Courage is rightly esteemed the first of human qualities because it is the quality which guarantees all others.—Churchill

Monday, February 27, 2006

Dog Days

The Disney live-action sled dog adventure 8 Below was the top grossing film the weekend it opened, and it is still sitting number two, having made over $45 million in two weeks. Meanwhile, John Grogan's tale of his yellow lab with a brain of cast iron but a heart of gold is #1 on Amazon, heads the NYT hardcover nonfiction list, has sold nearly a million copies, and the film rights have just been bought by Fox 2000.

I saw 8 Below last night with my husband and eleven-year-old daughter. If anyone is reluctant to see the movie because they are disgusted with the descent of Disney into previously uncharted regions of stupidity and bad taste, consider giving this one a try anyway. 8 Below is not great cinema, but it is something just as rare: a movie one can enjoy, without embarassment and without boredom, in the presence of one's children. The action, characterization, and plot are straightforward but believable; the cinematography is gorgeous, and the animals are memorable and engaging.

Maya, Star of 8 Below
Surprisingly, the eight dogs are not overly anthropomorphized cartoons. With one exception, none of the dogs does anything I have not seen echoed in my own Siberian. I don't believe female huskies have the ability to coordinate six males, via short barks and apparent telepathy, to execute a cunning plan to capture seabirds -- with the subtlety of Navy Seals taking an enemy outpost on a moonless night -- but other than that every action is pack behavior familiar to anyone who's ever owned a working dog.

[Spoilers below]

The story is simple, and simply told: as the result of natural forces beyond anyone’s control, Jerry Shepherd, a guide employed by the National Science Foundation Antarctic Research Station, is forced to leave behind his team of eight sled dogs when the station is evacuated. It is impossible to travel to the continent until the following Southern hemisphere summer, and he returns to the States unable to shake off his sense of responsibility for abandoning his dogs. Everyone tells him it is not his fault, he should “let himself off the hook” and forgive himself, but he can’t. Juxtaposed against Jerry's efforts to first forget and then rejoin his pack, are scenes of the dogs' struggles to survive on their own, from the aforementioned seabirds escapade to raiding the Russian station's pantry. Eventually Jerry's stubborn devotion to his dogs snares three others, who were on the station when the disaster happened, into assisting him in gaining the continent to either rescue the team or face the reality of their deaths.

(An aside: to a former NSF staffer, the idea of using an unreconciled surplus in a research grant account as deus ex machina is pretty, well....imaginative.)

Kisa and Anne, stars of Two SidewaysI have not read Marley and Me, but I predict that before long this book will have sold 25 million copies. After all, there are 50 million dog-owning households in the US, and at least half of them will be curious about the intriguing, if improbable, notion that the World’s Worst Dog is not the one sitting on the professionally-clean-only sofa in the next room gutting a hand embroidered silk throw pillow or tearing the cap off a bottle of truffle oil.

Jeeves at Blenheim
In my house The World’s Worst Dog is named Jeeves, he’s a saluki, he crossed my threshold in September 1996, and whatever Marley might have done in his thirteen years, Jeeves has done him one better. The dog has eaten through plaster walls, air conditioners, feather beds, and seat belts. He has stolen and devoured enough meat, bread, chocolate, honey, and peanut butter to eradicate starvation in a smallish African country. He barks at my daughter’s little girlfriends just because it frightens them, and pees on the floor whenever he feels like it. He has awakened me every night for nine years so I can move over and let him get under the covers.

And if he were abandoned and lost somewhere, I would move heaven and earth to get him back, for the same reason that motivates the fictional Jerry Shepherd to cadge a helicopter, ice breaker, Italian Snow Cat and the services of three other science professionals to go after eight dogs that are probably dead anyway. And it's not sentimentality, misplaced anthropomorphism, or the overrefined sensitivity of wealthy, coddled people who have the luxury of treating their pets as if they were children. It is because Jeeves and I, like Jerry and his sled team, have forged a bond based on the pursuit of a common objective. The very qualities that make Jeeves annoying -- his barking, his suspicious reserve with strangers, his hyperactive scanning of the horizon for any perceived threat, from a squirrel to a serial killer -- make him a trusted aide for a woman who spends hours alone each day in an isolated house.

This is not a strict utilitarianism. It is, rather, more like the ties that used to bind families together, in the days when households were centers of independent economic activity, instead of places to sit in separate rooms wired to separate pieces of electronic gear to blow off the stresses of living parallel but separate lives in the global economy. How much of the alienation wives feel from their husbands and vice versa, how many arguments over work schedules, money, child rearing responsibilites, are caused by an economy that pits spouses at odds against each other, instead of harnessing them together like a sled team? I don't know, but I haven't had an argument with either one of my dogs in ages.

Much Ado About Con-Cons

Rod Dreher of the Dallas Morning-News has developed a sideline as the promoter of "crunchy conservatism." This mainly involves the old Southern agrarianism except that we get rid of some of the unpleasant social hierarchism that was packaged in that old deal.

The bottom line on crunchy-con is that it is a trendy sensibility with a Catholic edge. Not Kroger -- Whole Foods. Not Milton Friedman -- G.K. Chesterton. Bye-bye Hummer -- Hello Toyota Hybrid. You get the idea. It's the whole earth mother thing if it had developed a stronger conservative element.

Though I may write with an edge of skepticism, I think crunchy con is a good thing. Not everybody is cut out for the bland navy sport coat-red tie world of the eighties GOP brought to maturity by Reagan. This group expands the tent and provides a firmer link to Christian thought in politics.

National Review has gone a little crazy with blogs. I can remember when I was excited to read the online version every day because of the great articles. The prepared content has suffered neglect as the blogs have become more and more prominent on the magazine's website. Unsurprisingly, Crunchy Conservatism (which originated with Dreher at NRO) now joins the legions as a featured blog at NRO. For a post from that blog that captures the ambiguous spirit of the enterprise (crunchy con, not blogging), I recommend this one from Ross Douthat.

In any case, it will be interesting to observe whether Dreher has really put his finger on a going concern. We've always known Christian conservatives didn't boil down to a composite of the viewers of the 700 Club. Crunchy cons may help fill out the picture.

Trying to Fuss

A new Dreyfus affair seems possible, this time featuring Richard Dreyfuss as the prosecutor. He publicly orated and opined that President Bush should be impeached.

Now have a look at Dreyfus the defendant and Dreyfuss the plaintiff.

Separated at birth?

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Times Were Verse

Just ran across this quatrain that I scribbled in 1997 to recite at the funeral of a relative who was an Air Force navigator, flying in bombing raids over Germany in WWII. It was an amazing feeling to read this to a hundred or so mourners before a flag-draped coffin.

Off to defend brothers with love
I flew missions in German air
Looked up, saw Heaven just above
But beneath me, Hell was there.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Another Brick in the Wall

From Why Mommy is a Democrat by Jeremy Zilber. (HT: InstaP.) Cool. I think I could turn a few bucks off this.

