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

Friday, March 10, 2006

Póg Mo Thóin

It is pronounced POAG muh HONE, anglicized as Pogue Mahone, and in Irish Gaelic it means "kiss my ass." Shane MacGowan has been inviting the world to do so for 25 years now, and on Thursday night Washington DC obliged. I was there, I saw it, and I was glad to join in.

Shane MacGowan is the founder and animating spirit of The Pogues, the groundbreaking 80s group that invented the category "Celtic Punk" now inhabited by more derivative acts like Flogging Molly, Dropkick Murphys, and The Tossers. MacGowan shortened the band's name in 1984 to end a daytime airplay ban by the Beeb -- who had not been amused to learn they'd been the laughingstock of their Irish speaking audience every time they announced a Pogue Mahone tune. This might be the last time MacGowan refrained from telling someone to kiss his rear.

MacGowan is one of the best songwriters to come out of the British Isles in the past thirty years. It was his pure genius that married the angry energy of the Sex Pistols with the lyricism of Yeats and the comic irony of Flann O'Brien. But that's not all MacGowan has in common with these legends of Irish art: he is also a prodigious drunk. Not one of these apologetic, woeful, Twelve Step alcoholics, mind you, with their remorse and excuses of self-medication. He's an unrepentant drunk, who acknowledges that his erratic behavior forced his fellow band members to abandon him for a decade, and who therefore dials back the inebriation just enough to stay on stage for two hours, but not enough to fool anyone into thinking he's sober.

I went into this show with a good bit of foreboding. We'd paid fifty bucks apiece for the tickets, after all, and there was no guarantee there'd still be a lead singer standing by the time the doors opened at 10 pm. Their entrance onto the stage did little to allay my trepidation: MacGowan was already visibly unsteady, and carried a partially consumed quart of whiskey in a left hand death grip. They opened, appropriately enough, with Streams of Whiskey, a song haunted by the ghost of Brendan Behan, another legendary Irish drunk. (Behan looms large in the Pogues oeuvre: they recorded his Auld Triangle early on, and he also appears in Thousands are Sailing.)

Halfway through the second song, If I Should Fall From Grace, I formulated this pointyheaded theory that a live performance by Shane MacGowan in 2006 only made sense as an iconic representation pointing backwards to his earlier recordings. The words were a complete muddle. No one seeing him for the first time could understand how good he had been, and why everyone in this club adored him.

But then I noticed something very strange: as he sang, his head seemed to clear. This seemed physically impossible, since we had watched him consume at least a half-pint of whiskey in the space of fewer than two songs. But it was undeniably happening: he moved more surely about the stage, sang more strongly, and by the time he began Broad Majestic Shannon, I was sure I'd see, and enjoy, a full show. And I did ever.

MacGowan's voice is not what it was twenty years ago, and never will be again. Like his body, it is weighted with the burden of heavy experience. Somehow, this just makes the songs even more his own property. In comparison, the idiotic japery of Mick Jagger is embarrassing and pathetic.

The critics all agree that If I Should Fall From the Grace of God is the Pogues's best album, but I have always preferred Rum, Sodomy, and the Lash, where the Irishness of their instrumentation comes through most clearly, with the addition of uillean pipes and fiddle. The enduring appeal of Celtic Punk is, for me, the Celtic rather than the punk. (Although I admit that Grace of God contains one of the finest songs of the 20th century, Turkish Song of the Damned. Even there, though, the supposed "world beat" influence is true to their Irish roots. It has the anglo-oriental exoticism of Burton or Doughty or Coleridge. In fact, I am informed you can sing The Rime of the Ancient Mariner to the tune of Turkish Song of the Damned, which would have impressed the hell out of my high school English teacher.)

When The Pogues were enjoying their greatest commercial success, I preferred their Stiff Records colleagues: Nick Lowe, Elvis Costello, Ian Dury. I haven't listened to any of them in ages, but I have five Pogues CDs on my iPod. There are rumors that several of the Pogues are writing fresh songs, and a new album may be forthcoming. Here's to success with the rest of the too-short American tour, which included only eight dates in four cities.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Sam's Hole In One-And-A-Half

My esteemed colleague Sam Karnick comes oh-so close to the central point about assessments and property tax liabilities in his recent post, although it must be said at the outset that the arguments that he does muster are utterly correct. But in terms of standard public finance principles, the real argument is that government has specific functions to achieve, and is supposed to conduct them "efficiently," that is, at minimum cost. (Please stop giggling.) Accordingly: Rising assessments should be accompanied by falling property tax rates, so that only the needed revenues are raised. Sam hints at this with his "because they can" point---which is clearly correct, in that governments exercise their monopoly powers as well as anyone---but the larger point is that government is not entitled to some share of rising wealth, or more crudely, to have its thumb in every pie. As for the economic burden (or "incidence") of property taxes, that is a story for another day; suffice it for now to say that the homeowners sending the checks to the government do not necessarily bear the (full) incidence of the tax. Off to Berlin Saturday to talk about the Chinese economy. Bratwurst and beer, and oh happy me.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Welcome Development: Property Tax Revolts

