimists fear, the resulting famines could be catastrophic. “A major climatic change would force economic and social adjustments on a worldwide scale,” warns a recent report by the National Academy of Sciences, “because the global patterns of food production and population that have evolved are implicitly dependent on the climate of the present century.”

This article would appear to shore up the ECI’s claim that “Climate change, also called global warming, is an urgent problem that can and must be solved.” Except that the article is titled “The Cooling World” and is dated April 28, 1975 during a time when the scientific consensus held that climate change, known back then as global cooling, was leading to a new Ice Age.

After a long history of eschatological predictions that that fail to come to fruition, you’d think that evangelicals would be more skeptical of doomsday scenarios. But like most people, we tend to have short memories and forget that what was once considered “scientific consensus” (global cooling will lead to environmental disaster) and “conventional wisdom” (the population explosion will lead to global famine) isn't always gospel truth.

We also tend to suffer from “chronological snobbery”, the presumption that whatever has gone out of date is on that account discredited, and are prone to believe that since global warming is the consensus in 2006 that it is more likely to be true than the 1975 consensus that global warming was occurring. But if we were wrong in 1975 then perhaps we should be careful of assuming that we are warranted in believing that we are right just because the calendar says it is 2006.

We might also have justification for being skeptical of the idea of “consensus science.” In an intriguing lecture at Caltech titled “Aliens Cause Global Warming” , author Michael Crichton has some harsh words for the oxymoronic concept:

I want to pause here and talk about this notion of consensus, and the rise of what has been called consensus science. I regard consensus science as an extremely pernicious development that ought to be stopped cold in its tracks. Historically, the claim of consensus has been the first refuge of scoundrels; it is a way to avoid debate by claiming that the matter is already settled. Whenever you hear the consensus of scientists agrees on something or other, reach for your wallet, because you're being had.

Let's be clear: the work of science has nothing whatever to do with consensus. Consensus is the business of politics. Science, on the contrary, requires only one investigator who happens to be right, which means that he or she has results that are verifiable by reference to the real world. In science consensus is irrelevant. What is relevant is reproducible results. The greatest scientists in history are great precisely because they broke with the consensus.

There is no such thing as consensus science. If it's consensus, it isn't science. If it's science, it isn't consensus. Period.

A counterargument that is often presented is that since it is possible that global warming is occurring we are better off taking action now than waiting for confirmation that we are correct. Some people have the attitude of the BR-549 song that “Sometimes I gotta' do somethin' even if it's wrong.”

But what we had followed the proposals offered in the late 1970’s to counter global cooling? What if we had followed what Newsweek refers to as the “more spectacular solutions proposed” of melting the Arctic ice cap by covering it with black soot or diverting arctic rivers? These former solutions are now considered some of the dire consequences of our planet overheating.

But even the less far-fetched proposals can have a devastating impact. For example, there was much hand-ringing over the U.S. refusal to sign the Kyoto Protocol even though it would have cost $150 billion annually and have only delayed the warming expected in 2100 by six years. For half that cost, notes Danish statistician Bjorn Lomborg, we could provide clean drinking water, sanitation, and basic health care and education for every person in the world.

Almost all policy proposals offered to counter global warming would impede economic growth. The ECI warns that “millions of people could die in this century because of climate change.” But millions of people are already dying every year because of the greatest cause of environmental disaster on the planet: poverty. As Lomborg explains in the latest issue of The Wilson Quarterly:

The single most important environmental problem in the world today is indoor air pollution, caused by poor people cooking and heating their homes with dung and cardboard. The UN estimates that such pollutions causes 2.8 million deaths annually—about the same as HIV/AIDS. The solution, however is not environmental measures but economic changes that let these people get rich enough to afford kerosene.

While Bob Geldof is sponsoring global concerts that “raise awareness”, you won’t find too many celebrities raising money to end “indoor air pollution.” Handing out kerosene simply doesn’t have the same hip cache as handing out condoms. Even if it kills more people than HIV/AIDS, it will never be the issue du jour of the rich and famous.

That is why it is imperative that the evangelical community stand in the gap. Instead of keeping our car's engine tuned as a way to fight global warming, we need to keep our attention tuned to the realities of our fellow man. Global warming may be the pressing environmental problem in 2106, but in 2006 the urgent ecological concern is poverty.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Sands Souci

The quality of the posts at Reform Club today has been striking. And perusing the debate between Shaw and Chesterton, thoughtfully provided for our delight by the always stimulating Mr. Van Dyke, has been thoroughly absorbing.

With all this cream cropping up, my own humble offering looks positively wan. But I know you'll read it anyway to "be there for me"; that's what, as Elton John and Stevie Wonder and Dionne Warwick and Gladys Knight remind us, friends are fo-o-o-or.

I was going for a sort of interesting effect, combining a few elements: writing about lying on the beach in February, initially teasing the freezing Midwesterners and Northeasterners, then dancing along the fault line between the peace of escape and the lurking fear that there is no escape; personalizing the experience in a way that invites folks to join me on that beach and share a sort of vision, all the while getting distracted from my theme by the foreground and background effects. Very postmodern literary stuff, but even if you're not into the inside-baseball theory you should be able to kick back and see if the effect comes through.

Here is a glimmer:

It's February 8, 2006, one o'clock in the afternoon and I am lying on a beach in Miami. Afflatus had been bypassing my desk for a while, so I decided that perhaps Mother Nature was beckoning. Here I am beside God's glorious ocean, nary a man or woman within eyeshot of my secluded spot. Turquoise water flows toward me from a seam in the sapphire sky. A pair of gulls eye me warily as I wiggle my toes in the toasty sand. A sweet breeze -- it is winter, you know -- wafts tingling across my chest. And a gallery of seashell art glistens in wavy mounds of sand to mark the place where Paradise merges into Main Street. My scanty accoutrements of civilization: a pen, a sheet of foolscap and a copy of The American Spectator.