From Why Daddy Left Us and Now He Wants to Kill Us (in progress)

Friday, February 24, 2006

Chilling Out Andrew Sullivan's Newest Smoking Gun

I feel for Andrew Sullivan. Really do. As an unapologetically---on both counts---gay Iraq War hawk, he found himself in bed or at least in a shotgun marriage with President Bush, whose religious-right allies are opposed to the Love That Dare Not Speak Its Name doing any bedding or wedding.

What a pickle.

It seems he's been edging back to the fold of late, toward any weltanschauung that doesn't include supporting FOFs (Friends of Falwell). The life of a heretic is a lonely one, and doubly worse when you're thought to be a quisling.

So, ultramegaleftyliberal Matthew Yglasias makes great hay of Mr. Sullivan's confession of a loss of faith in the foundations of the Bush/Iraq enterprise. Turns out another ultramegaleftyliberal got a Freedom of Information Act release of notorious Department of Defense underling Steven Carbone's notes from meetings with Donald Rumsfeld.

Mr. Sullivan writes:

"Go massive ... Sweep it all up. Things related and not." (My italics). My confidence that there was no deliberate misleading of the American people after 9/11 just slipped a notch.

I dunno if Mr. Sullivan actually looked at the document he posted, or just skimmed the FOIA blogger's account of it, but the keen eye reveals the smoking gun, "sweep it all up...relevant and not" is appended with an arrow saying "need to do to get anything useful."

The non-Bush Derangement Syndrome interpretation of that would be, "Dear Lower Level Guy and His Even Lower Staff: We know more than you do, and are in a better position to evaluate the intelligence and connect the dots. Get it all. Love, Rummy."

The section of the documents that reads "judge whether good enough [to] hit S.H. at same time" should come as no surprise to anyone who knew that the Bushies were determined to enforce Congress' 1998 resolution for regime change and reverse years of President Clinton's sometimes malign neglect of Saddam Hussein's violation of his peace treaty that included the withdrawal of WMD inspectors, attacking Baghdad with cruise missile or two, and most importantly, starving out the Iraqi people through "bloodless" sanctions.

No doubt, Dubya and the Bushies fixed the Saddam problem for good. No doubt.

In the aftermath, the Iraqi populace has already turned against al-Qaeda's indiscriminate murder. And we have cleared the road to self-determination. If the Shias and Sunnis want to descend into fratricide yet again, like the Iran-Iraq war, we cannot and should not stop them. Goodbye. But I believe they will step back from civil war. As their latest provocation in blowing up a mosque/shrine proves, it is the al-Qaedaers who are humanity's enemy, crusader and Muslim alike.

There is hope for us all yet, Mr. Sullivan, and your instincts were right in the first place: Saddam was a boil on humanity's butt that needed to be lanced. And we've done our moral duty in protecting the weak from the strong in the vacuum that inevitably ensues when the temporary stability of a butchering dictator evaporates. Nihil desperandum, sir. My admiration for your courage in a difficult spot endures.

Businessman/poet Tom Van Dyke writes from an undisclosed location beneath Southern California.

The Case for Dissolving FEMA

In response to my post titled "Federalizing Everything," a commenter asked, "You are saying you don't mind federal involvement [in disaster management] but you don't want them to be the ones coordinating it?"

That is not quite correct, so I'll explain further. First, I believe that the federal government should take the lead role in protecting the nation against attacks by foreign forces and any homegrown forces that venture across state borders. That is a given. It is when we get into the area of natural disasters that the problems arise.

I definitely don't want the federal government implementing responses to natural disasters. There is absolutely no need for it. Coordination is the farthest I should like them to go, and even that much involvement is in fact unnecessary. There is nothing on earth stopping states from cooperating in relief efforts and in preparing for disasters before they happen. Numerous states sent help to the Gulf Coast in the wake of Katrina, and countless private relief efforts contributed as well. States can work out agreements with each other to handle cross-border environmental problems and disaster-relief scenarios. Certainly there will be disagreements at times among states regarding which should take responsibilty for what (meaning whose taxpayers will pay how much for it), but federal "coordination" only moves the argument further up the line and results in greater stasis and failure of coordination and implementation.

In fact, the very existence of a federal agency devoted to disaster management (FEMA), and the existence (and meddling) of other agencies such as the Army Corps of Engineers, has helped take the pressure off of state and local governments to make the investments necessary to ensure that they can handle natural disasters. Any failures will ultimately be blamed on the federal government, which is exactly what happened after Katrina.

That is an excellent example of the concept economists call moral hazard.

If the state of Louisiana and city of New Orleans, in particular, have elected governments so inept and negligent that they failed to prepare for a catastrophe that everyone has known for countless years would eventually arrive, that is a matter for the voters of Louisiana and New Orleans to deal with. It is not a matter that requires a huge stratum of federal mandates to be laid on people in Seattle, Iowa City, and Charlotte.

The state of Louisiana could have prepared for this. The city of New Orleans could have been ready to deal with the problem. But they weren't. So now, because of the stupidity and cupidity of two state and local goverments, we will all have to climb under an even greater yoke of federal-government management of our lives. That is not sound policy; it is idiocy.

States would undoubtedly prepare for potential problems more effectively without federal "guidance," and especially without a huge new federal bureaucracy and a crushing new layer of laws, regulations, commissions, and greatly increased taxes to finance it all.

All of this is entirely unnecessary, including any federal role in planning and coordination. The creation of a large federal bureaucracy to coordinate and implement disaster management is an unnecessary and counterproductive boondoggle.

The best course at this time would be to dissolve FEMA and other such agencies and send the authority and responsibility back to the states, where it belongs.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Dubai: Don't Sell

In case you thought that Laura Ingraham's on-line poll showing 90 percent opposition to the port sale was skewed by the well-known predilections of her listenership, I thought I should pass along that the MSNBC poll, not encumbered with rightward leanings, is at 88 percent against and holding.

Federalizing Everything

It's just a coincidence, I'm sure, but every major event that happens in the United States seems to be read as showing that we need more intervention from the federal government.

The Katrina disaster is an excellent case in point. As soon as it happened and people in the region had to put up with the consequences of having chosen to live in an area long known to be vulnerable to just such a catastrophe, the complaints rang through the press regarding the alleged slowness of the federal government in responding. Relatively little attention was paid to the disgracefully slow and inept response by the governments of New Orleans and Louisiana, and likewise to the fact that the federal government stepped in as soon as was legally permitted.

No, the federal government was responsible for everything, including the weather and the choice of people to live in places sure to be inundated at some point or other. And of course the blustering, handwring, and investigations followed. The White House report on the federal response to Katrina, released today, predictably calls for more federal control over such matters. As the New York Times reports:

The federal government, the report said, failed to sufficiently appreciate that there are certain types of disasters, like Hurricane Katrina, where local and state governments will be so overwhelmed that they will largely be unable to help themselves.

Perhaps, but in this case the state and local governments were not competent and overwhelmed; they were overwhelmed because they were grotesquely inept, disorganized, and unprepared. The way for that to be handled is for the voters to replace their inept leaders with competent ones. If they refuse to do that, that's their choice, and they should have to accept the consequences.