The Christian Science Monitor reports today that homeowners around the nation are increasingly angry about property tax increases. It is true that property taxes in many areas have been rising much more quickly than either the overall inflation rate or increasing values of homes, and not just for the wealthy but for everyone. These windfalls, moreover, are not being collected because the communities desperately need additional swimming pools in the local schools. (You should see the astonishing luxuries in most schools in decent neighborhoods.) No, the local governments are collecting these high taxes simply because they can: people living in highly preferred communities are at the mercy of their local taxing bodies, and the latter are increasingly taking advantage of local residents.

Citizens around the nation are utterly fed up with this legalized extortion and have begun to take action, the Monitor reports:

This year, legislative proposals, citizen initiatives, and lawsuits are on the agenda in at least 20 states. These new efforts reflect both residents' distrust of how their property tax dollars are being spent and concerns that rising assessments are driving working-class people out of popular towns and cities. . . .

"The intensity of outrage has not been this high since Prop. 13's heyday," says Pete Sepp, spokesman for the director of the National Taxpayers Union in Alexandria, Va. . . .

Revolt is in full swing in Incline Village, Nev., on the shores of Lake Tahoe.

There, Maryanne Ingemanson's tax bill is now $80,000 a year for a 5,000-square-foot house. She and a group of residents raised $400,000 to fund a lawsuit claiming recent assessments are unfair. Last week, 17 residents won a battle against the tax assessor when an elected county board threw out the new assessments.

Of course, many believe homeowners should be glad that their homes are worth more, says Ms. Ingemanson. But many people - especially the working class and those on fixed incomes - can't always afford the new taxes and have to leave. "This runaway taxes situation is driving people from their homes," she adds.

South Carolina last week passed a law that caps the increase in property assessments at 3 percent per year.

Many Georgia lawmakers are backing a measure to put a similar cap in the state constitution. The bill's sponsor, first-term state Rep. Edward Lindsey (R) from Atlanta, argues that it's unfair to hit homeowners with a big tax boost years before they sell their home and profit from its increased value.

"Not even the IRS is so bold as to tax people on unrealized gain," says Mr. Lindsey. "These are essentially backdoor tax increases that give government no incentive to be efficient or responsive."

I deliberately retained the mention of Lake Tahoe here, because I think it's important in that it is a relatively hard case with which to sympathize. It's easy to suggest that people living in very expensive homes in beautiful places such as Tahoe should be taxed higher than others, but I think that even the most wretchedly coldhearted socialist must see that charging a person $80,000 a year just so that they can keep their home is an outrageous act of greed and malevolence.

The value of these homes is indeed very great on paper, but the people living in these places are not actually benefitting from any increased value from their homes if they do not sell them (except for their ability to take out home equity loans, which is not a special advantage)—at which point they are no longer subject to paying the property tax! And of course, the burden is even harder on people of lesser incomes, as the Monitor story points out. This property tax revolution is a welcome development indeed, and I wish its purveyors godspeed.

Dana Morosini Reeve, RIP

I wrote a few elegiac words in honor of the life of Dana Reeve. They were published over at Jewish World Review.

A brief excerpt:

Dana Reeve lived the celebrity life, where people can only appear outdoors in full performance mode, prettified and primped and preening, what Irwin Shaw called "polished fruit". Then she was thrust from the limelight into the harsh spotlight, where there is no down time, no dressing room, no backstage. Every minute of every day you have to be on, and if you're not for real the folks will spot it in a flash. She showed us solidity beyond compare, throughout her husband's infirmity and her own illness.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Sis Fire

Pity the poor fans standing on line, shivering in the snow, waiting for the midnight release of the latest Jay Homnick column. Suddenly, bleary-eyed, they see a group of elite types being guided through the crowd by a passel of bodyguards.

They look at each other in a resentful flash of recognition: it's those Reform Club guys who always get the early glimpse.

Here's a peek:

A poll, than which no greater intellectual authority in our culture is conceivable, has declared that it is high time for a woman to accede to the Presidency. The mensuration of temporal height is not a discipline I have mastered, but I have scored a high mark or twain in political science. And in that field the time had grown to its full height almost four decades ago.

