"Go not for every grief to the physician, nor for every quarrel to the lawyer, nor for every thirst to the pot." —George Herbert (1593-1633)

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Human Event

When, in the course of Human Events, it becomes necessary for me to publish my first piece in that magazine, a decent respect to the opinions of Reform Clubbers require that I drop them a preview.

Here's a glimmer:

Our Republican friends seem to have forgotten this advice. Perhaps they’re afraid to take the Dale Carnegie course because Carnegie was a rich industrialist who doesn’t poll well with Reagan Democrats. One thing is for certain. They’re sour and dour for all to see. Staggering around looking like halfway between dyspepsia and catalepsy. It’s their party and they’ll cry if they want to. The last Republican to crack a smile was Tom DeLay, and that was on his mug shot.

Wherefore this ennui? What welts have caused this schmerz? The answer is: fear itself. Nothing bad has actually happened yet. It’s just that they’re apprehensive about this year’s congressional elections. Now, everyone is a little chicken before an election, but this is more like Chicken Little mode. I never worried as much about finals as these guys are fretting over midterms.

Rockin' in the Free World

An amusing and catchy homebrew music video by The Right Brothers (hat tip: Jonah Goldberg):


OK, musically they're not U2. Rhetorically, they're not Russell Kirk. But Jonah's right: the subversiveness quotient of this clip is exponentially greater than the Dixie Chicks, the Stones, and Dave Matthews rolled into one.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Falwell and Sharpton

I see that the ineffable Paul Krugman today slams John McCain for smoking the peace pipe with Jerry Falwell; politicians who endorse Falwell must accept responsibility for his views, sayeth the Great Krugman from above. OK, Paul: Please refer me to you past op-ed in which you said the same about Gore and Kerry and Hillary and all the rest who planted wet kisses on Al Sharpton's backside. What a hypocrite.

Market Forces and the Chinese Economic Transition

Market forces always work to whatever extent that governments let them, and they always tend to work toward long-term good. Case in point: China, where labor shortages are working to slow growth in the nation's economy. An article in today's New York Times notes,

Persistent labor shortages at hundreds of Chinese factories have led experts to conclude that the economy is undergoing a profound change that will ripple through the global market for manufactured goods.

The Well Brain International factory in Shenzhen, China, an appliance maker, has improved salaries and benefits to try to hire more workers.

The shortage of workers is pushing up wages and swelling the ranks of the country's middle class, and it could make Chinese-made products less of a bargain worldwide. International manufacturers are already talking about moving factories to lower-cost countries like Vietnam.

At the Well Brain factory here in one of China's special economic zones, the changes are clear. Over the last year, Well Brain, a midsize producer of small electric appliances like hair rollers, coffee makers and hot plates, has raised salaries, improved benefits and even dispatched a team of recruiters to find workers in the countryside.

That kind of behavior was unheard of as recently as three years ago, when millions of young people were still flooding into booming Shenzhen searching for any type of work.

A few years ago, "people would just show up at the door," said Liang Jian, the human resources manager at Well Brain. "Now we put up an ad looking for five people, and maybe one person shows up."

The Times article points out a potential negative consequence, higher prices for consumer goods in the United States. Here again, however, market forces solve the problem without government interference, as the article notes: lower-labor-cost nations such as Vietnam and India will step up their production, and the Chinese economy will shift to higher-end products, allowing costs for those items to drop in the United States.

Sopranos Exposed

If Sunday's episode of The Sopranos, with its meandering pop metaphysics about the pricelessness of every moment and us being interconnected atoms and all that stuff seemed overly familiar, it should. Like the vague pleasing vapors of Eastern mysticism put in a blender with the timeless wisdom of the Eskimos, mebbe. If you said it sure felt like an episode of Northern Exposure or something, you'd be right.

This season, Sopranos creator David Chase has brought in his fellow alumni of Northern Exposure, Diane Frolov and Andrew Schneider, as producers and writers, and I do hope that last night's installment isn't what we have to look forward to for the rest of the run. Those eloquent vacuousnesses were kind of cute set in Alaska, where there isn't anything better to do than muse about rocks and birds and stuff, but this is New Jersey, with marks to be extorted and wiseguys to be whacked.

I could also have lived without the sideways snarks at the consciences of pharmacists re dispensing abortifacients, the cold efficiencies of the health insurance industry, and Evangelicals as creepy Old Earth creationists who look like Christian Slater off his meds.

Entertainment without moral passion is television, said Rita Mae Brown, and I've admired Frolov & Schneider for their career accomplishments in elevating the form. But Brown also noted that moral passion without entertainment is propaganda, and that's what we got on Sunday. The ideological product placements did nothing to advance the plot or characters, and their baldness took me out of the dramatic moment as the authors parked their own post-Enlightenment sensibilities in brutal mobster Tony Soprano's mouth. Next he'll be on about the inherent morality of tax increases.


I go to The Sopranos for the Iliad, not for The Chris Isaak Show, which Frolov & Schneider helmed, too. I want epic, not Oprah, y'know? Achilles didn't give a fig about carbon dating.

Friday, March 31, 2006

Mason Net

In anticipation of Saturday's George Mason vs. Florida semi-final game at the NCAA tournament, I wrote a little appreciation of the GMU fellows and their accomplishment.

Here it is, over at The American Spectator.

And here is a little taste:


Back in 1954, it was still not possible for an all-black team to win at the Illinois High School Association's statewide basketball championship, known in the vernacular as -- you guessed it -- March Madness. But Paxton Lumpkin, a 6-foot guard who was later compared with Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan, led his DuSable High School team to the Chicago championship, earning a shot at the statewide crown. They dominated the first three rounds and made it to the IHSA finals against Mt. Vernon. Nine out of ten players on Mt. Vernon's squad were white (although the lone black was their leading scorer), and the refs were committed to their winning.