The federal report proceeds from this faulty premise to the expected conclusion. The Times continues:

The Department of Defense, as was proposed by President Bush and Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff in the immediate aftermath of Katrina, would play a more active role in major disasters, the report suggests, perhaps leading the federal response to help accelerate search and rescue, evacuation and the delivery of supplies.

The report does not detail exactly when such a takeover might be appropriate, or how it would happen, suggesting only that the Departments of Homeland Security and Defense study the matter and come up with a plan. But it does offer examples of the types of incidents that would merit such a step, including perhaps a nuclear attack or "multiple simultaneous terrorist attacks causing a breakdown in civil society."

The latter certainly merit a central role for the federal government, as they would come under that government's responsibility for protecting us from foreign threats. When it comes to natural disasters, however, it is decidedly unclear when the federal government would have to be the main responder and when states and local governments should. What makes a disaster "federal"?—we should have to ask. But we will not do that, you can be sure, because the answer is that what really makes a disaster federal is the reaction of the media.

What will most certainly happen, then, is that the federal government will become the default option for management of the response to any significant disasters, natural or otherwise, occurring within the U.S. borders. That, of course, will require a huge, permanent bureaucracy to be established at the Department of Homeland Security, a bureaucracy that will inevitably become much bigger and vastly more expensive over time, as is the norm for federal departments and programs.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006


A few cursory thoughts for lunchtime:

1. With respect to the port bruhaha, all of us should be ashamed of such as the ineffable Michelle Malkin and the hysterical Frank Gaffney, both supremely expert at shouting first and thinking only much later if ever. Will the newly purchased P&O be managing "security"? Well, no. Will it manage the entire port infrastructures, as opposed to certain terminals? Well, no. Is the UAE a terrorist-supporting sovereign? Well, no. Would this new management have weakened incentives to cooperate with the Coast Guard and Customs Service in terms of port and container security, respectively? Well, no. Is there any reason to predict diminished inspection regimes at any of the affected ports? Well, no. Is there a good reason to allow Hillary and Schumer and the rest look like toughies on terrorism? Well, no. And therein lies the main reson that the bureaucrats should have nixed this anyway: It cannot be defended in a sound-bite world. So let us be honest about that. And please tell Malkin and Gaffney and the others to shut up.

2. So: I guess now it is the left also that believes in the permanent (nonliving) constitution. I refer to the argument now common amongst our usual opponents that the 4th amendment proscribes the electronic surveillance of conversations in the U.S. regardless of what the law says or does not say and regardless of the new environment created by international terrorism. El Presidente W, as usual, also is trying to have it both ways, arguing that the authorization of force passed after 9/11 includes such powers, and that obtaining such authority explicitly is both unnecessary and futile because Congress would not pass it. Or something. Will George ever learn? Make the case, W, and force Congress to vote up or down on the record.

3. So the Harvard Arts and Letters faculty, each member of which is in line for a Nobel prize, now has forced Larry Summers to resign as president. (Disclosure: Larry and I served together on the senior staff of the Council of Economic Advisers during the Reagan Administration.) Blame the Harvard lefties all you want for their closemindedness and bigotry, but the fact remains that this outcome is largely Larry's fault for capitulating in the face of the absurd reaction from a few over the sex/mathematics musings. A firm stand then, combined with a figurative finger in the faces of the unwashed, would have worked wonders.

For the Really Highbrow Darwin Doubters

Get to know David Berlinski. His collection of essays for Commentary magazine is available here.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

A Mess of Portage

Hey, I'm kinda proud of this article. It took me much longer than usual, because I thought it should incorporate a number of elements. The challenge was to try to keep all the moving parts in balance; I hope that I finally succeeded.

The Dubai port deal looks awful and smells worse. Time for Bush to get the FYI that the UAE deal is DOA. By threatening a veto today, he set himself up for a serious hurting in the offing. The public won't tar him for feathering his bed but they will tar-and-feather him for being obdurate at the wrong time.

Here's a peek:

Apparently I'm dead.

There can be no other explanation; I have always maintained that I would never live long enough to agree with Charles Schumer about anything. Still, it is ironic that my first posthumous column has to be in support of his position. He is in favor of chucking the recently announced dubious Dubai-U.S. deal to have that Arab emirate operate our major ports in New York and Miami. To be more precise, a quote-company-unquote quote-based-unquote in Dubai.

Cartoons & Civilization

With all the attention the world has devoted to the Danish newspaper, Jylands-Posten’s, cartoons depicting Prophet Mohammed, there are – it seems to me – several conditions surrounding this matter that deserve further elaboration.

First, and perhaps most noteworthy, is the self censorship many Western observers have imposed on themselves when the riots began. This form of preemptive subservience satisfies Islamists intent on global domination. As many observers have pointed out, freedom of the press has in many instances retreated before selective moral indignation.

The reasons for this response are manifold: fear, sympathy, anti-Western animus, and sensitivity to Muslim beliefs. What the sympathizers ignore is that without religious mandate they have supinely accepted dhimmitude, the subservience Muslims demand of nonbelievers.

While the appropriate stance should be the affirmation of Western principle, namely freedom of speech, many cower, fearful of offending marauding religious adherents. Instead of meeting speech that may be offensive with counter speech, Islamists threaten – and in extreme instances engage in murder, e.g. the killing of Theo van Gogh after he made a film depicting the mistreatment of Muslim women.

Yet even the threats are rationalized. Pat Buchanan noted that these cartoons deserve to be censured and implied that there is justification for the riots. His response is reminiscent of John Le Carre, who after learning of a fatwa on Salman Rushdie for the publication of Satanic Verses, said, “there is no law in life or nature that says great religion may be insulted with impunity.” Yet Le Carre has not been heard when Muslims routinely call Jews monkeys and pigs. Apparently what is good for Muslims is not good for those Muslims deplore.

The U.N. high commissioner for human rights, Canadian Justice Louise Arbour responded to a complaint from the Organization of The Islamic Conference by arguing, “I find alarming any behaviors that disregard the belief of others.” She proceeded to launch an investigation into “racism” and “disrespect for belief” and asked for an official explanation from the Danish government. It is instructive that the U.N. Human Rights Commission has been conspicuously silent on the vicious portrayal of Jews in the schoolbooks distributed in the Palestinian territory and in many Muslim nations.

While the examples cited here do not necessarily constitute a morally flaccid West, they do suggest moral hypocrisy on the part of many on the left who for decades claimed to be seeking liberation from artificially imposed social barriers. Christianity was seen as superstition; taboos as mere synthetic constraints against sexual expression.

Now, however, the left has embraced a position of high dudgeon over the criticism of Islam. Not only is freedom sacrificed on the crescent of Islam, but the left has been willing to repudiate its own position in order to be a bedfellow of Islamists.

Feminists, who have fought for women’s rights in the United States, have been silent over the abusive treatment of Muslim women. I would have thought acolytes of Betty Friedan would be demonstrating in front of every capital of every Muslim nation. Yet the moral fervor they directed against middle class American men has been converted into moral osteoporosis, alas moral hypocrisy, when it comes to Islam.