How's that for cutting a path through the pathos to take a bath in the bathos?

Insufficient Evidence

In my post about the ill treatment the President received at Coretta Scott King's funeral I declared her to be an advocate for school choice. From my public policy work in Atlanta in the first three years of the millennium, that's what I remembered. However, upon researching the issue I can't find a solid quote from her and have seen at least one thing to indicate her views may have been more public education union-oriented than I previously believed.

I've found that her niece Alveda and her daughter Bernice both support school choice. I can show that former Atlanta mayor and top King aide Andrew Young supports school choice. Ditto a number of other King associates. But I cannot clearly show the same about Coretta Scott King. The opposite may well be true.

I've preached and preached about not standing by false assertions. Since I can't find the support for this one I thought I had, I have to withdraw it in a regular post.

I continue to believe that a woman of Mrs. King's class and obvious character would not have appreciated the way an honored guest was treated at her funeral, but my belief that she was engaged in THE civil rights battle in the U.S. today is not clearly supportable.

The Grammies and the State of Popular Music Today

My article on the current state of popular music appears in today's edition of National Review Online.

A sample:

Award shows are almost invariably about three things: p.r., p.r., and p.r. The leaders of an industry get together not to honor greatness or artistry but instead to recognize those who most fully exemplify the things that make money.

Thus it is with the Grammy awards, the recording industry’s big annual event, which will be shown on CBS tonight. What makes money today in the recording industry is apparently two things: intellectual simplicity and overt passion. Thus the nominations for major awards tend toward works with simple, driving beats, lyrics that express an uncomplicated point of view, and wailing or shrieking vocals loosely derived from the gospel-music tradition. (The drawling inflections of rap seem to derive from country music more than anything else, which itself has gospel roots.)

Jonah Goldberg aptly described the prevailing attitude of contemporary pop music on NRO last week as “canned rebelliousness.” The appeal of canned rebelliousness, I would submit, is that it allows a consumer to feel both individualistic and one of the crowd. That appears to be a central premise of consumer culture, as it happens.

The great majority of the article, however, is a look at a sampling of the "significant number of artists [who] are venturing outside the boundaries to create music that is simultaneously interesting, pleasing, educative, and challenging," including my choices for Debut of the Year and Album of the Year. I hope that our readers will enjoy the article and find it informative and constructive.

More Shameless Self-Promotion

Here are a couple of links to recent essays, respectively on the true source of the "crisis" in U.S. health care, and the "oil addiction" balderdash. Comments welcome.



The Reform Club Past and Future: A Meal, Not a Snack, But Above That, Always a Damned Good Smoke

(L to R) George Bernard Shaw, Hilaire Belloc, GK Chesterton, 1928.

It will not do to paper over the fundamentals.

Every society reaches a point where it must examine its principles and choose whether to recommit to them or toss 'em out for new ones. Although in 2006 it gets clearer every day that Western Civilization has reached that point, the question of the Crisis of the West was brought into exquisite focus nearly 100 years ago by a group of British gentlemen who called themselves The Reform Club.

Orthodoxy or modernity? That's the tension lying behind almost every issue of our times, and to recognize that is the first step to understanding not only our times, but our society, our own lives, and the human condition.

Current events are a likely starting point, because we share some commonality with the particulars. But for us to seek genuine understanding, they must only be a starting point. To duplicate the babble (perhaps the most deeply rooted etymology in the English language: the Tower of Babel, where no one is intelligible to the other) that passes for intelligent discussion elsewhere and everywhere is insufficient to the purpose of this blog, which like that club of visionaries in the past century is dedicated to the search for foundational, not ephemeral, truths.

Is Bush a power-mad jerk? Perhaps, but power-mad jerks are the vocabulary of politics, the price of doing business: they are far more common than uncommon. We shall not solve them permanently, and to rail against this one or that one may contain truth, but it's only a passing truth. Meet the new boss, same as the old boss. We are here for more than that.

In 1928, the orthodox GK Chesterton debated his existential enemy, the modernist George Bernard Shaw (with Hilaire Belloc as moderator), on how our society should order itself economically. It took me half an hour to relocate the transcript, which can be found here. I beg as a courtesy, or even a favor, that contributors and commenters alike gain some familiarity with it. The discussion was playfully and wisely entitled "Do We Agree?" To understand what they were after, the presentation of unique and foundational views peppered with not a little bit of wit so that the proceedings are not just substantive but downright fun, is to understand our aspirations for this blog.

(Aristotle called wit "educated insolence." The original Reform Club basked in it. Insolence is invaluable, but without education, it's only insolence and it isn't the least bit fun.)

We can create a great and nourishing thing here at The Reform Club, but it will require the cooperation, precision of argument, and good will of all to make this forum special. One concession Shaw made to orthodoxy and classicism is that we must leave our rhetorical barbarism at the door. Civility is essential, but is the merest of requirements to get where we can go. To parrot the prevailing arguments elsewhere serves no purpose either: it is a waste of time and cyberink (yes, the latter can be wasted because it consumes the former). We must do our homework on what's already being said elsewhere (especially on the side opposite our own), beginning with an understanding of Square One so we can move together toward Square Two. We have to get somewhere if we're to get anywhere.

Square Two (in the least) is our goal, if The Reform Club is to be more than a pale copy of the rest of the internet. Quality over quantity, inquiry over debate, original voices over echo chambers. The Reform Club, rhetorically at least, recommits itself to its principles, and this is non-negotiable. We will not and cannot gear ourselves to the lowest common denominator. It's for others to preach to the masses; like the original Reform Club, we shall preach to those who themselves preach to the masses and hope we can send them away armed not so much with answers, but with the proper fundamental questions that must be asked again and again.

The rest of our principles we shall leave open to examination, as honest inquirers and seekers of truth are honor-bound to do. We leave the doors of our modest club open to those of like mind and spirit, and rely on them to help us preserve what we are, and to help us toward what we aspire to be.

