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.

Fashion Crime

If Cindy Sheehan spends much more time in the DC metro area, she'll have to register her car and get one of those "Taxation without Representation" license plates. The ubiquitous loudmouth mother was at it again yesterday evening, successfully managing to raise a ruckus and get her face on television again, as the guest of Lynn Woolsey (D-CA) at the State of the Union address. Sheehan removed her jacket in the House gallery, revealing a message t-shirt bemoaning the number of US soldiers killed in Iraq. What happened next a matter of dispute: Sheehan says she was given the bum's rush out of the chamber and arrested by Hill police. Police say she refused an order to cover the shirt, was detained, and received a citation for misdemeanor unlawful conduct.

What no one disputes, however, is that Cindy Sheehan arrived for a formal and solemn government event wearing a t-shirt. I don't care what she had stamped on her chest. She was wearing a garment that within my lifetime was an item of male underclothing. What kind of childish twit wears a t-shirt to a State of the Union address? Wait, don't tell me: the wife of a Florida congressman. We have a bipartisan etiquette situation here, and it's time someone lowered the hammer.

You do not wear t-shirts to formal legislative functions.

You do not wear flip-flops to the White House.

You do not wear swim trunks to tour the World War II memorial.

I mean, really. Even Monica Lewinsky puts on a dress.

Ways to Enliven the State of the Union Speech

Like my esteemed fellow analyst Hunter Baker, I did not watch the State of the Union speech last night. (I did pop in every few minutes for a look, and then quickly returned to my Tivo viewing of NCIS, as no group of terrorists or extraterrestrials seemed to be invading the House chamber, nor did Teddy Kennedy's fake body begin to melt and reveal once and for all that he had been replaced by a robot, nor did the President say anything the slightest bit unexpected). These speeches are pure political theater, but what is worse is that they are very bad theater, having become extremely boring and predictable.

Look, people, nobody except politicians does these laundry-list speeches any more. Even speakers at local Rotary Club meetings use visual aids and new technology. I am not going to watch these presidential speeches, and neither is anybody else who has any kind of a life, until the people involved make them more interesting. That's a given.

And it would be very easy to do, with a little imagination.

For example, every good speech is easily livened up by a nice PowerPoint presentation. So, when the President says, "And we will be there until the people of Iraq are truly free!" (half of audience whoops madly, other half sits glumly and taps their fingertips together in sarcastic parody of applause), why not have a slide showing a graph of the amount of freedom in Iraq in 1988, 1994, 2000, 2006, etc., with the columns made up of, say, little inked fingerprints representing the will of the Iraqi people? Or, when the President says that we've given $X million dollars to help the people harmed by last fall's hurricanes, he could click away at the screen, showing images of devastation and then noble federal officials helping out, and graphs in which the bars are composed of piles of dollar bills or loaves of bread or whatnot.

That would be much more like it.

Another nice effect, and one which would emphasize the President's role as both leader and team player, would be for him to have one of those big, clear plastic boards behind him, on which he could tape photos and write with a dry-erase marker, like a police captain talking to his team as they chase down a serial killer. Viewers would be fascinated as they watched the board fill up with words and pictures, and there would be great suspense as we wondered whether that snapshot on the upper right which is hanging precariously and even fluttering in the breeze from the air conditioning was going to fall down, and whether the President would leave up the phrase about health care expenditures or erase it in order to write something about China. Now that's theater!

Of course, there are huge possibilities for the use of an HDTV screen with appropriate images, the way TV anchors now do things, but I suspect that only a politician of preternatural humility would risk having the audience's attention diverted so fully from the main event, which is of course the speech and the President's role as big shot. So I think they'll shy away from that for a good long while. However, there are other things which could fit the need, including simple activities such as the President using a laser pointer to shine a red light in the eyes of inattentive members of the opposition party. More theatrical effects, such as balloon drops, etc., might be deemed inappropriate to the occasion, but I think that as people got more used to the reality of the speech as political theater, such things would become increasingly acceptable. While discussing prices of farm commodities, for example, it would show the President as a highly knowledgeable guy if he were to make those comments while milking a cow.

I've got literally hundreds of ideas like this, folks.

Of course, I usually get paid a fortune for great advice of this sort, but I'm offering it gratis in a spirit of charity and a sincere desire to raise the level of political discourse in this nation. I am always available for consultations, however, and would be happy to discuss this further with the President or any interested state governors. Just let me know, OK?