Apparently any anti-western sentiment is worthy of support if it is consistent with a reflexive anti-western view of the left. The enemy of my enemy is my friend has become a refrain. Curiously the libertarians of the left have been willing to embrace fascism of the most reactionary variety.

This red-green nexus is not a Christmas decoration. It is a threat that could undermine basic freedom in the West. The episode over the cartoons is a test. Islamists has fomented riots in an effort to see how the West will respond.

There will be other tests and with each one Islam will demand further observance of dhimmitude. The question that remains is whether the West will stand up to this challenge with fortitude and coverage. As I see it there isn’t any backing down, lest our civilization is put at risk.

Herbert London is President of the Hudson Institute and Professor Emeritus at NYU. He is also author of the book Decade of Denial (Lexington Books).

NY Times Discovers Kelo Reaction

An important and insufficiently remarked trend of our time is how many political issues are receiving support that cuts across party lines. School choice is among the most prominent of these, as inner-city minorities realize that it is the quickest way for their children to flee their failing public schools and get a decent education. Common-sense environmentalism is another such case, as increasing numbers of people recognize that technological and economic progress are the most reliable keys to environmental improvement.

Perhaps the most prominent such issue at the moment is the question of state governments' attitudes toward individual property rights. All too frequently, the states' use of eminent domain authority pushes ordinary people out of the way to make way for moneymaking projects of wealthy and politically powerful organizations. Corporations, for example, not only get big tax breaks to build headquarters in a particular locality, they also get prime land that the state has condemned so as to remove its current owners and residents. Typically, the land is declared to be blighted, to satisfy state requirements of state law, but the "blight" is often only in the eye of the beholder.

The U.S. Supreme Court's decision last June in Kelo vs. New London, Connecticut, which upheld a state's right to take land from some people and give it to others if the state government thought the latter would be able to pay more in taxes, brought this issue to a head. As has been reported regularly during the past year in the Heartland Institute's newspapers (which this author serves as senior editor), a coalition of people from both Left and Right—true liberals from both sides of of the political divide—has come together to limit individual states' power to take private property and give it to other people strictly for economic development purposes.

The New York Times reported on this phenomenon today (finally!):

"It's open season on eminent domain," said Larry Morandi, a land-use specialist at the National Conference of State Legislatures. "Bills are being pushed by Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives, and they're passing by huge margins."

Seldom has a Supreme Court decision sparked such an immediate legislative reaction, and one that scrambles the usual partisan lines. Condemnation of the ruling came from black lawmakers representing distressed urban districts, from suburbanites and from Western property-rights absolutists who rarely see eye to eye on anything. Lawmakers from Maine to California have introduced dozens of bills in reaction to the ruling, most of them saying that government should never seize private homes or businesses solely to benefit a private developer.

This is a great example of true liberalism: people defending their neighbors from the depredations of government and business (which all too often go hand in hand).

Danny Pearl's Favorite

Those Reform Club patrons who know me only as mouthy and stridently opinionated middle-aged female economist and political observer will perhaps be amused to learn that I am also an amateur musician of the unbounded enthusiasm but dubious ability school. At the age of 44, after a lifetime of playing normal instruments -- piano and various woodwinds -- I began harping in Irish/folk/early music styles.

I belong to an informal group that occasionally performs in public. St. Patrick's Day is to Irish bands as April 15 is to the IRS, and we have a local gig lined up the previous weekend. You don't just play music in these venues, you have a line of patter including jokes, stories, and information about the music you're performing. So I was surfing for tidbits, looking for some background on an old Irish reel usually called "Red Haired Boy" although it's got other names and multiple sets of lyrics like "Little Beggarman" and "Auld Rigadoo." What I found, mostly on a well-known traditional tune swapping site called The Session, was more than I anticipated.

I found the tune easily enough. But it had another name cross-indexed there, one I'd never heard before. Danny Pearl's Favorite. What the heck can that be? I thought to myself.

I knew who Daniel Pearl was, of course. There can't be many who don't remember the Wall Street Journal reporter kidnapped and savagely beheaded by Islamofascist terrorists in January 2002. His gruesome death was videotaped and shown to the world. His pregnant wife Marianne supplied the tragic poignancy of the personal angle for the millions who knew his name, and his fate, but little else. His colleagues at WSJ knew and told more, but eulogies are brief and not long remembered by those who didn't know the dead personally. But there are other rivers in the collective memory, and I had stumbled upon one.

On February 25, 2002, less than a month after Daniel Pearl's murder was confirmed by Pakistani authorities, the following message was posted to a discussion group on The Session:

Take a minute out to remember Danny Pearl, a bluegrass fiddler whose favorite tune was "Red-Haired Boy", and was kidnapped and murdered while on the job for The Wall Street Journal. Better yet, how about playing the tune at your next session to remember him by.

More suggestions follow: play it slow the first time through, play it as an air. Tell the story to your fellow musicians, to the audience. And then: let's call it Danny Pearl's Favorite. There are thousands of trad songs called [X's] Favorite. These tunes are so old, and have been passed around in the aural tradition for so long, that no one remembers the original names, if they had names at all.

And then, more than a year later, this post appears:

When journalist Daniel Pearl was savagely killed by terrorists who had taken him hostage in Pakistan, the papers and other news organizations discovered that Danny Pearl was also a fiddler -- bluegrass and oldtime, mainly, but he loved playing all kinds of music. His favorite tune was said to have been The Red-Haired Boy. Quite a few players got the idea all at the same time: what if we started spreading another name for the tune?Danny Pearl's Favorite. Many tunes, of course, have more than one name, and many of those tune names are ****'s Favorite.

So I suggested it to The Session, and many players wrote to say that they'd start spreading the usage of the new tune name to honor Danny Pearl. And then I more or less forgot about it, because you really don't hear Red-Haired Boy at Irish sessions, at least around here, very often.

But I was at an unfamiliar session recently, one where they played some old time as well, and someone started playing Red Haired Boy. "Oh, yes, Red-Haired Boy," I said, picking up my bow.

"Danny Pearl's Favorite," corrected the young fiddler across from me, picking up the tune.

I had to do some blinking for a bit to get the tune out.

We're going to tell the story at our St. Patrick's Day gig. But someone else will have to do it. I had to do some blinking for a bit just to write this post.

Monday, February 20, 2006

And Now, a Word from Mr. Beale...

Paddy Chayefsky's Network just seems more and more prescient every day, don't you think?

"All right, listen to me! Listen carefully! This is your goddam life I'm talking about today! In this country, when one company takes over another company, they simply buy up a controlling share of the stock..."

"But first they have to file notice with the government. That's how C.C. and A. -- the Communications Corporation of America -- bought up the company that owns this network. And now somebody's buying up C.C. and A! Some company named Western World Funding Corporation is buying up C.C. and A! They filed their notice this morning! Well, just who the hell is Western World Funding Corporation? It's a consortium of banks and insurance companies who are not buying C.C. and A. for themselves but as agents for somebody else!

