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

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

The Internet as Television: Michelle Malkin

Back in his internet entrepeneur days, George Gilder wrote convincingly about narrowcasting rather than broadcasting and people tuning in to get the news they wanted from the source they wanted with the viewpoint they wanted.

Wow, was he right. We've seen a step in that direction with Fox News. More steps with all the political news sites and blogs on both sides of the aisle.

But I think Michelle Malkin has kicked the process further yet down the field. Check out her new internet television-style commentary site. It looks like television with television style graphics. Really quite impressive just from the standpoint of aesthetics.

One wonders whether she can keep this up on a regular basis (a question the boys at Powerline asked), but it is easy to imagine that small consortiums of the more successful bloggers could easily do something like this and get lots of eyeballs every day. If the blogworld ever develops the resources to do serious reporting, the broadcast medium will be absolutely dead.

Burial or Cremation?

A fascinating discussion over at Mere Comments
over whether Christians should bury or cremate their dead. I've been rather instinctually against cremation, but mostly, I suspect, because it seems so fashionable.

A couple of things of note: some of the commenters seem unable to distinguish that there is some space between what is forbidden and what is prescribed. That is, there are things, in St. Paul's words, that are "beneficial" though not necessary. It's as if Christians can't say we ought to do anything except what is required for salvation. Second - and Russell Moore alludes to this but doesn't spell it out fully enough - when we are thinking about what we should and should not be doing, it's not enough just to say how an action (or omission) will affect us directly. We also have to reckon with how an action will affect the shape of the lives we all live together. Moore's claim is that in burying our dead sans the funeral pyre, Christians show and shape themselves to be the sorts of people who expect the resurrection. In burning the dead, we aren't denying the resurrection, but we are creating the conditions in which its expectation seems a bit less "real."

High Gasoline Prices—What the Government Can Do

In an effort to deal with—or be seen as dealing with—high gasoline prices, President Bush called upon Congress to f"ind a way to approve permits to build new refineries a year after they are filed." In addition, Bush noted that he had "told the Environmental Protection Agency to use 'all available authority to grant waivers that would relieve critical fuel shortages,' and said he would seek more waiver authority from Congress if needed." Both quotes are from a brief Reuters story on the subject.

In addition, AP reports that Bush today also "halted for the summer the purchase of crude oil for the government's emergency reserve."

Analysis: the President's suggestions are valid and reasonable things for the federal government to do: to alter federal policies that force up the price of gasoline without paying off in a cleaner environment. (Reducing gasoline taxes at all levels of government would lower prices at the pump significantly as well.)

There are plenty other federal laws that are exceedingly valid candidates for such treatment, in countless areas of life and the economy, and I hope that this can be the beginning of a trend.

Although it almost certainly won't be.

The Baseball Dilemma

I’m one of those people who takes the baseball encyclopedia to the bathroom with him and memorizes statistics. There isn’t the slightest value in going through this exercise except, that for reasons only available to me, I enjoy it.

I know, for example, that in one distant year in the past Babe Ruth hit more homeruns in a season than the entire American League. I know that in 1949 Jackie Robinson in the National League and George Kell and Ted Williams in the American League finished the season with identical .342 averages to lead the majors. I know that Alex Rodriguez’s 48 homeruns in 2005 to lead the American League broke Joe DiMaggio’s record for most homeruns by a right handed Yankee batter.

Now one might well ask, so what? These statistics don’t reveal anything about the complexities in life, nor can they offer any guidance about human behavior. The numbers aren’t even predictive, a great season is sometimes followed by a mediocre one.

Still baseball was a game of numbers. I learned how to use a slide rule so I could break that log-jam in ’49 and determine that George Kell led the majors in batting. But now that the revelations of steroid use are convincingly documented in Game of Shadows, I wonder what my bathroom reading will be; in fact, I wonder if statistics will ever have the meaning for baseball aficionados it once did.

