Saturday, January 28, 2006

Faith on the Quad

This is interesting: some academic group is calling for universities to engage religion more, both as a part of the curriculum and as part of students' lives. Who knows what this will mean in practice, but as an emphasis, it seems like a positive move. On one particular note, I think it's especially promising. In my teaching, I deal a lot of with religion and thorny moral/political issues it often touches on. What I've found is that students are very reluctant to engage on those issues, largely because they think that you just can't argue about religion - and, by extension, the sorts of moral issues it touches. I think they're making a mistake in equating the truth that we won't be resolving our moral and religious differences anytime soon with the (erroneous) claim that there's nothing to be discussed. But that's how they think. You might suppose that this sort of "method of avoidance" is productive of social comity - but that, too, would be a mistake. Since religion still, perhaps inevitably, shows up in discussions, the fact that people don't have any experience in discussing religion- related things, they have no idea how to do it reasonably and with some civility. I'm not sure that most universities will do that well in fostering civil dialogue, but it seems worth a shot.

Friday, January 27, 2006

2008: The Future Comes Not Too Late, But All Too Soon

Not being snarky---between Howard Dean, Kos, and then Ted Kennedy and Chuck Schumer clumsily trying to make respected jurist Sam Alito out as a racist, it's a genuine confusion as to who the Democratic Party is these days. I dunno if they know, either.

Our friend, gadfly, and SalonPremiumMember and featured letter-writer) James Elliott posits:

There are a lot of Democrats out there who don't mirror "the Loud Left." Hillary Clinton. Russ Feingold. John Kerry.

OK, baby. Lock and load.

When all else fails, try principle. Actually, that's just what the GOP was forced into after Nixon and all those years of Democrat control of Congress. Petty politics, technique, and mealy-mouthing only get you so far.

The GOP made its historic gains on the backs of two visionaries---Ronald Reagan and Newt Gingrich. (Their successors admittedly, and almost by definition, pale in comparison.)

Shooting spitballs is not a political philosophy. Nominate Russ Feingold instead of guys like the last two weasels, and let America vote up or down. Run on your beliefs instead of from them. In three years, nobody's going to remember who the hell Jack Abramoff is, or was.

Russ Feingold represents the Democratic Party as I best understand it (ADA lifetime average rating of 96, if we can believe the Wiki).

I disagree with Feingold on virtually everything, but I still trust his character. He conducts himself like a human being, like a statesman. We could do worse, and almost did with Gore and Kerry, who are wack. (Gore, wack. Kerry, trying to lead an unprecendented constitutional revolution via phone from Switzerland, wack.)

(Let's save Hillary for another day. Too much fun to use up here. Hehe. [sound of knife being sharpened])

Feingold vs. Gingrich in 2008. Now that would be fun. No middle ground there...

Freedom for the Indians

John J. Miller has written a very interesting piece in today's Opinion Journal, arguing that the way to eliminate poverty on Indian reservations is to eliminate Indian reservations—by returning to the Indians the same private property rights the rest of us hold, which were taken away entirely in 1934. Miller argues,

The main problem with Indian reservations isn't, as some argue, that they were established on worthless tracts of grassland. Consider the case of Buffalo County, S.D., which Census data reveal to be America's poorest county. Some 2,000 people live there. More than 30% of the homes are headed by women without husbands. The median household income is less than $13,000. The unemployment rate is sky high.

Just to the east of Buffalo County lies Jerauld County, which is similar in size and population. Yet only 6% of its homes are headed by women without husbands, the median household income is more than $30,000, and the unemployment rate hovers around 3%. The fundamental difference between these two counties is that the Crow Creek Indian Reservation occupies much of Buffalo County. The place is a pocket of poverty in a land of plenty.

Maybe we should give land back to the rez-dwellers, so that they may own private property the way other Americans do. Currently, the inability to put up land as collateral for personal mortgages and loans is a major obstacle to economic development. This problem is complicated by the fact that not all reservations have adopted uniform commercial codes or created court systems that are independent branches of tribal government--the sorts of devices and institutions that give confidence to investors who might have the means to fund the small businesses that are the engines of rural economies.

The economic argument is certainly well-founded, but what about the cultural-protection idea, the notion that Native American cultures have to be protected? Miller answers this in three ways. One is by pointing out that great majority of Indians do not see cultural protection as dispositive:

Intermarriage between Indians and non-Indians is pervasive, especially off the rez. More than half of all Indians already marry outside their race, according the Census. For racial purists who believe that the men and women of today's tribes should be preserved like frozen displays in natural-history museums, this is a tragedy akin to ethnic cleansing (albeit one based on love rather than hate).