Well, who's this somebody else? They won't tell you! They won't tell you, they won't tell the Senate, they won't tell the SEC, the FCC, the Justice Department, they won't tell anybody! They say it's none of our business! The hell it ain't!

Well, I'll tell you who they're buying C.C. and A. for. They're buying it for the Saudi-Arabian Investment Corporation! They're buying it for the Arabs!

We know the Arabs control more than sixteen billion dollars in this country! They own a chunk of Fifth Avenue, twenty downtown pieces of Boston, a part of the port of New Orleans, an industrial park in Salt Lake City. They own big hunks of the Atlanta Hilton, the Arizona Land and Cattle Company, the Security National Bank in California, the Bank of the Commonwealth in Detroit! They control ARAMCO, so that puts them into Exxon, Texaco and Mobil oil! They're all over -- New Jersey, Louisville, St.Louis, Missouri! And that's only what we know about!

There's a hell of a lot more we don't know about because all those Arab petro-dollars are washed through Switzerland and Canada and the biggest banks in this country!

For example, what we don't know about is this C.C.A. deal and all the other C.C.A. deals!

Right now, the Arabs have screwed us out of enough American dollars to come back and, with our own money, buy General Motors, IBM, ITT, AT&T, Dupont, U.S. Steel, and twenty other top American companies. Hell, they already own half of England.

Now, listen to me, goddammit! The Arabs are simply buying us! They're buying all our land, our whole economy, the press, the factories, financial institutions, the government! They're going to own us! A handful of agas, shahs and emirs who despise this country and everything it stands for -- democracy, freedom, the right for me to get up on television and tell you about it -- a couple of dozen medieval fanatics are going to own where you work, where you live, what you read, what you see, your cars, your bowling alleys, your mortgages, your schools, your churches, your libraries, your kids, your whole life!

And there's not a single law on the books to stop them! There's only one thing that can stop them -- you! So I want you to get up now. I want you to get out of your chairs and go to the phone. Right now. I want you to go to your phone or get in your car and drive into the Western Union office in town. I want everybody listening to me to get up right now and send a telegram to the White House --

By midnight tonight I want a million telegrams in the White House! I want them wading knee-deep in telegrams at the White House! Get up! Right now! And send President Ford a telegram saying: I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take this any more! I don't want the banks selling my country to the Arabs! I want this C.C. and A. deal stopped now!

I want this C.C. and A. deal stopped now! I want this C.C. and A. deal stopped now!"

Well, Western Union doesn't deliver telegrams anymore, the Arab stake in America is a helluva lot more than $16 billion, and Gerald Ford isn't president, but not much else has changed from 1976. Eerie, and pure genius.

Now, the national security dimension of an Arab country running our ports is enough to raise the hackles of common sense in anyone, apparently even in Democrats, so this must be really important.

But the United Arab Emirates, who just bought the stock of a port-running company, has never been proven to have done any harm to the United States, has it? In fact, they handed over one of the USS Cole terrorists. I mean, we're not engaging in racial profiling here, are we? (Just checking. I would not want our friends on the left to employ common sense if it makes them morally uncomfortable.)

There's a little-known law from 1920 called the Jones Act, a portion of which, to ensure the nation's economic security, dictates that any cargo (petroleum products included) shipping port-to-port must be done by American built, owned, flagged and (75%) crewed vessels.

There has been a move of late to repeal the Jones Act, as its protectionism had the effect of a hidden tax, although such efforts have stalled. The Jones Act was designed so that no outside forces could interfere with the flow of commercial shipping in the United States.

Instead of repeal, it appears national security demands an expansion of the act to include our ports themselves. I want the C.C. and A. deal stopped now, too.

Cheney of Command

Some cynical types have expressed anger that I have enthusiastically lauded Vice President Cheney in my column today for being a stand-up guy and owning up to being responsible for shooting Mr. Whittington. They impute all sorts of motives, ulterior and Machiavellian, to his words.

To me, the first obligation of the commentator is to take a person at his word unless I see evasive game-playing in the phrasing of the statement itself, such as we have often encountered in American politics, from Nixon's "I am not a crook" to Reagan's "Mistakes were made" to Clinton's "It depends what the meaning of is is" to Gore's "No controlling legal authority".

Also, no matter how much political or other advantage accrues to the confessor, people of weak character are startlingly prideful in their refusal to acknowledge guilt. We need only look to Martha Stewart, who spent five months in jail rather than admit that she cut some corners in her stock trading.

As the Crowe Flies

A number of critics on the right, such as Michael Medved and John Podhoretz, have singled out Cinderella Man, starring Russell Crowe as the late James J. Braddock, as one of the great films of 2005. Not that the film has any political aspect; right and left have become an issue only inasmuch as leftists have such heavy commitments to agenda films like Brokeback Mountain that they have no passion left for good solid cinema.

That said, Cinderella Man was needlessly harmed by its decision to demonize Max Baer as a vicious killer, which he patently was not. If you do see the film on DVD, be sure to watch the footage from the actual Baer-Braddock fight in the Bonus Features. There you will see that Baer was a total gentleman who spontaneously grabbed Braddock's head and gave him a kiss at the end of the last round, despite his almost certainly knowing that he had lost his title.

It would be interesting to hear back from our readers on one bizarre point of advertising. If you pick up that DVD and look at the picture on its cover, does it appear to be a natural depiction of two fully dressed people embracing? Please let us know your impressions.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Present Perfect

If I have a complaint against some of the religious thinkers of our time, it is in the area of their underappreciation of physical modernity.

Because they are so occupied with the battle against the fallacy that modernity brings new insight into the human condition, merely by virtue of coming to the table a day later, they allow themselves to drift into various forms of proto-Luddite disdain for new inventions and technologies. This is especially sad because it was the Biblical prophets who predicted consistently that the end of history would feature a radically different landscape in the physical Creation.

There are a number of branches to this critique, some of which have already been previewed in various venues.

Today I will venture out into a territory which I believe to be entirely uncharted. This involves revisiting Biblical questions from a modern perspective, not to try to take shallow swipes at the tradition but to see how it expands to absorb the new light added by new generations of life in history.

A brief example will suffice. There are many miracles that are known through the tradition but are not recorded in the explicit Biblical text. For example, every Jewish schoolchild knows that Nimrod offered Abraham a choice between relinquishing his belief in God (this was long before he had received prophecy; his belief was founded strictly on the argument from design) and going into a furnace. Abraham chose the furnace and he emerged unscathed.

They also know that Eliezer miraculously traveled from Beersheba in Israel to the Mesopotamian side of Syria in one day with a huge caravan of camels. Similarly, the spies sent to Israel from the desert were able to traverse all of Israel on foot in a single day.

Another such underreported marvel is the fact that Jochebed, the mother of Moses, was said to be 130 years old when he was born.

The question puzzled over by all the medieval commentaries is why the Bible deemphasizes such miracles and leaves them to the oral tradition, while stressing the splitting of the sea and the manna. Nachmanides (1194-1270) notably establishes a theological principle that the Bible wishes to negate the idea that miracles are themselves proof of anything. Only a miracle predicted by prophecy is valid as a true indicator of divine will. (Incidentally, a fact that always shocks "outsiders" is the rule that in any theological argument between Maimonides and Nachmanides, the view of Nachmanides is considered authoritative.)