It is not merely Barry Bonds and his pursuit of Henry Aaron’s lifetime career homerun record that disturbs me. As I see it, the problem is every single number in the age of “juiced” players. Should I take seriously McGuire’s homerun achievements? Should I discount Palmiero’s 500 plus homers and 3000 hits?

How should I evaluate the game? What Bud Selig and the myrmidons of baseball have taken from me is not easily forgiven. Here we are with a new season and I don’t know what is legitimate about the game. Should I honor the player or his pharmacologist?

I’m perplexed. All of my life baseball was a game of numbers. After all, I would say “the numbers don’t lie.” Yet now in my middle years I discover the numbers do lie. In fact, it is hard to know what is real.

The owners intoxicated by box office results averted their gaze from this tragedy. They want the long ball that keeps fans in their seats. Forget about the sacrifice bunt or hitting behind the runner. In the age of steroids, it’s the homerun that counts.

Of course, if you’re looking for results, teams with the most homeruns don’t usually win. Pitching and defense count for a lot; just ask the 2005 White Sox or, for that matter, the Japanese team that recently won the World Baseball Championship.

Clearly Popeyes with muscles bulging who hit 500 foot homeruns get big seven figure contracts and are the envy of their colleagues. The problem is now you don’t know if those biceps came from eating spinach, lifting weights or consuming steroids and growth hormones.

Years ago Bart Giamatti, the former president of Yale and later commissioner of baseball, was asked to compare university and baseball life. His comment: “There’s a better class of people in baseball.” Perhaps, but it should be noted that using pharmaceuticals to enhance performance is the rough university equivalent of plagiarism. The integrity that once characterized baseball is in tatters.

Habits are hard to break. I still read baseball statistics in the newspaper before I read the news. Earl Warren, who did the same thing, once said, “I prefer to read about accomplishments before I read about failures.” Unfortunately I’m no longer sure about those accomplishments. I’m not even sure about what to have as bathroom reading.

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.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Guess Hu?

It occurred to me that it would be worthwhile to expand on a point that I alluded to at the end of my Human Events article, namely that the idea that China will help us to curtail the nuclear adventurism of Iran and North Korea is the starkest self-delusion.

So I wrote an analysis-with-attitude on that subject for tomorrow's The American Spectator.

For an appetizer:

Here is Michael J. Green, senior director for Asia policy through December 2005, waxing pithy on this subject: "In both Iran and North Korea, China has a very serious role to play, and in some ways is the pivot in whether we're successful in dealing with these problems. Hu will be under pressure to say something and to signal, not only domestically here but to those countries, that China's patience is wearing thin."

One hesitates to disabuse the holder of such views, because there is a kind of charm to such loopy delusions. Until we recall that people are actually advancing this rot as a basis for decisions that affect our security. For example, once this serves as the gestalt for international discussion of the Iran crisis, we could get a joint announcement by Hu and Ahmadinejad that Iran has decided to desist from further nuclear development out of respect for the request of China. This would (a) give China a huge diplomatic coup, (b) reinforce the notion that they are world peacemakers, (c) make Iran look reasonable, and (d) worst of all, allow Iran to proceed secretly while we would be hard-pressed to publicly challenge their good faith.

Hu: Main Event

We Reform Clubbers have to stick together, so in lockstep with Doc Zycher, I wrote a diminutive piece for Human Events decrying the heavy-handed treatment of the lady who heckled Hu.

Here is a slender sliver to whet your appetite:

Apparently it was not enough that the police had her removed afterwards. Not enough that Chinese TV cut off the broadcast of the event until after she was subdued. Not enough that President Bush apologized to Hu for his being discomfited. It was necessary, right here in the U.S. of A., in the land of the free and the home of the brave, to arrest this menace to society before she could wreak havoc on defenseless visiting tyrants. She is being charged with “willingly intimidating or disrupting a foreign official”, says Secret Service spokesman Jonathan Cherry. This carries a maximum sentence of six months.

