"There is always a philosophy for lack of courage."—Albert Camus

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Timing is Everything

The Midwest Political Science Association is having its annual conference this weekend and I was looking over the program to see what folks are presenting. Taking a gander over at Section 47, the section on Religion and Politics, I notice that they have a panel on the "Religious Foundations of Political Liberalism" on Sunday morning at 8:30-10:15 followed by a panel from 10:30-12:15 on "Theological and Philosophical Solutions to the Culture War." Presumably, no one thought it ironic that both panels would be on a Sunday morning. Though perhaps I'm wrong; perhaps there's some esoteric message in the structure of the program. Perhaps it's MPSA's way of saying that political liberalism really does depend on a kind of secularization and that the best (philosophical or theological) way to solve the culture war is to have little get-togethers on Sunday mornings instead of, oh, I don't know, whatever those "other" people do on Sunday mornings...or maybe it's just a coincidence. Yep, just like Calvin would have said...

The Logic of Sameness, Title IX, and Higher Education

Jessica Gavora has an article over at the Weekly Standard on a near-miss regarding Title IX (the law that requires equal treatment or somesuch of men and women in higher education) and its application to math and science departments.

We really shouldn't be all that surprised. If they can boot a Harvard U president and tell us that men and women like to compete in sports in exactly the same proportions (the logic underlying Title IX's re-engineering of college athletics), why not censure engineering departments that are 80% male?

Comic Relief

My article at Human Events tomorrow is another one of my experimental efforts, where I try to push the envelope of what is possible in a political column just another bit further. This time I write a whole comedy skit into the middle of a piece.

Here's the skit, if you're too lazy to read the whole column:

(Scene is Oval Office. President Bush is seated with two impassive Secret Service agents behind him. Enter Donald Rumsfeld, Condoleezza Rice and a tall, thin man with a prominent Adam’s Apple and a dark suit.)

Bush: What have you got for me?
Rice: We’re longing for a briefing, sir.
Rumsfeld: That’s the long and the brief of it, sir.

(Rice and Rumsfeld laugh uproariously, while tall man looks fidgety and Bush looks confused.)

Bush: Now you two cut it out with the private jokes. I have a country to run here and then a dog to walk. Let’s get busy.
Rice and Rumsfeld (in unison): Yes, sir.
Bush: And who’s this feller, looks like a rattlesnake who sat on a branding iron?
Rice: H. Thruckleton Grimsby. One of my people, sir.
Bush: One of those Foggy Bottom boys, eh? You know what my grandpappy Prescott used to say about those fellers? Can’t find their bottom with both hands, even when it ain’t foggy out.
Rice: He’s our director of Far East Studies, sir.
Bush: Studying those geishas, eh, Grimsfield? Okay, go ahead, shoot.

(The two agents jump on the President to shield him with their bodies. When Grimsby doesn’t pull a gun, they sheepishly resume their position.)

Bush: Sorry about the boys, they get a little overeager. Go on, Grimley.
Grimsby: Sir, we have a crisis with Sierra Leone. If it falls, there may be a domino effect.
Bush: Oh, Mama Leone’s little girl. That’s some restaurant. Give them whatever they need. Last thing we need is fast-food guys like Domino taking over.
Grimsby (flustered): But, sir… But, sir…
Bush: And while we’re at it, let’s throw some money at Diego Garcia.
Grimsby: Sir, our base there is well-funded…
Bush: Never hurts to give him some more. Condi tells me that Diego is Andy Garcia’s brother, and he’s some fine actor. Cuban, too, and Rove says they’re our voters, can’t toss them down the chute.

(Secret Service guys jump. You can’t be too careful.)

Grimsby (apoplectic): But, sir… But, sir…
Bush: Now, Grimstein, who’s this feller coming in to visit?
Rice (interposing): The Dalai Lama, sir.

Bush: Well, I’m going to play some hardball with that phoney.
Rumsfeld: What’s the thinking behind the policy, sir?
Bush: Look, if this guy won’t play ball, we’ll do some regime change. No shortage of those Lamas up in the hills of Peru. Now, shoo.

(The Secret Service guys jump again. If you wait around for the last consonant, that split second may spell the difference between life and death, you know.)


Monday, April 17, 2006

Actress Alert

Los Angeles saw Mrs. TVD once again in a (highly-acclaimed) play recently. Damn, she's good. After she murders me, I have little doubt she'll be able to convince the cops she was in Nova Scotia at the time. I hope she gets away with it---she's that good. If she never wins an Oscar, she at least deserves a Simpson or a Blake.