Children, Media and Sex

Over at Mirror of Justice: (a great blog, by the way, if you're interested in Catholic social thought), Rob Vischer points to this NYT piece on the effects of media with sexual content on children's sexual activity. (Hint: if kids watch shows with sexual content, they tend to be more sexually active earlier. What a shocker.) But here's the stat that just blows my mind: two-thirds of kids 8-18 have televisions in their bedrooms.

I remember when we were looking at houses a couple of years ago and I remarked to my wife that in many of the houses, the kids had TVs, VCRs/DVD players, and computers in their rooms. Hmmm...what will teenage boys (and girls, I suppose) do with a VCR, TV, and a high-speed internet connection? Besides reading The Reform Club, I mean... The inanity of it is just staggering. We don't have cable (I sooooo wish I could have ESPN) largely because I refuse to let MTV into my house.

Get rid of the TVs, move the computer to the family room, and show some judgment, folks. Sheesh.

Politically Speaking

Another SOTU, another one unwatched by me.

When I was director of public policy for an Atlanta group a few years back my boss asked me what I thought of the SOTU, I told him I hadn't seen it. He was semi-irate. How could a person in my position not watch the speech? Don't worry said I. It reads a lot faster.

Am I the only person who finds these speeches unwatchable? Even with a decent speaker the stupid dance of planned applause lines and the audience drives me insane. When did political speeches go this way? Surely there was a time when the speech was delivered with power as though written into the scene of a drama. Under those circumstances the hearers would only applaud when truly seized with emotion or appreciation. The speaker might even be a little tripped up by the unexpected (better still, unplanned) outpouring of approval.

Kill the applause line. It has already killed political speeches, so we're just talking about revenge.

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Sauce Alito

You would be doing yourself a terrible injustice if you did not avail yourself of this preview of my article in The American Spectator exulting over the Alito victory.

No teaser quote: go and enjoy.

More on Alito

I'd like to add that Alito would quite possibly not have been confirmed were this not an election year. The Democrats have hopes of re-capturing part or all of the Congress because of perceived weakness in the performance of the Bush presidency. They know that Americans are essentially conservative on the question of judges and do not want to chance making the court a midterm election issue.

Thus, we have the compromise. Hold a dog and pony filibuster show that allows the senators from safely liberal states and those who wish to audition for the primaries in 2008 to prove their love to the Dean/Moore/Move-On faction. Then, hold the real vote, let a few vulnerable Dems vote for Alito while the rest of the caucus votes no, and go back to "Bush lied, people died."

There's the script. Get ready.

The Steady Balkanization of America

As I understand it, amid the Alito struggle, budget wars, the creeping advance of Big Brother, and all the rest, there proceeds in Congress an effort supported by El Presidente W to enshrine a "Jewish Heritage Month" across the land. Now, I take a backseat to no one in terms of continuing announcement from rooftops of the supreme virtues of Torah, good deeds, charity, and chopped liver, and not necessarily in that order. But this is a terrible idea. There are insufficient days, or for that matter, hours, in a year for "heritage" genuflection to all of the myriad ethnic groups, skin tones, and hair colors that the traditional melting pot is supposed to comprise. And why not dog breeds? The plain reality is that the growing focus on group identity has yielded the incredible destructiveness of group identity politics, with all the of political correctitude, speech codes, litigation, mutual distrust, and general dishonesty attendant upon it. And this is no accident. That the various Jewish groups will support this is obvious, as are the long term adverse effects for all minorities, the Jews foremost among them. This Balkanization of America is supremely dangerous, and Jewish support for it is appalling.

Score One for Baker's Political Prognostication Powers

I said Alito would be confirmed by a comfortable margin with no filibuster.


I also said it is the next vacant spot on the court, not O'Connor's seat, that will provoke the battle royale. With O'Connor's retirement and replacement you get four strong conservative votes, not five. Our side lost one when White was replaced by Ginsburg. A pretty serious swing, but the GOP wasn't complaining, now were they?

The next seat will make the Bork battle look like a party provided a Republican is doing the nominating. If not, the GOP will sit politely by while the Democrats appoint pretty much whoever they wish, AS USUAL.