So poor Hu, all intimidated and disrupted, gets to return home to pull the wings off flies or whatever dictators do for recreation, while a decent woman, a New York City doctor who put her conscience ahead of her career for a day, has to face federal prison. What am I missing here?

Republicans Bad, Democrats Worse, Hope Meager

These are sad times for classical liberals. The Republicans are spending taxpayer money at a pace that has drunken sailors saying, "Whoa, hold on a minute there, Buddy!" With President Bush's enthusiastic encouragement, they created a new Medicare prescription drug plan and managed to keep a straight face while telling us it would actually save us money. Katrina gave them a great excuse to add tons of new spending without making corresponding cuts in non-emergency programs. The Republicans are flirting with allowing lawbreakers to benefit from their illegal actions in flouting our immigration laws, all for the benefit of rich people looking for cheap gardeners, nannies, fruit pickers, and warehouse workers. And so on.

It's repugnant, all right, and there would be something we could do about it if not for the fact that the Democrats are not only for all these these things, they support them more strongly, want more spending on these programs and more solicitiude toward the lawbreakers, would press forward more quickly toward the precipice of economic and social destruction, and advocate these absurd proposals with a level of moral smugness even Republicans have difficulty matching.

Mark Steyn describes it well in the current issue of National Review, excerpted on National Review Online:

I'm not predicting electoral disaster this November. It would be nice to think that the GOP might get to enjoy a Geena Davis-style "hiatus" while they "retune" their winning formula. But I doubt it will happen: Even losers need someone to lose to, and the Democrats have failed to fulfill even that minimal requirement for the last decade.

Christopher Hitchens said on the Hugh Hewitt show recently that he "dislikes" the Republican party but has "contempt" for the Democrats. I appreciate the distinction, though I'm not sure I could muster even that level of genial tolerance. The Democrats have been the most contemptible opportunists in the years since 9/11: If they've got nothing useful to contribute to the great challenge of the age they could at least have the decency not to waste our time waving around three-year-old Abu Ghraib pictures and chanting "exit strategy" every ten minutes.

Hitchens has it just right, I think.

Now in power, the Republicans are doing whatever they can to retain that power, which in the nation's capitol means buying votes with taxpayers' money. That's what political parties do, and as long as huge amounts of money and power are concentrated in Washington, D.C., that will be the way of things, with the taxpayers occasionally saying "enough!" and the party out of power deciding to take a chance on a small dose of economic liberalization and a slightly greater encouragement of rule of law.

Unfortunately, the Democrats are so strongly attached to their economic redistribution ideology that there is virtually no hope of them pursuing a course toward liberalization and rule of law. They seem likely only to fall further into their present radicalism.

One might hope that such a course would send them into final political oblivion and allow a more plausible political opposition to arise, but the Republicans' adoption of the Dems' principles has kept the latter party alive.

So a plausible alternative party is not going to arise under current conditions, and a classical liberal third party is an impossible dream.

Which leaves us with the Republicans. Will they see the foolishness of their choice to become the party of huge government as opposed to the Democrats' gigantic government?

Not any time soon.

Guller's Travels

That wacky comedic genius of British television, Ali G (aka Sascha Cohen, a very clever Jewish boy), takes his Kazakh alter ego to a country bar in Tucson and gets the whole crowd into singing 'Throw the Jew Down the Well'.

This is kind of scary, I suppose, but definitely funny as all get-out. Don't miss this video clip.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

How I Spent My Earth Day

Jim and me and Eddie decided to do something special for the occasion, because we love nature and all. So we got up early for a Saturday, and me, I think we did our part to make this world a better place.

11:30 AM---Global Warming. Put a few cases of Bud on ice. Cools the environment.

12:30 PM---Recycling. Threw the empties from the first case in the blue can. (Blue is for recycling.)

12:31---Global Warming 2. Walked, did not drive, to the 7-Eleven. Got more ice. (Also more Bud.)