In the last minute of the championship game, DuSable closed to within one point and gained possession of the ball. As Lumpkin brought the ball up the court, he could see what would happen. Mt. Vernon would have someone wrap him up and the ref would never call the foul. So he suddenly let the ball fly from behind the midcourt line. It arced gracefully toward the hoop and for an improbable moment seemed destined to fall through. But it caught some rim and bounced out. Mt. Vernon rebounded and eventually won 76-70.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Immigration and Political Divisions

Forgive me for asking, but is it really only the Republicans for whom the immigration issue is divisive, as one might conclude from the mainstream press discussions? After all, to the extent that the importation of low-skilled labor, whether legal or not, depresses the wages of all low-skilled workers---an assumption not quite as obvious as seemingly is the case, since immgrants increase both the supply of labor and the demand for goods and thus other kinds of labor---it ought to be the case that low-wage workers and Hispanics, both important groups within the Democratic Party coalition, would come down on opposite sides of the question. Or more specifically: It simply cannot be the case, it seems to me, that Hispanics on the one hand and blacks and poor whites on the other systematically would find themselves allies on this question. My guess is that the popular image of Republicans torn apart and Democrats united on this issue cannot be right.

Beyond Kyoto—to Shanghai and Delhi

Some in the media are finally starting to understand that the real pollution problems of our time are not caused by "rich" nations' overuse of resources; the main cause now is developing nation's inefficient use of resources. ABC News notes this in an interesting article today:

Americans are surrounded by the fruits of Asia's explosive rise, and years of steady importing and outsourcing have created winners and losers on both sides of the globalization boom. But the next phase could prove harmful for everyone — because even the air we breathe could be made in China.

For years, air quality in the United States has been steadily improving, which is why atmospheric scientists were puzzled when they recently measured sulphur, mercury and PCBs — an industrial byproduct pollutant — blowing onto the Washington coast. Using a pollution-sniffing airplane and computer models, they traced the unwelcome import 3,000 miles across the Pacific.

One trip to Shanghai or Delhi and the source is obvious: A grimy haze, thick as London fog, covers the teeming urban centers. Seven of the world's 10 most-polluted cities are in China. "Clean air days" are counted in Beijing, and the official air-quality goal is "only" three days of sun-blotting pollution each week.

It is the price of a growth rate unprecedented in human history. A perfect storm of old and new pollution. Hundreds of millions still heat and light their homes with crude coal and kerosene while they steadily move from bicycles to Buicks.


That is why the Kyoto Protocol was such a bad idea: it placed drastic restrictions on nations that were already trying to clean up their air and have been greatly successful at it (the United States even more than the EU), while giving a free pass to the worst polluters. When even conventional wisdom advocates such as ABC News start to understand this, we begin to have a chance of accomplishing common-sense environmentalism in both the wealthier nations and their high-polluting developing counterparts.

Moving Ahead

A friend of mine, given to glumness about matters Middle Eastern, dismisses me as a half-witted optimist. Yes, I conceded, but I can’t help it if my kupp is half-full (she is sufficiently fluent to know that kupp means head in Yiddish). Now my powers of positive thinking will be heavily taxed, as I try to answer the President’s call to look at the bright side of events in Iraq. When the Prez is moved to bid more good humor, it’s our duty to respond with good morbid humor.

The truth is that I was very fond of Gallo’s humor when, like Billy Joel, “I wore a younger man’s clothes”. But then the younger man called the cops, and since that time I’m laying off the wine. So to the gallows themselves we must repair with our heads held high. We rely on the Pythagorean Theorem which concludes that ‘only a square would not go high on pot to the noose’. Or, as it is popularly restated: a square, to be square, must see square.

Yes, there is one seriously encouraging phenomenon of the no-noose-is-good-noose variety. No more beheadings.

***

REMINDS ME OF OUR PARLOR GAME which featured a funny Q-and-A with the ‘per’ words. Like this: “How does an actor get paid?” “Per forming.” “How does a soldier get paid?” “Per mission.” “A jailer?” “Per durance.” “An executioner?” Here a debate raged. I thought that “per capita” was funny, but broke the one-word rule. My favored answer was “per severance”. And sure enough, our perseverance has paid off and the beheadings have been… er, cut off.

Why? Who knows? Maybe a CIA guy will do a tell-all in a few years about how we sent Joe Pesci to Zarqawi with eight heads in a duffel bag and he capitulated. Maybe they got bad reviews for their al-Jazeera videos (“Hair-raising” – Cairo Proctor, “Bristles with victimhood” – Beirut Force), despite the dramatic recaps. Arabs may have reacted badly, fearing they were next, a dis-turban image. And Zarqawi wants to be thought of as Zorro, not to have Canadian Arabs saying ‘Off with his zed’. Or maybe someone else is in charge now who has a head on his shoulders.

This may seem like a small enough blessing. The bad guys in Iraq still do dirty rotten things. Mayhem to men, and they may hem your burqa if you’re a woman. They inflict daily punishment on the capital, and capital punishment for them would be capital. Still it’s an important step that they no longer look to decapitation as a way to get ahead, if that’s the phrase I want.

We recall a fairly recent foe, once seemingly implacable, that specialized in beheading (and suicide bombers, for that matter). Namely, Japan in World War Two. At the time, this sort of atrocious behavior made it appear like these people could never be rehabilitated to function in civilized society. Now all this seems like a memory that is jarringly discordant with today’s Japanese people. They seem content to make ever smaller cars and ever larger televisions: the worst atrocity they visit on the West these days is to charge them large sums of money to eat raw fish (which they probably harvest from the waters around Hiroshima and Nagasaki).

Seeing the terrorists forswear beheading is hopeful. It’s a whit, or perhaps a half-whit, of progress. It tells us that maybe they can stop losing their heads and make accommodation with reality. And although there are no intellectual reasons to anticipate that they will suddenly mature, the quirks of insurgent movements are unpredictable. Nobody defeated the SDS or the Baader-Meinhof Gang or the Japanese Red Army or the Black Panthers, they melted away like yesterday’s snow.

Those are my grounds for optimism. The first clue to any degree of normalcy, of their recognizing that the world is out there, that diplomacy or politics have meaning, that they need to moderate their escapades to conform to some level of public opinion, reignites my optimism. The kupp is much less than half-full, but it is not completely gone. There just might yet be a tomorrow brighter than today.