The next point, and a highly compelling one, is that the cultural-protection argument is not truly sympathetic toward the real people who must live out that sustained culture:

Yet the real tragedy is that reservations, as collectivist enclaves within a capitalist society, have beaten down their inhabitants with brute force rather than lifting them up with opportunity. As their economies have withered, other social pathologies have taken root: Indians are distressingly prone to crime, alcoholism and suicide. Families have suffered enormously. About 60% of Indian children are born out of wedlock. Although accurate statistics are hard to come by because so many arrangements are informal, Indian kids are perhaps five times as likely as white ones to live in some form of foster care. Their schools are depressingly bad.

Finally, Miller points out that the image of Native American societies which is being upheld by the reservation system is in fact an incomplete and distorted one, for Indians were as commercially inclined as anyone else before the U.S. government forced them to become a separate, isolated enclave within the continent they had come to share with a multitude of people of other ethnic backgrounds:

What's more, this modern-day entrepreneurship [the proliferation of Indian casinos] is part of a long tradition: Meriwether Lewis (of Lewis & Clark fame) described the Chinooks as "great hagglers in trade." I once visited Poverty Point, a 3,000-year-old set of earthen mounds in Louisiana; the museum there displayed ancient artifacts found at the site, including copper from the Great Lakes and obsidian from the Rockies. These prehistoric Americans were budding globalizers, and there's no reason why their descendants should remain walled off from the world economy.

As a classical liberal, I always seek policies that afford the greatest liberty with the greatest amount of social order. America's Indians today live under an oppressive order that ruins lives. Like Miller, I have long held the position that they should be freed to make their way like the rest of us. Given their proud history and fine background, I have no doubt that they would thrive if given true freedom. Allowing them to buy and sell their property would be a suitable first step. Once that was in place, other efforts to ameliorate social pathologies among the Indians would begin to have a chance of working.

It is high time that it were done.

Small Frey

And yet another from the man who just won't shaddap....

This time I offer my take on the Oprah turnaround (well, it is Harpo Productions) on the James Frey "autobio" and the J.T. Leroy story as exposed by New York.

Here is a small slice:

Remember the first axiom of journalism. "Dog Bites Man" is not a headline; "Man Bites Dog" is the ideal. What this means is that every time you read an article about the man biting the dog, you should really be cheered by the invisible headline which reads: "99 Percent of Men Don't Bite Dogs." Pessimists have a tendency to extrapolate the wrong message, thinking that men must be biting dogs everywhere and the order of existence has broken down. It is the optimist who is the smart reader, who grasps the true import of the story.

Brassy Tax

Just when you thought that you would have to wait until next week for another of my articles, I slipped in a quickie before the weekend. My newest essay over at The American Spectator ruminates over the moral foundation of the state's right to tax.

Here are a few lines, in case you have a mirror handy:

In brief, the brief for all taxation is the notion that the state provides something that facilitates the transaction. If a person earns income in a certain place, he does so by relying on the protection of his person and his property -- and often the enforcement of the contracts -- afforded by the local governing authority. If he buys a product or a piece of real estate, he can be taxed on the same basis. The state in effect takes a commission.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

A New Wrinkle on Kelo: Bank Just Says No

From today's Washington Times:

BB&T Corp., the second-biggest bank in the Washington area, said yesterday that it will not lend money to developers who plan to build commercial projects on land taken from private citizens through the power of eminent domain.

"The idea that a citizen's property can be taken by the government solely for private use is extremely misguided; in fact, it's just plain wrong," said John Allison, the bank's chairman and chief executive officer.

I'm embarrassed that it never occurred to me to propose this as a pro-market approach to fighting Kelo. But now that the bee's in my bonnet: Hell yeah! I'm going to forward this to the public affairs folks at Citigroup, and will be happy to report back what, if any, response I receive.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Dear Beloved Infidels: The Bell Tolls for Thee

Islam's theological/philosophical enemy isn't the Calvary Baptist Church.

It's the brothels of Amsterdam. You see, the Qur'an has a soft spot for "People of The Book," (i.e., the Bible). But the modernist, secular West is the infidel, the absolute enemy.

Tag, you're it. The Prophet Muhammad started out and made his rep by fighting and conquering the pagans of Mecca, not the Christians. Or the Jews, either. You could look it up.

Which is why anti-religionist Christopher Hitchens, if I may use a dirty word, argues that it's secularists who should most be alarmed by the Islamist threat. Remember that many of the 9-11ers were educated in the West, and saw (what they viewed as) its depravity first-hand. They became convinced that such an empty society a) lacked the will to defend itself and b) deserves to fall. They have met the enemy, and they've decided it's you.

