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

Monday, May 01, 2006

How Dr. McGuire earned $1.6 Billion

When William McGuire became CEO of United Health in 1989, the company had annual revenue of $400 million and the stock sold for about a dollar a share. Annual revenues increased to $45.4 billion in 2005 and the stock topped $98 before being split. Because Mr. McGuire did not exercise (cash-in) options accumulated over many years when the stock was much cheaper, he had unrealized (and therefore uncertain) capital gains of $1.6 billion by early 2006.

An AP wire story quotes McGuire saying, "This isn't a giveaway of money that occurs out of the premiums of health care recipients. These are shareholder dollars.”

That is absolutely right. Gains from exercised stock options are entirely at the expense of stockholders -- not customers or other employees. Exercised options are a cost to other shareholders because the difference between the grant price and the exercise price has to be financed by issuing more shares (which dilutes earnings per share) or by using cash that could otherwise have been invested. Grants of restricted stock to executives are also entirely at the expense of other shareholders, because they dilute the value of other shares.

There is no sense it which stock-based compensation of executives – which accounts for nearly all of the periodic windfalls that make the headlines -- could be said to be at the expense of the company’s customers, the company's workers or workers in general.

McGuire called the current criticism of stock options "overheated," and said, "The real scrutiny should address those situations where . . . executives are handsomely paid even when the shareholders are not." That too is quite right.

Politicians and pundits take note:
If you don't own shares in United Health, what that company's executives earned because the stock price went up is literally none of your business.

Sunday, April 30, 2006

United 93: Re-living the Real

I saw United 93 on Saturday night. It was the single most powerful film I've seen in my life. The film lacks any element of fiction. I didn't feel as though I was being told a story, so much as I felt that I was a ghost given permission to observe events at the FAA, NORAD, and onboard United 93.

What I observed was the incredible vulnerability of human systems confronted by something new, the tenuousness of authority in the face of relentless second-guessing by media and legal professionals, and the willingness of people to keep working in the most impossible situations.

The recreation of events on the flight are super-realistic. We only get one side of phone calls. We see the rapid formation of a plan by men who know only that they have to do something and that failure will be no worse than a death sentence 95% already delivered. By the time the passengers move against the attackers you are so keyed up and identify so fully with their plight, you move with them. I could almost smell the recycled air of the cabin.

The closest I can come to explaining the experience is to invoke the holodeck of Star Trek fame. I felt as though I had walked into a holodeck taking me through September 11 and United Flight 93. I couldn't help, but I could feel the emotions and take in the atmosphere.

When the passengers finally move against their captors, I felt a dam break inside me and all the tension, fear, and anger racked my body as tears literally jumped out of my eyes. I knew no one in the theatre would notice because the other people were going through the same thing. When the credits came up, no one moved.

After a few moments, we recovered from our shock and walked from the theatre in a procession just as orderly as a funeral.

If a lot of people see this film (and I pray they will), there will no longer be much debate about Iraq or Iran. Wide recognition will dawn upon Americans that we are in uncharted territory and that something is exponentially better than nothing when facing an implacable foe. We need to churn up as many difficulties as possible so that our experience will be wide and we will never again display the innocence we did just a few Septembers ago.

No matter how much we wish it were not so and pretend it is not true when previous memories fail, we are violently reminded that there is evil in the world and that its practitioners are convinced of their rectitude.

Friday, April 28, 2006

¿Jose can you sí?

Contra a good deal of the right-wing blogosphere, I kinda like the idea of singing the Star Spangled Banner in Spanish. Our national anthem is a poem made to stir a patriot's blood to sacrifice and struggle on behalf of a symbol that stands for noble idea. There is real merit in making that idea more accessible to anyone, especially someone who has voluntarily left his homeland to come here.

It is my understanding that the version of the anthem currently in circulation omits the whiny chant about mean laws and is just a straight-up Spanish translation. In fact, the translation seems to be the one composed by Francis Haffkine Snow. It was commissioned by the U.S. Bureau of Education. In 1919. And is freely available, as you can see, from that noted nest of subversion, the Library of Congress.

National Review's Mark Krikorian can, as usual, be relied upon for a non-sequitur quote:

Would the French accept people singing the La Marseillaise in English as a sign of French patriotism? Of course not.

