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

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Lam Chopped

The State of California's Correction people are crowing over their big catch. They tracked down a prison escapee after 38 years. They found him living in a trailer park in Oklahoma, working the sort of odd jobs you can get without having proper ID.

Now this guy was no murderer or rapist, just a thief three years into a five year term. For the past thirty-eight years, he has never had a single run-in with the law that would have led to his being fingerprinted.

Do you think that a man like that needs to go back to jail to complete his sentence? Perhaps even have years tacked on for 'Escape'? I don't.

The part of prison that is punishment was certainly fulfilled by thirty-eight years of living hand-to-mouth, forced to skulk in the shadows. The part that is rehabilitation was certainly accomplished by keeping his nose clean this long.

If I was the judge at the hearing, I would release him for time served (and suspend the sentence for the 'Escape' charge). If I was the governor, I would commute the rest of the sentence.

A little common sense and a little heart would blend nicely at this juncture. The vast majority of today's prison inmates were not born when this guy escaped. Let's not, as a society, be so crass as to observe the letter of the law in this instance.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Emailia

J.S. Mill's Birthday

Roger Scruton is right: we really do live in the world of John Stuart Mill. I'll admit to having mixed feelings about Mill. His defense of liberty and especially free speech is still better than most anything else out there, though its essential disconnect from Truth leaves it fatally vulnerable to those who would restrict both in the name of "progress." (Though Mill suggests in "On Liberty" that the protection of free speech will help move us toward Truth - which is, I think, true - it's not clear to me that Mill actually thinks we can ever arrive at said Truth - or that he thinks it would even be a good thing). He is, though, vastly preferable to the legions of students, faculty, and administrators on today's campuses who have no respect for liberty and see it, in fact, as merely a pretext for oppressive social constructs. (I was teaching Mill a few years ago and in our discussions of Mill's defense of free speech, I only had two students - out of seventy - defend free speech on campus. It was deeply depressing.)

So here's a cheer and a half for Mr. Mill.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Free Greatness: A Weekend Read.

GK Chesterton? On Tommy Aquinas? Who could resist?

See free offer below.


Gilbert Keith Chesterton, of course, we have canonized above. (Aquinas was canonized by a higher authority.) Besides being known as the author of the Father Brown Mysteries, Chesterton was one of the great commentators on his times, and on all times, and used to kick it around at London's original Reform Club with guys like Bernard Shaw, to the delight of all.

GK was religious as hell, a convert to Catholicism, and had a hand in turning the eventual and eventually famous Christian apologist CS Lewis' head away from his navel.


The splendid neo-retro-Catholic blogger The Anchoress recommended GK's wonderful book on Thomas, The Dumb Ox. I bought it and I love it, but wait: only a fool goes out and buys a book based on some silly blog recommendation!

And so, we're all in luck---I just found it online free, here. Such a deal. It's short and it's sweet, and worth a browse, if only on The Anchoress's authoritative say-so.

For example, in my own inelegant paraphrase:

Thomas thought that we, as humans, are essentially both body and soul. (This is what the theological concept of "resurrection of the body" is getting at.)

Many of us, me included, despite our Christian backgrounds (and Thomas [c. 1225 – 1274] is pre-Reformation, i.e., back before there were Protestants), are still disposed to think of body and spirit in a dualistic, a separate way. This was the Manichean heresy: they believed a pure spirit was imprisoned by the icky, dirty body. (That's why seeing things in terms of black and white is today called "Manichean.")

One day, in the middle of a formal dinner with his Italian relative Tomasso D'Aquino in attendance, the King of France Louis IX (and for whom St. Louis is named) said,

"Vanity should be avoided; but every man should dress well, in the manner of his rank, that his wife may the more easily love him."

The corpulent, celibate Thomas, wakened from his philosophical brooding at the feast, hit the table with his fist and shouted,

"And that will settle the Manichees!"

So of course, sex isn't dirty, nor could it be. It is an instrument of love, of divine love. Strangely enough, even after all my years of Catholic education, I'm just beginning to see the world, and us, and me, as Thomas saw them.

I think a lot of what bugs us all about Christianity isn't really there at all---it's just a hangover from the Manichees. GK and Thomas get to that.

But I mean to entice, not to distract: There are many more riches to be gathered from The Dumb Ox, and from GK himself. The book shows Thomas as a very real human being, whose concerns and great thoughts were for real human beings. See what you can find. Get to know him. Mebbe even make the full investment of a few pennies for ink and paper and print it out. I solemnly assure you, the gentle reader, that it will be very happy reading indeed.


"You call him a Dumb Ox; I tell you the Dumb Ox will bellow so loud his bellowing will fill the world."---Albertus Magnus

The Next Big Crisis: Public Pension Liabilities

An interesting article in USA Today paints a bleak picture of the looming employee benefit obligations many state and local governments have taken on in recent years:

Taxpayers will soon get a surprise bill that could exceed $1 trillion for the cost of paying future medical benefits for state and local workers who retire.

Retiree medical costs are the biggest long-term challenge that state and local governments face. By comparison, state and local pensions have an unfunded liability of about $500 billion.

State and local governments have set aside $2.5 trillion to help pay pension benefits for 19 million civil servants and 7 million retirees. But they have set aside almost nothing to pay for retiree medical benefits.

"Taxpayers will revolt when they realize the enormous cost of this," Minnesota State Auditor Pat Anderson says. She says the financial burdens on local governments will be so great they will put pressure on the federal government to nationalize health care, which she opposes.

The overall problem may is much bigger than that. A report by the Yankee Institute, hyperbolically titled “America’s Second Civil War: The Public Employment Complex vs. Taxpayers,” says the root cause of many of today’s contentious policy debates is the trillions of dollars in future wages and benefits that have been pledged to government employees at all levels. Contrary to the USA Today article quoted here, the states have not "put aside" nearly enough money to fund employees' pension benefits: states such as Illinois have notoriously diverted pension money to cover budget deficits and have borrowed money ino order to meet current obligations. When the baby boomers begin retiring, the problems will be much worse.

It's a great lesson in public choice economics. Lawmakers across the nation have been using these benefits as a way to buy votes on the cheap (public-employee unions have proven very effective at getting out the vote and at donating huge amounts of money to favored politicans)—because the obligations don’t come due until long after the elections are over and the pols who voted for them are comfortably ensconced in think tanks, law offices, and visiting professorships. But those obligations are about to come due as baby boomers start to retire in large numbers, and taxpayers and bond-rating agencies will soon begin scrutinizing those perks: Next year federal rules will require state and local governments to estimate the cost of the medical benefits they have promised to civil servants when they retire.

At that point, of course, the big-government types will declare a crisis and insist that taxes be raised to solve the problem.

Rush Limbaugh and Our Alan Reynolds

Alan, were your ears burning a little after noon today? Rush Limbaugh spent, I kid you not, about 10-15 minutes discussing your column in which you referred to his immigration analysis as "patently absurd."

Reform Clubbers can get the Alan Reynolds column here at Townhall.com. The gist of it is that Alan thinks Rush and other conservatives are pumping the numbers of future illegals way up with assumptions that mirror those of compound interest with money. Rush's response is:

a. It's realistic to think multiplication will occur as described.
b. If the numbers are too high, we are still talking about a ridiculously high number of illegal immigrants.

What interested me more than the debate itself was the amount of time Rush spent talking about Alan. Do you have any idea what an advertiser would have to pay for a quarter hour of Rush's national audience's undivided attention?!!! Alan, I have no idea what you get from Cato and Townhall.com, but influence-wise, you just became a millionaire.

There was also something provocative in Rush's treatment of Alan. As he went into the break, Rush suggested Alan was probably asked by someone to write the column. Rush, are you accusing our Alan of a Bandow-esque lapse? More important, are you suggesting our man Alan is doing the administration a solid?

If the answer is yes, then I want to get to know Alan better, because he's rubbing some premium elbows!

More seriously though, if Rush were to look a little deeper, he'd find Alan Reynolds has been writing about immigration for some time and that this latest column is a continuation of a pre-existing interest in the issue.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Small Comfort

When Patrick Kennedy was asked why he smashed up his car at 3 a.m. near the Capitol building a week ago Thursday, his answer was pat: “I do not ken.” It seems the Democrat from Rhode Island tried to stay on the road but wound up on the island. He claimed that he had consumed no alcohol, but a waitress at the Hawk & Dove said that story was Cock & Bull. Apparently his position is that he goes to that establishment not to drink but because he likes the Ambiens.

Kennedys are schooled in such things: they will bare any burden to avoid having to pay any price. Patrick confessed that he contends with alcoholism, substance abuse, addictive behavior and a touch of mental illness. Forget about his not committing a crime; it sounds like not committing him would be a crime. After making these arresting remarks, he hied himself off to the Mayo Clinic for their special spring package: detox, rehab and one free appearance on Oprah if you sign up before May 31.

Scoff if you will at the amnesia defense – in fiction class they taught us to eschew amnesia, identical twins and lottery winners as too implausible – but it worked. Only two weeks have passed, but the story is gone… and forgotten.