12:45---Ozone. Oxygen causes ozone. You could look it up. Lit up some bigass Cuban stogies Eddie got from his cousin in Miami and killed some oxygen, which is also a carcinogen. (That's why they sell anti-oxidants.)

2:00---Recycled some more Bud cans.

3:30---Wildlife. Caught some fish in local crick. (Used some of Eddie's mom's tortillas as bait. Excellent.) Removed excess flesh (fillets) from fish but then released them back into the wild. Jim shot at some feral cats, which kill more birds than pollution does, but didn't hit any.

4:45---Buried, did not litter environment with case of Bud empties.

6:00---Genetically Altered Foods. Drove back home (slowly, as it increases gas mileage and besides Eddie was really faced) and barbequed up the fish. (Excellent.) Ate no genetically altered foods and started the barbeque with recycled paper. Also didn't use plates, as it would have wasted water to wash them. Oh and I forgot, got more ice on the way home, at maybe 6:23.

8:00---Decided to do no more driving (Eddie was kinda passed out, although he could answer questions if it was a "yes" or a "no" question, and besides he's the only one with a license even though it's suspended). So we turned off all the excess lights and ordered up the WWF Death Cage Match on pay-per-view.

Whew. What a warm glow, being part of the solution and not the problem. This is the only planet we've got. We were saying it's a shame Earth Day only comes once a year, but you know, that's silly. Jim and Eddie are coming back over tomorrow after Eddie drives his mom to church. Every day can be Earth Day!

Saturday, April 22, 2006

My Givhan Take

The End of Western Civilization Part 11,462: Robin Givhan, who has managed to turn shallow snark into a full-time job at the Washington Post, was awarded a Pulitzer Prize for criticism which her Post colleague Howard Kurtz blandly described as "her sometimes unorthodox writing about fashion." This is the woman whose commentary on the nomination of John Roberts to the Supreme Court consisted of griping about his small children's outfits, and who gasped in horror when Dick Cheney wore a winter coat outdoors in the winter.

But there's something even more embarrassing about honoring Robin Givhan with a prize for writing: she's a lousy writer. Her Friday column, a pseudosociological analysis of the decision of a bunch of gay parents to wear rainbow leis to the White House Easter Egg Roll, contains the following sentence:

In matters of racial equality -- particularly during the civil rights movement -- people of color strived to make a similar point.

Strived? Strived?!? The past tense of strive is strove.

She doesn't even write on deadline. This piece, conceived on Monday, was published on Friday. She is employed by, like it or not, one of the premier papers in the world. She is paid to exercise her puerile pomo sensibility for an audience of thousands, is feted and pampered and praised for her "witty, closely observed essays that transform fashion criticism into cultural criticism," and she couldn't write her way out of a tenth grade essay test at a public school. That low-level dust cloud over Maryland must be Whittaker Chambers's ashes erupting from their urn in disgust.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Getting Out of Line: The Nuns Had It Right

If you didn't catch it:

WASHINGTON (AP)-- In a surprise outburst, a screaming protester confronted President Bush and Chinese President Hu Jintao and interrupted the welcoming ceremony on the White House lawn Thursday.

"President Bush, stop him from killing," the woman shouted for several minutes before security officers forcibly removed her. "President Bush, stop him from persecuting the Falun Gong" -- a banned religious movement in China.

Standing beside Bush, Hu had just begun his opening remarks when the woman started yelling in Chinese and English. The woman identified by Secret Service as Wenyi Wang, 47, has been charged with disorderly conduct, officials said.

Our esteemed Dr. Z swoops in with a post below and asks:

Apparently the law under which she is being charged proscibes "harassing, intimidating or threatening a foreign official in the performance of their official duties."

So: Was Hu harassed, intimidated, or threatened?

Yeah on the first, Ben.

And I must say that on the whole, even though harassment is routine if not de rigeur for American presidents when they travel abroad, the next two pretty much don't happen.