Speaking of Class at a Funeral

You might sample this to get a taste of what is appropriate and honorable.

The Patience of a Saint?

The original Reform Club was a place where individuals of many different dispositions could socialize, discuss, and yes, argue. Perhaps the best example of the spirit of the club was the friendship and debate between G.K. Chesterton and George Bernard Shaw. The two men could scarcely have been more different. Chesterton was larger than life, jolly, mysterious, and Christian. Shaw was austere, a vegetarian, a great critic of religion. What they shared in common was civility and a common brilliance.

When Mr. Karnick and I opened the Reform Club online we hoped to foster the sort of conversations that happened at the original Club. The basic idea has been in our introductory header for as long as we've been posting. Along the way we picked up several other members with different gifts to contribute. We also gained a multi-religious cast. Protestants, Catholics, Jews, and maybe one or two without much religion at all.

The goal of these conversations would be to start with a post and end up with something even more interesting through the comments offered. Commenters might know something interesting to add. A different angle, a new fact, a cheerfully offered critique. The attitude that would keep it all functioning smoothly would be epistemological humility. In other words, we all know we could be wrong. Thus, it makes no sense to blindly assert, to be churlishly insistent, to never admit an error.

Sometimes, we get exactly what we'd hoped for. A discussion is conducted on the plane of intelligent adults committed to civil discourse. We learn something or are stimulated to reconsider or discover a new line of inquiry.

Other times, we get nothing but competition and not the kind that makes you better. No, it's the kind of argument that occurs between very little persons who have not reached adulthood. It is an enervating thing. One that causes one to despair.

Speaking for myself, I know I haven't always had the patience of a saint. The patience of a Saint Bernard, perhaps. But I am always open to genuine conversation, the kind in which the disputants are not constantly engaging in ad hominem, committing the genetic fallacy, etc.

All of this is a long way of saying, if you want argument at the level of a radio call-in show or some of the less sophisticated blogs, please take it elsewhere. We are trying to cultivate something more like a graduate school or faculty lounge atmosphere. Everyone who participates should make the others better. We are not looking for an endless contest of slaps. Real scholars (credentialed or otherwise) don't waste their time with that crap.

I've been harsh on a couple of occasions, but that is primarily because I've twice recently caught a commenter freely and arrogantly asserting facts and conclusions which are blatantly and obviously incorrect. In the future, I would like to see an ultra-amicable mode of discussion and yes, disputation.

Here's to a better blog from here forward.

The Myth of the Racist Republicans

The Claremont Institute has a more detailed analysis than I offered. Here's a relevant chunk of the text:

But the commonality, the philosophical link, is swiftly identified once the Democrats leave the stage. In study after study, authors say that "racial and economic conservatism" married white Southerners to the GOP after 1964. So whereas historically accidental events must have led racists to vote for good men like FDR, after 1964 racists voted their conscience. How convenient. And how easy it would be for, say, a libertarian conservative like Walter Williams to generate a counter-narrative that exposes statism as the philosophical link between segregation and liberalism's economic populism.

Yet liberal commentators commit a further, even more obvious, analytic error. They assume that if many former Wallace voters ended up voting Republican in the 1970s and beyond, it had to be because Republicans went to the segregationist mountain, rather than the mountain coming to them. There are two reasons to question this assumption. The first is the logic of electoral competition. Extremist voters usually have little choice but to vote for a major party which they consider at best the lesser of two evils, one that offers them little of what they truly desire. Segregationists were in this position after 1968, when Wallace won less than 9% of the electoral college and Nixon became president anyway, without their votes. Segregationists simply had very limited national bargaining power. In the end, not the Deep South but the GOP was the mountain.

Second, this was borne out in how little the GOP had to "offer," so to speak, segregationists for their support after 1968, even according to the myth's own terms. Segregationists wanted policies that privileged whites. In the GOP, they had to settle for relatively race-neutral policies: opposition to forced busing and reluctant coexistence with affirmative action. The reason these policies aren't plausible codes for real racism is that they aren't the equivalents of discrimination, much less of segregation.

Why did segregationists settle for these policies rather than continue to vote Democratic? The GOP's appeal was mightily aided by none other than the Democratic Party itself, which was lurching leftward in the 1970s, becoming, as the contemporary phrase had it, the party of "acid, amnesty, and abortion." Among other things, the Democrats absorbed a civil rights movement that was itself expanding, and thus diluting, its agenda to include economic redistributionism, opposition to the Vietnam War, and Black Power. The many enthusiasms of the new Democratic Party drove away suburban middle-class voters almost everywhere in the country, not least the South.

Given that trend, the GOP did not need to become the party of white solidarity in order to attract more voters. The fact that many former Wallace supporters ended up voting Republican says a lot less about the GOP than it does about segregationists' collapsing political alternatives. Kevin Phillips was hardly coy about this in his Emerging Republican Majority. He wrote in 1969 that Nixon did not "have to bid much ideologically" to get Wallace's electorate, given its limited power, and that moderation was far more promising for the GOP than anything even approaching a racialist strategy. While "the Republican Party cannot go to the Deep South"—meaning the GOP simply would not offer the policies that whites there seemed to desire most—"the Deep South must soon go to the national GOP," regardless.

Good stuff. Reasonable, non-craptacular stuff.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Educating the Commentariat

After reading some of the leftist commentary on my CSK funeral post, I remembered this great line from Billy Madison:

"Mr. _______, what you've just said is one of the most insanely idiotic things I have ever heard. At no point in your rambling, incoherent response were you even close to anything that could be considered a rational thought. Everyone in this room is now dumber for having listened to it. I award you no points, and may God have mercy on your soul."

I think I'll take a minute and actually deal with some of the poop being shoveled here. Trolloc thinks the GOP is permanently racist and sexist. Never mind that it is the party that both freed the slaves and obtained the vote for women and blacks.

All the goodwill is erased because the GOP (or Richard Nixon, at least) had a southern strategy to capitalize on the disaffection of southern whites over civil rights. What does that look like?