It occurs to me that living in our time enables us to offer a different answer, one that was simply not accessible at earlier points in history.

Namely, that each of those miracles are things that can be approximated by using the technologies that nature has disgorged in this revelatory phase of history that we call home.

Today, we can send a man into a furnace wearing an asbestos suit and he can come out on the other side. Although that would not be quite the same thing, it remains a fact that a man can walk through a furnace. It's also a fact that a man can easily traverse those distances in the times allotted, albeit with the assistance of a motor vehicle or an aircraft. And any woman healthy enough to be alive and walking around can be implanted with a child today.

On the other hand, no conceivable technology will ever split a sea or feed a nation of millions from the sky.

Just a thought. But my larger point is that if you accept the Scripture as a prophetic document, it is absurd not to recognize that it would be crafted in such a way as to conform with every possible permutation within the natural order.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Nick Lachey: Losing Your Man-Card

Nick Lachey, the man-half of your favorite former newlyweds (now getting divorcelywedded), has filed for spousal support from Jessical Simpson.

Have some self-respect man. You're in your twenties and have both your health and a measure of celebrity. You're in danger of losing your man-card forever with this petition. Take it back while there's still time!

It's Jay Day!

In honor of Mr. Homnick, our consummate playa-on-words (see the title of his post below this one, for example), we offer this bit of e-mail apocrypha to completely ruin your sleepy, snowy weekend:

Here are the 10 first place winners in the International Pun Contest:

1. A vulture boards an airplane, carrying two dead raccoons. The stewardess looks at him and says, "I'm sorry, sir, only one carrion allowed per passenger."

2. Two fish swim into a concrete wall. The one turns to the other and says, "Dam!"

3. Two Eskimos sitting in a kayak were chilly, so they lit a fire in the craft. Unsurprisingly it sank, proving once again that you can't have your kayak and heat it too.

4. Two hydrogen atoms meet. One says, " I've lost my electron." The other says, "Are you sure?" The first replies, "I'm positive."

5. Did you hear about the Buddhist who refused Novocain during a root canal? His goal: transcend dental medication.

6. A group of chess enthusiasts checked into a hotel and were standing in the lobby discussing their recent tournament victories. After about an hour, the manager came out of the office and asked them to disperse. "But why?", they asked, as they moved off. "Because," he said, "I can't stand chess-nuts boasting in an open foyer."

7. A woman has twins and gives them up for adoption. One of them goes to a family in Egypt and is named "Ahmal." The other goes to a family in Spain, and they name him "Juan." Years later, Juan sends a picture of himself to his birth mother. Upon receiving the picture, she tells her husband that she wishes she also had a picture of Ahmal. Her husband responds, "They're twins! If you've seen Juan, you've seen Ahmal."

8. These friars were behind on their belfry payments, so they opened up a small florist shop to raise funds. Since everyone liked to buy flowers from the men of God, a rival florist across town thought the competition was unfair. He asked the good fathers to close down, but they would not. He went back and begged the friars to close. They ignored him. So, the rival florist hired Hugh MacTaggart, the roughest and most vicious thug in town to "persuade" them to close. Hugh beat up the friars and trashed their store, saying he'd be back if they didn't close up shop. Terrified they did so---thereby proving that only Hugh can prevent florist friars.

9. Mahatma Gandhi, as you know, walked barefoot most of the time, which produced an impressive set of calluses on his feet. He also ate very little, which made him rather frail and with his odd diet, he suffered from bad breath. This made him...a super calloused fragile mystic hexed by halitosis.

10. And finally, there was a person who sent ten different puns to friends, with the hope that at least one of the puns would make them laugh. No pun in ten did.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Candid Dates?

Here is our online weekend quiz, inspired by the liberal polemicists who claim that Bush lies, and Helen Thomas who claims that all Presidents lie. Do our readers agree with my assessment of the personal integrity of Presidential and Vice-Presidential candidates since I began voting in 1976?

In a regular business situation, if you had an investment opportunity based on the truthfulness of one of those men and women, would you assume that they are reliable? Here is my impression.

For personal gain....

Jimmy Carter would not lie.
Waler Mondale would not lie.
Gerald Ford would not lie.
Bob Dole would not lie.
Ronald Reagan would not lie.
George H. W. Bush would not lie.
Geraldine Ferraro would lie.
Dan Quayle would not lie.
Mike Dukakis - not sure.
Lloyd Bentsen would not lie.
Bill Clinton would lie.
Al Gore would lie.
Dan Quayle would not lie.
Jack Kemp - not sure.
Joseph Lieberman would not lie.
George W. Bush would not lie.
Dick Cheney would not lie.
John Kerry would lie.
John Edwards would lie.

Please let us know if you agree, and if not, why not?

(By the way, I don't think John B. Anderson, Ross Perot or William Stockdale would lie, and I had no impression of Patrick Lucey, Anderson's running mate. Perot, however, could fantasize in paranoiac directions, so that tendency would bear watching.)

Speaking of GOP Blondes That Drive Us Nuts

I'm probably going to attract some friendly fire here, but I gotta say it: Peggy Noonan makes me crazy. I have never understood precisely why she is considered a political sage, and I have never thought her analysis or advice was either valuable or entertaining.

Noonan's only real ticket to a seat at the table is her supposed brilliance as a wordsmith, and even here I have to dissent. She rose to prominence after publishing a memoir of her days as a speechwriter for Reagan and GHW Bush. She specializes in a sort of flowery mystical optimism; her most famous phrase is "a thousand points of light." What the hell is that supposed to mean, anyway, does anyone know? It's just one more empty phrase to be delivered while pretending to gaze over the horizon towards some misty new future. Everything she writes sounds like someone gave William Blake a lobotomy to get rid of the hellish hallucinations and then crossbred him with Madeleine Bassett.

Now Ms. Noonan turns her attention to 28 Gauge-gate, and pronounces Cheney the wounded one. I don't follow.

First, it's not like Cheney is the only "hate magnet" in the Bush administration. If the Kososphere is to be believed, Alberto Gonzales taught Jack Bauer everything he knows about torture and Michael Chertoff's dungeons are full of men who innocently phoned their Croatian great-aunts for the secret family paprikash recipe.

Second, it's not like Cheney did something to earn the title. I have never understood the visceral, subrational hatred the looney left harbors for this man. He's about as frightening as a small-town pharmacist. In fact, he reminds me of many of my high school friends' fathers. Oh, he's more articulate and intelligent, and certainly more powerful, but his small-town laconic regular guy essence is still very, very close to the surface. If he ran a repair shop or a hardware store I'd be his loyal and trusting customer, and I see no reason not to trust him to honorably perform the tasks he ended up doing instead.

Which brings me to third: the people whose hate is attracted by Dick Cheney will construct their own targets, and flushing him will do nothing to encourage a cease-fire.