She's a guest on the NBC reality show Starting Over Tuesday, somewhere around noon (it varies) in your time zone. Hint: She'll be the one who seems the most normal. That's talent, my friends.

Danger in Iran

The highly insightful political analyst Ilana Mercer has an excellent article about the situation in Iran, in WorldNetDaily. Mercer, who is a libertarian who opposed the United States' incursion into Iraq, points out that the current sanguine attitude in the American media and policy communities toward Iran is dangerously misguided, for in Mercer's view, Iran is much more dangerous than Iraq was. She notes that conforming one's opinion of the situation in Iraq according to what policy one would prefer to pursue, as opposed to basing one's preferred policy on the reality of the situation, is ideological and stupid.

She is perfectly correct. Mercer notes, referring in particular to those who oppose President Bush's policy toward Iraq (as she herself has done from the start):

That Bush has made the world safer for aggression and bears a great deal of responsibility for the recent escalation ... does nothing to diminish the threat from Iran.

While continuing to adhere to her opposition to Bush's Iraq policy, Mercer takes an objective look at Iran and its intentions and refuses to ignore what should be evident to all. To wit:

[B]esides the last letters of their names, Iran and the pre-invasion, hobbled, Third-World country we pulverized differ vastly on the menace scale. Iran is jihad central – it's a gaily open supporter of terrorism across the Islamic world. It finances Hezbollah in Southern Lebanon and Syria and Hamas in the Palestinian Authority; its tentacles innervate Iraq, Bosnia and Croatia – and beyond.

Iran is also the last nation on Earth that needs nuclear power, and the first to have solemnly promised to atomically annihilate a regional neighbor.

Mercer is right. Iran is a serious danger. We should certainly discuss all options in considering what to do about it, including doing nothing at all. But we should not hide our heads in the sand and pretend the danger does not exist.

Rumsfeld's Velvet Glove

A plethora of ex-generals came out last week, disagreeing with the conduct of the Iraq war. There are apparently two propositions: Rumsfeld (less troops) and those ex-generals (more troops).

If we do a pomo deconstruction of the contestants, we're not left with much: generals want force, the civilian Rumfeld liked nuance. (And admittedly, had a love for his own concepts.)

The argument for overwhelming force was/is plain: put the insurgency down down down before it starts.

But since Rumsfeld's more nuanced view makes little headway through the clatter, I can only say that I thought this on my own while it was happening:

---Shooting looters would be a very bad idea.
---Shooting before we knew who was whom was also a bad idea.
---It is not self-evident that maintaining Saddam's Ba'athist military in place would have been a good idea either.

I'll borrow a couple points from Victor Davis Hanson out of laziness (omitting the ones I'm not crazy about):

Whatever one's views about needing more troops in 2003-5, few Democratic senators or pundits are now calling for an infusion of 100,000 more Americans into Iraq. While everyone blames the present policy, no one ever suggests that current positive trends — a growing Iraqi security force and decreasing American deaths in March — might possibly be related to the moderate size of the American garrison forces.

So, for every argument offered by "experts," there was just as available a convincing counter-argument — something usually lost on those eager to keep up with the 24-hour news cycle.

More troops might have brought a larger footprint that made peacekeeping easier — but also raised a provocative Western profile in an Islamic country. More troops may have facilitated Iraqization — or, in the style of Vietnam, created perpetual dependency. More troops might have shortened the war and occupation — or made monthly dollar costs even higher, raised casualties, and ensured that eventual troop draw-downs would be more difficult.

More troops just might have set 'em off even more. The polls in Iraq tend to support this proposition. They hate the "humiliation" of the US/UK troops being needed to straighten out their embarrassingly dysfunctional society; neither do they want them to leave.

My own opinion is that as the iron hand faded away, the incomprehensible fratricide of today (suicide bombers in Iraqi shrines and mosques) would have commenced regardless. It was not an avoidable if, only an inevitable when.

I could be wrong, but I also think that there is no way we can have a political, strategic or moral certainty that a different course would have ended up differently. I do not know whether the iron hand or Rumsfeld's velvet glove was the best way, which is why I don't give the post hoc peanut gallery much credence.

I have no patience for Monday morning QBing. There were varying opinions all through the Chiefs of Staff. Rumsfeld, civilian that he is, had the last word, and that's the way we want it.