THE QUESTION THAT FASCINATES not only politically but personally is: how do the Democrats get away with such outrageous behavior? The glib answer is that they have a different deal with their constituents. Republicans promise their voters to represent them honorably. Democrats promise theirs to deliver the goodies and no questions asked. People expect different behavior from their attorney than they do from their collection agency.

Although that is part of it, this time we are seeing that it runs deeper. We have a familiarity of long standing with the Democrats’ rhetoric that they are guided by their concern for the ‘little guy’. They could choose to sit around and bask in their bigness, you see, but they are bigger than that. Larger. So they use this largesse to rescue us from our littleness.

There have always been flaws in this construct, not least the fact that when tax returns are compared, Republican candidates give more personal charity by a factor of 10 to 1. Ted Kennedy’s return, when he was in the Democrat Presidential Primary of 1980, showed almost zero donations and became an issue that hurt his chances. It was déjà vu two decades later, when we saw that Al Gore, in the year that Earth in the Balance was a best seller, gave a whopping 150 bucks in contributions.

But I believe that the encompassing analysis, the oversoul, is this: the Democrats are not the party of the ‘little guy’. They are the party of the ‘small guy’. They are wedded to smallness in all its forms. It’s best expressed in Yiddish: kleinkeppeldigkeit (small-headedness) and kleinshteteldigkeit (small-town-ness). It’s not exaggerated by much to say that they stand in opposition to all the faces of greatness.

The very notion that there is some inner core of greatness, some nobler ultimate purpose, both in the macrocosm of the world and the microcosm of the individual human being, is something they find perturbing. If you speak of a Creator Who has a plan for mankind, that is spooky and unsettling. To attribute some overarching wisdom to a revealed book – wisdom reflecting the insight of the watchmaker into the workings of His watch – is to introduce superstition, discomfiting those who seek to conduct civil discourse. And to assign it authority over defining morality is to invite a nasty old uncle to what should have been a nice party.

To suggest that there is a higher existence than our own to which one might strive is somehow offensive. As a corollary of this, all authority figures who symbolize the idea of answering to a higher code are viewed as creepy. How many books and movies have made military commanders into the bad guys? Tons. The same holds true for priests, for parents and for various ‘pillars of the community’. (Teachers have been granted an exemption as long as they promise not to promote morality.) Indeed the very notion of patriotism, the national flag or the national anthem, is deemed corny at best and ‘dangerous’ at worst.

Not the little guy but the small guy is the Democrat constituent. The less you believe, the less you limit yourself, the less you speak of honor, the less you work to project dignity, the more you are in the liberal comfort zone. All this throws a pall over people who revere the Constitution, to whom the law is a beacon of nobility. When I hear it said that the Kennedys are a dynasty, I cringe; they stand mostly for dismantling our institutions. Although one institution at least is safe: David Blaine failed to break the record for holding one’s breath underwater, leaving Senator Ted as uncontested champion.

The Passion of Barbra Streisand

Oops. I meant to say "compassion." Anyway, it seems that Babs and Mr. Streisand went to see MI:3 at the local Agoura Hills theatre (frighteningly, near my home), whereupon Mizz Streisand refused to pay for the two tickets, called over the teenager in charge of ticket-taking, and told him that "We asked especially for you. We haven't seen you in a while." And so he let them in for free; no report is available on whether Babs and Mr. Steisand were allowed to cut to the front of the concession line for free popcorn.

Can you believe it? Always so generous with Other People's Money---specifically, that of the taxpayers---in pursuit of social justice and blah blah blah, and yet... Babs's spokesprostitute explained that "It's a professional courtesy that many theatres extend to film stars."

I think that it's been awhile since Babs was a "film star," but never mind. And it's been a long, long time since, well, ever, that I have heard a story of genuine generosity of the part of Streisand, other than from Hollywood types and politicos who need her and her checkbook. As Mark Steyn once noted, "Politicians who need Barbra are the unluckiest people in the world."

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Michelle Malkin: Moron

I see that Mizz Malkin, who does not look as if she had any ancestors on the Mayflower, has continued her jihad against illegal immigrants by arguing that Senators opposed to replacing the Statue of Liberty with barbed wire as the enduring symbol of America are in favor of "open borders." Well, not quite. There is a serious argument to be made that those who come to America to work make the U.S. better off in the aggregate, although some groups lose; that is true for the importation of, say, inexpensive shoes as well. Clearly we cannot have unlimited immigration ("open borders"), and no one advocates it; this is just one of many of Malkin's dishonesties. But just as Malkin clearly wants to expel the estimated twelve million illegals---should we use cattle cars, Michelle?---without telling us precisely how that is to be done in ways both humane and consistent with the preservation of political support in the U.S., so has she failed to tell us how, politically, border security can be separated from a gradual legalization process for those here without discarding the latter. And so the approach of some House Republicans---"secure the border," whatever that means, and we'll worry about the other details later---is just as much a nonstarter as an open border proposal.

Apart from the potential terrorism problem, which conceptually is distinct from the immigration problem, the real issue is assimilation. We cannot have a welfare state, bilingual education, bilingual ballots, and all the other disincentives for assimilation in the context of massive migration from Mexico; it really is that simple, because multicultural societies do not work. The leftist approach---identity politics and multicultural separatism---yields ethnic strife and civil wars. (The bigotry of La Raza and similar groups is no accident.) Immigrants are and always have been hard-working, productive, and largely law-abiding; those are conditions necessary but not sufficient to allow large amounts of immigration. And so reform must begin with measures designed to force assimilation, an approach promoted in part by El Presidente W last evening.

For all the talk about how the immigration issue has split Republicans, it seems to me that the Democrats have their own fault lines on this issue: neither black workers nor the unions can be very happy about a large influx of lower-skilled workers. Since both parties are split, for different reasons, it is hard for me to see a bill emerging from Congress before the election this fall. More generally, it never hurts to ask "What would Reagan say?" And I am sure that he would refer yet again to that shining city on a hill, the view of which remains unobscured by a wall. More sensible policies---such as requiring work permits, allowing those holding them to go back and forth across the border, eliminating automatic citizenship for the children of illegals born here, etc.---would work wonders. More later as time permits.

Cultural Contrasts: Here and The Arab World

Recently a Kennedy Center spokesman said that the organization will stage a festival of Arab culture in 2009 to bring little-known artists onto the world stage and provide a counterpoint to the violence many Americans associate with the Middle East region.

Michael Kaiser, the center’s president, said: “We don’t know enough about what other people are about. We read government and politics. That doesn’t say anything about what they like, what they find beautiful. Also, the idea starts from my rather naïve belief that arts create peace.”

Ambassador Hussein Hassouna, the Arab League’s representative in Washington said, the festival “is very much needed at this time.”

Rochelle Davis, an anthropologist at Georgetown University, contends, “We have so many stereotypes – seeing people performing dances and songs breaks down our ideas about how they are all evil.”

This report from the Kennedy Center was printed at about the same time an Egyptian television series promoting anti-American hate propaganda aired in the Palestinian Authority and much of the Arab world. The popular series presents the U.S. as the leader of imperialist forces around the globe and as such, responsible for serious problems in Arab nations.

The series, produced by an Egyptian government owned and controlled company, reflects a critical component of propaganda in the Middle East, which is to blame the failings of Arab regimes on imperialist America and thereby deflect the anger of Arabs away from corrupt leaders and regimes.

The conclusion of the series is that resistance (read: terror) is justified in order to defeat the United States. After all, series’ talking heads note, U.S. behavior in “this region” is part of a pattern of oppression starting with American policy towards the Indians.

What should be apparent to even casual observers of the public scene is the contrast between well meaning, but naïve American cultural overtures and the cynical and propagandistic anti-American views circulating in the Arab world. Here we are using culture as a way to understand Arab societies and they are using culture to promote hate and violence against the United States.

It might well be asked: Why isn’t the Arab League funding American cultural festivals in their respective countries? It is the Arab nations that are most in need of cultural reform and it is the Arab people that are being systematically misled about American foreign policy intentions.

Since 9/11 the Arab publicity machinery has been working full time to convey the impression Israeli agents destroyed the World Trade Center. In fact, a popular Egyptian music video makes this claim quite directly. Such cultural nonsense begs the question of who attacked whom? Which nations need to learn about tolerance?

I don’t have any quarrel with American cultural commissars organizing a festival to display Arab culture. What I don’t understand is the lack of reciprocity. It seems that most of the Arab world is content to fight the Crusades on the cultural front, with the U.S. as the exemplar of the Christian invader and we are content in promoting sweetness and understanding. There is something fundamentally wrong with this picture.

Where is the Arab leader who tells the story of American scientific and medical break-throughs that have dramatically influenced life extension and the reduction of morbidity in the Arab world? Where are the Arab cultural figures who are prepared to explain American contributions to art and music? Why isn’t the Arab League doing in Alexandria and Damascus what the Kennedy Center is doing in Washington?

Of course, sensible people know the answers to these questions. The problem is that in a war of ideas sensible approaches are often a casualty of intimidation and fear. That is why culture has become a battleground for survival and, why, I might add, we are engaged in an uphill struggle.



Herbert London is president of Hudson Institute and professor emeritus of New York University. He is the author of Decade of Denial (Lanham, Maryland: Lexington Books, 2001). London maintains a website, www.herblondon.org.