For today, we still indulge our grim chuckles amid the horror. Some will sniff at the escape into humor, but this is a legitimate haven against the incursion of barbarism. (Yeah, yeah, I’ll clip the barber joke right here and end on a serious note.) Let us hope that Iraq is on a track to civility. What it needs next is a solid, secure head of state.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

On Testoterone

I'm a matchmaker, a headhunter by profession. I see a vacuum, a possible synergy, an unrealized potential, and my creativity leaps to the fore. It's a vocation in its way. I love it.

Don't know if it makes me a moralist, a feminist or just a man who loves women, but I won't introduce any of the men I know to any of my wife's unattached friends. I admire these women, every single (!) one, and the men are still boys, adolescents. They are not worthy. I couldn't live with myself.


Our Michael Simpson questions the wisdom of the recent innovation of coed dorms below, and relates it to the recent violation of certain female exotic entertainers at a Duke sports team party.

Is this incident related to feminism, feminization, or gender egalitarianism? I asked the wise Mrs. TVD, who knows of such things, who was of the opinion that such male oppression could easily happen in any age. Still, she was also of the opinion that the specialness and magic of the weaker yet stronger sex might suffer degradation in a base environment like the coed dorm.

Now, it seems there's tacit agreement among all that whether by the academy's design (my opinion) or just inevitable consequence, coed dorm living results in greater sexual experimentation. (We may assume that most male 18-year-olds have always been sexually liberated: the historical problem was always finding someone to be liberated with.)

Is it fuddy-duddy to wonder whether sexual liberation has been good for women? On the personal level, questioning the proposition that psychologically, copious experimentation is harmless; on the macro level, whether easy sex has changed the behavior and attitudes of the male of the species.

The greatest challenge of any society is civilizing its young men, and I do believe many of our current societal problems rest largely on men's disrespect of women, and that's certainly relevant to consider in the hiring and subsequent dehumanization (brutality!) of the women in question.



I do know from scouting about the internet that among the black community, the sexes are almost at war, and bitches and ho's is just the tip of the iceberg. Many on the outside would be quite surprised, I think. The battle is at a more low-level intensity in the majority culture, but as they say, when white America catches cold, black folks get pneumonia.

I've had the notion that Western civilization, especially in just this past 1000 years, has been on a course toward the true emancipation of womyn, that we've been on to something. But now I think that the pendulum has swung from protection/oppression to exploitation/oppression.

Women are not men. Daughters are not sons. These days, we forget that, don't we? Does egalitarianism breed contempt? Is woman the victim of her own success?

Oh, so they're interested in moral formation after all....

Duke's lacrosse team has managed to thoroughly embarrass itself and the rest of the school by hiring strippers for a party and then, allegedly, taunting one of the strippers (who was black, while the team is almost entirely white) with racial taunts and then (again, allegedly) raping
her. A real class act, these guys.

The idea that college atheletes (or college students more broadly) would be badly behaving is hardly surprising, but what's interesting here is the reaction of some of the commentators - they want the team members (and college students more broadly) to understand that hiring strippers is a bad thing in and of itself. It's degrading to women, they say. True enough, but isn't it interesting that this kind of moralism (of which I heartily approve) always shows back up, even when universities try as hard as they can to say that they don't want to take moralist stands. Sure, hiring strippers is a bad thing for women, but so is having coed floors where men are free to roam at all times of the day and night. So is turning a blind eye to the excessive use of alcohol (since almost all sexual assaults on college campuses are related to alcohol use). So is the promotion of sexual promiscuity.

Monday, March 27, 2006

The Iraqi People Speak

I think hanging in there in Iraq is a principled position. We broke it, we bought it, to quote a former Secretary of State. I also think advocating withdrawing the troops immediately is principled, too, altho I disagree with it. Leaving out the casus belli (WMDs, UN Resolution 1441, etc., ad nauseum) discussion, this recent survey of the Iraqi people, if accurate, should be probative. I do think that the American people (most of us, anyway) want to do the right thing now regardless of party stripe.

Most Iraqis feel a continued US/UK military presence exacerbates the butchery. I happen to disagree on the whole because there is a tendency in the non-First World to blame external causes for one's own society's deficiencies. But I could very well be wrong, and I don't live in Iraq.

Still, many Iraqis feel the troops should remain in the near term. Virtually none for the long term, of course. Who would? How embarrassing, that any society should become the ward of another state.

As for the denouement, we are already there---regardless of the ineptitude of the administration's PR, the reality is that we are already in a postwar Iraq: 77% of the Iraqi people feel all this chaos and suffering in deposing Saddam was worth it. Howbouthat?

I myself am surprised, mostly that the populace can discern so quickly that compared to the hell that was Saddam's Iraq, the current purgatory pales. Contrary to popular belief, people are not stupid.

Lawsuits and Security

The ACLU and several other organizations have brought two well publicized law suits against the Bush administration on the issue of “unauthorized” domestic spying. Of course, none of the plaintiffs can demonstrate that they have been targeted by the surveillance program and the claim that this is domestic spying is not technically accurate since only those conversations with a suspected terrorists outside the United States are considered.

Plaintiffs include a gaggle of left wingers including the Council on American Islamic Relations, Greenpeace, the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, a writer for the Nation among others. Their argument is that the present administration is in contravention of the law since the president lost the authority to conduct warrantless surveillance domestically after the passage of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978. The administration counters this claim with the argument that surveillance was authorized with the 2001 congressional resolution allowing for the use of force against al Qaeda.

Lost in the swelter of claims and counterclaims is the context for this litigation. The war on terror has not ended and the threat posed by the terrorists remains real and frightening.

While the president insists all measures must be taken to assure American security, the plaintiffs seem to be asserting that the only threat is the abridgement of the law and the erosion of civil liberties.

On the day the lawsuit was filed, al Manar, Hezballah’s main vehicle for spreading anti-American propaganda asked, “What structure built of gray sandstone in 1792 became a source of all oppressive decisions the world over? The answer: “the White House.”

In May 2004 Sheik Nasrallah said he is prepared for martyrdom. “Let Bush, Powell, Rumsfeld and all those tyrants in Washington hear… there will only be room for great sacrifice, for the call to martyrdom.”

The editor of Egyptian weekly Al Arabi is quoted in Memri as saying, “Anti-Americanism is like music” to his ears. He calls America “a plague” and “an ongoing crime.”