In 1966 Indira Gandhi became Prime Minister of India and served for fourteen of the next seventeen years; Golda Meir became her counterpart in Israel in 1969, Thatcher in England in '79. When Geraldine Ferraro ran for Vice-President alongside Walter Mondale in 1984, it was a familiar refrain among Republican types that "if Margaret Thatcher would be heading our ticket we'd vote for her in a heartbeat". Although it was kind of lame and pathetic that they felt the need to buttonhole everyone with that information, lest the chauvinist stereotype prove too adhesive, it had the homely virtue of being true.

Larry Summers and Harvard

Mike Rappaport over at The Right Coast
is entirely right about the Larry Summers thing. Once he decided to engage on the big issues (and did he really think the folks around Harvard wouldn't get upset with even a question about women's "innate" abilities?), he had to win. Or, failing that, he had to go down trying. Instead, he just wimped out. Maybe men are just not as able to stand up and fight - or maybe he just didn't want to hit a girl (even if just metaphorically)...

Monday, March 06, 2006

The Religious Right as "American Taliban": Calumny or Just Slander?

Our Burkean-in-training, Connie Deady, asks the right questions, ones that are being asked everywhere right now:

Was it Aquinas or Augustine that differentiated between the secular and the divine and said that the two should be separate and we should leave the divine to God and the state to be secular? (I always get those two mixed up in my mind.)

Most everybody does, Ms. Deady, except for those of us who have no mind for such things at all. Actually, it originated with Jesus, with the "render unto Caesar" bit.

I see the argument often these days that Christian thought is founded on superstition ("revelation") alone and that modern secularism is the heir to all human reason, from Aristotle 'til now. But that's simply not accurate.

You'll find the philosophical father of our constitution John Locke's moral and political vocabulary closer to St. Thomas Aquinas' natural law than to modernist philosophy: like Aquinas, Locke does not use the Bible directly to advance his political arguments. And you will find Christianity philosophically and historically in easier accomodation with the Enlightenment and the Founding principles, and frankly, vice-versa. It is in post-Enlightenment thought, "modern" philosophy (as opposed to what we like to call around here "classical liberalism"), the realm of Marx, Rawls, and Freud, where the true radicalism, the modern Jacobins, are to be found.

Theories of natural law do not depend on the Bible, which is why I'm fond of pointing out that the Dalai Lama is also a natural law theorist, his philosophy not dependent on any holy book, but on reason alone. His Holiness is a useful control in our thought experiment: like the Dalai Lama, Christian thought does not reject ordinary moral reasoning. The Bible is nowhere near comprehensive enough to get by without it.
It seems to me that one outcome of your position is what we are getting in Iraq and the Mideast, which is complete intermingling of State and Islam. Doesn't that give you pause to worry about letting the divine control the secular laws?

OK, this what makes me start to bristle these days, and I'll tell you why. It's a facile but unfounded equivalency, that "all religions are (somehow) the same," and you're by no means alone in making it. There were 500 Islam-inspired bombings in a single day recently in Bangladesh, a Muslim country that virtually nobody gives a geo-econo-political damn about. There is a phenomenon here that has nothing to do with us.

This is where today's routine equivalencies of Christian and Islamic fundamentalisms fall short: in their founding documents themselves.

The specifics of Islam, that it is not seen (and does not offer itself) merely as a religion (muzdhab), but as a self-contained Tao, a comprehensive way of life (din) both moral and legal, make liberalization ("Enlightenment") far more difficult, especially in accomodation with pluralistic Western secularism, which seeks to pop Islam into its conceptual pigeonhole as mere religion. I wish it were that easy, but the Western mind from neo-con to modernist loses the flavor, nay, the essence, in translation.

Each tradition has its specifics and self-conception, which cannot be ignored and thrown into one amorphous soup. We must understand them as they understand themselves, or else we're left trying to make squares out of circles, wasting our time and cyberink.

In the American debate, Christian moral thought does not claim any special dispensation from the rigors of reason; it holds itself simply equal to any secular system of philosophy.

But not inferior. It does not accept dhimmitude and second-class status. Everything's on the table, and let the most reasonable moral system be the law of the land, as decided by the consciences of the American people, not a minority of legal theorists who use the constitution as a weapon against we the people.

This was the moral choice that confronted the "religious right," Christian fundamentalists, in the wake of Roe v. Wade, a constitutionally brutal decision. They found themselves thrust, as part of a democracy that the Bible never contemplated, into sharing the role of Caesar and with all the burdens and duties of conscience: to accept those burdens and duties, or in embracing the new legal theory of moral neutrality as the only truly constitutional principle of law, shirk them.