The GOP became the party of law and order in contrast to the leftward tilt of the McGovernite faction. They advertised their toughness on crime relentlessly. Ooooooh. How racist.

The GOP opposed affirmative action. Look out! Never mind that opposing affirmative action fits perfectly with the party's traditional insistence on limited government and freedom of contract. It has to be a racist move. There couldn't be another possibility could there? HMMMMMM.

And on women, the GOP opposes abortion. That must be because of a desperate desire to control women and keep them domesticated. Never mind that the party claims another justification, which is to protect unborn life from physical violence. And oh, by the way, to argue against the notion that the woman owns the fetus as property just as slaves were property. What's this? Another historical connection to the GOP of the past. Why how can it be? I thought this was the new GOP turned bad after the great wonderful GOP of Lincoln in the past.

Suffice it to say that the party and its members can hold certain principled positions with great sincerity, but rather than deal with the actual intellectual and even spiritual content of those positions there will always be persons who will rather cry racist, sexist, etc.

When Rosalyn Carter said of Ronald Reagan, "He makes us comfortable with our prejudices," that was her way of avoiding the deep insufficiencies of her husband's leadership and the emergence of the GOP as a successful populist party cutting into traditional Democrat strongholds.

Yeah, the GOP won the southerners, but guess what? They won the new southerners and often not the old ones. How many have families like mine where all the grandparents (from the patently racist period) support the Democrats TO THIS DAY (FDR, you know) while the younger progeny are Republicans to the core? I've got news for you. The switch is not due to a change in GOP racial policy (which there never has been). The switch is due to a successful combination of economic sanity (i.e. not socialism or socialism lite) and a particular brand of philosophico-religious morality that emphasizes the sanctity of life.

And oh, I forgot, the GOP actually wanted to win the Cold War. That made a wee difference, too.


After writing all this, I couldn't help but remember the example of one Barry Goldwater, the predecessor of Reagan who got toasted by LBJ largely due to sympathy for the dead President Kennedy and some mighty vicious campaign tactics.

Goldwater's family department stores had always been integrated. He had himself experienced discrimination at prominent golf courses because of his Jewish background. Goldwater had once responded to a golf course attendant, "I'm half Jewish, can I play nine holes?" Nevertheless, LBJ's Democrats never thought twice about labeling him a racist for his principled opposition to federal civil rights legislation.

Headline Headliner

Here is an absolute literary treasure. From the ungrammatical and incomprehensible headline, this article provides delight in practically every warped sentence.

When the Wellstone Runs Dry

Hunter, along with most of the talk radio dial and a gazillion bloggers, has already noted the parallel between Coretta Scott King's funeral and Paul Wellstone's. Everyone remembers the Wellstone funeral/pep rally as a dreadful embarrassment for the Democrats. That is only because the reckoning for their behavior was so immediate, and so unambiguous. (One of the last funny things I recall Dave Letterman saying was his summary of the 2002 Minnesota Senate election: Call me sentimental, but wasn't it nice to see Walter Mondale come out of retirement for one last ass-whoopin'?) Paul Wellstone's "mourners" -- the out-of-town, nationally prominent Democrats who turned his memorial service into a political monster truck rally -- thought the evening a rousing success. They had no idea that their behavior appalled all Minnesota. A lib has to sink pretty low to get scolded by the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, but they had negative altitude to spare.

There will be no such bucket of cold water this time. Mrs. King's funeral will be spun clockwise and counterclockwise by platoons of pontificators, who have no idea how such shenanigans would have been viewed by her, or are viewed by those modest, ordinary, unremarked people who carry on her legacy. It's too bad. Would that something could make Jimmy Carter as silent as his vice-president has been since 2002.

I'm a Black MAN and I Could Never be a VeteRAN.

I used to love to listen to Public Enemy. That was back in the days when I had absolutely no critical engagement with the message of music I liked.

(Of course, I have to backtrack a little and say the evangelical in me identified quite fully with the PE classic "Burn, Hollywood Burn.")

Eventually, I experienced my own growth of consciousness and realized I had to stop shelling out dollars to celebrities, fashionistas, television writers, and moviemakers sowing puerile crap into the tragically open (read nonreflective) minds of the millions. That was the end of me and Public Enemy.

I thought about the rap group today after reading through more puerile crap from the Rev. Joseph Lowery and former Pres. Carter spoken against the current President Bush. I said puerile crap. I should have said puerile, classless crap.

On this particular occasion, I'm taking more offense at the classlessness than the puerility. Coretta Scott King was being honored and mourned. Her legacy is rich. She was an ultra-effective preacher'/activist's/prophet's wife and suffered many indignities stoically. She was also a political figure who did not descend into one-note hackery. The lovely Mrs. King, for example, was a great advocate for school choice. Her creative engagement with the issues stood in stark contrast with the advanced boorishness of some of her contemporaries. I'll avoid naming names.

Do you think a lady like that would like to see an honored guest (the president, no less) called out and abused at her funeral? Do you think she would have given her permission? Do you think she would appreciate seeing her funeral turned into a rally? Paul Wellstone might have appreciated what was done at his funeral. Decent though he was, he also had enough of the "workers of the world unite" thing going on to enjoy it. I think Mrs. King would simply be appalled and probably is appalled.

She might also have noted that it was Bobby Kennedy, not George Bush uno or dos who had her husband's phone tapped. She might have been offended enough to call the bad hosts of her good name on the carpet.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Maim That Toon

And so those peace-loving Muslims didn't understand why the West put the cartoon before the whores and one thing led to another and the sinner-men Danish got burnt.

I register my general disgust in this column over at The American Spectator.

If references aren't enough for you and you need samples, here, knock yourself out:

One of the sad byproducts of totalitarian governments is the silencing of true reportage. Newspapers and television networks had people in the Soviet Union and Saddam Hussein's Iraq who were constrained by governmental censorship from delivering the truth to their readers and viewers. Much the same occurs even today in China and Cuba. What ends up happening is that they become de facto propagandists for those rulers by conveying the good news and scuttling the bad.