Bush, Borders, and Politics

Last night, I followed a long personal habit of not watching the president speak. One brought up on Reagan simply cannot digest the devolution into Bush II.

However, I have read about it and it sounds as though the president has not come out with any wonderfully direct solution to the problem of illegal immigration. I'm a little surprised because his pink lemonade speech comes at a time when politicians all over the country are getting religion over immigration. Why? Because it is a simple issue and regular Americans don't like illegal immigration in large numbers. Somehow, the controversy has reached its tipping point and public attention is more focused on immigration that any other matter.

Where this leaves us is in Ross Perot territory. Perot really got himself in the game in '92 by being the one person speaking seriously about the national debt. Illegal immigration has become a much bigger issue than the national debt was in the late '80's and early 90's. If the right politician were to make illegal immigration the centerpiece of a campaign, I think he/she would have a tremendous chance of winning all the cookies in 2008.

Am I wrong?

Monday, May 15, 2006

Alienation from Republicans—and the Antidote

Recent polls show support for Republicans is still declining, and President Bush's approval ratings are the lowest for any president other than Richard Nixon and Jimmy Carter in the past fifty years. The New York Times summed it up well last week:

Americans have a bleaker view of the country's direction than at any time in more than two decades, according to the latest New York Times/CBS News poll. Sharp disapproval of President Bush's handling of gasoline prices has combined with intensified unhappiness about Iraq to create a grim political environment for the White House and Congressional Republicans.

This decline is basically not a matter of PR or press bias but of policy, as I note in my Tech Central Station article of today, "The Crash of Big-Government Conservatism." Bush and the Republican Congress have had a difficult time selling themselves to the public because their policies have not been appealing. They have had a philosophy, big-government conservatism, that alienates nearly everyone. The War on Terror delayed this alienation for several years, but ultimately the Bush administration's errors and Congress's addiction to big spending, which was based on this big-government conservative philosophy, alienated both those outside the party, first, and then a great proportion of Republicans themselves.

Big-government conservatism has a few main aims: to preserve the welfare state while mitigating its ill effects, to preserve the sexual revolution while mitigating its ill effects, to preserve the present American culture while mitigating its bad effects, to preserve the present international order while mitigating its bad effects, and to preserve the present system of national politics while mitigating its bad effects.

The economic premise of the Republicans is that the welfare state benefits from free markets and is not in natural conflict with them. Their social premise relies on the same utilitarian calculus as that of their opponents on the Left, but the Republicans hold that antinomianism is not good for people but that nothing can really be done about it except to try to ease government restrictions on religion. The international affairs premise is that liberal democracy is the best thing for all nations and imposition of in on other nations is the solution when they become a threat to U.S. interests.

The Democrats, by contrast, say that the system of free markets and human welfare are in inevitable conflict, and the latter must always be the higher priority. They believe in expanding the sexual revolution. They believe that the moral problem with America is not antinomianism but the intractable intolerance of monotheists. And they believe that the real problem with the international order is that war is inevitable when people don't see residents of other nations as being of equal importance as oneself and one's family, neighborhood, and nation.

The Democrats have a definite philosophy that creates a vivid picture of a good world, and that is appealing. The Republicans' present philosophy is simply a watered-down version of the Democrats'. For a party in power, that is disastrous, as it lets the opposition set the agenda and measure success.

The solution for the Republicans is to embrace classical liberalism, not forgetting its crucial components of individual rights, personal responsibility, the belief that human life in general and every human life in particular has meaning, and respect for the reality of nationality.

Such a vision provides a truly comprehensible, consistent, and sensible view of the world and the nation. In this worldview, the nation is a society of free individuals brought together by a common heritage, living under laws that free people to achieve the best that they can and prevent them from unfairly exploiting one another, that respects the need for personal morality regardless of one's religious background. Classical liberalism provides a way to find clear answers in all policy matters by asking the following question: Which policy approach will create the greatest amount of both individual liberty and social order?

Such a vision is by no means a theocracy; it is in fact based largely on utilitarianism. However, it also includes a respect for religion because the latter is part of mankind's perpetual search for truth and meaning and because it encourages personal morality and social charity and gives great comfort and purpose to individuals in times both good and bad. In its great and abiding respect for the good things religion brings, however, classical liberalism never allows the two kingdoms (in Martin Luther's great distinction), the City of God and the City of Man, to be conflated or confused with each other. Classical liberalism holds that the Christian religion is good for society because it encourages the intellectual foundations for an orderly society of free individuals. Whether a particular religion's claims are true or not is a matter for the Church to decide, as Luther pointed out, not the state; and whether a particular policy or political philosophy is good is a matter to be decided by an emprical calculus, not religious laws developed for a very different group of people six thousand years ago. Encouragement of religion, yes; imposition of religious-based laws, no.

This philosophy is much more likely to appeal to Republicans and others on the Right than the watered-down postmodernism now offered by the Republicans. The one positive element for Republicans at this point is that they are learning today, almost six months before the coming elections, that their philosophy has run its course. There is time for them to change. Whether they will in fact do so is another question entirely, but one thing is certain. They have nothing to lose, and their hold on Congress and state legislatures and executive mansions to retain.

Oooops! Yum!

Backed up my GMC/NASCAR/GOP half-ton on some little squirrels. Not one, but two squirrels. Arrgh. Such cute little fellas. But what were the odds of getting such premium roadkill in my very own driveway? Zero is the answer. But there they were, dead. Or mostly, until I drove over 'em again, just to make sure.

Waste not, want not. Children starving in Swahilistan and all that, so I decided our cute little fellas' deaths should not be in vain. They would not have wanted it to go down like that, of this I am sure. Squirrels are Republicans too in their squirrelly way: they hoard all their nuts, do not share with 0thers, breed like religious freaks or rabbits, and exploit the hard work of others, like trees and people. They neither spin nor toil nor sow nor whatever, but they do want their bodies eaten by the masses. You could look it up. Republicans are like that. Abraham Lincoln.

So, we (Eddie, Jim & yr humble truck backer-upper) experimented around a little in our culinary science laboratory (Eddie's mother's kitchen) and came up with this. Peel before eating, like shrimp:


2 dead squirrels
½ bag Fritos® (crushed)
7½ oz. Kraft NASCAR® Barbecue Sauce
1 jar Cheese Whiz®
½ tsp coriander
1 quart Tabasco®
1 sprig parsley

Stir, set a tire on fire and cook it all 'til it's a golden black. Top with Cheez-Its®.

Salt and pepper to taste.


Oh, man. I'm proud to be an American, and dang wasn't that an unexpected feast. Providence, the Founding Fathers used to call it, before they all died. We are the new Promised People and God was smiling at my back tires before they accidentally crushed the heads of those tasty varmints, I can tell you that much for sure. Felt sorry about the squirrels and their heads and all, but hey, we're all just spokes on the Great Mandala. Some of us eat, some of us just taste good. And if I may say, especially with this recipe.

Bon Appétit, as I'd say in France if I were there (which I'm not, thank God), and Jeff Gordon better get his pit crew's ass in gear or he's gonna miss out on The Chase. Bush too.

Friday, May 12, 2006

NY Times Deflects Meaning of Embryonic Stem Cell Research Fraud

Dedicated readers of this site will be well aware of the fact that adult stem cells—cells taken from people, placentas, umbilical cords, etc.—have been used in a great variety of ways to effect cures in medicine in the past couple of decades, and have proven their value. Embryonic stem cells (those taken from unborn, developing human beings that have been killed), on the other hand, while receiving the bulk of the research money, have proven useless in curing ills. Readers will also recall that the most celebrated case allegedly establishing the value of embryonic stem cells, that of South Korean scientist Hwang Woo Suk, was proven to be a fraud.

The New York Times article on the subject reported it as follows:

Reconfirming the earlier findings by Hwang's school, Seoul National University, Mr. Lee said that Hwang had never cloned embryonic stem cells from patients. Mr. Hwang's now-discredited claim had raised hopes that doctors one day would grow genetically matching tissues from embryonic stem cells to repair damaged organs or treat diseases like Alzheimer's.

Hwang was indicted for fraud and embezzlement today in Seoul, along with five of his associates.

Given that the alleged evidence behind Hwang's findings has already been proven phony in the scientific realm, it is certainly correct to describe Hwang as a scientific fraud. The appropriate, full term, then, should be something along the lines of disgraced stem cell researcher Hwang.

Better yet, for further accuracy, he should best be described as disgraced embryonic stem cell researcher Hwang.

And how did the Times story describe him?

Disgraced cloning expert.

Um, excuse me, New York Times, but his disgrace was not over cloning, even though your story inaccurately claims, in its early paragraphs, that Hwang's research was about cloning stem cells. It was not. In fact, your story admits this, a few paragraphs down the page (in case anybody should get that far):

The scandal raised doubt about the feasibility and ethics of one of science's most cutting-edge research fields: cloning human embryos and then destroying them to extract stem cells.

So he's not a disgraced cloning expert.

He's a disgraced embryonic stem cell researcher.

Let's all try to remember that, OK?


Addendum: Alex Avery of the Center for Global Food Issues informs me that Woo Suk successfully (and verifiably) cloned dogs, creating Snuppy. So cloning was in fact his only certified success—which in fact strengthens the point I was making.