Gen. Douglas MacArthur called for more troops against the Chinese intervention and an iron hand in the Korean War. Many think he might have been correct, but all must admit he also might have plunged us into global nuclear war. With generals, what you see is what you get.

After MacArthur shot off his mouth in the press, Harry S Truman, our civilian Commander in Chief, bounced him:

"I fired MacArthur because he wouldn't respect the authority of the President. I didn't fire him because he was a dumb son of a bitch, although he was..."

Truman, whose poll numbers sank far below where Dubya's are now, in his civilian wisdom, with his velvet glove, might have saved the world. Much as I respect the generals, I'll take my chances with the civilians, even when they're named Donald Rumsfeld.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

What Is the Best Life? Mr. Watson Says It's Elementary

Well, Martin Luther believed that faith alone saves. Mebbe he was right. And my philosopher friends believe that philosophy is the best life.

But every day I have my doubts about my faith, philosophy, theology, and pretty much everything else.

I had thought to write something appropriate about the Guest of Honor of this holiday weekend, and about His own doubts, but instead I'll just pass this on about a guy our commenter and friend MJ Watson recommended to us, and specifically to me:

The extraordinary scholar, political philosopher, and theologian Father Ernest Fortin passed away on Tuesday, October 22, (2002), at age seventy-eight, surrounded by Carmelite sisters praying the rosary on his behalf. With his eyes closed, he whispered, "I see something beautiful." They were his last words. An hour later, he was gone.

I don't know what Ernest Fortin saw, or how he got himself there to see it, at least not yet. But that's the best life. Of this I am sure.

Best to all, and Happy Easter. Today is the most joyous day of all possible days. How could it not be? Lord, I believe, help thou my unbelief.

(Comments closed for this one. Enjoy the day, smile, laugh, hug and kiss. Mebbe we're not all doomed to oblivion after all.)

Thursday, April 13, 2006

All Your Base Are Belong to Us

The courts vs. society, once again. We are wise. You are stupid. You lose.

Judge says student can recite poem at state competition

A federal judge Thursday gave a Reno ninth-grader permission to recite a poem at a state competition that administrators at his charter school sought to block because they said it contained profanity.

In his ruling, US District Judge Brian Sandoval said "hell" and "damn" in W.H. Auden's, "The More Loving One," does not constitute vulgar, lewd or offensive language that could disrupt the Coral Academy of Science's educational priorities.

Sandoval issued a temporary restraining order against the school sought by 14-year-old Jacob Behymer-Smith, who will recite the poem April 22nd during Poetry Out Loud, a recitation contest sponsored by the National Endowment of the Arts and the Poetry Foundation.

(Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

Now, I happen to share the judge's sensibilities. But where the hell do the courts get the right to make this any of their damn business? Society has the right to define itself, to limn its own mores. To govern itself. The kid's fourteen, for crissakes, and it's a scholastic competition.

Judges are not philosopher-kings. Their job is to interpret the law, but how this became a First Amendment issue, or how it became a federal case, I do not know.

Between you and me, the kid should just read "Howl", which is a much better poem. If the judge allows Auden, he must allow Ginsberg. Let's just defenestrate all of society's proprieties for children and adults alike, and get it over with.

Who Are The Wusses?

Well, now, it appears that Comedy Central has capitulated to implicit threats from the world of Islamic fascism by engaging in that old standby, self-censorship. Obviously, the producers fear the violence always lurking around certain practitioners of the Religion of Peace, and the potential human devastation and litigation looming large down that path. And it is not easy to blame them.

Back in the days when men were Men, no President, no Secretary of Defense, no Secretary of State, no congressional leaders of any party would allow American citizens to endure the threat of such violence, let alone its infliction, without a clear and wholly credible message delivered, even if only quietly, to the governments of nations in support of such violence, or at least in a position to influence the behavior of the terrorists. To wit: Americans anywhere in the world enjoy their human rights as delineated in the Constitution and the American response to any deaths or injuries or damage resulting from terrorist acts will be answered by magnificently excessive force inflicted in the dead of night upon those who have or would do us harm. There will be no second chances. Please take note, Mullahs of Magnificence and Assad the Child.

But it appears that compassionate conservatism is heavy on the former and rather light on the latter. All the Beltway is Jimmy Carter now.