To my mind, they followed the only moral course (with some regrettable and condemnable extremist exceptions)---using moral suasion in the form of protest, and organizing politically to change the composition of the Supreme Court, which was the real author of the inalienable "right" to abortion, not the constitution or the people, and certainly not to their minds, any endowing Creator.

I think they did OK. They respected our social contract in both letter and spirit.

We shall, with your permission, hold for another day the prudence or morality in our present moral dilemma, between accommodating the order that Muslim tyrannies provide their people versus the decimating chaos that accompanies the establishment of political self-determination, and the question of the compatability of democracy with Islam. I first wanted to deal with throwing everyone who believes in anything beyond the material world into the same indifferent soup. I have some charitable things to say about Islam, but charity begins at home.

In Defense of Principle on Campus

Back from Geneva, a third-world backwater where a decent corned beef (sorry, corned boeuf) sandwich is not to be found. Anyway, I see that the Court ruled 8-zip against the campus lefties in
Rumsfeld v. Forum for Academic and Institutional Rights, so that a threat to revoke federal funding is not coercion or a threat to free speech, or blah, blah, blah, as the lefties continue to oppose ROTC and miltary recruiting efforts on campus because of don't ask-don't tell policies toward homosexuals. So: Will the campuses deny themselves such federal dollars so as to stand for their principles? Just asking.
Off to Berlin Saturday to talk about China. Corned beef will not be hard to find.

Sunday, March 05, 2006


Oh, it's one of those usual press things, where they highlight a non-story to make stupid Christians look even stupider, but it certainly does seem that

Missouri legislators in Jefferson City considered a bill that would name Christianity the state's official "majority" religion.

House Concurrent Resolution 13 has is pending in the state legislature.

...if we're to believe KMOV's (sic) illiterate and spotty account.

Now, legislatures "consider" all kinds of bills, like proposing to recognize the fact that the earth is flat, illegal Martian aliens killed Nicole Simpson, or that Willie Mays was the greatest baseball player of all time. They usually vote no. (Mays was the 2nd greatest, sorry. Babe Ruth could pitch.)

I like the bill, in its way. The anti-theists can only push so far, and this is the pushback. No Roe v. Wade, no Pat Robertson, and that's a fact. They say you can't impose morality, but you can't impose moral neutrality either. Human beings aren't wired that way.

But let me say I think it's a bad idea for a state to simply declare an "official religion." I think they should put it up for bids, like being the official beer of the NFL. The Mormons would take a pass, but the Scientologists would take a stab at it and the Baha'is could certainly use the exposure. Then again, the UAE would probably just swoop in and buy it for Wahhabism.

The Official Religious Terrorist Cult of Missouri. Now that has a ring to it. Christian Identity skinhead losers* would be really pissed, though. Outsourced again.

*I was going to provide a link to "storm front," for some cheap laughs, but it looks like they've been closed down by their free-website provider. Cleaning up spills on Aisle 4 just doesn't provide much of a revenue base. Not a great act of courage on my part, but come and get me, you bastards. I'm a Republican and that means I've got guns, and enough dough to afford bigger ones than you.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Eye on Islamicism

Today we add a link to the Infidel Bloggers Alliance to our blogroll.

Our occasional commenter "Pastorius" is the blogfather of the IBA, an international group of a dozen or so bloggers reporting on jihad around the world, supplying both first-hand accounts and legitimate news items from the overseas media that don't seem to make the American mainstream press.

Most all the bloggers remain anonymous, admittedly out of fear for their own safety and that of their families. That may sound overly cautious, but just today they report that Abdullah Aziz, "Author of the World Renowned Comic Book, 'Mohammed's Believe It or Else!'" has been driven underground by death threats. And of course, there's Theo van Gogh, among others.

I'd been looking for an old quote from our friend and frequent commenter James Elliott, who observed that a difference between the left and right in this country was that the latter perceived militant Islam as a grave and existential threat, where the former saw a managable crisis. I thought that was pretty accurate, but I also notice recent events in Europe may have even those on the left, Mr. Elliott included, becoming more willing to cast a more critical eye on the extent of the problem.

I have no doubt that the IBA will prove to be a valuable window to the world on this issue. They get a little, um, passionate at times, but the vast majority of their sources are solid and easily confirmed elsewhere. We all, myself included, would like to think that bin Laden is just a splashier version of David Koresh, but there may be more to it than that, and we all need to know.

My own thanks and good wishes to Pastorius and the members of the IBA for doing the investigation and inquiry that needs to be done.