Certainly in part because of his hosts' de rigeur security arrangements, but perhaps also because there's some glimmer of hope that civilization (civility?---they have the same etymology) is universal.

Perhaps "harassment" should be removed from the statute if it holds her behavior to be more serious than a misdemeanor, which is what it is.

I myself wanted to yell at the local postmistress the other day, because she is helping our regular carrier to get out of delivering our mail during road construction. But I thought I might end up in the federal clink, so I didn't risk it.

I didn't like that, in this here "free" country. My demeanor was decidedly mis- but she had it coming. I would have committed some righteous civil disobedience if the penalty were not so potentially disproportionate. (No jury would have convicted me, I'm sure, although I ain't convinced.)

So, yeah---she should be punished even though we cannot help but agree with her. We're trying to show China and the rest of the world that nations should be of laws.
Now, I'm on record that I think it's necessary to observe that informal space between law and society (people), but I'm against letting the power of either one obviate the other:

"Red" China has societally become expedient/utilitarian to the point of a new and improved tyranny; by contrast, the US and the West are becoming crippled to the point of self-destruction by their own laws. Surely there is a wiser course between the two.

Me, I think we should bring back corporal punishment: justice requires that Wenyi Wang receive a slap on the wrist, then go forth and sin no more---she made her point.

Free Speech at the White House

Well now, I see that the Bushies, after admonishing Hu Jintao about human rights in China, have arranged for charges to be filed against the Falun Gong woman who yelled "President Hu, your days are numbered. President Bush, make him stop persecuting Falun Gong." Apparently the law under which she is being charged proscibes "harassing, intimidating or threatening a foreign official in the performance of their official duties."

So: Was Hu harrassed, intimidated, or threatened? You be the judge. As for me, each day and every way El Presidente W more and more reminds me of the old adage from Animal Farm: Four legs good, two legs better.

A Sad, Sad Situation

I never did get around to providing a link to my column of Wednesday concerning the Tel Aviv bombing and the Hamas justification of said bombing.

Here's an excerpt:

The atrocity was "claimed" by Islamic Jihad. This is a grisly sacrament that puts an exclamation point on such events: a claim is entered into the annals of society. A claim for recognition, for identity, for note, for renown, for a place in history...for "credit." Credit for fracturing civility and gentility. Credit for rending the rhythms of life. Credit for foisting savagery on a peaceable populace. Credit?! This is the first level of tragedy. It ramifies beyond the wounds of the moment into the traumas of the future.

But the second level is many times worse, although its existence in the moment is limited to mere words. The words of the new Hamas-led government of the Palestinian Authority, which justified the bombing as a byproduct of Israeli "aggression." Until now, when the official Palestinian response belonged to Arafat or Qureia or Abbas, they observed the conventions sufficiently to utter some platitudinous words of condemnation. Even if we knew them to be talking out of both sides of their mealy mouths, there was comfort in the knowledge that mankind still had a common language. So long as such principles command outward obeisance, they sustain the hope that eventually an earnest polity can occupy those social structures.

Iran and Nuclear Power

It's always good to see less-economically developed nations make technological progress toward modernization of their economies, and in that light, Iran's development of nuclear power should be good news.

But of course the United States and much of the world see it quite otherwise, and have stated our intent to seek UN sanctions against Iran if it moves forward with the enrichment process, because that can lead to the development of nuclear weapons by Iran, which has openly threatened to use them against Israel. China, however, and now Russia, are taking the Iranian government at its word and say they will veto any sanctions against Iran, through their position on the UN Security Council. The Times of London reports:

Iran says that it is seeking nuclear power purely for peaceful energy generation, but Washington believes that it is concealing a desire to develop an atomic bomb. But Russia said there was no proof Iran was seeking nuclear weapons.

"One can speak of sanctions only after the appearance of concrete facts proving that Iran is not engaged exclusively in peaceful nuclear activities," Mikhail Kamynin, a Foreign Ministry spokesman, told the ITAR-Tass news agency.