The Great Zucchini

This is an amazing article about a guy who does children's parties in the DC area. Read it. Really. (HT to the great Mr. Lileks)

One of the odd things about having young children is watching people exert themselves in all sorts of ridiculous ways for their children's birthday parties. Why people are willing to spend hundreds of dollars on a party for three-year olds is beyond me.

Monday, January 30, 2006

Slamming the Door on Another Counterargument

One of our commenters has repeatedly charged that the followers of Jesus chose to keep soldiering on after the crucifixion because of the desire for some material gain. In other words, they somehow cynically endured persecution in hopes of getting the big score and I don't mean heaven.

I decided to end the dime store atheist crap by looking a little deeper. Reading Gary Habermas, who is intensively engaged in this issue and famously debated the former atheist (now plain theist) Anthony Flew, I found the following statement which would seem to end this particular line of hazing:

It is the substantially unanimous verdict of contemporary critical scholars that Jesus' early disciples at least thought that they had seen the risen Jesus.

Since we now have the opinion of people who actually study the matter, rather than that of those who line their parrot cages with the latest issue of Skeptic magazine, we can put the cynical religious charlatans argument to rest.

Christianity, Saul, Paul, and Mithraism

A comment on Hunter Baker's post "Justice v. The Resurrection" has proposed a counterargument based on two easily refuted propositions. The first, a hypothesized scenario in which Paul conspires with a variety of people to fake the resurrection, is absurd because Saul was in fact one of the most prominent opponents and persecutors of Christianity after the Crucifixion. It was not until Saul met the resurrected Jesus while on the road to Damascus that Saul, now known as Paul, converted to Christianity. No one at the time ever claimed that Paul supported Christ until well after the latter's death. Hence he could not have been any part of a conspiracy to deify Jesus Christ.

The second proposition, that the story of Christ was based on Mithraism, is equally wrong. The Catholic Encyclopedia makes the following points, which are easily confirmed by even the most superficial research into Mithraism:

"A similarity between Mithra and Christ struck even early observers, such as Justin, Tertullian, and other Fathers, and in recent times has been urged to prove that Christianity is but an adaptation of Mithraism, or at most the outcome of the same religious ideas and aspirations (e.g. Robertson, "Pagan Christs", 1903). Against this erroneous and unscientific procedure, which is not endorsed by the greatest living authority on Mithraism, the following considerations must be brought forward. (1) Our knowledge regarding Mithraism is very imperfect; some 600 brief inscriptions, mostly dedicatory, some 300 often fragmentary, exiguous, almost identical monuments, a few casual references in the Fathers or Acts of the Martyrs, and a brief polemic against Mithraism which the Armenian Eznig about 450 probably copied from Theodore of Mopsuestia (d. 428) who lived when Mithraism was almost a thing of the past -- these are our only sources, unless we include the Avesta in which Mithra is indeed mentioned, but which cannot be an authority for Roman Mithraism with which Christianity is compared. Our knowledge is mostly ingenious guess-work; of the real inner working of Mithraism and the sense in which it was understood by those who professed it at the advent of Christianity, we know nothing. (2) Some apparent similarities exist; but in a number of details it is quite probable that Mithraism was the borrower from Christianity. Tertullian about 200 could say: "hesterni sumus et omnia vestra implevimus" ("we are but of yesterday, yet your whole world is full of us"). It is not unnatural to suppose that a religion which filled the whole world, should have been copied at least in some details by another religion which was quite popular during the third century. Moreover the resemblances pointed out are superficial and external. Similarity in words and names is nothing; it is the sense that matters. During these centuries Christianity was coining its own technical terms, and naturally took names, terms, and expressions current in that day; and so did Mithraism. But under identical terms each system thought its own thoughts. Mithra is called a mediator; and so is Christ; but Mithra originally only in a cosmogonic or astronomical sense; Christ, being God and man, is by nature the Mediator between God and man. And so in similar instances. Mithraism had a Eucharist, but the idea of a sacred banquet is as old as the human race and existed at all ages and amongst all peoples. Mithra saved the world by sacrificing a bull; Christ by sacrificing Himself. It is hardly possible to conceive a more radical difference than that between Mithra taurochtonos and Christ crucified. Christ was born of a Virgin; there is nothing to prove that the same was believed of Mithra born from the rock. Christ was born in a cave; and Mithraists worshipped in a cave, but Mithra was born under a tree near a river. Much as been made of the presence of adoring shepherds; but their existence on sculptures has not been proven, and considering that man had not yet appeared, it is an anachronism to suppose their presence. (3) Christ was an historical personage, recently born in a well known town of Judea, and crucified under a Roman governor, whose name figured in the ordinary official lists. Mithra was an abstraction, a personification not even of the sun but of the diffused daylight; his incarnation, if such it may be called, was supposed to have happened before the creation of the human race, before all history. The small Mithraic congregations were like masonic lodges for a few and for men only and even those mostly of one class, the military; a religion that excludes the half of the human race bears no comparison to the religion of Christ. Mithraism was all comprehensive and tolerant of every other cult, the Pater Patrum himself was an adept in a number of other religions; Christianity was essential[ly] exclusive, condemning every other religion in the world, alone and unique in its majesty."