Humor in Events

Well, it's the weekend. It's a time to sit back in the easy chair with some light reading and emit a series of chuckles, punctuated by the occasional guffaw.

Toward that end, I wrote a spoof translation of the mysterious and portentous Ahmadinejad letter, and it is running in today's Human Events.

I was thinking of accompanying it with a cartoon, but I was too lazy to do any sketching, so I had a Danish instead.

Incidentally, my sources tell me that the Weekly Standard will run a spoof of their own in the Parody section of next week's issue. It will be interesting to see whose is funnier. Perhaps we should commission a poll.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

TVD's Newswalk™: Polls Schmolls

A guided tour of those who make the news and those who re-make it:

BAGHDAD (AP)---Gathering a crowd by hawking flour at half-price from a pickup, a suicide attacker set off bombs hidden beneath the flour sacks at a market in Tal Afar on Tuesday, killing at least 17 people and wounding 35 in a city cited by President Bush as a success story in battling insurgents.

Now, certainly technically accurate. And I suppose a moron might miss the intended snarkiness there toward the president.

Someone might remind the Associated Press (the original is not bylined) that terrorism can happen everywhere, even in areas under firm coalition control.

Like London.

That's why it's terrorism, stupid. The flour sacks were being sold at half market value, and so attracted quite a crowd. I could take out three-quarters of San Francisco if I passed out "Impeach Bush" buttons first.


Poll Gives Bush His Worst Marks Yet


So sayeth the NYT headline. OK, though a bit ho-hum. Another day, another drop in the polls. Down to 31%. Buried in the last paragraph, I mean the last, folks, are some other interesting approval ratings: Al Gore, 28%. And in the next-to-last, John Kerry, 26.

28, 26. Y tu mamá también. Thank God Dubya stole those elections.


Over in the UK, where he just won another term while promising to quit before it's over (how perverse!), Tony Blair is at 26%, too. And I can't even imagine how low the heinous, corrupt Chirac regime has slipped, especially among those who got their Citroens all burned up in the recent, um, civil unrest.

The Battleaxis of Evil (HT: Jay Homnick), Hillary Clinton, who says little and does nothing of value, only has an approval rating of 34%, and all-around good guy centrist John McCain is at 35. There's a pattern here.

In this day and age of 24/7 bad news here in the western world, all things considered like the (un)popularity of his previous crap opponents, his political ally in another country, and senators who have no real responsibility, Dubya is lookin' pretty danged good.


May 8 (KGO)---Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright says the war in Iraq may turn out to be the worst foreign policy mistake in American history.

Maybe, but we've made some other doozies. Let's take a

{{[~~Wayne's World Flashback to 1996~~]}}

Lesley Stahl: We have heard that half a million children have died (in Iraq). I mean, that’s more children than died in Hiroshima. And you know, is the price worth it?

Madeleine Albright: I think this is a very hard choice, but the price---we think the price is worth it.


You made no hard choice, Madame. You chose the easy way out. It was not worth it. You "contained" Saddam for a handful of years, changed nothing, and only the innocent died. And I'd like to know who "we" are.

There are some things in today's world worse than war, and you proved it. I'll take this war, which has Saddam in a prison, his lovely sons Uday and Attila dead instead of throwing their countrymen into meatgrinders, and the Iraqi people with at least a puncher's chance to win their liberty. I understand that many seem to disagree, but me, yeah, I think it was worth it, especially in comparision with your "choice."

Go home, ma'am, and be quiet. Some people have no shame. If anyone on this earth has no moral or political standing to judge the decision to topple Saddam, it's Madeleine Albright.


Or, all things considered, mebbe not:

(AP)---Ramsey Clark, a former U.S. attorney general now defending Saddam Hussein, said the former Iraqi president's trial is a sham staged and paid for by the United States. "This court is nothing more than a continuation of the war---shock and awe--- and the occupation to destroy and demonize the former leadership, make them seem barbarian," Clark said.

Make them seem barbarian? Should it take any effort at all?

If Saddam had had Clark instead of Baghdad Bob, I have no doubt that he'd have won the war and his approval rating would now be in the high 70s. At least in San Francisco, where now he's only hovering in the low 50s.

May 11 (NYPost)---WASHINGTON - President Bush yesterday said his younger brother, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, would make "a great president" as Bush III.
"I would like to see Jeb run at some point in time, but I have no idea if that's his intention or not."


And the irony is that Bush III, who as governor of bellwether Florida enjoys a 55% approval rating, won't be our slam dunk next president only because of his brother. On the other hand, Clinton II, who would hold no political office above dogcatcher without her husband, might make it because of him. Guilt, or merit, by association.

If Iraq and Dubya will keep Jeb out of '08, then Madeleine Albright (and whoever "we" is/am/are) should send Hillary to political oblivion.


The polls indicate that everybody everywhere is pretty friggin' miserable, is what I get. Sorry, nobody's perfect, and politics cannot solve the problem of the human condition. Democracies don't do that philosopher-king thing, at least since FDR. Except for what he did and didn't do with Iraq, I thought Bill Clinton was pretty much an OK president. I think Dubya handled Iraq better and it's best he doesn't listen to the polls, all things considered, though most criticisms of him are valid, too.

In the music business, what I'm doing here is called "turd-polishing." You work with what you're given, and that's what the bridge to the 21st century dumped on Bush. It was a crap situation, with nothing but crap alternatives. I think he did the best any of us could, at least if our names are Al Gore, John Kerry, or Madeleine Albright.

(My apologies for the fecal imagery at the close. Just couldn't find anything better or apt. "Sucks" just didn't swing it but it's one or the other here in the 21st until we learn to chin up and chill out a little...)

Making Civil Crimes Criminal

In an interesting article on the political ideas of British Tory MP Alan Duncan at Tech Central Station, James Pinkerton notes that prosecutors in the United States have been increasingly using the criminal process to chase after civil violations, referring to a Wall Street Journal article I referenced recently on the same subject:

A couple of years ago, Cato's own Gene Healy wrote a book about this, Go Directly To Jail: The Criminalization of Almost Everything, in which he argued that prosecutors were zealously turning civil violations into criminal violations, in part to extort plea bargains, in part because, well, this is a prison-happy culture, where nearly one percent of the US population is locked up. More recently, The Wall Street Journal editorial page has taken note of this same phenomenon; prosecutors now have the legal equivalent of Abrams tanks, which they can use to run over anybody, accused of just about anything. When non-violent suspects are threatened with prison terms that stretch for decades, or even centuries (and when employers are terrorized into cutting accused employees loose, financially, leaving them with no hope of paying their legal bills), well, then, of course, the accused take the plea, and justice, of course, is traduced.

Pinkerton and Healy are correct. Martha Stewart and other bosses of big companies may be unsavory characters, but their crimes are civil ones for which the justice system provides appropriate remedies, which criminal prosecutions are most decidedly not.

When they came for the farmer who tilled land supposedly holding endangered species, I cheered.

When they came for the CEO whose firm manipulated their books to keep their tax payments low, I cheered.

When they came for the politician whose fundraising activities could be portrayed as violating an obscure, incomprehensible, and unconstitutional law, I cheered.

When they came for me, there was no one left to cheer.

Response to Dick on Intelligent Design

National Review Associate Editor Anthony Dick has an article up today
praising a new documentary about Intelligent Design and Evolution. I got
hung up on the part where Dick starts talking about the concept of irreducible
complexity:
Olson’s exposition of this first point hinges on what has become the
biggest buzzword in the ID movement: “irreducible complexity.” This concept is
the golden calf of ID advocates, who argue that there are some biological
structures that are so complex that they could not possibly have evolved through
the Darwinian process of genetic mutation and natural selection. The proper
functioning of these structures, they claim, requires the simultaneous operation
of numerous different components. These components supposedly could not have
been of any use to an organism if they had evolved individually on a gradual
timescale, so it is not clear how they could have evolved together to form the
larger structures.

And so? Do IDers modestly conclude from this that they may have found
an interesting challenge that should be the topic of further discussion and
investigation?

Well, not exactly: They conclude that, because we can’t presently think
of a way that some complex biological structures evolved naturally, these
structures must have been fashioned by an intelligent designer. Here you will
want to fire up your camcorders: Rarely will you see a logical long-jump that
hurdles so many acres of careful reasoning with such soaring ease. If ever there
was a record-breaking flight of fallacy, surely this is it.

Olson correctly identifies this “irreducible complexity” canard as a
textbook example of “God of the gaps” reasoning, whereby one finds a gap in
human understanding of the world, and then immediately plugs this gap by
invoking divine intervention. It is by the same thought process that the ancient
Greeks deduced the existence of an angry Zeus hurling thunderbolts.


Mr. Dick appears to have done some easy leaping of his own. If it is the case that there are some biological structures that are simultaneously too complex and too irreducible in function to have had some predecessor (and we don't mean the eye, but a flagellum), then the entire evolutionary theory is on the rocks waiting to be spelled out by a more capable theory. Such a finding would not be modest, but would be foundation shaking. Dick's "god of the gaps" is Behe's "find a new theory, don't worry I'll wait."

Once again, as an observer of the debate rather than as a participant, I can't help but feel that one team is desperate to knock the other one of out the arena by pure scorn rather than by engagement.