After four years of Freedom Fries and Chilean reds, "the French wouldn't put up with this" is a rhetorical loser. Go out and find me an English speaker who is interested in singing La Marseillaise in any language. In fact, find me someone outside France who doesn't snigger at the phrase French patriotism. Let Nuestro Himno do the work of instructing its audience in the language they understand.

My NPR Commentary From Today

I’m going to reveal a little secret: This is an election year. How do I know that? Well, the Beltway yet again is placing the blame for its own failings on the oil industry.

Back in the days when we had real leadership in Washington, Ronald Reagan ignored the calls for windfall profit taxes, price controls, and conspiracy investigations. Back then, gasoline prices were even higher in inflation-adjusted terms than they are now. But Reagan stood firm, allowing market forces to work, and the high prices of the 1970s fell sharply in the 1980s.

What a different world it is today. Those now arguing for windfall profit taxes for oil companies never advocate subsidies when prices are low. That biased policy approach is destructive economically because it limits potential profits without limiting potential losses. The effect would be falling investment, reduced production capacity, and higher prices over the longer term. So much for consumer wellbeing.

Let’s look at the real reasons that gasoline prices are high. The most obvious are strong worldwide demand for crude oil, and production problems in Venezuela, Nigeria, Russia, and other regions.

Three refineries on the Gulf Coast shut down by hurricanes last fall only now are returning to operation. Other refineries, in order to continue production then, deferred maintenance until this spring. Others are undergoing spring maintenance now in advance of the summer driving season. And so gasoline production has declined over the last month. None of this has anything to do with conspiracies.

And let’s not ignore the damage done by Congress. The environmental requirement for reformulated gasoline can be satisfied only with ethanol or a chemical called MTBE. But some of that chemical has leaked from storage tanks into water supplies, resulting in lawsuits against the MTBE producers, even though they neither own nor maintain the storage tanks. Congress has refused to give those producers legal protection, as a favor for the trial lawyers, so MTBE is being withdrawn from the market. This means that the price of ethanol is being driven up, making corn producers in the Midwest very happy, but at the expense of gasoline consumers. And let’s not forget the 54 cents per gallon tariff on imported ethanol, another example of Congressional magic.

Oil industry earnings per gallon were about 19 cents in 2005, and have increased to about 23 cents more recently. Federal and state taxes per gallon of gasoline average 46 cents. And so by all means, yes: Let’s have a debate about who is profiteering from the gasoline market.

We really should ignore all the demagoguery; oil prices simply bring out the worst in the Beltway, as public officials use unpopular industries as punching bags in pursuit of their political goals. We expect this behavior from such Democrats as Senator Charles Schumer and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi; after all, fish gotta swim and birds gotta fly. But President George W. Bush and House Speaker Denny Hastert and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist are supposed to be the pro-business, pro-capitalism, pro-free enterprise Republicans. And they simply are unwilling to stand for principle.

Some Shameless Self-Promotion

I am supposed to be on NPR ("All Things Considered") today to give a sermon on gasoline prices, profiteering, and Beltway blather. Check your local listings.

May the spirit of Adam Smith be with me.

Identity Cries "Sis!"

So apparently the novel by the Indian American chick, Hiawatha or something, got pulled because she was plagiarising another genius named McNugget or some such thing. The premise of McSmeup's book was that an Irish girl was a little confused and fell in love whilst the startling and bold new envelope-pushing premise of Sacagawea's book was that an Indian girl was a little confused and fell in love.

Isn't it a shame that two artists could not pursue their separate literary visions in the refreshingly original way that would reflect their unique personalities and perspectives? Sometimes life disappoints.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Republicans Will Sustain Majorities This Fall

In today's Opinion Journal, Jay Cost makes a fascinating and highly persuasive case that the Republicans, despite their perceived political weaknesses, will hold on to their majorities in both the House and Senate this fall.

Cost bases his conclusion not on the policies or politics of the two parties but on history and the current configuration of the two legislative bodies. Cost notes that many pundits are predicting that the Republicans will hold on to the Senate but will lose their majority in the House. Among the important facts they are minimizing, however, are "2004's 98.8% incumbent retention rate or 2006's incredibly low 4.6% incumbent retirement rate" in the House. Even more persuasive, however, is Cost's analysis of trends in House and Senate turnover, and his explanation of why they are so.

I'll leave the full explanation to him, as it is very well don in his article, and will go right to his main point, which is that historically the House flips parties only when the Senate does. This is not a quirk but an ironclad rule of the entire past century (which is the relevant period because it includes the entire period during which Senators have been elected directly by popular vote rather than by the state legislatures).

