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.