Friday, March 03, 2006

The War on Terror and the Cold War

I remember thinking soon after Sept. 11th that the War on Terror (as it was quickly labeled) would probably end up a lot like the Cold War: it would be a long, "twilight" struggle where some portion of the political Left (and Right, for that matter) would tire and seek to have us leave the field of battle before we could win. The thing that I thought would be truly distinctive is that, unlike in the Cold War, the Islamists did not and likely would not possess the capability to (a) destroy us or (b) come to rule us. The "Cartoon Wars" and riots in France have made me rethink this a bit - and not in a good way.

Though it may be hard for some people to remember this, the Soviet Union had a real opportunity in the aftermath of WWII to essentially rule all of Europe. Communist parties were quite strong, especially in Italy and France, and if the US had not been willing to spend money (and do whatever else it did) to make sure those parties did not get a hold of power, things could have gone very poorly for us. It's pretty easy to imagine a those parties (who took their orders from Moscow) ordering American troops out of the continent and doing what their brethren in the east did after 1948.

After a while, of course, the threat of direct Soviet rule lessened (they had enough trouble hanging on to their own satellite countries), but still Moscow tried to intimidate the West into bending its direction, at least to the point where they would be "neutral" (a la, say, Finland). The blockade of Berlin, use of communist unions to stage strategic strikes, funding of terrorist groups (Baadher Meinhof Gang, IRA) and "peace" movements, and so on were all designed to apply subtle (and not so subtle) pressure on western Europe in an effort to divide them from the US and bend them (ever so slightly) to the Soviet will. (There were, of course, genuinely home-grown movements that wanted the same thing).

It strikes me that this is precisely the same sort of thing that is going on now in regards to Europe and the Islamists. They can't rule outright - there aren't enough of them - but they can intimidate European governments and societies enough such that the US has to consider much of Europe simply unreliable when it comes to policy toward the Middle East. I have no doubt that the Europeans definitely do not want Iran to get a nuke (they are, after all, much closer than we are), but if push comes to shove, can the Europeans be depended upon to help with action (i.e. reducing every Iranian military facility to rubble)? If a few enterprising Imams can intimidate most European governments into helpless sputtering on the basis of some unremarkable cartoons, what do you think they'll do when it becomes clear that we're getting ready to take Iran out?

I'm still convinced that the Islamists don't pose the same degree of strategic threat that the Soviets did - they just don't have 2,000 ICBMs. But they can intimidate our allies (and us) enough to make it easier for them to win control of the Islamic countries in the Middle East. And that's a cause for worry.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Strayed From the Heart

Often the great rabbis become so inundated by pilgrims seeking advice and prayers that they must designate a receiving secretary to serve as a buffer and a filter. This creates a potential for abuse, as that control over access can be parlayed into various advantages. Once, the rabbi of Belzyce, Poland, was told by some congregants that his secretary was selling appointments to the highest bidder and pocketing these ill-gotten gains. But the rabbi refused to fire him.

“This much I know,” he explained. “I chose the most honest man in the city. If the job corrupted him, why should I replace him with some other poor fellow and ruin his morals as well?”

No Abramoff apologist I. More than a year ago I administered – in the pages of The American Spectator – a proper scourging. Yet the fact remains that he was not a bad guy who descended upon Washington to game the system and pad his wallet. He came with a heart brimful with good intentions that eventually paved the road to brimstone. As a leader of the national College Republicans while at Brandeis, he was imbued with the Reaganite spirit. He entered D.C. to help steward “The Contraction With America”, the effort to put Boss Tweed on a diet, to shrink bloated government. How did all that good will come undone?

And, as a corollary, is it unavoidable? Is the corruption so pervasive as to be insuperable? Inevitable, ineluctable, ineludible and inexorable? Is it impossible to be a lobbyist without dirtying your hands?

The answer must be no. And yes. No, it is not necessary to be crooked. Yes, it is possible to lobby honestly and be effective. Why, then, are many good people tempted into going by the book – without giving it a second glance?

There are motives of expediency, to be sure. It is easier to catch a Congressman’s attention if you’re dropping campaign dollars into his hat. And what better way to get someone’s ear than getting some air with him on a long lazy “fact-finding” trip to Maui?

Still, that is not a sufficient lure to make a man lose his religion. My theory is that the most powerful force that moves a person off the perch of virtue is a pernicious cocktail of social pressure by the bad guys and cynicism by the good folks.

Here’s how it works. Say you come to Washington as a lobbyist for a company or a cause that is dear to your heart, and naturally you have a big expense account to facilitate your work. Or say you come to Hollywood to produce a movie about some matter of injustice that is searing into your soul, and you bring a big bankroll to make it happen. You determine that you are not going to succumb to the temptation of turning your money into illicit favors of any sort.