I'm particularly intrigued by the accusations about "god in the gaps." It is quite true that one of the great achievements of science is to explain how certain things work, how they happened, or how they might have happened in such a way that we can go beyond, "God made it that way." And we should all applaud. I can imagine some good Calvinists out there thinking that scientific exploration is exactly the sort of role God envisioned for man right from the beginning.

However, the joy of learning, explaining, and naming shouldn't mean that we are incapable of admitting a need to go back to the drawing board or to make a major revision. I think that because the issue of evolution has been so charged with atheist and Christian fervor, there are many who believe evolutionary theory is a battlefield of honor on which science must prove itself to be the master narrative with the best chance of explaining "life, the universe, and everything." And on the battlefield, you don't admit weakness, even if it's real.

When I watch the way this battle is conducted. I see weakness and its not with the IDers. It's with the guys who conduct little inquisitions in colleges and universities when they find a colleague whose orthodoxy is suspect.

A Comity of Eras

Our title may be a gentle play on words, but it conveys a notion of some depth. Antiquity and modernity are not two jarringly contradicting elements; when viewed as part of a Divine plan, they prove to be surprisingly complementary.

Wednesday's edition of The American Spectator included an article of mine, in which I argued that Mr. Ahmadinejad, who labels Israel as an aberration out of step with the history of the Middle East, is actually exposing his own weakest side.

Because there is no greater anti-historical lesion on the map of that region than his regime, which unseated a monarchy that had survived for 2500 years, the longest in human history.

Yet I kept a piece to myself, to be shared only with my fellow Reform Clubbers, who would be more disposed to take seriously the role of Biblical prophecy in the disposition of international affairs.

The question I have been pondering is: why did God allow that one monarchy to survive through all these eons of turmoil, only to fall thirty years after the State of Israel was founded?

Half the answer is that they merited to have great longevity as a kingdom because they allowed the Jews to rebuild the Temple. That part is fairly straightforward. But why quite this long? And why for thirty years into Israel's existence?

My theory - a spiritual, Biblical thesis, formed in the seam where knowledge meets intuition, not a testable scientific hypothesis - is that it was their special role to testify to the claim of the Jews upon their land.

The Jews went on a long trip and came back; in those situations, it is enough to have one neighbor who can confirm the legitimacy of the faded old deed. And who better than the one who sent them back home to build their Temple 2300 years ago?

Once they fulfilled that task of bearing witness (and, indeed, Iran was Israel's only friend in the Middle East in those days), they naturally dissipated. After all, they were not of this time.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Waist Lines

Wow, that Town Hall outfit is a-hoppin' and a-buzzin' today with letters and comments, most of them favorable to my position against creating formalistic or governmental entities to make war on overeating. But a minority think that I have come to defend the adipose and the corpulent, that I am downplaying the danger of obesity. I counter by saying that cultural venues such as print media are the appropriate locale for appeals to the populace to curb its intake.

To prove my sincerity, I dug up this cute bit of satire I did a few years back. (I censored out an inappropriate stanza, but I left in the one that refers to 'vomit'. If that's too strong for you, my apologies.)

THE BULIMIC'S SONG

Not for me the alfalfa grain
No, I will not eat any millet
Won't touch it if it had no brain
Won't eat it unless I can kill it.

Doesn't take more than a twinge
Not even that full-scale urge
And I'm ready to start a new binge
And to clean up with a fresh purge.

In spring that the snow melts in
Or winter when it keeps on fallin'
I still binge even more than Yeltsin
And I still purge more than Stalin.

Oh, you would certainly cringe
To see how much I will splurge
When it's time to start a new binge
And to clean up with a fresh purge.

I might miss the New Year's Ball
And I may miss Haley's Comet
But I never miss that Last Call
And I never miss my daily vomit.

I don't shoot up with a syringe
And drugs are not my scourge
But it's time to start a new binge
And to clean up with a fresh purge.

Criticism of Catholics and Muslims: An Eye Opening Contrast

Opus Dei, the conservative Catholic organization, has asked for a disclaimer in the upcoming film based on The Da Vinci Code. Not only does the author of the book, Dan Brown, defame this Catholic group, but the thesis undermines the very legitimacy of the Church and its doctrines.

Brown’s argument is that Jesus married Mary Magdalene and there are descendants living in Europe. Although Brown maintains this claim is predicated on a non-fiction book, the evidence for this assertion is entirely speculative.

Sony Pictures, which has produced the film, dismissed the request by noting the film is “a work of fiction, and at its heart, it’s a thriller, not a religious tract.”

Contrast this event which blasphemes Catholicism, with an Italian magazine, Studi Catollic, that recently published a cartoon of Prophet Mohammad cut in half and burning in hell. The drawing in question shows the poets Virgil and Dante looking down on Mohammed split in two and engulfed in flames

"Isn’t that man there split in two from head to navel, Mohammed?” Dante asks Virgil.

“Yes and he is cut in two because he has divided society,” Virgil replies. “While that woman there, with the burning coals, represents the politics of Italy towards Islam.”

As an aftermath of publication, the editor was threatened. He immediately said he hadn’t any intention of offending any religion. “I freely ask… for forgiveness.”

This was a marked change of tone from the editor’s initial comment, when he said, “We must not fear freedom of opinion.”

In fact, included in the apology is the claim that the cartoon isn’t against Mohammad; “it addresses a loss of the West’s identity.”

While I don’t have evidence suggesting a change of heart was brought about by intimidation, it is a plausible conclusion based on dozens of similar events. Moreover, it might well be asked why there is any fuss over a cartoon which represents in graphic form what Dante Alighieri wrote centuries ago?

Dante placed Mohammed in Hell in Canto 28 of the Divine Comedy. This canto inspired a painting by William Blake, depicting Muhammad with his entrails hanging out, and a fresco in Bologna Cathedral showing him being tortured by a devil.

There are several conclusions that can be drawn from these two descriptions. Criticism of religion is permitted, whether tasteful or not, in Western societies. In the case of Opus Dei, a disclaimer for an offensive film was requested. In the case of Muslims, offended by a cartoon in an Italian publication, threats are made and intimidation quite likely.

In the former case, the request is rejected; in the latter, the editor grovels and revises his intentions.

The role that Islamic violence, or possible violence, plays in preemptive acceptance of Islamic positions should not be underestimated. Catholics understandably reject the implicit precepts in the Da Vinci Code, which goes directly to the heart of the religion. But I could not find any evidence that Brown and his publisher have been threatened. Had they been put in that position, the public outcry would be deafening.

Islam, however, is treated differently. The West is fearful of offending Muslims because we have seen the reaction on our television screens and on the streets of European capitals. One might even say the threat of violence has a chastening effect on public attitudes.

This is the dilemma: Western tolerance permits intolerant responses to real or perceived offenses. In fact, the sensitivity to Islamic concerns is so well ensconced in the public imagination that self-censorship often precedes revelation.

Who can forget what happened to Theo Van Gogh when he criticized the treatment of Muslim women? Emerging from this comparison is a West that may not be able to defend its own traditions, not when might makes right or principle is modified by fear.


Herbert London is president of Hudson Institute and professor emeritus of New York University. He is the author of Decade of Denial (Lanham, Maryland: Lexington Books, 2001). London maintains a website, www.herblondon.org.

Dems Look at Big Picture, Shrink Back in Horror

The New York Times reports that the Democrat Party and the Left in general are looking at the party's political strategy of recent years and finding it wanting.

Ya think? There's a news flash.

The article does include an interesting summary of what the Dems and Left in general are thinking about thier strategy: It has been too centrist:

This discussion of first principles and big goals marks a psychological shift for many in the party; a frequent theme is that Democrats must stop being afraid, stop worrying that their core beliefs are out of step with the times, stop ceding so much ground to the conservatives.

So, the strategists and idea generators conclude, the Dems and Left in general must Look at the Big Picture, Go Back to Their Roots, and FInd the Great Cliches That Will Fool Voters into Thinking They're Not Crazy. (OK, that last one's my addition, but hey, we're here to analyze.)

Of course, it makes sense for a party that is out of power to rethink what it has been doing. Even the Republicans, who have been in power but have squandered much of their political capital, are doing that in turning away from their drunken-sailor spending habits of the past few years, if only rhetorically at this point.

The $6.4 trillion question, however, for the Democrats is what vision they should pursue. Of course, you know my preference would be for them to move to the right of the Republicans on all issues. But I would also like to own a Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost, and will probably have one before the Dems move to the Right (and I never will, just to be perfectly clear, unless my DEAR FRIEND AND THE SMARTEST AND FINEST GENTLEMAN IN THE WORLD Alan Reynolds gives me one for my birthday).

So, what are the core beliefs the Democrats should pursue? The Times story quotes Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) as providing his usual sage advice:

Representative Barney Frank, Democrat of Massachusetts, said, "One of the most successful right-wing ploys was to demonize any concern about the distribution of income in America as, quote, class warfare."