The Russians have a good point. But what is the evidence? Iran, a nation run by people who have shown little to no concern for the welfare of the general population, a government whose opposition to nearly all of modernity has been utterly resolute, and which sits on a vast subterreanean ocean of oil which it has refrained from developing for the nation's energy use and enrichment of its people, wants to develop nuclear power for entirely peaceful reasons?

Clearly, that doesn't make sense. At the very least, one should suspect that Iran is intent on developing nuclear weapons in order to protect itself from invasion by Western powers as happened in Iraq, and it is most probable that the nation is seeking to strengthen its position in the region overall.

That interpretation at least gives them some credit for having some brains.

What the West, and the United States in particular, should do about the matter is another question, but what Iran intends in developing the capacity to enrich uranium is not open to reasonable doubt.

The Glories of Smith-Friedman Economics

Matt Laar became Prime Minister of Estonia when he was only 32 years old. He had read only one book on economics: Milton Friedman's Free to Choose. He naively believed the book merely reported economic reforms that had already been implemented in the West. Despite the fact that his economists told him his flat tax, free market moves to privatize an economy that had been almost completely state-run could only fail, he pushed ahead.

The result: Estonia achieved the largest real per capita income of any of the former Soviet states. His policies are now being copied in the former eastern bloc.

Now, he's being honored with the Cato Institute's $500,000 Milton Friedman Prize for Liberty. That prize is aptly named, friend, because economic liberty is a massive part of what liberty is all about.

Read more from the Cato Institute and Pejman Yousefzadeh.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Philosophy of the Dems

There seems to be a theme recurring in criticisms of the Democratic Party---most recently in today's (4/20) Opinionjournal Best of the Web---to the effect that the Democrats will have trouble winning elections on a consistent partywide basis because no central organizing philosophy is to be found underlying their policy pronouncements, other than animosity toward Republicans and conservatives generally, and George W. Bush in particular.

This view, seemingly held quite widely, strikes me as fundamentally wrong. I think that the Democrats do have a central policy goal, which crudely can be summarized as making ordinary people more rather than less dependent upon government. I cannot think of an exception in terms of a policy prescription promoted by the mainstream Democratic Party, and by its left wing in particular, that violates that central principle. Somewhat less charitably, I think that the mainstream Democratic Party believes, again crudely, in a strong government and a weak nation.

This observation should not be interpreted in any way as an endorsement of the Republicans, the Congressional wing of which has become largely unhinged from principle, and the Presidential wing of which has gotten five or so Big Things right and everything else wrong, and which does not understand both the distinction between loyalty and sycophancy and the need to make the policy case clear publicly in support of its preferred policy outcomes.

Who's Qualified to Talk About Marriage and Sex?

The oft-repeated claim that priests cannot effectively advise people about sex and marriage is false.

Consider this: If you had a brain tumor, would you look for a cure from someone who has one and is dying of it, . . . or from someone who has studied neuromedicine thoroughly and has cured hundreds of patients?

If you have automobile trouble, do you consult a friend whose car has broken down, or take it to a qualified mechanic?

Likewise, If you had a marriage or sexual problem, would you really rather talk with someone who has never formally studied the matter but has had three failed marriages, or aborted a couple of children, or can't stand their spouse, . . . or with someone who has never been married but has studied marriage and sex issues and had literally thousands of counseling talks with people bringing him or her a wide variety of moral dilemmas to consider?

Certainly, there are psychological counselors who have been married and can provide good advice, and people who have problems that don't weigh on their conscience and don't have deep moral implications can do very well by consulting them. But for people whose religious faith places a moral content on their sexual relationships, consulting a qualified minister seems to me their best option and a very good one indeed.

I know whom I would choose—and I am not a Catholic and don't believe in requiring celibacy of ministers. The preference for someone who has studied something formally over someone who has practical experience but failed at the matter is simply common sense, and it is what we choose in any other realm. In this centrally important area, it makes all the more sense to go to the experts, regardless of their level of personal experience.