The head of the Sunni religious courts in Lebanon, Sheik Muhammad Kar’an, called America “the garbage of all nations.”

A professor of political science at Notre Dame University in Lebanon, Dr. George Hajjar said, “America is the New Nazism.” He added, “I hope that every patriotic and Islamic Arab will participate in this war, and will shift this war not only to America, but to all corners… wherever America may be.”

Anis al Naggash, who was involved in terrorist attacks in the ‘70’s and ‘80’s, appeared on Al Manar in August 2005. He said, “The U.S. is the enemy of Arabs and Muslims… every person must resist it… if he can resist with weapons, it is his duty, mandated by the Koran. Any cleric with knowledge of Islam must declare jihad against the U.S., England, and their allies.”

As late as this January three would be terrorists were arrested in Italy after vowing to launch an attack in the U.S. that would dwarf 9/11. Curiously with the exception of the Philadelphia Inquirer this story was conspicuously ignored by the U.S. press corps.

Through conversations that were wiretapped, Italian officials heard Algerian terrorists plan to kill tens of thousands of Americans. This story raises two interesting questions: Did the press ignore the story because the report would support President Bush’s use of domestic surveillance and doesn’t this story portend the very frightening scenario that must be thwarted?

There are those in our midst who prefer legal battles against the administration because they fear a loss of civil liberties, but they do not fear, or appear not to fear, radical Islamists intent on their destruction.

Can there be any doubt that if fanatics in various corners of the globe could get their hands on nuclear weapons, they would be used?

Can there be any doubt that radical Islam is intent on causing harm to the United States, its citizens and our allies?

And can there be any doubt that a toxic poison has been set loose worldwide that could have apocalyptic repercussions if we do nothing about it?

President Bush, in fact any future president, has an obligation to take those steps necessary to provide for national security. It is not merely sad, but dangerous that many civil libertarians do not appreciate what is at stake in this global war. If the plaintiffs’ efforts in the forthcoming lawsuits are successful, another weapon in the war against terror will have been rendered nugatory. Is there any wonder about who benefits from such a decision?



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, www.herblondon.org.

I Am Francis Beckwith

As the news of last Friday's fit of pantywaist pique at Baylor spread throughout the blogosphere this weekend, I started reading the following often enough that it began to alarm me:

You see now why conservative academics keep their heads down? Blog anonymously? Bite their tongues? They're afraid they'll end up like Francis Beckwith.

I sympathize with this position. I agreed with the precept when "Michael Simpson" joined our stable. I understand. I have done the same. But now we must consider, soberly and carefully, whether we can continue like this.

The rebel slaves of Rome did not really stand up one by one and shout "I am Spartacus!" The Danish King Christian X did not really don a yellow star and declare "We are all Jews now." But these mythic vignettes hold our imagination and inspire us because they encapsulate something true. The slave army really did stand with Spartacus, to their deaths. The Danes really did defy the Germans and save almost all the Danish Jews from the camps.

Wouldn't it be something if fifty years from now, someone wrote to snopes.com, asking if it were really true that in 2006, hundreds of professors and researchers opened their office windows and bellowed down into the quad below, I am Francis Beckwith! We are all Francis Beckwith now! And kept shouting until the whited sepulchures of the ivory towers shook and fell, and the sunlight streamed in through the cracks.

All this is easy for me to say. I left the university twenty years ago. I risk no personal or professional loss; I'm offering to hold the coat while someone else has the fistfight. Do not construe this as criticism of anyone whose prudential decision is to keep quiet, for it's not. It's criticism of those who deny that conservative ideas are kept out of our institutions of the mind, in the face of evidence that just piles higher and higher.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Noble Laura's It

It was time to write a tribute to Laura Ingraham for effectively carrying the ball, the water and the day on a series of major issues. It's a doity job but someone's gotta do it...

Here is a smidgen:

For months now, talk radio hosts have been hammering home the complaint that major media outlets are hampering the war effort in Iraq by reporting only the bad news. This has been a very effective argument, rallying the troops of the conservative base, and occasionally, when their broadcasts reached the front, rallying the real troops. Yet it hardly resonated beyond the echo chamber of alternative-media geeks; people who wear their Michael Reagan T-shirt and sip from a Sean Hannity coffee mug while perusing G. Gordon Liddy's newsletter.

Last week all that changed when Esquire Laura (as opposed to Doctor Laura) was a guest on the Today Show and made these same points. Suddenly the media world was in an uproar, with features everywhere on the subject. Responses ranged from denying that it was so to pleading guilty-with-an-explanation by citing the dramatic immediacy of violence to the ultimate dog-ate-my-homework excuse by the New York Times: not enough manpower to go scout out the good news. Why was Laura Ingraham's voice heard where so many of her colleagues had found deaf ears? Answer: the TV folks listened because she was one of their own.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Two Cities Blog, Brokeback, and Christian Reactions

Matt Tapie is the very definition of the man contending earnestly for the faith. He writes about the city of God and the city of man on a new blog that has already been noticed by Hugh Hewitt and The Evangelical Outpost.

I bring him up today because he has a particularly good post about how Christians should react to Brokeback Mountain. Is it boycott time?!!! Not according to Matt. He has a different view of things:

First of all, we must not confront culture using its rules of engagement. In our culture, much of politics has become a debased game of power plays. There is no longer agreement about the possibility of a "good" society, so there exists only grabs for power. The question has ceased to be about how to make society "good" and has now become "Who has the power to define society?" Because of this, we are tempted to appeal to polls and what the "American people" think to advance our positions. Christian cultural engagement is frequently associated with activism, boycotts, protests, and mass emails. Our engagement must rise above these "majority rules" methods. If our primary means of engaging culture consists of boycotting Target because they use the term "holiday tree," or boycotting a movie because it does not line up with the Christian worldview, I believe we are in grave danger. We are in danger of being seduced by power politics and distracted from the mission of God in the world. Our obligation to live as the salt and light of the earth has been reduced to a lobbying effort, and Christ is not a lobbyist--he is the Son of God and Savior of the world.