Sure, Islamism is also political: Usama bin Laden's 1996 fatwa/recruiting ad was based on the Iraq sanctions that killed innocent women and children, and also on the crusader (read US/UK) military presence in Saudi Arabia, which was there solely to keep an eye on Saddam.

Well, our crusader-in-chief and his neo-con puppeteers took care of both those bones of contention, n'est ce-pas? Sanctions mooted, troops out of the Land of Two Holy Places. A military presence in Iraq with one foot out the door hardly qualifies as a casus belli now, let alone cause for a whole damn worldwide jihad. Islamism has historically been far more patient at such passing indignities. It sees history in terms of eras, not election cycles.

American narcissism tends to place us, for better or ill (and mostly the latter these days), at the center of humanity's universe: surely we are the only big stick behind the West, with a little help from the UK. And surely our mastery of mass media (Hollywood, CNN) makes us appear to be the biggest of dogs in the current age. But the sins of colonialism and of contemporary moral squalor are largely European: the US is a country geographically far far away from Islamism---more an image than a reality to them. We are not (as of yet) morally fallen, and we were only silent partners or minor participants in the divvying up of the Third World in the colonial period of 1850-1950.

Have I mentioned that I don't like Europe? Not for back then, not now. I understand completely why nobody likes "white people." I don't like 'em much myself. Not only the sins of our European fathers but their children's today are visited upon us, their distant cousins in the United States.

To our beloved infidels, who are indistinguishable from the modern philosophical Left who dominate the Old Country: word up. You can wash your hands and stick the blame for the world situation on Queen Isabella, Napoleon, Admiral Nelson, Lord Balfour, Roosevelt, Churchill, deGaulle, Nixon, Reagan, or a Bush or two.

But the bell tolls for thee, not me. I can pay the dhimmi tax, and they'll leave me alone, as a good-hearted albeit confused person of The Book. But you're toast. Doomed.

So we shall hang together or hang separately, it seems. I will die, if I must, for Cindy Sheehan, or even for Hugh Hefner. Will you die for Pat Robertson? For me? The fate of the West depends on your answer.

Joel Stein: Traitor Or Mere Ignoramus?

So: Many of my friends out there in right-leaning Blogovia are as mad as hell and aren't going to take it anymore. What is it this time? Well, an intellectual midget by the name of Joel Stein---who has a weekly column on the LA Times op-ed page, which speaks volumes about both the paper and Stein himself---argued a couple of days ago that he does not support the troops, and that liberals/leftists who oppose the war but "support the troops" are wusses. So it's back to the "cancel the subscription" mass email, etc. etc.

Forgive me, but what precisely is the problem here? Nancy Pelosi and the other leftist pols who oppose the war, its initial rationale, its conduct, ad infinitum, and who gave not a fig about the suffering of Iraqis under Saddam, but who simultaneously "support the troops" in fact are hypocrites, liars, and, well, wusses, in that they simply cannot bring themselves to take a position that would engender harsh political criticism, however honestly reflective of their actual views. Stein, on the other hand, has told us what he really believes, however disgusting it is. And he admits freely that he knows nothing about the military, about war, about terrorism, about the wounded and dead, about the motivations that induce self-sacrifice and heroism, about actual conditions in Iraq under Baathism and after, and so on. He simply believes that those who volunteer for dishonorable missions ought not be honored. Or something utterly incoherent. He is merely a youngish yuppie, self-satisfied, self-absorbed, full of self-esteem, and entirely earnest in his belief that mainstream journalists are intellectuals. Better yet: There may be a book deal in the offing, and perhaps even a movie. He is perfect for the LA Times op-ed page. (Full disclosure: That page over the years has run about 50 of my op-eds. Oh, shut up.)

Stein is a regular at Time, another fact that speaks volumes. That he has told us what he really believes is admirable. That our honorable troops in the field could not care less about a fleck of dust like Stein is obvious.

Ask an Economist

Robert Samuelson has a very balanced look at the healthcare problem.

You'll just be smarter and better informed for reading it.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Torture(d) Logic

Harry Reid has got to be the most disingenuous member of the Senate. Check him out in this AP story:

Democrats are working to get a large opposition vote to make their points against President Bush.

"I think it sends a message to the American people that this guy is not King George, he's President George," said Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid of Nevada.

Bush should have picked a woman, said Reid, who urged the president last year to pick White House counsel Harriet Miers. "They couldn't go for her because she was an independent woman," Reid said of Miers, whose nomination was withdrawn under conservative criticism.

You've got to be kidding me, Dusty Harry. Had Bush stuck with Harriet Miers, who was underqualified and tied to Bush like his ranch kerchief, then we might have been able to sustain the King George charge.