The Most Dangerous Terrorists Today

Americans are correct to be concerned about potential terror activities by Muslims, but the most common form of terrorism since 9/11 has been among so-called environmental and animal-rights activists.

In their vigilante-style attempts to force people to obey laws set by these groups themselves, laws which the American people and their federal, state, and local governments have declined to impose, these terrorists have set forth on a continuous and increasing effort to terrorize residents of new communities, individuals and firms even remotely associated with organizations that use animals in even the most benign way to discover cures for human ills, logging companies (whose work, by the way, if allowed to go forward more sensibly, would prevent the kinds of huge forest fires we endure every summer), and other people who have offended the sensibilities of these eco-fascists.

The U.S. federal and state governments have been woefully slow in responding to this rising tide of domestic terrorism, but they are finally starting to get it, and the individuals, researchers, and businesses under attack are starting to fight back as well.

In today's edition of TechCentralStation, the redoubtable Iain Murray tells the story of several concerted attacks in Great Britian by "animal-rights" activists, which led to strong action against the terrorists when they began to attack Oxford University.

Here, from Iain's article, is a sample of the kind of heroic things these "activists" do:

In February 2001, Brian Cass, the managing director of HLS, later honored by Queen Elizabeth II for services to medical research, was attacked by three men armed with pickaxe handles. Its marketing director, Andrew Gay, was attacked with a chemical spray that temporarily blinded him.

Murray notes that the extremists' actions are becoming increasingly bold and bizarre:

[L]ast year a British farm that bred guinea pigs for use in animal experiments pulled out of the business after the culmination of a long campaign against them when activists desecrated the grave of the owner's grandmother and "kidnapped" her body. The activists were tracked down and recently entered a plea of guilty to blackmail in relation to the desecration. The whereabouts of the remains, however, are still unknown.

Fellow members of the Left have condemned this sort of activity, as they certainly should. Murray writes, "One of the most powerful summaries and indictments of SHAC's method came from the Southern Poverty Law Center, which compared SHAC to anti-abortion extremists."

These are not activists; they are thugs and terrorists.

The good news is that when the terrorists went after Oxford, they bit off much more than they could chew. Their incursions against the university "and everyone linked to [that] institution," which the U.S.-based Animal Liberation Front called for, backfired. A strong counter-protest group, Pro Test (founded by a fed-up 16-year-old high school dropout), arose, and prominent scientists and researchers joined politicians and citizens of both Left and Right to stand up against the bullies. Work on the institution's proposed facility consolidating all of the university's biomedical research efforts into a unified research center is moving forward.

In the United States, terrorists targeting tree farms in the Pacific Northwest were recently apprehended and indicted, six animal-rights terrorists were convicted of animal enterprise terrorism and multiple counts of conspiring and committing interstate stalking and of telephone harassment (they face substantial fines and prison terms of up to 14 years when sentencing is imposed in June), and Congress is considering an update of the 1992 Animal Enterprise Protection Act to an Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act.

Much work remains to be done in restoring rule of law under violent attack by fanatics such as these, but it is good to see steps being taken in that direction. Read Iain's excellent article here.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Lacking Facts, Attack the Messenger

Readers who venture into the Comments section of my previous post will notice that the first voice to jump in exemplifies my point perfectly. Unable to answer the facts, the commenter claims that the author of the article cited has been bought by special interests. Of course, being bought by special interests would not necessarily make Joel Schwartz's statements incorrect, but it is interesting further to note that the commenter does not even offer any evidence whatever that Schwartz has distorted the facts, instead simply assserting that Schwartz is a shill and a liar.

It's important also to remember that the Left gets a mountain of money from foundations and from businesses who hope to benefit from government regulation of their competititors. Their thumbs may be green, but so are their souls, and it is dishonest to pretend otherwise.