When you arrive, you find that the predators who predated you there, the abusers whom you are committed to abjure, seem like very swell guys. They greet you with open arms, eager to show you the ropes… or rope you into the show. The message becomes very clear very soon: play by our rules and you’re welcome. Try to go it on your own, buddy, and you’re on your own, buddy.

It is in the nature of people who are in the wrong to seduce you into their midst even if you offer them no direct advantage. The presence of virtue causes them discomfort. The film Serpico was based on a true story, but many other films like Midnight Run and Vanishing Point have described the same scenario; the honest cop who won’t take a piece of the graft money and is shunned by his brethren in blue.

This forced choice between group acceptance and righteous isolation is a powerful trap for a man. King David begins his Psalms with this message, perhaps to offer solace in poetry to the person faced with that fork in the road: “Fortunate is the man who did not go with the counsel of the wicked, did not stand on the path of the sinners nor sat in the sessions of the mockers.”

But an awful contributing factor is when the solid people are cynical. Bonnie Raitt’s song, Let’s Give Them Something to Talk About, brilliantly highlighted this phenomenon. She describes how a rumor of an affair that wasn’t happening actually caused the affair to happen. Once all the coworkers believed that these two people were getting together, it seemed pointless to stay apart. In like fashion, if everyone winks at you when you say you’re a lobbyist, assuming nefarious monkeyshines, or elbows you in the ribs when you say you’re a producer, anticipating licentious adventures, they unwittingly erode your defenses against impropriety.

Ironically, by not thinking the worst of humanity we can sometimes help to bring out the best.

Charlie Rose, but I Sank

Thinking perhaps to expand my horizons by introducing myself to pulse-quickening liberal themes and personalities, I tuned into Charlie Rose. He was leaning forward in his chair, breathless with excitement, "So then you were just a student at Stamford... and what happened next?"

I'm figuring wow this guy must be some really famous major entrepreneur with a Bill Gates-like epiphany story wherein his drab collegiate days at Stamford were transformed into a life throbbing with high drama as...

...the camera pans to the guest, sitting ever so smugly, with the pleased smile of a cat who has licked clean the cream wrapped around Hercule Poirot 'moustaches' and the SNL Church-lady's pursed lips. The caption reads "Azim Premji, President of WIPRO".

My mind is now racing at 90 mph: "What kind of political commentator am I, who has never heard of Azim Premji and so unlettered that WIPRO strikes me as gibberish?"

Suddenly I'm flashing back 35 years, I'm 12 years old listening to the Jean Shepherd Show on WOR 710-AM in New York City. I'm remembering how he would salute all the self-important ponces who live on the fringe of the political world, crying "Look at me".

So I'm taking out the kazoo and the Jew's-harp; here goes the Shepherd treatment:

"Bzhzh, bzhzh, I salute you, Azim Premji. Bvvvv, bvvvv, we salute you, WIPRO. Bzhzh, bzhzh, bvvvv, bvvvv, bring us world peace, bzhbzh bzhzh."

Universal, State-Provided Pre-K—Pah!

The discussion of my post on how California's high tax rates and regulatory mania are chasing the best and brightest out of the state has evolved into a fascinatingly fatuous debate over whether it makes sense for the government to pay for preschool for all children. Matt Huisman's astute criticism of the "logic" (and it really does need quotation marks in this case) behind this proposal reminds me of a phrase I've written before and think worth reviving here:

The American K-12 education system is so bad that every effort to fix it only manages to make it worse.

As Matt's comment makes clear, the movement for universal, state-provided pre-K is another evidence of the truth of this principle.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

The BMW Report: The Permanent Campaign vs. The Loyal Opposition

"The Permanent Campaign" is thought of as a Dick Morris notion, and he certainly believed in it, that the president always be out among the people, selling his agenda. Dick Morris likes polls. He even polled on when the president should take a vacation.

So, it's no surprise that it was (unappreciated genius) Democrat pollster Pat Caddell who came up with the idea, and sent it to Jimmy Carter just before his inauguration in 1977:

"The old cliche about mistaking style for substance usually works the reverse in politics. Too many good people have been defeated because they tried to substitute substance for style; they forgot to give the public the kind of visible signals that it needs to understand what is happening...Essentially, it is my thesis governing with public approval requires a continuing political campaign."

There's a certain virtue to the permanent campaign, keeping Americans on the same page and from each other's throats, not entirely different from FDR's unifying fireside chats. Although it didn't help the dour Carter, whose temperament was as ill-fitted to the role as his dopey sweaters during the energy crisis, the permanent campaign was tailor-made for Bill Clinton's personality: it was said that if there was one person in a roomful of supporters who didn't dig Clinton's act, Clinton would spend the entire evening getting him or her to come around. The permanent campaign probably saved Clinton from the Hounds of Impeachment.