Actually, if he looks like a King, it is the King George who suffered the revolution of his American subjects, because it was a revolt that brought Alito in. Quietude was the road to Harriet.

The Mozart Model

Dr. Francis Schaeffer wisely looked to the culture and intellectual traditions of Western civilization for answers to the important question he repeatedly asked in his excelllent writings: How should we then live? I suspect that quite a few of us look to the arts, and particularly the popular arts, with exactly that in mind, whether consciously or otherwise. An excellent look at the works of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart in the current Weekly Standard, by Fred Baumann, examines the great composer with that in mind:

. . . [L]istening to Mozart calls to mind (and in some ways turns you into) a certain kind of person, a more complicated sort than we mostly go in for today. Not a redemptive Wagnerian hero or cynical slacker, not a high-minded virtuoso of compassion and/or righteous indignation, not a "realist" or an "idealist," but someone who both acknowledges, lives in, accepts the viewpoint of, and participates in, all human feelings--even the ugly ones, as we see in the marvelous revenge arias given to the Count, Dr. Bartolo, and Figaro--but who also, in the end, maintains as sovereign the viewpoint of rationality and order. . . .

In invoking, and to some degree creating, such a person, Mozart implicitly makes a kind of moral case, a case for how we should live. It is not "aesthetic" in the sense of replacing the moral with formal beauty; it is much closer to what we find in Shakespeare's Tempest or Measure for Measure; i.e., models of a kind of control of the passions that gives them their due. Yet it is presented aesthetically, not through argument or exhortation. . . .

In the end, the romantic hero and the homo economicus turn out to be not basically different, but two sides of the same forged coin. The Mozartean hero, whom we approach, admire, and even learn to resemble, if only slightly, puts them to shame.

It is a figure that we don't meet much otherwise. On sale for generations now have been simpler models of heroism, at their best the superficially cynical but deeply moral idealist (say, Humphrey Bogart) but, more typically, various chest-pounding moralists and romantics.

For that reason--that we tend to operate, as though instinctively, on romantic and post-romantic antitheses about passion and reason--it is, in fact, harder to hear Mozart well today than it used to be. Insofar as his music transcends our categories, we either consign him to the realm of the pretty-pretty or turn him, as some 20th-century criticism did, into a grotesque quasi-existential Angst-ling. And of course, Nietzsche was right that the language of aristocratic, pre-Romantic taste is no longer available to us.

The article makes one want to listen to some Mozart and contemplate how we should then live. It will transform your understanding of the music and of the preternaturally wise and kindhearted man who made it.

Promoted Back to the Top: The Point of Politics

This post has been attracting a lot of comments, so I thought I'd bring it back up top for convenience's sake. --Hunter B.

Ross Douthat, newly returned from filling in for Andrew Sullivan, points to an essay on the ol' question of why those red-staters are voting red. (follow the links)

Now, I think the question is a bit hackneyed, not least because the fact that some state tends conservative or liberal is a long way from being able to say anything about the effects of social conditions on voting behavior. Having 55% of a state's voters (not citizens, mind you) who vote conservative or liberal and then making snarky comments (a la the NYT's Frank Rich) about how funny it is that those states have higher divorce rates, watch Desperate Housewives, etc. doesn't get you very far.

In any case, it seems to me that the whole question is based on a misunderstanding, namely, that politics is primarily about economics and only then about "cultural" issues. That's just nonsense, mostly dreamed up by people who *want* politics to be all about economics. Politics is, rather, primarily about culture, it is a vehicle for people to decide "who" they are. Economic decisions, the allocation of resources or opportunities, is a part of that "who-ness", but it does not contain it. Economics does, of course, shape culture, but I think it's a mistake to think it's primary.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Supreme Court Spectator

Here's a preview (by a few hours) of my article at The American Spectator, available to the broader public at midnight Eastern Time.

It discusses the Supreme Court's agenda after Alito and suggests taking aim at the Kelo vs. City of New London ruling which is taking takings to a level that most folks can't take.

Here, sample a smidgen:

...the piquant tale of Mr. Logan Darrow Clements. This man with the three cognomina may become more than a nominal cog in the historical battle to set the Supreme Court aright. In his low-key way he has taken aim at Kelo vs. City of New London. That disastrous decision of recent vintage allows municipalities to initiate takings of private property for the public advantage of enhancing the local tax base. This means that if The Donald convinces the city elders that he could build a revenue-generating casino right where your patio used to be, that putative benefit trumps your ownership. Your good deed will not go unpunished.