OK, so the Dems' core ideas are good, albeit unidentified at this point in the article, and their political problem is strictly a result of the American people being fooled into believing that angry diatribes against the "rich," with the latter defined as anybody earning more than about 5 percent above the median income, are "class warfare." That's certainly good to know, and it points the way toward a real winner of a political philosophy, as outlined by Michael Tomasky, editor of the liberal journal The American Prospect, in "a much-discussed essay in the May issue" of that august publication:

Mr. Tomasky argued in his article that "the party and the constellation of interests around it don't even think in philosophical terms and haven't for quite some time. There's a reason for this. They've all been trained to believe — by the media, by their pollsters — that their philosophy is an electoral loser.

"Mr. Tomasky argues that the Democratic Party needs to stand for more than diversity and rights; it needs to return to its New Deal, New Frontier and Great Society roots and run as the party of the common good — the philosophy, he says, that brought the nation Social Security, the Marshall Plan, the Peace Corps and civil rights legislation. After years of what he calls "rapacious social Darwinism" under Mr. Bush, Mr. Tomasky argues that the country is ready for the idea that "we're all in this—postindustrial America, the globalized world and especially the post-9/11 world in which free peoples have to unite to fight new threats—together."

Well, that certainly sounds meaty (or for Dems, tofuey), nutritious, and delicious. I concede that it would be a surefire winner. . . .

If we were in a Depression or trying to rebuild Europe after a devastating war.

But we aren't. And no amount of complaining about present-day conditions is going to change the fact that the economy is humming along nicely, the environment is cleaner every day, the War in Iraq is winding down, and that what really counts when crises arise is finding the most sensible solutions. Meaning that policy is indeed central.

A governing philosophy is essential, of course, if a political party is to have a coherent base, but people vote based on which philosophy they think works best at this time and for the future. The Republicans can plausibly claim that their philosophy is one designed for the common good. And that is in fact what they do argue. So the argument will become, as it always is . . . an argument about policies.

And if the Democrats run on the New Deal and the Marshall Plan, Republicans will surely be delighted.

Though not as delighted as I'd be if the Dems would move to the right of the Republicans and give the latter some actual competition.

Until then, I'll just have to keep driving my Mazda.

Pelosi Talk

"I am the decider." President Bush's spectacularly unfortunate remark, when pestered to fire Rumsfeld, feeds right into the media portrait of Republicans as authoritarian. Historians of a leftist bent may well seize on that as the defining line of his presidency, something like old King Louie's song "I am the State".

The irony is that the opposite is the truth. Republicans fight to give the people more freedom. Democrats confiscate their freedoms through the instrument of government and then distribute putatively life-improving largesse.

My column in Town Hall today targets the recently announced "portly deal" by which Bill Clinton has convinced schools to disallow the vending of soda on their premises. Can anyone possibly imagine a more busybody nosy-Parker sort of intervention in the lives of ordinary citizens?

Meanwhile, across town at Human Events, I highlight the unseemly gloating of Democrats anticipating foreclosure on the Republican House in November, promising heavy-handed and punitive hearings and investigations to settle old scores. This from the genteel anti-fascists? Gimme a break. These Democrats deserve a new theme song: "You Did it My Way."

Monday, May 08, 2006

Think Tank Partisanship

The Great Hunter Baker---gentleman, scholar, bon vivant---asks whether open partisanship on the part of think tanks is a breach of etiquette.

Etiquette, schmetiquette, as we say in the locker room. The usefulness of such partisan activity is determined by the fundamental goals of the organization and by those of the funding sources, and not necessarily in that order. I have been affiliated with a number of policy think tanks over the years, and the universal allegiance was to a set of policy principles regardless of Party. (RAND was the large exception, in that it pursues mindlessly the twin vanities that it is "nonprofit," signifying nothing at all except cost inefficiency, and "nonpartisan," which by no means is evidence that ideological biases are lacking.) With respect to CAP, if its fundamental goal is not the advancement of knowledge, but instead is the provision of sound bites for journalists and politicians, then such activities as referenced in Hunter's note are wholly appropriate, even if unmentioned as explicit fodder for partisan advantage, and even if implemented in a manner both clumsy and transparent.

That CAP is envisioned as a left-wing counterpart to Heritage and AEI is preposterous. Heritage, AEI, Cato, Brookings, Manhattan (where I an a senior fellow), PRI, and the others are populated with serious people doing serious research on important questions; people who would have tenure and perhaps chairs at major universities were the latter not bastions of leftist bigotry. Even the Economic Policy Institute---the labor union think tank---puts out real studies that, however poorly done, nonetheless can be discussed in a serious way. Will CAP do that? I rather doubt it.

Public's Top Concern: Ending Pork Barrel Spending

John Fund of The Wall Street Journal notes that the public has decided that pork-barrel spending should stop, and Republicans may finally be listening:

The latest Wall Street Journal/NBC poll offered respondents a menu of legislative action Congress could address before it goes home this year. Asked to choose which should be its top priority, a stunning 39% selected "prohibiting Members of Congress from directing federal funds to specific projects benefiting only certain constituents"--i.e., the pork-barrel spending at the heart of the Congressional earmark process. Immigration reform was in second place with 32%. It would be ironic if the big-spending strategy Tom DeLay thought was a key to shoring up incumbents and keeping GOP control of Congress winds up ending that control.

One of the messages that [Republican strategist Kenneth] Mehlman tried to convey last week to Republicans on Capitol Hill is that continued inaction and business-as-usual behavior by Congress are an easy ticket to losses in this fall's elections. "We have met the enemy, and too often it is us," one GOP member told me. "We either learn lessons from our mistakes in the next few weeks or our own voters will teach us in November by staying home."

Evidently there is no hope whatever that Democrats will get the message, but half a loaf is better than having the whole thing taxed away.

Is this How a Think Tank Works?

I've now read in several places that John Podesta's (Bill Clinton's former Chief of Staff) glitzy new think tank, the Center for American Progress, circulated press kits to members of the media informing them of Tony Snow's negative appraisals of the Bush White House. The idea was apparently to embarrass Bush or Snow or both on the day of his hiring as White House spokesman.

The Center for American Progress (CAP) was conceived as a left-wing counter to outfits like the Heritage Foundation and the American Enterprise Institute. It launched with a lot of fanfare and has surely offered its share of white papers, policy briefs, and expert testimonies. I sense that with the Tony Snow maneuver the CAP may have damaged its own credibility. We're talking about petty electioneering type stuff and my experience is that think tanks don't do that, not even the ones with a clear ideological bent.

S.T., Kathy, Ben, Alan, you have all done plenty of think tank time. Am I right? Is this a breach of etiquette?

Friday, May 05, 2006

Spooked Spook

You don't need to be a political genius to know that the resignation of Porter Goss is not good news. It indicates that curing the endemic troubles at the CIA, a difficult task in the best of times, may be well-nigh impossible in this era where that position no longer reports to the President.

This seems a good time to refer back to my piece in The American Spectator, August 2004, in which I made the case against the idea of instituting an office of National Intelligence Director. It runs longer than my usual column length, but I think it's one of the most thorough presentations I have ever made in support of a political position.

Evolution and Abortion

Several posts down I included the words of Francis Canavan, who countered the usual baby's rights versus mother's rights talk by inserting the commonsensical notion that the child is in his mother's womb, which is, in fact, the only natural place for him to be.

A debate commenced in which one group repeatedly invoked the notion of competition between mother and unborn child for scarce resources. There is an immediate problem with that metaphor if we consider that Americans are typically not starving and that food is not scarce, but let's leave that aside.

The bigger problem is that this segment of the abortion debate could be dealt with via Darwin. In evolutionary terms, we all just want to reproduce and ensure the spread of our contribution to the gene pool. A pregnancy is, therefore, mission accomplished. In evolutionary terms, aborting a child is evidence of insanity. It is evidence that a person doesn't wish to do the only thing they are really here to do.

I find this fascinating because I've finally found a confluence in traditional morality and Darwinism. Darwin says, have the baby. Christianity says, have the baby. The natural law says, have the baby. All three agree that infanticide is evidence of a mind not working correctly.

Kennedy Family Values

Dateline Capitol Hill: Kennedy involved in a suspicious incident combining erratic behavior, an automobile, and alcohol. But there were no babes, so it wasn't Teddy.

There's something here I really do not understand. While some of the details are, and probably will remain, in dispute, there is one thing that Patches admits: he drove a Ford Mustang convertible "a few blocks" from his house to the Capitol building. An environmental scold since his boyhood days in the Rhode Island legislature, who equates SUV driving with warmongering, admits he took his 210hp 4.0L V6, EPA rated at 19 mpg, out of the garage for a trip most of us would unthinkingly make on foot? I await with bated breath the Sierra Club's statement pulling their endorsement.

This, by the way, is how to have a drink at the Hawk and Dove without getting into trouble.

Bush and Small Band of Repubs Promise to Stop Pork-Laden Spending Bill

The Wall Street Journal opinion page reports that President Bush "is promising to break his dubious record [of never vetoing a bill sent to him by Congress] by nixing the astonishing supplemental spending bill passed by the Senate yesterday." The Journal article opines:

If ever a bill deserved a veto, this is it. The ball of blubber rolled out of the world's greatest spending body at $108.9 billion, a mere $14.4 billion more than Mr. Bush requested. The original request was for Iraq, Afghanistan and hurricane relief, but these "emergency" spending bills have become regular bacchanalia because they fall outside the limits set by the annual budget spending "caps." . . .