The New York Times misplaced $6.7 Trillion

“Corporate Wealth Share Rises for Top-Income Americans” is the January 29 headline of yet another uninformed New York Times piece by David Cay Johnston:

“New government data indicate that the concentration of corporate wealth among the highest-income Americans grew significantly in 2003, as a trend that began in 1991 accelerated in the first year that President Bush and Congress cut taxes on capital. In 2003 the top 1 percent of households owned 57.5 percent of corporate wealth, up from 53.4 percent the year before, according to a Congressional Budget Office analysis of the latest income tax data. The top group's share of corporate wealth has grown by half since 1991, when it was 38.7 percent. The analysis did not measure wealth directly. It looked at taxes on capital gains, dividends, interest and rents. Income from securities owned by retirement plans and endowments was excluded . . .”

All that matters in that egalitarian gibberish is that capital gains, dividends and interest earned inside tax-deferred savings account has been simply “excluded.” The story is only about taxable investments, which are mainly held by those with high incomes because tax-deferred saving plans have income limits and contribution limits that greatly limit their use among the affluent.

The CBO fabricates income distribution data from individual income tax returns. Yet the bulk of most peoples’ capital gains, dividends and interest income have become increasingly invisible on tax returns – stashed away inside IRA, Keogh and 401(k) plans, and 529 college plans. Only the income from taxable investments shows up in tax-based income studies by the CBO, or by Thomas Piketty and Emmanuel Saez.
If you exclude nearly all the assets of middle America from the count, then those at the top must indeed appear to have a big share of whatever assets are still left for tax collectors to tax.

We aren’t talking about small change. The excluded assets of IRA, Keogh and 401 (k) plans grew from $1.9 trillion in 1990 to $6.2 trillion by 2004, when both figures are measured in constant 2000 dollars.

The 2004 figure was $6.7 trillion when measured in 2004 dollars. With a middling 7 percent return and that $6.7 trillion would generate $469 billion of capital gains, dividends and interest income in the first year alone – income that does not appear in the CBOs tax-based studies of who earns what or in Mr. Johnston’s derived estimate of who owns what. A half trillion here, a few trillion there, and pretty soon it adds up to real money.

I am trying hard to finish writing a text on income and wealth for Greenwood Press. Not a moment too soon, apparently.

Justice v. The Resurrection

Michael Simpson posted about the relevance of religion to the academy and I commented that religion is indeed relevant because I have more evidence for the resurrection of Christ than I do for the existence of justice.

After that intentionally provocative comment, I received an email from one Tom Van Dyke encouraging me to be a bit more forthcoming. I was originally hesitant to do so because I haven't read the latest and the greatest on the subject of the resurrection, which is the treatment of the subject by N.T. Wright. Wright's work is at least partially responsible for the conversion of the famed horror writer Anne Rice. However, I remembered that William Lane Craig is very strong on the subject and I could probably get a condensed essay from him. I was right.

Here's a bit of whetting:

So complete has been the turn-about during the second half of this century concerning the resurrection of Jesus that it is no exaggeration to speak of a reversal of scholarship on this issue, such that those who deny the historicity of Jesus' resurrection now seem to be the ones on the defensive. Perhaps one of the most significant theological developments in this connection is the theological system of Wolfhart Pannenberg, who bases his entire Christology on the historical evidence for Jesus' ministry and especially the resurrection. This is a development undreamed of in German theology prior to 1950. Equally startling is the declaration of one of the world's leading Jewish theologians Pinchas Lapid, that he is convinced on the basis of the evidence that Jesus of Nazareth rose from the dead. Lapid twits New Testament critics like Bultmann and Marxsen for their unjustified skepticism and concludes that he believes on the basis of the evidence that the God of Israel raised Jesus from the dead.