Now the same thing is happening via the Muslim riot. Western media will be intimidated into silence by the fear of mischief. Which is to say that Islamist thugs will achieve in communications what they achieve in politics, winning by terrorism what they cannot win by war.

"... With Tears, With Joy..."

This beautiful paragraph comes from an article by Noah J. Efron, American-born chairman of the graduate program for history and philosophy at Bar-Ilan University (where my late mother attended in 1956) in Israel:

In the summer of 2004, while I watched television and saw Gal Friedman receive an Olympic gold medal for windsurfing, "Hatikva" playing in Athens, to my alarm tears streamed down my face. I looked at my wife and her face was streaked with tears, too, and she said, "Look what we have done." She wasn't talking about the handsome, determined kid on the sailboard. She was talking about everything, about a hundred years of Jews who came to this place with nothing and built something. She was talking about the roads and the trees and the art and the music and the army and the Knesset and the universities and the million Russians and half-million Haredim and 60,000 Ethiopians. About loving this odd place so much and about all the heartbreak that goes with it.

I'm a Little Verklempt...

Talk amongst yourselves. I'll give you a topic: Blood for Oil.


Sunday, February 05, 2006

The Campbell Soup Curse

Athletes need to stay away from Campbell Soup. I offer you the record:

Figure Skater Nancy Kerrigan carries the Campbell Soup banner. She is assaulted by a lackey of Tonya Harding and gets ripped off for the gold medal at the Olympics.

Reggie White of the Green Bay Packers stars in the first "Me and My Mom" commercials for Campbell's. He becomes embroiled in controversy over remarks given to the Wisconsin legislature, loses the soup deals, and dies young.

Donovan McNabb of the Philadelphia Eagles replaces White in the "Me and My Mom" series. He has a terrible performance in the Super Bowl, gets cancer in the form of Terrell Owens, and ends up on the sidelines with injuries.

I've heard Jerome Bettis was shooting one with his mom in Detroit . . .

Saturday, February 04, 2006

He Blowed Up Real Good

I found well-credentialed University of Chicago poli-sci prof Robert Pape somewhat interesting when he was doing interviews hawking his book Dying to Win some months back. His comprehensive statistical study of suicide bombers and explanatory narrative met little skepticism in the mainstream media (and that includes Fox News). It fit a conventional wisdom, that it's our own fault: People blow themselves up and a lot of other people with them because they came from countries "occupied" by another power, namely us. Plus, he had a lot of numbers like 460, 333, 95%, and many others as well. Can't argue with professors who have numbers.

After hearing him out, all I could wonder is how such a smart man missed the facts that a) he mixed a helluva lot of the Marxist-Leninist Hindu Tamil Tigers of Sri Lanka with Islamists, as if tactics equal essence, b) that attacking the US/UK if we had forces in their country makes perfect sense since we are the major impediment to the "morally pure" crazies taking over and terrorizing their own people, and c) Islamicism provided a perfect rationale for self-destroying types, who in other cultures might find other ways of doing themselves in.

Dear Mom and Dad, and Fatima, too,

You always loved Abdul better. But now I'm a holy martyr, and he's still just a computer salesman, so screw you, and especially you, Fatima. I'm in heaven with 72 virgins who are pleasuring me very pleasurably and now a poster of my face is on the wall next to your shop. You all always said I couldn't do anything right, but I blowed up real good and took some Americans or bad Muslims or Jews with me. (They didn't tell me exactly who I would be blowing up. Security reasons. But I still get all those virgins, Fatima, and you're stuck with Abdul, who snores.)

But I forgive you all and hope you cry every day while you miss me now that I'm gone. I miss me, too, already.

Yours truly,

Michael Totten, who is doing breathtaking work traveling about the Muslim world talking to everybody, wrote a riposte some months back to Prof. Papes. Like the man says, read the whole thing.

I yield Mr. Totten the final word. He foresaw the nonsense we hear lately:

Robert Pape thinks we should withdraw from the region completely and secure our interests in oil, as he put it, from a distance. If we take his advice, we won't end the threat from our enemies. We'll give them military victories for free. And we'll throw our liberal Muslim friends to the Islamist wolf. It's the most disgraceful and despicable thing we could possibly do, not to mention one of the dumbest. Empowered liberal-democratic Muslims with guns will defeat the Islamists in the end. We can't do it without them, and they can't do it if they're languishing in mass graves and dungeons.

Friday, February 03, 2006

No V In Dubya?

Ilana Mercer has summed up her recent critques of George Bush's Middle East policy in one powerful essay wherein every word sparkles. Agree or not, not to be missed.

The Satirical Richness of Brokeback Mountain

I invite you, no, I implore you to discover the story time forgot:


Shooting Star

This is a book review that no intellectual person should miss, and certainly no non-secularist intellectual.

It is a review of a new translation of The Star of Redemption by Franz Rosenzweig. And its author is a very interesting writer in his own right.

Running Quarterbacks—The Hows and Whys of Offensive Success in Football

I'm glad that the estimable Tom Van Dyke brought up the issue of what is the best style of quarterbacking, in his comment on Rush, race, and Donovan McNabb.

It's an extremely important question, and I don't mean the boring race and politics angles, but instead the football one.

I think Hunter is correct to point out that McNabb has simply reached the stage in his life where he must become primarily a pocket passer or get continually injured to the point that he can no longer play well.

There's a reason for this. It's that there are two types of running quarterbacks: ones who run to pass, and those who run to run.

What do I mean by this? Simply this: There are scramblers who run to get out of trouble and try to gain yardage by running the ball themselves. And there are scramblers who run to get out of trouble and are still looking to pass.