I think I'm going to end up disagreeing with Matt on this one, at least as far as my own choice goes. Last time I saw a movie for reasons of cultural engagement was The Last Temptation of Christ. I'll never get that two hours of my life back. I'm going to bow out for aesthetic reasons rather than any sort of political protest. I like my cowboys minimally interested in women, but only because they're too busy driving a herd under desperate conditions or because some cold-blooded murderers are on the loose. Pencil me in for another viewing of Tombstone.

Matt's got the right idea, though.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

You Know a Trend Is Dead . . .

. . . When Conservatives Jump on Board.

C. Aubrey Smith
Just when the Right finally found its inner metrosexual in the American Spectator's publishing of Mark Gavreau Judge's paeans to Saks, swing dancing, Polo, and imported after-shave lotion, the New York Times reports that the wascally wabbits behind today's fashions are growing their beards out, donning plaid shirts, buying log cabins with their Log Cabin Republican life partners, and, for all we know, designing fashionable blue denim trousers that are already frayed at the heels at time of purchase (as mine inevitably are after a couple of weeks, I don't know why).

It's true. Actors are sporting bushy beards, and even male runway fashion models are wearing long, unruly, shocks of facial hair. These furry beasts are trundling down Broaday, Michigan Avenue, Rodeo Drive, and our other most fashionable thoroughfares, no doubt shopping for high-fashion gumboots, tool belts, and bad toupees, loading up on chips and bock beer in a crash effort to develop beer guts, and loosening their wide, black leather belts so that the backs of their green work pants slide down and expose their butt cracks as do all good blue-collar gentlemen.

How close we may be to the return of the bushy, waxed-up eybrow look (which worked so well for the great character actor C. Aubrey Smith), I shudder to think.

You Need Schoolin' . . .

An interesting oped in today's New York Times, written by a Kenyon College admissions officer, notes how the large number of young women applying for college in the United States has harmed their prospects for admission:

Today, two-thirds of colleges and universities report that they get more female than male applicants, and more than 56 percent of undergraduates nationwide are women. Demographers predict that by 2009, only 42 percent of all baccalaureate degrees awarded in the United States will be given to men.

We have told today's young women that the world is their oyster; the problem is, so many of them believed us that the standards for admission to today's most selective colleges are stiffer for women than men. How's that for an unintended consequence of the women's liberation movement?

Of course, these women will all get in some school somewhere, and will simply suffer the same tragedy we all endure: not getting precisely what we want when we want it. It's another illustration of the great truth of social life which classical liberalism is based on: Every solution creates new problems.

That truth, along with the fact that technological changes will always create economic and social changes that society must accommodate, is why conservatism by itself is never a viable social organizing principle. Conservatism is a vital component of true liberalism (because true liberalism accepts the premise that social order is one of the two main aims of politics, the other being liberty, the relationship of which is encapsulated in the term ordered liberty, the search for which is the sine qua non of true liberalism), and is an antidote to radicalism, but by itself all conservatism can do is suppress the many good things that technological change can bring.

"Left Behind" for Lefties? (V for Vendetta)

When I was in high school, it was muy uncool to like comic books. I still remember hanging out at Albertson's grocery store before or after a shift reading comics on the rack. One of the "cool" guys with the fab preppie name of Jonathan John walked by with his girlfriend and sarcastically inquired about the fortunes of Archie and Jughead. I didn't bother to say I was busy reading Crisis on Infinite Earths. Besides, I kinda like Archie and Jughead, too.

Given my background, one might not be surprised to know that I've read the original comic version of V for Vendetta, which is now a film in theatres. I didn't like the comic that much, largely because it imagines a post-nuclear scenario in which a group of men who are basically skinheads in suits and with better haircuts have taken control of the government of England. The message is typical left-wing fantasy: Conservatives are waiting to really unveil their true colors and start liquidating anyone of African descent, artists, gays, and fashion designers. Oh, and they'll also have a concentration camp because it fits their brutal aesthetic.

I haven't seen the film, though I probably will at some point, but hearing from a friend and reading the review by Peter Suderman at NRO indicates it may be worse than I thought. Same ugly message about conservatives, but instead of a post-nuclear scenario the conservatives have taken over post-extensive terror war operations. Thus, the conservative dystopia is updated to take in George W. Bush. How enchanting.

After some thought, I've concluded this genre is Left Behind for secularist lefties, except Lennon-like there's no heaven after the "good" guys win. But I'll tell you what, there'll be free porn for EVERYBODY! Except, that is, for the Intoleranti who shall be lying in a pool of their own unenlightened blood!

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Devastating Military Death Figures and the Media

I've been had. You've been had. We've all been had.

I'm about to share some numbers that will make you wonder why the MSM has been playing up military casualties in Iraq. These are official figures:

George W. Bush . . . . . 5187 (2001-2004)
Bill Clinton . . . . . . . . . 4302 (1993-1996)
George H.W. Bush . . . . 6223 (1989-1992)
Ronald Reagan . . . . . . 9163 (1981-1984)

Thanks to Redstate for pointing this out.

Given the extent of our involvement in two nations where we instituted regime change, it looks like W's team hasn't bungled things as badly as is widely believed.

Immigration and the Honest Inquirer

I'm not one of those people who gets worked up about illegal immigration. The giant flare-up over illegals constantly scampering over the border struck me as a possible entitlement and law enforcement problem, but I don't usually regard the situation with much alarm. Part of the problem may be competitive selectivity. I have other priorities and none of them are worth sacrificing to any project that might bear the remotest whiff of racism which scuttles almost anyone tagged with it permanently.

Maggie Gallagher has me rethinking the issue. Her latest column does a nice job of explaining why regular folks are increasingly upset over immigration. Here's a bit:

What should we do about illegal immigration? How it looks depends in part on where you stand. Me? I'm an ivy-educated "symbolic analyst" living in a slightly less affluent ZIP code of one of the most affluent U.S. counties. For me, personally, illegal Mexican immigration means that when a foot of snow falls, two nice guys show up and offer to shovel the driveway for $25.

But for my friend "Mary," the whole issue looks different. She cleans houses and baby-sits for a living. Her son paints houses. In both cases, they are competing directly with a new flood of immigrants who don't mind living doubled or quadrupled up (changing the character of neighborhoods) and for whom $10 bucks an hour is a premium wage.