The Word

I'm in the midst of grading papers from one of my classes and it's striking how different people can be in how they present themselves in the spoken and written word. I have one student who can hardly talk - she gets so flustered that she can hardly utter a syllable. But give her a paper to write and her expressiveness is lovely. Almost poetic. Of course the converse is true as well, with the student who is so good at talking in class but whose slickness falls apart when exposed to the logic of print. Something profound there...

The Ideal of the Gentleman

The notion of gentlemanly conduct has taken quite a beating in the past few decades, not least from men themselves. The idea is very simple, really. It involves men taking a slightly extra strong turn at treating others the way we'd like to be treated ourselves. Carrie Lukas has a nice article on the subject on National Review Online today.

Pointing out that men today are less likely than in the past to give up a seat on the bus for a woman, much less a spot in a lifeboat as the men on the sinking Titanic did, Lukas notes that the ideal of the gentleman is not about how they treat women but how they treat people (and animals, and inanimate objects, and indeed everything) in general. A true gentleman respects other people and the creation that surrounds him, and he does so because he recognizes and accepts his place in the world:

Gentlemanly conduct isn't about women at all. It's about men and their sense of themselves.

Conclusion: Western men don't expect as much of themselves as they used to, and that's exactly what we get.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Thoughts of an Extraordinary Musician and Writer

A common thought among rock critics regarding popular music is that it is best when it is not too thoroughly thought out and highly crafted, because it is then more "authentic" and emotionally true. Paul O'Neill, record producer and songwriter best known for his work with the metal band Savatage and the extremely popular act The Trans-Siberian Orchestra, doesn't think this way. As he notes in an excellent interview in HM magazine, O'Neill's aim is to produce lyrics that work as poetry, that are effective even without music, and music that is moving and expresses thoughts without lyrics.

He also thinks about things other than music. Referring to the apparent religious content of O'Neill's work, the interviewer asked O'Neill his thoughts on the claims that Christianity is divisive, and the songwriter's answer is interesting and thoughtful. Speaking specifically of Christianity, O'Neill says,

Is the world bad with religion? Yes. Do I think it would be a worse place without religion? Yes. Will evil men twist words and try to use religions to their own intentions as time goes by? Probably yes, because they’ve done so in the past. But it doesn’t mean that we should give up on it. Just because someone gets in a car and gets drunk and kills some people doesn’t mean we should stop making cars. I don’t think the problem’s religion, per se. As it is just human beings using… People using words, using organizations for things that they weren’t intended to. Did Wilbur and Orville Wright intend for mass bombings to come out of inventing the airplane? I don’t think so. But was it used for that? Yes. And any movements forward with mankind always hold the possibility that someone could misuse them.

It's an interesting interview with a very thoughtful individual. Read it here.

Moonie Fish

You have to give the Rev. Sun Myung Moon, founder and head of the Unification Church, commonly known as the Moonies, great credit for entrepreneurship, both in religion and in business.

Most reasonably informed people know of his publication efforts led by the Washington Times newspaper, but few know that every time they eat sushi they may be supporting Moon's controversial religion, the Chicago Tribune reports:

In a remarkable story that has gone largely untold, Moon and his followers created an enterprise that reaped millions of dollars by dominating one of America's trendiest indulgences: sushi.

. . . Takeshi Yashiro serves as a top executive of a sprawling conglomerate that supplies much of the raw fish Americans eat.

Adhering to a plan Moon spelled out more than three decades ago in a series of sermons, members of his movement managed to integrate virtually every facet of the highly competitive seafood industry. The Moon followers' seafood operation is driven by a commercial powerhouse, known as True World Group. It builds fleets of boats, runs dozens of distribution centers and, each day, supplies most of the nation's estimated 9,000 sushi restaurants.

Talk about fishers of people. . . .

Sexually Liberated Politics

Chris Nolan at spot-on.com, a politics website, reproduces the NY Post's account of a speech by San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom's wife. If this is where national politics is going, voting education will have to begin at 18 to go with the actual right to vote:

October 16, 2004 -- DEMOCRATS really are more open-minded about sex than Republicans. Take Kimberly Newsom, attractive Court TV anchor wife of handsome San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom. When her husband couldn't make it as scheduled to speak at Thursday night's Empire State Pride Agenda dinner at the Sheraton, the year's biggest gay rights fund-raiser, Kimberly filled in for him. She was eloquent and uplifting as she spoke of equality. But she really brought the house down when she talked about her hunky hubby's anatomy. "I know that many of you wanted to see my husband and some of you had questions out there. Is he hot? Yeah. Is he hung? Yeah. Is he [she waved her hand to suggest bisexual]? Not unless you can give a better [she mimicked eating a banana] than me. Thank you very much." Then she left the stage to cheers and applause. Unfazed by the bawdy humor were Cate Edwards, daughter of John Edwards, Jim McGreevey, Betsy Gotbaum, Alan Hevesi, and a host of other Democratic politicians — and Mayor Bloomberg.