Mr. Clements has chosen a novel means of protest, one he compares to the Boston Tea Party. He has proposed to the sleepy New Hampshire burg of Weare that its most illustrious citizen, Justice David Souter, be evicted from his home to allow for construction of a hotel, the Lost Liberty Inn. On what grounds would it be built? On Souter's grounds. That is, the grounds of his vote with the majority in Kelo. Clements has already assembled the 25 signatures required to place his petition on the ballot in March: nine out of ten locals approached signed on the dotted line! Perhaps his idea is less dotty than it seemed.

Now I've Gone and Done It

I have resisted the mass compulsion for four years. Friends and colleagues could rave about it, the media could cover it ad nauseam, but no. I would not succumb. It was only out of curiosity that I sampled it last weekend, and now I am hooked, pathetically waiting for the next fix.

I am addicted to 24.

This is bad in a number of ways, mostly connected to the fact that I'm one of the half dozen people left in North America who doesn't have a TiVo box. I missed four minutes of episode three when my husband called me from the office. (And brother, he won't be doing that again. I nearly ripped his head off.) It took my daughter two commercial breaks to explain what had happened. Oh, and everything the drug czar says about addiction destroying entire families is spot on. My daughters have the Jack Bauer Jones just as bad as I do.

So I'm left with one question: if there's a 12-step program for 24, does it only get you halfway clean and sober?

Law Suitable

Top Ten reasons why Judge Alito should not be confirmed:

10) His mob ties clash with the robe.
9) His CAP dues are overdue.
8) He believes that a wife must notify her husband of a sex-change operation.
7) He prefers eating roe caviar to watching Dwayne Wade play basketball: a real Republican.
6) He is named after the prophet Smauel, a clear breach of the separation between church and state. (Now if we could apply that to Ruth Bader-Ginsberg and David Souter...)
5) He's from Philadelphia. W.C. Fields would turn over in his grave (or his ghost would return wielding an assegai...).
4) Judge Al Ito? After the way he botched the Simpson trial?
3) He's a lawyer. Yecch.
2) His wife is a crybaby.
1) He takes Ted Kennedy seriously.

Oh, oh, there's a big guy named Vinnie knocking on the door. Be back in a sec, I think...

MBA's as a Force for the Suck?

Occasional commenter ChETHB raised another interesting point in the discussion about the trouble with GM:

I have been thinking more about the decline of the American automobile industry and have come up with one more tidbit to throw out - the rise of MBA's in American industry. This started in the mid-60's and it has been my personal observation that decision-making in technically oriented businesses has suffered as managers/executives with technical degrees have been replaced by executives holding MBA degrees. Could something this simple have started the downfall of GM?

I found this statement provocative. My own corporate experience suggested that the really valuable people are those who know how to do things. Meanwhile, there were a lot of MBA's (and in my case, an MPA) running around not adding a lot of value. If I had been in charge, I would have fired me, a bunch of MBA types, and all of the Andersen "change" consultants.

What thinkest thou, fair readers and fellow contributors? Is the rise of the MBA a good thing?

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Green = $Green

Anybody remember John Brunner's precience in creating the Puritan Foods corporation in his early-70s sci-fi masterpiece The Sheep Look Up? Pure food for a polluted world.

Now, here in California, we have the Whole Foods supermarket chain. Morally admirable organic chow. Transgendered rutabagas, economic-equity grown coffee, tofu for the masses. Socially conscious consumerism. It helps if you have a few extra pennies to rub together to assuage your guilt at the need to eat and drink in order to survive. (Banana-carrot-cauliflower smoothies, $4.95. Yum.)

Avowed lefty ("I'm not a lefty!") Bill Moyers left the PBS show he created, Now, but it's still in production, and they paid homage to this neo-capitalist capitalist enterprise the other day. They interviewed one of the top brass, and it turns out that Whole Foods has a salary cap ($400K or so)---execs can make only 14 times what a cashier makes. The exec agreed with the Now reporter that such near-egalitarianism sure helps company (cashier) morale. A cashier captured on video was seen smiling. Brightly.

Man, isn't that cool? Pure foods for the body, sterling business ethics for the soul. If it weren't already so overpriced and tasteless, I'd be willing to pay double for their grub.

Oh yeah, in one of those quick disclosure tags at the end, like in every Erectile Dysfunction drug ad, Now did mention that the executive they interviewed snarfed up $1.8 million in stock options last year. Since Whole Foods is a non-union shop, they made a mint during the great supermarket labor strike here in California.

Cashiers get stock options at Whole Foods, too. Perhaps that's why that cashier was smiling, and damned brightly. ¡Viva la Reagan Revolution! Con tofu.