I don't think the fact that she and her family notice (and object) makes them racists. Economic studies suggest that overall, immigration is a net wash, or a slight plus, for the American economy. But the pluses and minuses are not evenly distributed over the whole population: Lesser-skilled Americans who compete for jobs that don't require Ivy League credentials take the hit, while people like me enjoy a lot of the benefits. A 2003 Hamilton College poll found that only 12 percent of Americans worry that immigrants might take their job. I suspect these are the folks for whom the fear is quite realistic.

Meanwhile, a nationally representative Quinnipiac poll released March 4 concludes that 88 percent of all Americans see illegal immigration as a "very serious" or "somewhat serious" problem. By 62 percent to 32 percent, voters oppose making it easier for undocumented immigrants to become citizens. More than four in 10 Americans would prefer not to give U.S. citizenship to children born in this country to illegals (a right guaranteed in the Constitution).
"This poll reflects local concerns about immigrants gathering on street corners, waiting for jobs, or packed into illegal housing and the like," said Maurice Carroll, director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute. "Red state, blue state and purple state voters agree: Illegal immigration is a serious problem."


The part about "Mary" and her son hits me with particular force. I think it may be the case that many folks, like readers of this blog, media members, and me, have not cared much about immigration because it doesn't affect our lives that much. If anything, it ensures we have cheap labor. For other people, it matters a lot and has a day to day impact. That fact alone may call for others of us to engage in reappraisal.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Alister McGrath v. Daniel Dennett

Alister McGrath takes Daniel Dennett (he of the "religion can be explained by evolution" program) down a bit here

(HT to Stuart Buck)

My favorite line: "This book, in my view, makes a critique of religion dependent on a hypothetical, unobserved entity, which can be dispensed with in order to make sense of what we observe. Isn’t that actually a core atheist critique of God – an unobserved hypothesis which can be
dispensed with easily?"

The Ill's of Progressive Education: Bernard Chapin

Bernard Chapin is a friend of the blog and one of the most outrageously politically incorrect people you'll ever meet. In fact, it is possible the phrase was invented to describe Bernard, who makes me blush on occasion.

Bernard is devastating when he combines his countercultural conservatism with a subject he knows particularly well. As a school psychologist, Bernard knows the wily world of professional educational philosophy and practice. What he knows, he doesn't like. His recent book Escape from Gangsta Island explains why.

For an excellent preview of the book's contents, check out Bernard's interview with Front Page Magazine.

Here's a little taste:

Dexter, a dean at Eastlands and my former friend, was battered in the middle of the hallway by a student with a criminal record as long as the Mississippi River. I made a split second decision to leave the family I was escorting through the hall so I could end the beating. The impact of my intervention didn’t turn out as I planned. The kid dragged me down a wing of our building until help arrived. After the danger subsided, our principal showed up. In 11 years, no sicker scene have I ever witnessed than when she began to rub the boy’s stomach while whispering, “That’s alright baby. That’s alright.” It wasn’t alright. Dexter wasn’t alright either. He had bruised ribs, a concussion, and saw double for several months thereafter. The center’s complete lack of leadership was evident when our assistant principal yelled at me for allowing the family to observe the thrashing. I had no witty comeback. What could I say?

Monday, March 20, 2006

Who Is Running the Store?

Back from Berlin, where I couldn't quite get Bob Kagan and some others to tell me precisely how they define vital U.S. national interests. But never mind. While gone, I read somewhere that El Presidente W wants to release the Iraqi documents about which Steve Hayes has written so much, while John Negroponte, the Director of National Intelligence, is resisting. And so someone, anyone, please remind me: Who is the President? This recalls the episode back in the H.W. Bush Administration, when the federal government sued itself; specifically, the Departments of Agriculture and Interior sued each other over some issue. And precisely why didn't the White House simply order whatever resolution was deemed appropriate? Well, H.W. just didn't want to have to take responsibility for that decision. Maybe the apple fell right by the tree.

The Old College Try

For forty years, George Mason has been the Rodney Dangerfield of the Virginia public university system. Never mind that their economics department boasts the same number of Nobelists as Princeton, Berkeley, Stanford, MIT, Cambridge, and Columbia. Never mind that GMU Law, despite its relative youth, has been a firmly established first tier school for five years. Locals still mock them as "The Best Community College in Northern Virginia." Their reputation as a nest of foaming right-wingers -- which in academic terms means filing an amicus curiae brief in support of DoD in Rumsfeld v. FAIR, the side that ultimately won 8-0 at the Supreme Court -- hasn't helped.

But yesterday they got a shot at strange new respect, courtesy of the NCAA Division I basketball tournament. The Patriots (I told you they were Neanderthal reactionaries) upset reigning national champion North Carolina to gain a spot in the Sweet Sixteen. Perhaps now, at least, people outside Washington DC will not hear the words "George Mason" and think, "Master of subtle understated evil Xander Berkeley."

Palestinian Expansionism

Did a small thing over at The American Spectator today about all the pudgy prisoners whom Israel "kidnapped" from the Palestinian prison in Jericho. Just to show how valid my point is, later articles are all using funny-angled pictures that don't give you the sense of a bunch of fat guys that the initial photograph did.

Here's a fragment:

And to be very honest, no one has a real solution short of importing a million old schoolmarms to civilize the heathens. Neither Sharon nor Olmert nor Netanyahu nor Peretz nor Peres knows how to turn these guys into mensches. Sharon used to think he could beat it out of them and Peres used to think that the chance to make a buck would turn them all into be-bopping yuppies. All of those illusions have long since sunk deep into the human quicksand that is "the Palestinian people."

The only sliver of hope is that they will somehow take control of their own destiny and conclude that violence, to use a phrase from twelve-step programs, "avails them naught." That they had ought do aught more productive. It's just that they don't want to hear it from us. No amount of lecturing or posturing by Israelis or Americans will penetrate their hauteur. Olmert (extending Sharon's policy) is gambling that if he parks them behind a wall and lets them do their own thing, they just might defy all odds and get a grip. It's an awfully slender reed to build a future upon.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Shooting Star

Hat tip to my son, Charles, for noticing that the chiron under the Bradley-Pittsburgh game in the NCAA was:

BRAD
PITT

Now when will River play Phoenix?