The Truth About Ozone

As the weather heats up and summer dog days approach, we'll soon be hearing more about the dangers of ozone in our air, as is the case every year.

Hence it's a good time to read the excellent article on the real health risks of ozone, by Competitive Enterprise Institute fellow Joel Schwartz, from the April issue of Environment & Climate News (which this author serves as senior editor), published by The Heartland Institute.

Schwartz examines all the claims of health risks from atmospheric ozone, and finds that each one has been exaggerated far beyond the scientific reality. In each case, the evidence all shows that ozone poses little or no risk at all to human life. It is simply a Boogie Man used by Luddites and other enemies of freedom to demonize modern technology.

For instance, Schwartz investigates the realities of asthma incidence, to test the claims that ozone causes asthma attacks. He finds that the evidence shows that there is no connection whatever:

The prevalence of asthma has nearly doubled in America during the past 25 years, at the same time levels of ozone and other air pollutants sharply declined nationwide. Emergency room visits for asthma are at their lowest in July and August--when ozone levels are at their highest. A government-funded study of thousands of children in California reported that children who grew up in the highest-ozone areas had a 30 percent lower risk of developing asthma, when compared with children in low-ozone areas.

While ozone can trigger asthma attacks, the effect is small. According to estimates by the California Air Resources Board (CARB), eliminating virtually all human-caused ozone in California--where millions of people live in areas with by far the highest ozone levels in the country--would reduce asthma-related emergency room (ER) visits by only 1.8 percent.

Schwartz masterfully demolishes the other claims about health problems caused by ozone, and points out that these false claims are repeatedly made by supposedly credible sources:

Unfortunately, medical experts are often key players in the exaggeration of air pollution's health effects. Scientists, regulators, activists, and journalists continue to cite the [2002] CHS [Children's Health Study] study as evidence that air pollution increases people's risk of developing asthma [the study tested effects of ozone levels far higher than are present anywhere in the United States, and the reports of it suppressed contradictory evidence the study found showing that high ozone levels were associated with a 30 percent lower risk of asthma in children, which should certainly have been the main point that people took from it].

For example:

  • A researcher from the Bloomberg School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins asserted in the introduction to a recent Sierra Club report, "Traffic presents a unique public health threat" including "children's asthma rates occurring at epidemic proportions."
  • After the American Lung Association gave Tarrant County (Fort Worth), Texas a failing grade for ozone in 2003, the president of a local branch of the Tarrant County Medical Society asserted, "It means we can anticipate a worsening of an already epidemic asthma problem."
  • In a recent commentary on air pollution and asthma in the Journal of the American Medical Association, two prominent air pollution health researchers state, "Evidence exists that air pollution may have contributed to the increasing prevalence of asthma." The evidence they cite is the CHS asthma study.
  • When the CHS asthma study was released, the director of the pediatric asthma program at the University of California at Davis asserted, "Sacramento is a very high ozone area, so [the CHS asthma study] is going to be very relevant to us."
These lies are important because they are being used to justify expensively stupid, intrusive government policies that have no positive effect at all:

None of this would matter if reducing air pollution were free. But Americans will have to spend more than $100 billion per year--about $1,000 per household--just to attain the current eight-hour ozone standard. That money--or more correctly, the labor, capital, and know-how that money represents--would otherwise go to health care, food, housing, entertainment, education, and other things Americans value. Instead, for this stupendous sum we will eliminate at best a few tenths of a percent of all respiratory disease and distress.

Health is the main justification for the nation's costly air quality management system, but reducing ozone would rank near the bottom of any rational list of priorities for improving Americans' health.

So, when commenters jump on this site and cite "evidence" showing that ozone does indeed have deleterious health effects, and when you hear "experts" on television telling us about how dangerous atmospheric ozone is to us all, you shall know exactly how to respond:


S. T. Karnick is senior editor for the Heartland Institute and writes frequently for numerous national publications.

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.