The former can get you a few yards at a time, and maybe a first down. And they'll get tackled hard and often. It takes a lot of toll on their bodies, as we have seen in so many examples, most recently the pounding that Michael Vick has taken and the number of games he has missed in recent years. And these quarterbacks get you a few yards and maybe a first down, but not many big plays. They do occasionally get some big plays, but not many. And those big plays, as I'll explain below, typically come when they are able to show themselves as threats to pass—when defenses believe they must treat them as quarterbacks who run to pass. The quarterbacks who run to run have limited yardage gain potential, and can be contained by a well-disciplined defense.

Then there are the scramblers who are looking to pass. These quarterbacks can easily get you twenty yards or a touchdown, and it happens a lot. That's because there is a standard reaction by receivers and by quarterbacks who are looking to pass, when the QB is flushed from the pocket: receivers break long, and the quarterback can often, if he can buy enough time so that he can stop just long enough to get his back foot planted, chuck the ball up over the defensive back(s) for a quick score.

That, incidentally, is what makes blitzing a risk: it can lead to a sack, but if it doesn't, it often leads to a big play for the offense.

Because of these realities, the truly successful running quarterbacks—and the most successful overall—are those who run to pass. Probably the greatest and most successful NFL quarterback of all time, certainly one of the top three, Joe Montana, was precisely this kind of running quarterback. He ran to get himself just enough time to find one of his great receivers (and yes, first-class receivers are necessary to the mix, but not sufficient without a great QB) and get the ball downfield. He had a long and hugely successful career.

Montana's successor, Steve Young, started out as a quarterback who often ran to run, and it took quite a toll on him. Eventually, he became much more of a quarterback who runs to pass, and he found that he could do both: when he scrambled, defensive backs had to take a quick look at him in case he got past the line and linebackers, and that was usually enough time for him to get a pass to a receiver downfield. But if the DBs didn't bite, he could get big yardage on the run because there were fewer defensive players in the vicinity to elude.

Now, these are all tendencies, not pure categories, of course, but nearly all quarterbacks fall into one category or another. All "pure" pocket passers, for example, run a bit in order to get free to make a pass, but the fact that they can't beat you for big yardage means that the DBs don't often bite. I think that this is why, for example, Payton Manning has never won the big one and Tom Brady has done it three times and guys like Trent Dilfer have gotten Super Bowl rings: Yes, their teams had excellent running games and great defenses (these are pretty much absolute prerequisites for football success), but their quarterbacks were also at their best turning imminent disaster into huge success. When Manning is flushed out, typically the Colts get nothing but a two-yard gain and a punt. When Brady and even lesser guys like Dilfer get flushed out, they pass for a huge gainer or a touchdown.

I would suggest that success as a quarterback in the NFL goes as follows, from most successful to least successful: those who run to pass, pure pocket passers, those who run to run.

Strategy, hard work, and execution, not color, are what win football games.

As applied to Donovan McNabb, then, my advice would be as follows: don't sit in the pocket waiting to get hit. Get out of there when the pressure comes, and PASS THE BALL!

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Blame Rush

Donovan McNabb is a black quarterback.

I blame Rush Limbaugh for telling him, because it's ruined everything. Just like when somebody told Steve Martin that he wasn't black in that movie, it got into Don's head and he's become a jerk.

Now, I admit I already knew Donovan was a black quarterback, and I figure Donovan suspected it, too. But I'm a born-and-bred Philadelphia Eagles fan, so he was just our quarterback, and the best one we'd had since Randall Cunningham ten years before. (Who was also black.)

But Rush Limbaugh had to go and open his trap. All his success notwithstanding, Limbaugh had just fulfilled the secret lifelong dream that many guys have, becoming a sports commentator, and he got himself hired by ESPN. Doing what got him there in the first place, being Rush, instead of saying something bland he called it like he saw it:

"I don't think he's been that good from the get-go...I think what we've had here is a little social concern in the NFL. I think the media has been very desirous that a black quarterback do well."

Well, he was sort of right about the quarterbacking, although he didn't take into account the Eagles' pathetically slow, uncrafty, and hamhanded receivers and substandard blocking by his offensive line.

But I really agreed with the part about the press, and found it uncontroversial: all things being equal, like in a game I didn't care who won, I always cheered for the black quarterback, if there was one.

Racism and stereotyping in American football always said that blacks weren't intelligent enough to make the quick calculations needed to outsmart a deceiving defense. The discrimination started at the college level, which fed the professional NFL. The growth in the number of black NFL quarterbacks was slow indeed.

So, I meself plead damn guilty to social concern. I was always desirous of seeing a black quarterback do well, to put that racialist canard to bed once and for all. Jefferson Street Joe Gilliam, Vince Evans, James Harris. Finally, Doug Williams ended up breaking all the Super Bowl passing records leading a crushing victory for the Washington Redskins.

When Limbaugh let the cat out out of the bag, Donovan McNabb was being touted in the press as one of the very best quarterbacks in football, but it wasn't quite true. He was close, and the reason he was close was because he could run away from anyone trying to tackle him.

Now I've always loved running quarterbacks: it seemed to make more sense and was incredibly more stylish to run away and gain yards then sit in the pocket and get utterly smeared for a loss. I liked the white guys who did it, Greg Landry, Steve Young. Many of the black guys could do it. Some say there's a genetic component to running well because Olympic running champions have been disproportionately black. But maybe it's a cultural thing, that to be authentically black you have to be able to run, just like to be authentically white you have to be able to play "Stairway to Heaven" on guitar.

Although charitably an OK passer, Donovan McNabb's extra edge was that he could run and run astonishingly well. But somehow it got into his head that running made him a "black quarterback." Damn you, Limbaugh, damn you. He stopped running. Donovan wanted to be "a quarterback," and turned his back on his best gift.

Even a writer at a black Philadelphia newspaper noticed. Black pride is fine, Donovan, but winning football games is where it's at.