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Speaker for the Dead

My maternal grandfather Andrew Joseph Boike died last week. I offered the eulogy. With the funeral 3-4 days after his death I felt sure I'd be able to give the speech without difficulty. I was wrong. As I watched the respect with which his body was treated and listened to the funeral mass I found myself overwhelmed with the conviction that no gift of words I could give this man would be adequate.

No matter how well I did my job, the end product would fall far short. The realization was crushing. I felt as though God was teaching me a lesson. The gap between my best and the requirements of divine justice is so great that only His grace can bridge it.

For those who would like to read about a life and see what a grandson does with an opportunity to give a eulogy, I reproduce the text of the speech below:

My son is three years old. His name is Andrew and he was named for my grandfather Andrew Boike, who we all call Pop. I hoped that having a first grandchild named for him would reverse his condition and bring Pop back to his old self. It didn’t work, but I did see Pop smile when I brought that little boy around and he was even able to hold him in his lap a few times.

Watching my son grow and the awe with which he perceives his grandparents, I’m reminded of the days when I was young and how like most boys at Walter Jackson, I liked to join in the game of talking up our dads. You know, my dad is stronger than your dad. If we reached a tie on dads, I could start bragging about Pop. And when I did that, no one could match me. That’s what I want to do today. I want to spend just a minute or two bragging on my Pop.

His appearance by itself made him notable. He was short, strong, and had a face that looked like it was cut from a rock. His hair was the color of steel. He had a working man’s hands. Even as he lay dying I looked down at his hands and thought they looked like they had really been to work.

There were stories floating around that gave him mythic status in my young mind. During his high school football years he was commanded to demonstrate a tackle on his assistant coach. He didn’t want to do it, but having been ordered he executed the maneuver so well the man was left with a limp for years. He survived a motorcycle accident and getting hit in the chest with a chainsaw. On top of that he spent all his free time around flowers even though he was highly allergic to bee stings. To a grandson, he seemed like the toughest man alive.

His rugged looks were lightened by a bright and ready smile. He loved to laugh and joke around, particularly with daughters-in-law and grandchildren. If Pop and Uncle Jimmy were together, you knew the parents would be laughing until they had tears in their eyes.

He also loved the polka and learned to play the accordion in his youth. I don’t know how many times Christina and I rode in his car (that 1974 beige/yellow Caprice Classic) with the windows cracked to let cigarette smoke out while Myron Floren’s accordion belted out the beer barrel polka on an eight track wedged into the dashboard. For a grandchild, being with Pop was our own first taste of Oktoberfest. He was like a rock star to us. Okay, maybe a polka star.

He developed a brilliant avocation in flowers with specialties in chrysanthemums and azaleas. After winning several competitions around the country, Pop became a contest judge at the national level. You may remember a novel from many years ago titled Magnificent Obsession. Pop knew something about that. I can remember him quickly maneuvering the car to the side of the road to gather a specimen of some native azalea growing on a hillside. He included his family in his work. Grammy was his indispensable partner in preparing for shows and for years it was a treat to go to his house and see the plants and flowers he’d hybridized and named for different members of the family. I was very proud to see my name on one of those little white tags one day so many springs ago.

The man I’ve described was an interesting person, an exciting person in many ways, but he was also faithful in the small details of everyday life that loom so large when all is said and done.

He spent most of his career with the postal service. My mother remembers what a big deal Christmas was every year and how Pop would come home day after day loaded with Christmas presents from appreciative homeowners on his route. A dozen years after he retired I had a job delivering prescriptions for Brunton Drug. A lot of strangers became instant friends when I mentioned Pop’s name. To tell you the truth, being Pop’s grandson probably helped me get the job in the first place.

Pop was also a faithful provider, father, and husband. He helped build the house his family lived in and put in place a moral and spiritual foundation, too. His five children Brenda, Jim, Becky, Dean, and Joan all married and are all still with their spouses. Many of his grandchildren have married and they are all still with their spouses, too. In a society where some dispose of family ties as easily as an old car, the value of commitment has not been lost on us. It’s one thing to be told, but nothing beats the power of a good example.

There was another area in which Pop was less concerned with telling than showing. Someone mentioned to me the other day that although Pop wasn’t the type to say he loved me, I should know that he did. The words caused me to think. It was true that he was like a lot of other men of his generation in that he may not have been one to tell you he loved you. But I never doubted it. He showed me over and over again. It was always clear to me that this amazing man was my friend and he loved me and approved of me and was proud of me. He watched my ballgames, expressed interest in my schoolwork, and gave me funny nicknames. He treated my father like a blood relative rather than like an in-law and immediately accepted my wife into the family.

I know he loved his other grandkids just as much. I have specific memories of him speaking proudly of the accomplishments and attributes of all the other grandkids. He was really in love with Christina, Kevin, Mandy, Nathan, Josh, Heather, Matthew, John Paul, David, Cassady, and Shaina. His family became his treasure and in the years before his failing health really took hold he was simply great at being a grandfather. Effortlessly great. At least it looked that way to me.

Grammy and Pop’s 50th wedding anniversary was one of our really memorable family events. I look at the pictures and see Pop happy and fully engaged. The pictures of him holding Grammy’s hand like a newlywed are worth keeping forever. I married not long after that celebration and it is a great comfort to me that my wife Ruth got to know Pop before his weakness and withdrawal became more pronounced. She liked him immensely. It was a very easy thing to convince her to give our first child the name Andrew.

It’s a little tragic that my children Andrew and Grace, Mandy’s son Jacob, Kevin’s unborn child, and the many other great grandchildren yet to come won’t get to experience Pop the way he was for so many years, but he won’t be forgotten. I was bragging on Pop when I was seven and will probably be doing it when I’m sixty-seven. He made a big impression on me. And the wonderful, enduring fact of his life is that I’m not the only one.

Given by Hunter Baker on March 16, 2006

Friday, March 17, 2006

Working on a Trial Basis

Did a little something today over at Jewish World Review about the lawyer who bungled the Moussaoui case.

Here's a teeny foretaste:

That's what it must have felt like for Carla Martin to wake up yesterday morning. Suddenly her picture is on the front page of the New York Times, looking frazzled and a tad disheveled. The Times explains to all and sundry that this "obscure" functionary at the Transportation Security Administration has shredded the Justice Department's case against Zacarias Mousaoui by coaching government witnesses — slipping them advance e-mails of what to expect.