The bill passed 78-20, which means this Senate bender is bipartisan. But 35 GOP Senators have also sent Mr. Bush a letter pledging to support his demand to reduce the bill's total cost; that's one more vote than needed to block a veto override. Meanwhile, over in the House, GOP leaders are finally behaving like, well, Republicans. Speaker Denny Hastert declared the Senate bill "dead on arrival" in a House-Senate conference. "The House has no intention of joining in a spending spree at the expense of American taxpayers," he added. Hallelujah.

The story notes that Sen. Robert Byrd (D-WV) "took to the Senate floor to deplore Mr. Bush's veto threat as an outrage that would deny money for all sorts of domestic disasters, including farm losses and coal-mine accidents. 'If the President wants to veto a bill that funds the troops, if he wants to veto a bill that funds victims of Hurricane Katrina . . . have at it,' he taunted."

The threat, of course, is that the Democrats will paint the Republicans in their cliched character as tightfisted Scrooges who care more about keeping taxes down than about throwing money at everything under the sun.

The Republicans response should be, "Please, don't throw us into that briar patch!"

Britain's Changing Political Landscape

Britain's ruling Labour Party took a huge hit in the recent polls for local offices. The New York Times reports:

With 4,360 local council seats and 176 authorities in play, Labor lost 250 councillors and 18 councils, according to preliminary results. The big winner was David Cameron, who took control of the opposition Conservative Party last December and for whom Thursday's vote was the first electoral challenge. The Conservatives gained 12 councils, according to preliminary results, including some in bellwether London boroughs, but failed to make ground in the north of England.

The vote did not directly affect the composition of parliament in London, where Mr Blair won a third successive -- if reduced -- majority in national elections one year ago. But, according to a projection by the BBC, the local election in which 23 million Britons were eligible to cast a ballot, showed the Conservatives in the lead with 40 per cent of the vote, the smaller opposition Liberal Democrats with 27 per cent and Labor lagging with 26 per cent.

The Conservative Party benefited from the Labour meltdown—caused largely by scandals in the government—but the real beneficiaries were two right-wing parties, one reasonable and the other much less so. The NY Times reports:

The results also showed creeping gains by the small, anti-immigrant British National Party, particularly in the east London area of Barking and Dagenham where 11 of its 13 candidates won seats from Labor incumbents. Though tiny in relation to the big parties, its gains provoked unease about the possibility of a extreme right backlash against immigrants.

This all bodes ill for Labour's prospects in the next election, which must be held by 2010, the NY Times reports:

The results in local elections do not always mirror national polls: Labor also polled 26 per cent in the last major local vote in 2004, but won power again in the national election last year. But, this time, national politics weighed heavily after a series of scandals, including Mr. Prescott's affair, the questions over the government's failure to deport foreign criminals, worries about the future of the state-funded National Health Service and accusations that Labor offered campaign donors places in the House of Lords in return for loans.

The poll was the biggest electoral event before the next national vote, which must take place by 2010, when Mr Blair has said he will not seek re-election as prime minister.

The accumulation of problems has fed opposition claims that the third-term government is arrogant and incompetent.

The Tories have made a rather poor effort at taking advantage of Labour's decline in popularity, as John O'Sullivan points out, because under their new leader, David Cameron, the Tories have been "undergoing either a cultural makeover or a nervous breakdown as they re-brand themselves as a Green party that rejects lower taxes and believes in wealth redistribution. This transformation has not proved a vote-winner. Until Black Wednesday they were level-pegging with Labor. They have risen to a modest 35 percent since then." O'Sullivan correctly predicted that the Tories would "do well on Thursday. But their success will be based on Labor’s retreat rather than on Tory conversions."

This is a very bad thing because in pre-election polls, which were borne out by the election results, 15 percent of voters said they would vote for “other” parties. O'Sullivan writes, "Usually, that figure is one or two per cent. What makes this doubly shocking is the other parties: the United Kingdom Independence Party and the British National Party.

"UKIP," O'Sulliven continues, "is a decent Euroskeptic party, mainly disillusioned Tories, with an Ealing Comedy flavor. But the BNP is a semi-fascist party on the model of the French National Front. And boosted by the Clarke fiasco, the BNP is likely to get the lion’s share of that fifteen percent."

The polls confirm that both Labour and the Tories, in remaking themselves as something they cannot be, have slid in the public's esteem. The Tories have blown a great opportunity—and not for the first time in recent years. As long as they become Labour Me-Toos, the Tories will probably continue to weaken, and the farther-Right parties will continue to rise. Not an appealing prospect.

Cynthia and Patrick Sitting In A Tree...

Well, now, I see that while a D.C. grand jury is trying to decide whether to indict Congressman Cynthia McKinney for assaulting a Capitol Hill cop, Congressman Patrick Kennedy, who apparently fell on his head not far from the tree, crashed his car in the middle of the night. He then told the police on the scene that he was "late for a vote," after which those public servants dedicated to the rule of law drove him home and tucked him into bed without a bath. No sobriety test. No hard questions. No late snack for the teddy bear.

And no tears from Mizz McKinney. None indeed. After all, how are they going to indict her after having given Sir Patrick the kind of love one expects only from Grandma visiting from across the country? Can anyone imagine the black/white demagoguery issuing forth from the likes of the ineffable Sharpton if the black female were to be indicted while the lily white son of privilege got off with nothing at all? It is only my old age and deep cynicism that enable me to laugh at such folly. And the Beltway expects Americans to take it seriously in the context of counterterrorism.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

"Gas Gouging" Honor Roll

In a vote of 389 to 34, these are the only House members who had the integrity and common sense to vote against the scandalous “Federal Energy Price Protection Act,” including the one uniquely honorable Democrat.

Akin
Burton (IN)
Campbell (CA)
Cannon
Conaway
Culberson
Feeney
Flake
Franks (AZ)
Garrett (NJ)
Gingrey
Hensarling
Hoekstra
Hostettler
Johnson, Sam
King (IA)
Kucinich
Lungren, Daniel E.
McHenry
Miller, Gary
Musgrave
Neugebauer
Otter
Paul
Pearce
Pence
Pitts
Poe
Rohrabacher
Sessions
Shadegg
Sullivan
Westmoreland
Wilson (SC)

George Speaketh

No, not that George. I refer here to the ineffable George V. Voinovich, Republican member of the World's Greatest Deliberative Body. Like a child who dropped his ice cream cone, George last was seen slobbering over the nomination of John Bolton as UN Ambassador. Anyway, he is the chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Federal Workforce subcommittee, a lofty position achieved by virtue of deep wisdom and the profound respect of his honored colleagues. And so his latest pronouncement from on high is that "[Federal] employees should receive a rigorous evaluation, and their pay should be determined based upon their performance."

A brilliant insight, stated brilliantly, and sparkling with the gravitas bestowed by the Beltway only upon the brilliant. And so please tell us, Senator: Does that principle apply to members of Congress?

Galbraith

Excerpt from Alan Reynolds, “Irrelevant Anachronism”
The Intercollegiate Review (Winter 1975)

Galbraith is aware that "collective efforts at market control are numerous and frequently invoke the assistance or initiative of the state," and that "regulatory agencies tend to become the instruments, even the puppets, of the industries they are supposed to regulate." Far from deploring this, however, Galbraith thinks it ought to be universal --that the whole economy ought to run on the model of the Post Office, and that failing firms and individuals ought to be bailed-out, or propped-up, a la Lockheed or Penn Central. Where it isn't already doing so, Galbraith wants the government to: (1) "stabilize prices and production and regulate entry into the business," (2) provide "direct government regulation of prices and production," (3) provide "strong and effective encouragement to trade union organization," (4) use the minimum wage "aggressively," without regard to the survival of small firms, thus "forcing those who patronize the market system to pay the full price for the product" (or do without), (5) protect any remaining small firms from international competition "by official action or a tariff," and (6) provide small firms with “research and technical support, capital and qualified talent.”

True, many will be unemployed as a result of all this-"kept out because they are no longer allowed to offer their services at a lower rate." But they will receive a guaranteed income "as a matter of right" at a level "modestly below what can be earned in the planning system." Might as well be generous with the money (the Fed can always print more), since with such a policy of discouraging work there won't be any goodies around to buy with it.

The whole thing sounds very much like Roosevelt's N.LR.A., Mussolini's syndicates, or the medieval guilds. Galbraith has emerged as the supreme spokesman for the special interests. As producers and workers, we all want our own goods or services to be scarce and, therefore, relatively costly. But a policy of raising incomes generally through contrived scarcity and high prices confuses relative money income with total real income. We can all have more goods and services only if more are produced. Redistributing the existing stock of, say, housing and furniture would not provide any more housing and furniture. And the resulting disincentives to work and save would decrease the flow of future production.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

A Plague of Ambitious Prosecutors

A society's ability to function is based solidly on its government's willingness to treat people fairly and equally. The temptations of power, however, tend to corrupt the individuals who serve in office, as Lord Acton observed and as the Republicans in Congress have demonstrated in recent years. Nowhere is that temptation more damaging to individuals, however, than in the case of ambitious prosecutors.