Indeed, the permanent campaigner Bill Clinton had won the presidency largely because a reasonably good fellow and president, George HW Bush, after a creditable stewardship in the job, rather saw campaigning even during an actual election campaign as demeaning to his record.

Enter George Dubya Bush, whose worthy political skills lay somewhere between style and substance. It can scarcely be denied that, for good or ill, he brings more substance to the job than either of his predecessors, and enough attention to campaigning to get elected twice (which his father failed to do), although not enough permanent campaigning to keep us from each other's throats, as Clinton in fact did:

Although there was quite a bit of anti-Clinton vociferousness from the GOP side, the polls did not support his removal from office over his technically grave but ultimately harmless violations of the law. And so, the "loyal opposition," the GOP-controlled Senate and specifically John McCain and Bob Dole, put the fix in and kept the impeachment trial down to a bare minimum and a dull roar. They let Mr. Clinton skate, and that was a good thing.

Subsequently, McCain and Dole got Clinton's back on his Kosovo adventure and whipped their party into line once we had troops committed. That's how a loyal opposition functions.

Fast forward. Not that I'm a fan across the board of John Zogby, but it seems reasonable that his latest poll reflects the truth about our current state of the union:

The survey also contained troubling news for Democrats. While high-profile Democrats in Washington, including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and U.S. Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, spar with GOP adversaries, 58% of self-described Democrats said they think their leaders should “accept their lower position in Congress and work together with Republicans to craft the best legislation possible.”

With only 6% saying Democrats should fight the GOP congress tooth and nail. (And that's just Democrats who were polled.)

So, at one of the more dangerous crossroads of our history, a president who mostly doesn't give a hang about convincing the American people of the rightness of our course as a nation, and an opposition that mostly doesn't give a hang about working for the betterment of the country if it will cost them partisan advantage.

We no longer have the permanent campaign, nor a loyal opposition. The 90s were the good old days in their way, and now they're gone, leaving the American public to BMW: Bitch, Moan, Whine. That's the way it is on this, the first of March, 2006.

Taxing Californians Out

The great state of California has long been known as a land of opportunity—but also as the corner of the country to which all the sleaziness, greed, and stupidity of the nation eventually slide. Politically, it has been exactly that for about the past two decades.

As the Opinion Journal notes in an editorial in today's edition, California pols have done their level best to destroy the state's economy by abusing everyone who actually succeeds in fulfilling the economic promise laid down by the state in years past, in an endless stream of harassment done in the name of fairness, equality, economic justice, and other fine things. As the Journal editorial notes, the consequences of California's high and ever-increasing taxes and strangling regulatory apparatus are resulting in a turnaround of immigration patterns:

The latest Census Bureau data indicate that, in 2005, 239,416 more native-born Americans left the state than moved in. California is also on pace to lose domestic population (not counting immigrants) this year. The outmigration is such that the cost to rent a U-Haul trailer to move from Los Angeles to Boise, Idaho, is $2,090--or some eight times more than the cost of moving in the opposite direction.

What's gone wrong? A big part of the story is a tax and regulatory culture that treats the most productive businesses and workers as if they were ATMs. The cost to businesses of complying with California's rules, regulations and paperwork is more than twice as high as in other Western states.

But the worst growth killer may well be California's tax system. The business tax rate of 8.8% is the highest in the West, and its steeply "progressive" personal income tax has an effective top marginal rate of 10.3%, or second highest in the nation. CalTax, the state's taxpayer advocacy group, reports that the richest 10% of earners pay almost 75% of the entire income-tax revenue in the state, and most of these are small-business owners, i.e., the people who create jobs.

Of course, some will argue that this reversal of immigration is a good thing, as it will reduce overpopulation, etc., and reduce pressure on the state's resources. But Hongkong and Amsterdam are much more crowded than any part of California, and have almost no natural resources, yet they do just fine. No, regardless of any small good that may come of it, this demonstrates a huge and preventable failure on the part of the leadership of the state of California—and a stern warning to others.

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Seek Rat, Smell Rat

Although the proximate stimulus for this article was the Dubai port situation, I speak about the general role of secrets in contemporary governance and the larger issue of how tolerant we should be of Presidential taciturnity.

As in:

In World War II, it is only a small exaggeration to say that the fate of the world hung on secret activities. Would our secret atom bomb program be completed before the German equivalent? And could it be kept secret from the Soviets? Would our cryptographers succeed in breaking the secret codes that the enemy used to issue military instructions over their radios? Later, when we did break the code, everything depended on keeping the enemy unsuspecting. We managed to fool them and they did not switch codes, gaining us an untold advantage.