Dick Cheney has served this country for forty years with uninterrupted dignity and equanimity. In payment he has suffered not just unsubstantiated charges of financial and political impropriety, which are now obligatory. He has endured, silently, the most outrageous attacks on his personal life, from the implication that he impregnated his wife to avoid the draft, to the public appropriation of his daughter's sexuality by his political rivals. If Noonan is by some slim chance correct, and powerful men are whispering his doom this afternoon over lunch at The Palm and Ebbitts Grill, then I say: shame on you, you insufferable maggots. Happily, odds are she's wrong again.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

A Different Kind of Media Bias

S.T. Karnick has expanded on his analysis of the odd unbalancing act performed by the Western press that adores defecating on Christianity while it abhors bad taste in Muhammed portrayals.

Check it out at Tech Central Station, which seems to have had a makeover (nice).

The Logic of Illogic: Redefining Israel

If world opinion can be determined from recent newspaper accounts, it seems that there is strong sentiment for Israel to return to the 1967 borders or what has been called the Green Line, notwithstanding the Hamas victory in the recent Palestinian election.

While this desire has certainly gained momentum in the last few years and may indeed be the inexorable direction of policy, it is simply illogical. At this stage of Israel’s history these borders are indefensible jeopardizing the very existence of the state. If Israel were to withdraw to its old borders, every airplane entering and leaving Ben Gurion airport would be subject to attack from a shoulder-held missile launcher. Recognizing precisely this security risk George Schulz in 1988 said, “Israel will never negotiate from or return to the 1967 borders.”

Why, then, has this illogical position gained so much ground?

International opinion suggests that the Palestinian cause must be recognized as a prelude to regional peace. In fact, most people – even Israelis – refer to the West Bank as “occupied territory.”

Yet the West Bank, obtained in the ’67 war, is to occupied territory what California is to the United States – land secured from war. Moreover, in the period from 1948 to 967 when Gaza was in Egyptian control and the West Bank was part of Jordan, there wasn’t a Palestinian issue and certainly no call for a separate state.

As a result of very effective propaganda, the Palestinian cause has moved from non-issue to the front burner with even Tony Blair declaring that this matter is among the most important on the globe and must be addressed before other issues are considered.

From the standpoint of the G-8 the financial and emotional cost of the issue is too great. It is the symbol of unattended Muslim interests is said (or rationalized) to be a factor promoting terrorism. Of course, no serious analyst would maintain that the existence of a Palestinian state would pari passu reduce terrorist ambitions.

Perhaps the overarching reason for the pressure is the consequence of 9/11. The Bush doctrine, predicated on the spread of democracy instead of stability, cannot make inroads in the dysfunctional Arab world as long as the Israeli Palestinian conflict is seen as an excuse to oppose liberalization. Why, note Arab leaders, should we reform our nations when you cannot embrace a reform in behalf of Palestinians?

It is instructive that a majority of Israelis and Palestinians support a two state solution, but the devil is in the details. The Barak plan, endorsed by President Clinton, was the most far reaching since it gave the Palestinians almost everything they asked for. Still it was rejected by Arafat.

Now it seems this plan is being trotted out again, notwithstanding the appropriate skepticism on the Israeli side.

In order to gild the lily, Palestinian leaders contend that their ability to reach some accommodation with Hamas is dependent on an Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank. How else can the Palestinian government demonstrate its influence and legitimacy? With Hamas terrorists part of the government, progress on an independent state must be made in order to extract concessions for peace, at least this is the Abu Mazen line.

For most Israelis making concessions before there is a visible reduction in violence is foolhardy. The G-8 see it differently, but then the G-8 do not reside on Middle East terrain.

Demography also complicates any state creation. Israel is about the size of New Jersey. There are 10.8 million people who live between the Jordan River and the sea. Assuming a modest birthrate slightly below replacement level (2.1 children per family) this area will have more than 30 million people by 2050 and be one of the most densely populated regions on the globe. Space, clean air, and water will become stretched to the limit. Yet here, too, it should be noted that the G-8 leaders don’t spend their vacations in Gaza.

The problem is that this illogical proposition is regarded as indispensable, thereby making the irrational logical. Can Israel resist? Can it engage in “a carom shot” that allows the G-8 powers to find solace in reform without resorting to statehood?

I think not, but then again, in this part of the world miracles happen. Maybe one awaits the Palestinians and the Israelis.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Strange Bedfellows, or: What To Do About Ann?

As for the first part of the title, I'll be speaking metaphorically herein: Ann Coulter's just not my type. I'm sure she'll be devastated to hear that when they tell her, but for God's sake, girl, order the pork chops instead of the watercress salad.

"There is more dissent on a slave plantation then amongst moderates in the Republican Party," said the fetching-to-many Ms. Coulter last night. Well, I fancy myself a moderate. I don't know nothin' 'bout birthin' no babies, Missy Ann, but here goes:

She bewitches me as she does most conservatives: she is a guilty pleasure, because she is criminally funny. She is demonstrably brilliant and knowledgable, with a mind fortified and honed by a top-flight legal education, and she says many things we're all thinking and daren't say. She is our Lenny Bruce, Mort Sahl or Chris Rock. But it was last night, as a featured speaker at a major conservative conference, that our Ann uttered:

I think our motto should be post 9-11, raghead talks tough, raghead faces consequences.

(According to this account, that riff received a "boisterous ovation" from the 1000 young conservatives in attendance.)

Now after the murders of 3000 of our fellow citizens on 9-11, it's totally understandable and not just a little cathartic to cheer such a statement with an even greater fervor than a touchdown for the home team.

But as a part of our politics, no. Ann Coulter cannot be a part of our politics, and in this case, anywhere near the forefront of the Republican Party. I (we) made great hay of Michael Moore, who should remain an equally "guilty pleasure" for the left, sitting next to ex-President Carter at the 2004 Democratic Convention. The inmates had taken over the asylum, and it was a legitimate political attack to point that out. We shall be judged not only on how we deal with our opponents, but our problematic allies.

Ms. Coulter is welcome to remain in our asylum, because in politics, especially in a two-party system, you don't often get to pick who occupies your beds. The GOP took in the Dixiecrats; the Democrats accept the entertaining demagogue Al Sharpton, and many who are far worse.

But larger than partisan considerations, some "ragheads" are our fellow American citizens, too. Some were teammates on my cricket club. And if the war with militant Islam is to be contained (and it is a war), it will be moderate "ragheads" who will contain it. We cannot kill them all.

Ms. Coulter was dismissed as a contributor to the intellectual godfather of today's Republican Party, National Review, for refusing to retract the following statement:

We should invade their countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity.

Her friend Barbara Olson had just been murdered in the 9-11 attacks. Ms. Coulter's anger was understandable, and under the circumstances, even measured. She is obviously still angry.

So be it. Society has a place for those who will speak the unspeakable, think the unthinkable, our madmen, our artists, our philosophers, our passions, our minds.

We just gotta keep 'em from getting anywhere near the controls of the airplane. Bad things happen.

Re-inventing the NBA All-Star Weekend

I can remember when the NBA All-Star game was a great event. Certainly a can't miss venture in the days of three stations and no remote control.