As another old saying has it, "Every District Attorney looking in the mirror sees a Governor," and politically motivated prosecutions are an inevitable result of that reality. The recent case in North Carolina—in which a prosecutor rushed forward with indictments against two Duke University lacrosse players despite a complete lack of plausible evidence against them and openly disregarded undeniable exculpatory evidence regarding one of them, in order to court votes from people of the same skin color as the accuser during primary elections that were then just a couple 0f weeks away—was just one of the more blatant examples of prosecutorial misconduct in recent months.

But the king of them all today is surely New York Attorney General Elliot Spitzer, who is now running for governor of that state, in full confirmation of the old saying. As today's Wall Street Journal notes, Spitzer has truly taken the art of political prosecution to new heights, using the powers of his office to bully and intimidate all those whom he sees as obstacles to his agenda. Here's a good example of his style, from the Journal article:

A spokesman for New York Congresswoman Sue Kelly reported in 2003 that after Ms. Kelly disagreed with Mr. Spitzer over legislation that he felt would hamper his investigations, he hit her with a "slew of political threats and personal insults," warning he'd come to her district and "cause problems." Mr. Spitzer's office described the event as "spirited and frank." To which Ms. Kelly's spokesman bluntly replied: "The attorney general acted like a thug, and his office can try to spin it any way they want to."

The Journal article includes several other examples, and indeed an entire book could be written about Spitzer's use of his office for vendettas against prominent businesses and individuals. He is not the most repugnant AG ever, one supposes, but his roughhouse tactics and naked ambition show just how vulnerable society is to the ambitions of its leaders (as if any confirmation were needed). As the Journal story notes,

[T]here are disturbing suggestions that Mr. Spitzer is peddling information to the public that may not be accurate. You can bet that if this were President Bush, the press would be all over the disparate versions of events. But this is Mr. Spitzer, who at this very moment is running campaign ads that are nothing more than a compilation of the adulatory headlines he's received over his tenure.

Far better for the public if a little more light were directed on these discrepancies. Mr. Spitzer is asking to govern one of the most populous states in the nation. Politicians are certainly allowed "passion," but given the power they wield they also have to demonstrate restraint, honesty and good judgment. Voters deserve to know if Mr. Spitzer has the character to hold such a job.

Yes, we must expect our governors to "demonstrate restraint, honesty and good judgment." But we should expect that of our attorneys general, too, and indeed of all those who step forward to serve the public in leadership positions.

The Cry Beneath The Silence

(This is a very brief slice of a very large topic. It deserves much more space; perhaps some day when life is less hectic. For now this is the extent of my available time and energy.)

A famous thinker once said: “God is in the details.” To which a noted architect responded: “The Devil is in the details.” Both were right. But in my slot at Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations, I hope this bit of insight survives: “God is in the premises. The Devil is in the premises.” In the words of Rabbi Abba Berman, a great Talmud scholar who recently passed on: “From your viewpoint, you’re right. It’s your viewpoint that’s wrong.”

Indeed it is not too much to say that whenever the Reaganite position loses the debate in the public arena, it is not because it reasoned poorly from the premise. It is because the other side had managed to slip in an unchallenged premise that corrupted the entire dialogue.

And so the great adventure of reforming the culture is most challenging when the target is a premise that has hardened into a pillar. The most pernicious of these, the capstone of evil in our time, the rawest, crudest, crassest, grossest of them all is the one that was on display last week in the Day of Silence observed around the country’s schools. Sadly, sadly, sadly, conservatives have not mounted any resistance to the premise, so whatever quibbles they register against its offshoots are turned, win or lose, into an exercise in futility.

The Day of Silence is to empathize with the silence that is said to be forced upon gay and lesbian teenagers. The Ninth Circuit Court just issued a decision that schools may prevent students from making such statements as: “The Bible says that homosexual behavior is shameful.” Many conservatives are debating and appealing the ruling while decrying the Day as unnecessary and gratuitously provocative. But no one challenges the premise, the horrid, horrible, horrific premise. Namely, that there is such a thing as a “gay teenager”.

Don’t take my word for it. Open your ears, listen carefully. When a high school opened for gays in New York City in the late 1980s, the debate focused on whether isolating them in a separate school was helpful or counterproductive. When people call laissez-faire psychologists like Dr. Joy Browne or strict moralists like Dr. Laura Schlessinger to ask how to deal with their high-schoolers who have “come out” as gay, the only difference in the answer is that Browne says to embrace it while Schlessinger says to be understanding without endorsing. But no one, no one at all, no liberal, no conservative, has the simple honesty, sense and courage to say the commonsensical truth; namely, that every teenager is mixed up about sex and has no clue what he or she “is” or “is not”.

This is a subject that deserves to be treated in a very long treatise. But in our short format today, we can ask ourselves simple questions that highlight obvious verities. Who among us did not experience moments of utter humiliation in approaching members of the opposite sex? How many of us can declare that we never doubted our masculinity or femininity during such moments of humiliation? If a seducer of the same sex played his or her cards right in that moment, was there no vulnerability there? Be honest.

Or look at it from the other side. It is a simple fact that homosexuals try to seduce people to try their way. A practicing psychologist showed me gay magazines that specifically advocated “breaking in” new recruits. In my own life, I was hit on by men a number of times, and when I politely said “I’m not gay”, every one of them kept trying, saying it would be fun, etcetera. Quite a few girls have described to me the exact same experience, eerily almost word-for-word. So if some kid, lonely with rejection by the opposite sex, flattered by same-sex attention, indulges a time or two and thinks that he or she is now gay, should a responsible parent or teacher take that declaration as fact, not subject to discussions, counseling, deliberation and reconsideration?

Furthermore, most teenage socializing is in same-sex environments. Even in coed schools, kids generally cluster in gender-segregated packs. Small experimental ventures into sexual activity cannot reasonably be extrapolated into a lifetime preference. Things happen sometimes in schools, in armies, in jails, when access is more or less limited to the same gender, that do not reflect life in the bigger world. A youngster who had such an experience during a formative period is likely to think that this reveals his or her “true self”.

Truthfulness and compassion demand that we counsel those children, that we tell them they are still young, they are still confused, they do not have all their skills, they do not have all their maturity, they do not have all their resources, and that they need to calm down, get their schooling, not let their doubts fester in their minds, and work their way healthily toward adulthood without some label that was applied through ignorance and self-doubt.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

A Startling Thought on Abortion

"If we take the principles of liberal individualism as axiomatic, we find it possible to think of the fetus and the woman as the parties of the first and second part arguing over their respective rights. We are then able to blind ourselves to the natural fact that they are related as mother and child and that the child is in the only natural place for him to be, his mother's womb."

--Francis Canavan, The Pluralist Game

Trimming the Pork—There Is Only One Way

Politicians have long bragged about how much federal money they were bringing back home, and it worked because citizens of one's district or state knew that tax money sent to D.C. that did not come back in the form of direct services or greater national security would simply be spent on projects in states with representatives who were better at getting their way. That brought about a natural process known as pork-barreling, in which every successful representative tried to get the most federal money possible spent in his state, which led to an incredible amount of taxpayer money being spent on boondoggles such as roads to literally nowhere and federally financed hot dog museums. Politicians would brag about how much bacon they were bringing home, regardless of how unconstitutional and worthless the projects actually were.

Now that the Republicans have been in power for a few years and have become openly addicted to pork-barreling, it's no longer fashionable.

Well, good! As the New York Times reports, challengers in some congressional and Senate races are actually talking about their opponents' success at bringing home this federal money—and using the incumbents' spending as a weapon, "portraying them as symbols of corruption and waste in Washington," as the Times puts it. The national controversy over these "earmarks"—which finally occurred when the hated (by the media) Republicans gained control of both houses of Congress—has begun to turn the public against this wasteful spending—in principle (see below). Aspiring politicians are quick to take advantage, as the Times story notes:

And so, in a reversal of tactics, challengers here and in other states like Montana, Ohio and Rhode Island are telling voters what the incumbents have brought home, in the hopes, it seems, that the national controversy over the pet projects known as earmarks has come home, too.

"In a time of war, and with the costs of Katrina, we've got to look at what we want to have and what we've got to have," said Mr. Ricketts, who has never run for office but was ahead of the two other Republican candidates in a recent poll. "We've got to end earmarks — or at least reform them."

The
Times story correctly observes that it's far too early now to tell whether the tactic will work, but the old reality probably still applies, as this comment from a Nebraska voter suggests:

"I am critical of the fact that the federal government is worried about paying for parking garages — and for a million other things like that," said Steve McCollister, who heard Mr. Ricketts speak at a recent fund-raiser in west Omaha. "But they are. And if they are, I want my senator to be in there. I want Nebraska to compete."

That's probably the way most people feel. And despite the fact that nearly all of these projects are wasteful and are not constitutionally appropriate candidates for federal spending, it's important to remember that the real bloat is in the entitlement programs, corporate welfare (including farm subsidies), and national defense. The federal budget is in large part an accumulation of politicians' attempts to buy votes in order to remain in office, using our money.

That's the way the system works, and that's not going to change until the federal government is made subject to the kind of constitutionally imposed tax and budget limitations (known as taxpayers' bills of rights, or TABORs) many states have implemented or are considering.

The only solution is a real federal TABOR.