As to whether this all simply means that the Senate will flip too, Cost points out the unlikelihood of that scenario:

Of course, one might respond, this argument could just as easily predict that both the House and the Senate will flip this year. The error that pundits are making, according to this line, is not with the House but with the Senate. Both are vulnerable. I do not find this compelling. One of the reasons pundits are so prone to write off the Senate is that they know more about the individual elections (this, by the way, is in keeping with senators' reduced incumbency advantage--individual senators are better known). They have a better sense of the electoral landscape, and therefore can appreciate that a net of six is prohibitively difficult. However, pundits know less of the specifics of House contests; thus, the House seems more promising. They cannot name the seats the GOP would have to lose to lose the House. If they could, they would find themselves naming many members most think are secure. A switch of the House still seems plausible, in other words, only because details are lacking.

History indicates that when the House switches, the Senate switches, too. Our knowledge of congressional elections implies that this is not coincidence. Accordingly, we can conclude that the safety of the GOP Senate strongly implies the safety of the GOP House. Further, we can issue a challenge to pundits who think the Democrats will take the House. They have an additional burden of proof: they must either indicate that the Senate will switch or why 2006 will be the first exception to a 92-year rule.

As Cost points out, even those most optimistic about potential Democrat gains in this fall's elections concede that the Senate is probably not going to flip. He notes that the concession that the Republicans will probably retain the Senate is probably correct, given that with less than 40 seats up for grabs and less than half of those being at all competititive this go-round, it's fairly easy to predict which ones will go which way and hence whether the Dems can make up their present deficit. The answer appears to be no, unless things change dramatically in the meantime.

Tony! Toni! Tone!

Now is the Time for All Good Men to Come to the Aid of their Country.
Now is the Time for All Good Men to Come to the Aid of their Country.
Now is the Time for All Good Men to Come to the Aid of their Country.
Now is the Time for All Good Men to Come to the Aid of their Country.

My friends on the left call me a Bush dead-ender. I think my more retro-con and Con Classic™ fellows here at TRC are too polite to do the same. Surely Dubya's 32% approval rating indicates much disapproval from both left and right, and vindicates them all.

All I can offer is that I listen to barely a whit of Bushist rhetoric: I poke through the this & that and my conclusions are my own. That they largely agree with the administration's is a matter of coincidence. Or not.

It's all about Iraq, of course, the defining issue of the Bush43 presidency. I must wonder if our ally France had got our back instead of protecting its Oil-for-Food arrangement, or if Russia and China weren't amoral, Hobbesian brutocracies, that freeing 25-odd million Muslims from the boot of a murderous dictator in the heart of the Muslim world and offering them the chance of freedom might have been seen as morally admirable. But that's neo-con fantasy*, so let's leave that for the moment.

The War, of course, is over, and was within one month. The US and UK are on a humanitarian mission now. No one, not nobody, expected that the one of the world's oldest civilizations would so quickly descend into savagery and indiscriminate fratricide. Neither that al-Qaeda would so remorselessly kill more of their own co-religionists than Americans. Still, even if Bush is blamed for the carnage, he has killed fewer innocent Iraqis than Saddam Hussein, fewer innocent Iraqis than al-Qaeda, and fewer innocent Iraqis than the Clinton Administration did with their bloodless but no less deadly sanctions.

This should be, but isn't, common knowledge. There's the rub.

It's acknowledged by all, even us dead-enders, that the Bush administration is abyssmal at communication with the American people and thereby the world.

There are perhaps tens of thousands of murderers yet in Iraq. But there are a quarter million more who risk life and limb to join the police force, and millions more who risked being butchered to vote, each in his or her small way defying the murderers. It would be cowardly to abandon them to the tyrants.

This should be common knowledge, too, but it's not.

And so, a guy recovering from cancer, who has a family to think about, who is taking a huge pay cut from his gig as a media talking head, decides to step into the breach to try his hand at fixing the biggest problem of his government, and perhaps sustain the last light of freedom in this cold and corrupt world.

Here's to you, Tony Snow. You may be accused of being an opportunist, although considering the facts of your life, it's hard to imagine how. Perhaps you're just a good man, coming to the aid of his country, and the world.

* Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty.

This much we pledge—and more.
---John Fitzgerald Kennedy, Inaugural Address, 1961

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,

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, 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.