That is no longer the case. The game goes on, but with less interest than ever. Something more is needed to make things interesting and no, I'm not talking about gambling.

A friend of mine has come up with the answer. Click here to check it out if you are any kind of sports fan at all.

Cartoon Mary Worth: Meddling Whore

From the incomparable Rob Long at NRO:

LARRY KING: Tomorrow! The whole hour with the Van Patten clan! From Hilversum, Holland, hello!"

CALLER: "Hello, Larry. I was wondering to ask your guest why it is just European cartoons he finds offensive? Perhaps there are some American cartoons to be angry about?"

LARRY KING: "What about it? Do you guys object to Beetle Bailey?"

MULLAH RAMZI AL'QUADAR: "No, no. Look, Larry, this whole thing has been misinterpreted, and, if I may say, really exacerbated by the media. The cartoon that was published in Denmark was offensive — deeply offensive — to Islam. I mean, depicting our Holy Prophet with a bomb on his head instead of a turban? Come on!"

LARRY KING: "So Peanuts is okay in your book?"

MULLAH RAMZI AL'QUADAR: "Of course, Larry. The world of children and Snoopy and the whole thing: We love it."

LARRY KING:"Dilbert?"

MULLAH RAMZI AL'QUADAR: "Workplace Everyman! Who could object to that?"

LARRY KING: "Hagar the Horrible?"

MULLAH RAMZI AL'QUADAR: "Wry observations with a historical bent! It's cute!"


MULLAH RAMZI AL'QUADAR: "Well, Cathy is a whore and should be stoned to death."

LARRY KING: "Excuse me?"

MULLAH RAMZI AL'QUADAR: "Her and Mary Worth both. Whores."

LARRY KING: "Honestly, I don't see your point about Mary Worth."

MULLAH RAMZI AL'QUADAR: "Meddling prostitute. Crush her to death under a boulder."...

For the record, the caller may be right about Mary Worth.

A "Dangerous Professor" and My Experience

I am pretty much your standard issue evangelical Christian. Culturally conservative. Orthodox in the essentials of the faith. Jesus really did rise from the dead. He really is the son of God. He really did establish the Christian church. As you can see, standard issue.

I am also pretty much your standard issue American political conservative. Free markets. Strong America in the world. Prominent role for religion in public life. Limited role for the state. Standard issue.

Most of my adult life has taken place with academia in the background. Undergrad at Florida State University. Master's degree at University of Georgia. Law school at University of Houston. I’m currently involved in Ph.D. work at Baylor, which is my first Christian institution and would generally fall in the moderate camp. Most of the time I have felt like a minority and have taken great care to articulate my positions and my reasons for holding them. In the academic world, being a conservative is a little like being a gangsta at the golf course: you start with two strikes against you.

At Baylor the scale is a little more balanced. There on that contested campus in Waco I can find both sympathetic mentors and profs who would just as soon I weren't around. One person who is prominent both on campus and in my program is a liberal Jewish man named Marc Ellis. You might recognize his name. He appears in a new book by David Horowitz as one of "the one hundred and one most dangerous professors in America."

The new book, The Professors, is a Regnery book. Regnery is the flagship conservative publisher. They made their name with authors like William F. Buckley and Whittaker Chambers and have published some great books. If I can go purely by the chapter on Marc Ellis, The Professors isn't one of them.

I haven't taken classes with any other members of the notorious "one hundred and one," but I have spent a semester in Marc Ellis' classroom. Make no mistake. He has a particular point of view. He is generally liberal. He is a Jew who is very critical of Israel and is equally critical of Christianity. Both faiths in certain manifestations, according to Ellis, suffer from "Constantinian" tendencies, which means they take the path of domination and violence rather than love. As you can imagine, I don't share his point of view about everything or probably even most things. My orientation has always been to support Israel and to defend the Christian church reflexively. At the same time, I can see his point. Not being a great student of the history or politics of the Middle East I don't know if he's right about the contemporary situation, but his broader critique is relevant and worth considering.

Being who I am and feeling the way I do, I, like others similarly situated, did not want to take Marc Ellis' class. Nevertheless, we are required to take him in my graduate program. I thought about trying to convince the department chair to exempt me from the requirement. Friends assured me there would be no chance, so I started the class with a big chip on my shoulder.

In the early going, Ellis didn't take a lot of comments or questions from the students in the seminar. Smart move. Many of us were ready to challenge every point and turn the session into a debating society. That's not what Ellis is about. Instead, he seeks to push students outside of their pre-defined ideological territory and get them to engage him on a purely human level. He shares his thoughts, reads a little of his poetry, hands out typed monologues, draws diagrams of history, spends a good bit of time on the I and Thou, and talks a lot about Bob Dylan. In short, he puts himself out there. You can make fun of him. You can dislike him. You can hate him. You can engage him. Your choice. And see, that is sort of the point. This is not a man who is brainwashing students. This is merely a passionate man with whom many of us might disagree passionately.

The result of what he does can be astonishing. I felt space opening up inside of myself where I would be willing to discuss the issues on a personal level rather than as a member of a team trying to win an argument. In an increasingly polarized world of red state v. blue state, liberal v. conservative, believer v. unbeliever, hawk v. dove, and the rest, what Marc Ellis can accomplish in a classroom is valuable not dangerous.

Even as I write this, I know that friends and allies will be tempted to distance themselves from me because I am defending a person from "the other side." But I know wrong when I see it and what David Horowitz has done to Marc Ellis in his book about professors is wrong. Instead of engaging Ellis at any point, Horowitz campaigns rhetorically to convince the reader that this man is not a worthy person. To paraphrase, Horowitz proclaims: He lacks solidarity with his people. Jews don't listen to him. Holocaust deniers like him. He writes for an Arab newspaper. His scholarship is published by the wrong presses.

In addition, the chapter on Ellis is wrong on at least one major point of fact. For example, Horowitz claims Ellis is a "passionate endorser of the 'One-State Solution,' in which Israel will simply be eliminated as a Jewish state and will be enfolded within a larger Palestinian-dominated state." That statement, an important one, is factually incorrect. Ellis favors a two-state solution that maintains a separate Jewish state.

I hate it when I see my friend and mentor Francis Beckwith treated this way by unthinking leftists and advocates of scientism who object to his defense of the philosophical pro-life position or his willingness to consider the constitutional arguments for intelligent design in public education via a nasty mixture of ad hominem attacks and repeated commissions of the genetic fallacy. The spectacle offends my sense of justice.

When I see these tactics turned against Marc Ellis, I still hate it and my sense of justice is equally offended.

[I hasten to remind all readers that I defend Dr. Ellis not as part of some pro-Palestinian program of my own or as my own endorsement of some future two-state plan approved by the U.N. or some other body. I have no such program and as I said above, have always been pro-Israel in my politics. The program I do have is to attack this sort of non-argument argumentation that deals in personalities and alliances rather than the substance of a point of view. I also want to be clear that I have read much of David Horowitz’s work and have enjoyed it, but I think he has attacked Ellis in a way he would find abhorrent if done to him.]

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.