If it's not bad enough to get blamed for doing what "everybody does" and gets away with, she must endure the indignity of being labeled obscure. If I picked up a paper that read "Obscure columnist Jay Homnick has been named the central figure in a blockbuster investigation concerning white slavery, killing for hire, heroin smuggling and unpaid parking tickets", my response would be predictable: "Obscure? Whaddaya mean obscure?" Now, it's true that it is common practice and that the other guys never seem to get caught. But it's still wrong and unfair and, for the Bush administration, supremely obtuse.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Iran Amok

A whole lot of very nice folks, most of a scholarly bent, had their Purim celebration ruined this year by Jeffrey Goldberg’s gratuitous assertion on the New York Times Op-ed page that the holiday was commemorating something that never happened. All of them, apparently, have my phone number.

Goldberg’s trump card in support of flushing the royal tale down the drain is the fact that the ancient Persian kingdom was very tolerant of other religions and cultures, not likely to indulge a spasm of rabid anti-Semitism. His retroactive certainty was in no wise shaken by the observation that Iran was a very philo-Semitic country until 1979 when the Shah was deposed.

In fact the book of Esther is most remarkable for its scrupulous recording of the multicultural tableau of Persian society. It is very clear from the outset that the Jews enjoy full freedom and live as equals. Esther and her adoptive father, Mordecai, are not outwardly identifiable as Jews. Mordecai does not tell that he is a Jew until the king’s courtiers pester him for days to explain why he defies Haman. Esther does not reveal her national identity until the critical moment when she can use it to foil Haman’s plan.

The Talmudic tradition adds the information that the Jews participated fully in King Ahasuerus’ national feast; he even provided kosher food “to do in accordance with the will of each person”. Clearly there is an effort in this recitation of events to hew closely to actual detail. This is hardly the stuff of bogeyman myths. Remember, too, that this is the same Biblical record that reported the generosity of Cyrus in allowing the Jews to rebuild the Temple – a piece of history that Goldberg chooses to believe.

The book of Esther notes that this Persian decree against the Jews was an aberration, incited by Haman, a descendant of King Agag of Amalek, who had been defeated and killed by King Saul five hundred years earlier. Haman wended his way into Ahasuerus’ good graces, among other ways by political fundraising, and got the king to sign on to his family’s vendetta against the Jews. Once Esther helped restore her husband to his senses, things went back to normal: the king ran a benevolent regime with his Jewish wife, and Mordecai was given a prestigious position, supplanting Haman’s influence.

One last point is critical in appreciating the painstaking honesty of the Jewish tradition in this matter. The Talmud (Megilla 7a) admits that the Rabbis were not inspired on their own to declare a holiday, or even to write up the story in Scripture. It was Queen Esther herself who approached them and made the argument that this was a watershed moment that should not be allowed to fade in the historical memory. They examined the case she presented and conceded that she was righter than their initial assessment.

It is not clear to me why Jews are intimidated away from their patrimony by the flimsiest evidence. If anything, we should ascribe much more credibility to the Jewish version of their experiences, because Scriptural texts consistently reveal the unflattering side of Jewish conduct while crediting all the positive players on the other side. By contrast, the other nations of antiquity never publicized their shortcomings, which would explain why Persia would not stress this one-year blip of hostility in an otherwise tolerant reign. (Still, the book of Esther concludes with the statement that all the facts were available in Persian and Medean royal annals.)

When we see today’s Iran sliding down the slippery slope into anti-Semitic vitriol, and threatening to back that up with weaponry, this is not a case of life imitating art but rather an instance of history repeating itself.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Top Brass

At my son's high school, they put on the traditional Purim play, where the students get creative and they poke fun at everything under the sun.

I thought this one skit was hilarious. Donald Rumsfeld comes in to President Bush and says: "Mr. President, three Brazilian soldiers were killed today in Iraq."

The President begins weeping and wailing, while Rumsfeld looks somewhat befuddled by the strength of Bush's reaction.

"Tell me, Don," the President says, when he collects himself. "How much is a brazillion?"

Monday, March 13, 2006

Sunset, Moonshine

One of my roles at The American Spectator is to deliver the magazine's message in honor of the Jewish holidays. Monday night after sundown, Purim begins with the reading of the book of Esther and then continues for 24 raucous hours of drinking, costumes and parties. Also a mind-boggling amount of philanthropy occurs, particularly in New York City, where some wealthy Jews sit all day receiving poor people and giving each one some cash.

In fact, one Jew who used to give out huge sums of money on Purim and later went bankrupt, sat down at his accustomed spot the next Purim and, depressed that he could not help the people who were lining up outside, took his own life.

Here is a link to my Purim message at the Spectator. And here, if you're an indolent type, is one paragraph to chew on.

THERE WAS NEVER a prohibition against drinking in Judaism, just a word of encouragement in the Talmud (Pesahim 113b): "God loves a person who does not get angry and does not get drunk." This was enough to keep Jews sober as a class even when they lived in societies that were more bibulous than Biblical. Yet Purim was one day a year where the book of Esther declared "a day of drinking and joy"; the Talmud (Megilla 7b) asserts that one should become drunk enough that he cannot distinguish between his friends and his enemies. Although the task of defending ourselves engages us all year round, this day reminds us that ultimately God has our back.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

No Harm, No Foul

Massmurdering bastard Slobodan Milosevic croaks during his trial for crimes against humanity.

Lucky for us Saddam's not dead. Screw his trial. We still have the chance to undo our Vietnam-like mistake and put him back in power. No doubt he could round up his old Ba'athist crew for a reunion like some rediscovered oldies band. Everybody needs a gig, and besides, I bet those dudes can still rock.

Status quo ante. Between the copious contents of Saddam's mass graves and Bill Clinton (and thereby the United States) starving out tens or hundreds of thousands of innocent Iraqis during the sanctions, the Iraqi people still come out ahead on this war and democracy thing even if we pull the plug now.

So, never mind. It was worth a shot. Peace, we're out, good night and good luck.

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

Antidisestablishmentarianism

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.