Ms. Nolan at Spot-On thinks it's too much information.

Ya think?

The Comedy of Current Events: Dave Heimerl

Years ago when I was living my own version of the cubical-land dream and had not yet lit out for the sparkling shores of scholarship, I had a friend who lightened the days of flow-charting and corporate re-engineering by sending bits of self-constructed levity my way. It would not be excessive to say that he was the master of email humor. Alas, we had only an intranet and none of the material was forwarded out to the world at large.

We recently struck up our friendship again and he sent me a piece that was wonderfully funny when the main character was a young Bosnian immigrant and is now adjusted to fit the more fashionable illegal immigrant from south of the border.

Here it is for your reading pleasure (with minimal modification and one story censored altogether) the genius of Dave Heimerl:

Possible Story Ideas

Teacher/Student Murder Story - A young illegal immigrant arrives in the US out of the goodness of a wealthy Mid-Western couple. He is not very bright, but he is very handsome, and he soon becomes the romantic target of his ‘Lifestyles in the 2000’s teacher, who is looking for a dupe to kill her husband. The story follows the dramatic, and often humorous efforts of this siren of the classroom to lure the young immigrant first into her bed, then into her plot. (I see this story line as having the possibility of going in any one of several directions.)

For example:

He kills her husband, she turns on him and he is sent away. She soon follows thanks to the efforts of the wealthy mid-western couple, who are bitter over their lost investment.

He takes the teacher to bed, and seemingly is duped into her plan as she intends. At the last minute, however he kills her (after one final love-making session) and only then do we see that he has fallen for her husband, who has been aware of the plot all along.

The teacher takes him to bed, and he is such a lousy lover that she kills him, does her time and renews the plot to kill her husband upon her release from prison.

The teacher takes him to bed and they hatch their plot. He expands it (mission creep) to include the wealthy mid-western couple so they can get their money. The murders occur, he gets the money and they settle down immediately in a new home without the least bit of suspicion being raised.

A Wrong Side of the Tracks Story - A young illegal immigrant arrives in the US through the generosity of a small southwestern church. He works hard to repay the church members and soon experiences the culture of our country.

The differences between the haves and have-nots are brought home vividly when he falls head over heels in love with the daughter of the wealthy owner of the local mill. Although she loves him also, their love is tested many times as they face the disapproval of both their family and the community at large.

The story climaxes when the couple, having reached the end of their ropes, make a suicide pact and carry it out by leaping from the tallest building in the small south-western town. In a surprise ending we find that the building is only one story tall and they suffer only minor injuries.

Having given their best, they part ways. She marries the son of her father’s business partner and suffers a loveless marriage. He remains at the church as a custodian and never marries. He goes to his grave harboring the suspicion that she knew of the building’s height limitation, and thus the likelihood of only minor injuries when she agreed to leap with him.

A Fantasy Sequence Story - The story begins with a young man (late teens) suffering a terrible day in school. In a classic teen torment sequence of events he suffers an embarrassing episode relating to personal hygiene, is wrongly accused of a prank by the class bully and ordered to meet the bully after school, is put down by the cutest girl in school and finally misses his bus home due to the beating he takes at the hands of the bully. While walking home he pauses to rest and drifts off to sleep.

Here the fantasy sequence begins.

He dreams he is a young illegal immigrant....

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Human Event #2

Ya gotta hand it to that Jay, he keeps comin' atcha.

Tomorrow's Human Events features an article of mine encouraging the Republicans to show a spine legislatively and campaign positively.

Here's a smidge:

When I have worked as a consultant on political campaigns, I have argued to my bosses that they should not focus on selling themselves as the best or even the better candidate. They should run as if they have no opponent, and the plebiscite is a referendum on their qualifications. Up or down, yes or no, do I like this guy?