Later, an amazingly troubled yet sublimely gifted receiver named Terrell Owens joined the Eagles, and made Donovan look statistically splendid as a passer for awhile. But Owens, as toxic people do, went on to destroy everything around him, the team, and McNabb, who'd worked to bring him aboard. Today, Donovan, with nowhere else to turn, is echoing his father's previous wack comments, calling Owens' criticism of his play "black-on-black crime."

Whooo. (taking a breath)

Donovan McNabb was, and despite all this, remains a hero of mine, even though he's acting like a jerk just now. Rabid Philly fans, who once pelted Santa Claus with snowballs, organized a protest when he was first drafted. (The guy they wanted instead turned out to be a terminal pothead.) McNabb put up with all the criticism while he took the team through the growing pains of going from sucky to perennial Super Bowl contenders. He played through a score of injuries that would have sent any lesser man to the bench with no questions asked. He put up with everything, with good cheer, even temper and generosity of spirit. Now his head has exploded. Every man has his limit.

Dammit, Rush, why did you have to go and tell Donovan he's black? Before that, he was just an NFL quarterback, a pretty good one at that, and a helluva guy besides.

The Truth About Chuck Norris

By linking to this website, I have set up your weekend as well as it can be set up. You will be entertained and will go about in a general haze of frivolity and happiness for days.

Enter the Chucktatorship.

I've tried the nice approach. If you don't do it, well, let's just say I wouldn't like to be you.

Teaching at a Christian College

A very interesting article on why teaching at a religious college is so inviting. In looking for a teaching position for next year, I've gotten a few interviews, both at secular and Christian schools. I've been very impressed with Christian schools, mostly because they have a much more integrated, holistic view of education than do the secular ones. College is as much about the formation of the person as it is about the acquisition of knowledge or preparation for a future career. No doubt a place like this would not be for everyone, but for me (and folks like me) it can be quite attractive.

Fashions in Falsehood

A very good column by Anne Applebaum on the whole James Frey mess. Here's the ending:

We used to admire people who claimed to fight the Nazis. Now we admire people who claim to have fought their own drug addiction -- and we really, really admire them if they beat up priests, fight with cops, frequently find themselves covered in vomit and spend lots of time in jail while doing so.
It's emblematic of something larger, I think, an unwillingness on the part of some to valorize the heroic virtues, the ones often associated with masculinity and - truth be told - war. I think it was Jonah Goldberg who noted that we have not seen any real "war" movies emerging out of our struggle with Islamic radicalism - and those that do touch on it peripherally (Syriana, Munich) are more interested, it seems, in "problematizing" the conflict than anything else. Imagine if someone made a movie in 1942 exploring the difficulties of being German in the pre-war Sudentenland or making the war in the Pacific out to be the product of conspiring oilmen, eager for Indonesia's riches. A bit odd, no?

Confessions of a Lapsed Constitutionalist

If you call a tail a leg, how many legs does a dog have?

Is it wrong to break the law?

I'll try the second question first: no, I don't think it is. In fact, I don't think the law has anything to do with right and wrong---if I murder somebody, it's wrong for other reasons, not because there's a law against it.

Like most of us, I too was inculcated with a reverence for the wisdom of the Constitution. Unfortunately, the more I learned about the history of how its letter has been used against its spirit, its totemistic appeal faded for me. We are a nation of laws, not men, goes the cliché. But are they not the laws of men?

I don't see any laws of men as inherently moral. They might be, they might not. We do the best we can, mostly. I've lost my romance for the constitution---it's whatever 5 Supreme Court justices say it is, let's face it. I have no idea at this point whether our Creator wants us to have guns or has endowed us with the right to not have Bush listen to our phone calls.

I suppose the reason The Reform Club, despite popular demand, hasn't delved into the NSA eavesdropping on calls is that it's written about elsewhere and everywhere, and often better than we could manage. Some guy named Glenn has become an overnight blogstar quite persuasively putting the Bushies up on a meathook. For those interested in that, I urge you to take your business there. As for the other side of the issue, well, for those afflicted with Bush Derangement Syndrome, there is no other side.

Apparently, the courts' current legal theory has declared listening to phone calls the same as the British stopping you out of the blue and looking through your stuff, exactly what the Fourth Amendment was designed to prevent. But the law has taken the logical fallacy of argument by analogy and enshrined it in judicial fiat. A telephone call is not a horse-drawn carriage. To echo Dickens' Mr. Bumble, if the law suppose that, the law is a ass. Calling a tail a leg does not make it a leg. (As Mr. Lincoln observed, per the opening of this essay, the answer remains four.)

Arguing the law is amusing as an intellectual exercise, but I've become a bad debating partner for legalities these days. I'm more concerned when the law, whatever it is, claims primacy over conscience. Call it philosophical, for lack of a better term.

I understand people's orthodoxies about the law as taught in any good civics class, but I'm a free thinker, a rebel. What can I say? I think it's proper to question, even hypothetically, that if Bush's putatatively illegal wiretapping indeed saved lives, whether it was not a good thing.

I believe there is something higher than both laws and men, and philosophically, that was the notion behind what the Founders created. I don't think they shared the relativist view that one man's good is another man's evil, (although they acknowledged that that could sometimes be the case, mostly on slavery, it seems). The Founders shared a common belief in a higher moral order, whether they arrived at it through religion, Deism (a sort of laissez-faire existence on the part of God), or classical philosophy, which was vitiated by the desire to derive absolute Goods by reason.

As much as we'd like to think the Constitution gives us some preternatural innoculation against human nature, we are still a nation of men, like any other. I read the parsings of the 2nd Amendment, and opinions on whether the "militia" clause is dependent on the "right to bear arms" clause, or vice-versa, and realize that one side is going to enforce their will on the other. Today, constitutional arguments are like interpreting any other sacred text, and that usually goes the way of one's druthers rather than a search for truth.

That's not to say I've given myself over to pessimism or nihilism. I still believe in the existence of absolute Good, and so I don't see the often-attacked-these-days "ticking bombs" as absurd---on the contrary, they're definitive.