With secrecy at such a premium, we learned to be satisfied knowing less. In return, public servants were more conscientious about earning our trust. For the most part, whenever we discover today the filed-away secrets of yesterday, we find that our leaders of then acted upon them wisely. Those days are long gone. Nixon's perfidy and Carter's incompetence, Reagan's occasional distractedness and Clinton's pathological duplicity, have all taught us to regard their caveats as emptier than their predecessors. Nine times out of ten, daylight is better. And the secrets tend not to be so darned big anyway.

Iran's Nuclear Weapon and What To Do About It

Recently Ahmadinejad, Iran’s outspoken leader, said, “Life is shaped by art and the highest form of art is martyrdom.” This is the statement of a man possessed. If taken along with his Holocaust denial claims and threats to wipe Israel off the map, this is a person who at the very least cannot be trusted.

It is therefore critical that he is denied the nuclear weapons he craves. His uranium enrichment program is well on the way to conclusion and in months, perhaps a year, Iran will be in possession of the knowledge necessary to produce a nuclear weapon.

The central question that must be considered is whether he can be stopped and whether the West has the will to do it.

President George W. Bush has made it abundantly clear that he will not tolerate a nuclear bomb in Iran. Yet even a determined president has limitations. Can the Air Force destroy the Iran facilities? Will there be retaliation? How will the Muslim world react to such an action? And will there be collateral damage that unites Iran and makes it an even more formidable threat than is the case at the moment?

As I see it the “cascading effect” needed to produce high grade uranium is probably in one major site even though ancillary activities may be dispersed. Therefore sortees carefully directed using bunker buster bombs could probably do the job against a reinforced underground facility.

While the Iranians have missiles that can reach Tel Aviv, they probably don’t have nuclear weapons yet. Therefore, they might deploy missiles tipped with chemical and biological weapons. While the prospect of such deployment is horrible to imagine, these weapons are unreliable. On the conventional front Iran is simply no match for Israeli forces much less U.S. military operations.

Although it is impossible to determine how the Muslim world will respond to such an attack, it is noteworthy that the much vaunted Arab street did not rise in unity against the liberation of Iraq and one might reasonably expect that will be the case in an attack on Iran.

Collateral damage is always a possibility even in the age of smart bombs. But the targets are limited and the precision bombs are increasingly more refined and accurate. Therefore it is probable that casualties will be limited. In fact, rather than unify Iran, such destruction of the nuclear facility might be the occasion for dissident groups to rise up against the ruling mullahs.

Recently there has been a lot of chatter about funding for public diplomacy that might encourage regime change. On this score, I remain skeptical. There have been many opportunities for rebellion against the repressive regime, but thusfar the secret police have been able to control the outbursts.

While regime change would be a desirable outcome, and a measure worth trying, we are running out of time. The clock is ticking on the prospective acquisition of a nuclear weapon. I would make the same claim about the European initiative to halt the Iranian program. Thusfar, the negotiations have merely served as a cover for the continued development of the program. Of course this diplomatic exercise is a necessary prerequisite for consensus on military action.

Security Council resolutions that lead to an embargo might be effective if the embargo on oil holds and if this isn’t interpreted by Iranian leaders as an act of war. Of course, getting unanimity in the Security Council is a long shot with the Russians poised to veto an embargo and China, sitting on the sidelines, bemused by the prospect of the U.S. groveling for support.

Any way you cut it, military force seems like the most likely stratagem for success. Will Bush do it? As I see it, he cannot afford not to do it. His legacy cannot be a nuclear armed Iran prepared to destabilize all of the Middle East and possibly Europe.

This is yet another test of American will. While the Democrats, in large part, will criticize the decision, there is little doubt the American people will support the president especially if he runs out the string on other options and points out that force is the only realistic alternative.

Herbert London is president of Hudson Institute and professor emeritus of New York University. He is the author of Decade of Denial (Lanham, Maryland: Lexington Books, 2001). London maintains a website,

Faith and Learning

Sorry to be silent for so long, but I've been traveling a great deal. I just thought I'd note for those interested that if you're a student and thinking about grad school and interested in studying religion's intersection with just about anything, you should look seriously at Notre Dame. The history department just hired Mark Noll away from Wheaton and now the sociology department has hired Christian Smith away from UNC. So you have probably the best historian of American evangelicals (and probably the best historian of American Catholics in John McGreevy) and the best young sociologist of religion, some outstanding political scientists, great law faculty, and very good philosophers to work with. Just a thought...

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.