This thesis becomes very relevant now, as Republicans work on reversing some disturbing trends. First, there is some sag in the poll numbers, although perhaps no more than normal for this stage in an election season. Ronald Reagan went from SAG to the top, but it ain't easy. Also there is a certain level of disenchantment among generally steadfast Republicans. When budgets bloat, spirits shrink. When illegals seep in, voters bleed out. When politicians are grifters, voters become drifters. How many voters looked at Randy Cunningham going to jail for taking bribes and wrote off all politicians as randy, cunning hams?

The End of Civilization, Part MMVI

A dwarf Kiss tribute band. Col. Kurtz was right:


The horror. The horror.

Cuba-ed Beef

With pressure mounting, there may well be an immigration reform bill before very long. The problem is that the one group that really deserves to have their immigration policy changed, the Cubans, will be left in the same boat - or lack thereof.

Here is my piece in The American Spectator on the subject.

A brief excerpt:

So I'll tell you what. Here's my deal. If you guys in the Senate want to ram through an immigration bill to reach out and bring all these folks into the Big Tent of the Republican Party, I'll bite my lip and go along. I won't be legalistic or puristic or a nudnik. You want me to give you your short-order cooks and your lawn guys and your house painters, you got it.

But I want something in return. Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me. I lift my lamp beside the golden door, right here in Miami. Give me your Cubans.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Sherlock Holmes' Silent Dog Shouts Again

Well, now, I never realized that the silent dog that solved Sherlock Holmes' murder investigation was a female. But it now is clear: In the face of gasoline prices well above $3 per gallon, even for the regular grade, the ineffable Barbara Boxer, whom I am proud to have as one of my representatives in the World's Greatest Deliberative Body (the U.S. Senate), has maintained a silence utterly deafening and supremely amusing. No conspiracy accusations. No calls for investigations. No demands for testimony before Congressional committees.

Now, why would that be? Never before has Babs been so modest in her complaints, so retiring in her accusations, so timid in her pursuit of wealth redistribution, oops, justice for her constituencies. Could it be that the current price runup has been caused in substantial part by the oxygenation mandate for motor fuels---a requirement for the use of either ethanol or MTBE, neither of which has been shown to reduce air pollution---for which she voted? Could it be that she voted against liability protection for the MTBE producers in the face of groundwater leakage lawsuits, leaving ethanol production capacity too meager to prevent price runups in the gasoline market? Well, yes, truth be told; so, please, Senator, speak up with the courage that you always have displayed, and tell us whom to blame for this outcome.

A Recounting

This is a must-read article that will give you some sense of the significance of the fall of Berlusconi, a fall which may have only just begun.

A somewhat bizarre footnote is the fact that I have friends in Alessandra Mussolini's party: don't even...

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Wherefore Art Thou?

It's rare these days for me to be asked to address a Jewish organization. Last week featured one such occasion, and here is the text of my address:

We are all familiar with Hannah's silent prayer in the first chapter of Samuel, pleading for the opportunity to bear a child. But a more puzzling 'prayer' appears in the second chapter, after Samuel is born and she makes good on her promise to deliver him to serve full time at the Tabernacle in Shiloh.

The chapter reads: "And Hannah prayed: My heart is overjoyed with God... my mouth is expansive against my enemies, because I am happy with Your salvation. There is none so holy as God... and no bastion like our Lord." Then she goes on at some length about how the downtrodden eventually rise up and the good guys always win in the end. This sounds like a celebratory poem in the tradition of Moses and Deborah. What is puzzling is that it is not identified as "singing", the expression used in those instances, but rather as "praying". How is celebrating creation in general, or personal good news in particular, quantified as a form of prayer?

The answer, I believe, lies in the Talmudic tradition which teaches that when she said there is no bastion like our Lord, there was a double meaning intended. The word 'tzur' for bastion (or rock) can also be read as 'tzayar', meaning artist. Hannah meant to say that the human being is the greatest work of art in existence (Talmud Brachot 10a).

Why would Hannah be the one person in history to deliver that particular message? I think that is simple to understand. She prayed the hardest for a child and so she appreciated its artistic magnificence the most.

This, it seems to me, is the prayer. When you praise the artist Who made everything we see on this planet, you are leaning on Him a little to keep that beauty at its sharpest.

A good way to demonstrate this is to cite a recent story from Michigan. A group of school kids went on a class visit to a museum, and one bored ten-year-old stuck a piece of chewing gum onto one of the paintings. Even after it was removed, there was a moisture stain the size of a half-dollar that marred the beauty of the painting. A half-million dollar masterpiece had been reduced to a fraction of its value. When we praise God's masterpiece, it is a way of asking Him to remove its real or perceived blemishes. Any person who needs a healing or a living or a child is a stain on the painting, and it behooves the Artist to clean the canvas.