There are a lot of idiosyncratic moralities these days, but the one thing we all know for sure is the reality of life and death. Almost all of us agree that saving innocent lives is more important than the law, and that should be at least the starting point of discussion before we delve into the abstractions of rights and slippery slopes.

(Almost all of us agree, anyway.)

Seeing life through the eyes of the law is like listening to Mozart by reading the musical score. And Shylock in The Merchant of Venice found that extracting his strict measure of justice before the law, his pound of flesh, was not so easy. He himself was a condemned man if he shed a drop of blood in doing so.

The people, in their collective wisdom, can declare our phone calls sacred. And we can extract our justice on Bush, our pound of flesh. (I'm sure he ran afoul of the law somewhere.) But let's make no mistake---the byproduct will be blood, and probably not just American blood. Would that life were as easy as following the dots. The last thing I'd want on my tombstone is, "He let people die, but he never broke the law." Bring on your justice.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Brisk Law - #2

A second area that the Brisk system innovates is the distinction between laws defined by their object and laws defined by their subject.

For example, a man has a furnace on his property that is not constructed according to code. A policeman comes by and gives him two tickets. One for a code violation. One for having a dangerous structure.

Again, his attorney claims double jeopardy.

The classic thinking would have agreed. Those two crimes are redundant, one and the same; the man has something dangerous.

The Brisk method sees the code as being a law geared to the object. The county determines that no such structure should be within its borders. It applies to the owner only as the trustee of that object. The second law applies to the person, and is a separate law obligating him to avoid having dangerous structures on his property.

What if the furnace was not his and had been on his property based on an easement? Now it has been abandoned by the true owner and the easement is vacated. Does this property owner have an obligation to remove the furnace?

The first system sees the code obligation as merely synonymous with obligating the furnace owner. Since the property owner does not own the furnace, he cannot be bound. The Brisk system sees the code as being a law on the object itself; it might then see the property owner as the natural trustee of the code compliance even though he does not have technical ownership of the furnace.

There are quite a few more of these distinctions, but these should give you an idea.

Brisk Law - #1

A friend asked me recently about the famed 'Brisk' methodology of studying law which was developed by Rabbi Chaim Soloveitchik (1863-1925) of Brest-Litovsk, Lithuania. She had heard that it applied only to studying Talmud. I responded that it has no textual basis, but it is an independent intellectual structure designed to parse legal systems into component parts, and that it could be used as a method of analyzing any kind of law. Some laws may not reflect the wisdom of that system, which was presumably arrived at inductively from study of Jewish law.

To try to provide some insight, I will try to lay out a series of examples. This will be the first installment.


A man goes through a red light and the policeman pulls him over, giving two tickets, one for driving through a red light and one for reckless driving.

Say his attorney argues that this is double jeopardy, two punishments for the same crime.

Earlier Jewish legal thinkers (16th thru 18th Century) would have only detected the distinction between actions affecting oneself and actions affecting others, because they assumed that laws are distinguished by their impact rather than by their mechanics.

If they would accept the two laws as separate, it might be because the red light law is personal civic responsibility and the reckless driving law is defined by the element of endangering other citizens.

A Brisk analysis would tighten that up, not focusing on the 'purpose' of the law but on the mechanics of the law.

It might define the red light law as the prohibition of a quantifiable act, namely operating the vehicle through the light. The reckless driving law prohibits a qualitative driving behavior, driving without reckoning. This would be distinction enough.


Now say the attorney brings proof that the light was broken and the driver, upon realizing that it would not change, drove on through.

The old thinking might say that this satisfies the civic responsibility element of the red light, so he's off the hook on that charge. The red light cannot be considered to bind him if it is not functional.

The Brisk system would still determine that the prohibited physical action occurred. Went through a red light: guilty.

On the other hand, the old approach might have still considered him guilty of the endangerment element, since cars going the other direction have a green light and crossing in front of them, broken light or not, poses a danger. Thus, guilty on the second charge.

The Brisk system, which categorizes only by title of offense and not intent of offense, might render him not guilty of 'reckless' driving since there was reckoning and analysis before proceeding. (Or it might still see bad reckoning, i.e. taking a chance on going through an unchanging red, as a form of recklessness. But the issue would focus on 'reckless or not reckless' rather than 'endangering others or not endangering others'.)

This is a loose sketch. More to come, if I can find the time.

In Defense of Opinion Journalism

The Competitive Enterprise Institute's Iain Murray has a great talent for analyzing the arguments bandied about in the press as various blowhards attempt to bludgeon their opponents into submission through the use of laughably poor so-called arguments based almost entirely on abuse of the opposition's motives. In today's edition of the American Spectator online, Murray superbly rebuts the latest attempt by the Left to quash arguments it cannot answer with facts and reason:

FOR MANY YEARS NOW, opinion pieces have been the main vehicle by which conservatives have taken their philosophy to the American people. It was the Austrian economist and enemy of socialism F. A. Hayek who first spelled out to conservatives that they were engaged in a war of ideas. Since the rise of Reaganism, conservatives have been winning this war and the opinion pages of newspapers are one of the chief battlegrounds.

It is therefore in the Left's interest to deny this ground to their enemy. A campaign waged against private financial ties serves not only this purpose but has proved beneficial in other ways. The acquiescence of editors and news services has enabled a sustained witch hunt. The war of ideas, unwinnable for the Left, has been replaced by a war on writers based on prejudice.

Murray understands precisely what is at stake in the attacks on Doug Bandow, Mike Fumento, and other writers who support market freedom:

The self-important witch finders blazing with moral righteousness have only one goal in mind: to deny the public access to the ideas advanced by the writers they target. This is not about trust, or ethics, or any other moral consideration. It is about suppression of free speech and public debate.

Murray, however, is not engaging in any ad hominem assault himself: he goes on to point out the precise fallacies on which these arguments are based, and his own argument is superb. Read it here.