I read through the essay and found it quite thorough and informative. If this blog were my sole property, I would paste the whole thing in and monopolize the real estate. Instead I will content myself with providing you with this very large LINK. (Don't get down on Craig for any typos in the essay, I think some noble person actually typed in the essay from dead tree to get it online.)

Read the essay and see whether I was exaggerating when I made my provocative statement. It's easy to be correct because the evidence for the existence of justice is weaker than expected, while the evidence for the resurrection is stronger.

Because we are an interfaith blog, I hasten to explain to my Jewish friends that I am not seeking to kick up some kind of battle over Christian history between Jews and Christians. Rather, I am trying to further the point that religion is relevant and not merely because of some psychological reason.

Cures for the Ailing U.S. Health Care System

Columbia University economics professor Glenn Hubbard has contributed an excellent analysis of the nation's ailing health-care system in today's issue of National Review Online. Hubbard makes the important point that the central problem with the U.S. health care system is the lack of consumer control over costs and treatment, which is caused by government impediments to private markets:

We found that many of the problems in our health-care system stem not from what happens in the doctor's office or hospital, but what happens in our tax code. If, on the one hand, an employer pays for an employee's health coverage, it is a tax-free cost for both the company and the individual, therefore allowing for generous health-care coverage in large companies — especially those with union-negotiated contracts. If, on the other hand an individual must pay for health-care costs out of pocket and these costs cannot be written-off, the medical expenses are more keenly felt and are, at times, hard to afford. This difference often results in the person avoiding to seek medical care until it is absolutely necessary — if at all.

Hubbard points out that the government's bias toward third-party payment systems is the crux of the problem:

Many policymakers are starting to see the problem. Last fall, the bipartisan President's Advisory Panel on Federal Tax Reform suggested capping the tax deductibility of health-insurance premiums so that employers could extend only so much coverage to their workers. And, if we could do so, removing all tax subsidies for health care would be the best answer. That outcome is most unlikely, and the key is to stop the tax bias against low-cost individually purchased health insurance. In our book, we propose making all health-care spending deductible. The difference in those policy suggestions is significant, but the effects would be similar. For once, all Americans would begin to manage the cost of their health care directly, instead of letting others worry about it.

A further problem, Hubbard notes, is the plethora of different state mandates regarding insurance, and the fact that insurance companies cannot compete across state lines. This lack of competition increases prices further, lowers acesss to insurance, suppresses productive investment, decreases the overall quality of services, and holds back innovation in service delivery:

A greater focus on consumer-driven health care requires further policy improvements: open and national health insurance markets, so that consumers have more choices in the kind of hospitals, doctors, and insurers they use; greater investments into health-information technology to identify and prevent errors before they occur; and reforms of medical-liability rules, so that good doctors and nurses can practice quality health care without being harassed by nuisance lawsuits.

Again, some conservative critics mistakenly think that federalization of our health-care insurance and regulatory markets would inherently be bad for health care. If one's default position is to fight national markets governed by national standards at all turns, I suppose there's no sense arguing the point. But let there be no doubt that national markets would work. Consider the state-by-state standards for gasoline admixtures — a mish-mash of formulas meant to satisfy environmentalists in California and the northeast, to the detriment of national gasoline supplies and refinery capacity. Think that's bad? Look at state-by-state health-insurance regulations. They are far more complex, and in effect create high insurance costs for captive consumers and benefits for some large insurers who alone can either lobby themselves out of trouble or maintain the product lines that each state requires. A few decades ago, banking was run this way, a situation remedied by national banking reform. Instead of the gargantuan national influence on banking that some feared, we have a true national market for a vital financial service — more choices, more products, and more usage. There are other ways to accomplish insurance-market reform, too, but the key is to promote the availability of low-cost insurance to individuals currently subject to costly state mandates.

This is just a sampling of what the article presents, and Hubbard's other writings on the subject provide further support for his approach. Enthusiastically recommended.