I believe that this must be our approach to political and cultural involvement as well. We need to focus primarily on the beauty of our nation's founding documents, its history, its providing of opportunity both past and present, its virtue in war and peace. Highlighting that will make the flaws, such as may stubbornly persist, stand out in ways that will encourage the populace to make the necessary repairs.

In a spirit of admiration for this country, gratitude towards its founders and leaders, and appreciation for the gritty men and women who go out and make it work every single day, we can live in profound happiness and share that with all of mankind.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Seduced by the Nanny State

My parents took charge of my oldest child for much of last week, so we decided to meet at a Cracker Barrell in Anniston, Alabama. Anniston serves as a midpoint between Athens, Georgia and Decatur, Alabama. When we asked for a table, I was shocked when the host asked whether we wanted the smoking or non-smoking section.



Because I live in Georgia where smoking is completely prohibited in any structure that permits the presence of children. I have children and have never been much into nightclubs, so I don't encounter smoke. It doesn't exist in my world.

And let me tell you something.

I like it that way.

I'm a little ashamed to admit it, but I can justify it on conservative lines. The fact is that cigarette smokers generate what economists call negative externalities. The smoke, the smell, the unpleasant feeling in the back of your throat, you get the idea. If the smokers compensated the non-smokers somehow for all that unpleasantness, we might put up with it, but they don't, so we don't.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Sit Down, Classism

By this time tomorrow you'll have to deny that we ever met. I have gone and written a shocking thing about immigration in tomorrow's American Spectator.

Better to give references than samples, but if you insist here's an ort:

Chuckles aside, the immigration debate seems to have hardened into two fairly describable positions. The first is espoused by the President and others of both parties. It maintains that all those illegal immigrants are here to help us by doing the work "that American simply will not do." Their lack of proper paperwork is a technicality that it would be churlish of us to mention while munching on the yummy grapes that they so graciously picked.

The second view, held by most of the population and given eloquent expression by various talk show hosts and callers, argues that the first courtesy owed a host is the knock on the door. Unless the immigration laws are strikingly draconian, and absent a flight from genocide or tyrannical oppression, they should be obeyed, if only as a rite of passage. As to the claim that Americans will not do the same work, that's hardly a sufficient basis for introducing anarchy. Plus it's probably not really true; open the jobs to the law-abiding public and let's see if they really can't be filled.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

"We", Me & Thee

(Author's Note: With the assistance of some ancient writers, what was intended as a comment beneath Hunter Baker's fine citation of Richard Niebuhr [below] reached epic length, and so must needs be promoted to this main page, for its bulk alone.)

On the subject of Christ and Christianity in our polity, our beloved correspondent James Elliott writes:

...someone might take that last sentence as a dig at Christ, which really wasn't the intent.

I for one appreciate that clarification, James, but before taking offense at such things, intended or not, the careful Bible reader should keep in mind
"And everyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven."
- Luke 12:10

Unlike the major figures of some religions, Jesus was pretty mellow about Himself. And so let's move ahead to the proposition in question, on its own terms:

No one likes a martyr.

Well, true enough, but not for the reasons one might think. We all tend to wallow in that which we despise. Time to invoke a little Nietzsche:

On such a ground of contempt for oneself, a truly swampy ground, grows every weed, every poisonous growth—all of them so small, so hidden, so dishonest, so sweet. Here the worms of angry and resentful feelings swarm; here the air stinks of secrets and duplicity; here are constantly spun the nets of the most malicious conspiracies—those who are suffering and plotting against successful and victorious people; here the appearance of the victor is despised. And what dishonesty not to acknowledge this hatred as hatred! What an extravagance of large words and attitudes, what an art of "decent" slander! These failures—what noble eloquence flows from their lips! How much sugary, slimy, humble resignation swims in their eyes! What do they really want? At least to make a show of justice, love, wisdom, superiority—that's the ambition of these "lowest" people, these invalids!

And how clever such an ambition makes people! For let's admire the skilful counterfeiting with which people here imitate the trademarks of virtue, even its resounding tinkle, the golden sound of virtue. They've now taken a lease on virtue entirely for themselves, these weak and hopeless invalids—there's no doubt about that. "We alone are the good men, the just men"—that's how they speak: "We alone are the homines bonae voluntatis [men of good will]." They wander around among us like personifications of reproach, like warnings to us, as if health, success, strength, pride, and a feeling of power were inherently depraved things, for which people must atone some day, atone bitterly. How they thirst to be hangmen! Among them there are plenty of people disguised as judges seeking revenge. They always have the word "Justice" in their mouths, like poisonous saliva, with their mouths always pursed, constantly ready to spit at anything which does not look discontented and goes on its way in good spirits.

Among them there is no lack of that most disgusting species of vain people, the lying monsters who aim to present themselves as "beautiful souls," and carry off to market their ruined sensuality, wrapped up in verse and other swaddling clothes, as "purity of heart"—the species of self-gratifying moral masturbators. The desire of sick people to present some form or other of superiority, their instinct for secret paths leading to a tyranny over the healthy—where can we not find it, this very will to power of the weakest people!

I think our aforementioned friend from the left has the makings of a Nietzschean. Nietzsche designed that condemnation not in the smallest part for the religious; however, consider that it fits hand in glove with today's modernist left (perhaps a third of this country and a large majority in Europe), and almost everybody everywhere else, left or right, who cannot discuss any issue without putting it into their own handwringing moral terms.

Even the weak use their weakness as a will to power: no one is immune. They hate America not even for what it is, but for what they themselves are not. That Nietzsche fellow was a smart guy. No wonder he went nuts.

Is it all moral narcissism, or an abrogation of the duties of moral conscience in simply deferring to a (claimed) higher moral authority, or a combination of both?

Is that all it is?

As far as American Christians go, sure there are some cementheads. But The Reform Club, for instance, a delightful (yes, no, mebbe so?) polyglot of Judeo-Christianism, seeks not to whine or pontificate, only to convince. I have noticed that to a man (and a woman), we use the secular vocabulary of the Other. (As does a fellow named Beckwith...)

We happen to believe the Bible leads us to and confirms what is true about man and the human condition. But we need not use the Bible as an authority, and endeavor mightily not to: the truth can and must stand on its own.

My use (or anyone's) of "we" is admittedly creepy, cultish and excluding, so let me apologize. I don't like reading it, and I shiver at writing it. I just couldn't find a way around it. What I want to convey,though, is that "we" disagree on many things, and are a "we" only for that one thing, the most important thing, that we have in common.

"We" believe that most important thing is that there exists a higher moral order for which man's brute will and reason are insufficient. We cannot put that light under a bushel basket in the public square.

But "we" shall play by the public square's rules. That's only fair. We religionists, and I hope that will someday include Muslims after they pick up the lingo, will (and must) continue to speak to the minds, hearts, and spirits of our fellow men because we believe that in the beginning was The Word, and that minds, hearts and spirits were created for the simple purpose of hearing It.

An estimable thinker once noted that not only must theology be open to the challenges of philosophy, but vice-versa too. In our pluralistic age, we must all be bilingual. I do believe that's why we, me, & thee are all still here, regardless of what baggage we arrived with at the doors. Yes?

Richard Niebuhr on Christ and Culture

I'm reproducing a several lines from Richard Niebuhr's classic Christ and Culture. This excerpt does a fantastic job of explaining the constant complaint of the nation-state against the Christian faith:

The Christ who will not worship Satan to gain the world's kingdoms is followed by Christians who will worship only Christ in unity with the Lord whom he serves. And this is intolerable to all defenders of society who are content that many gods should be worshipped if only Democracy or America or Germany or the Empire receives its due, religious homage. The antagonism of modern, tolerant culture to Christ is of course often disguised because it does not call its religious practices religious, reserving that term for certain specified rites connected with officially recognized sacred institutions; and also because it regards what it calls religion as one of many interests which can be placed alongside economics, art, science, politics, and techniques. Hence, the objection it voices to Christian monotheism appears in such injunctions only as that religion should be kept out of politics and business, or that Christian faith must learn to get along with other religions. What is often meant is that not only the claims of religious groups but all consideration of the claims of Christ and God should be banished from the spheres where other gods, called values, reign. The implied charge against Christian faith is like the ancient one: it imperils society by its attack on its religious life; it deprives social institutions of their cultic, sacred character; by its refusal to condone the pious superstitions of tolerant polytheism it threatens social unity. The charge lies not only against Christian organizations which use coercive means against what they define as false religions, but against the faith itself.

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.