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

Friday, June 09, 2006


Back above water, briefly. And so a few tidbits. First out of the gate is the ineffable William Jefferson, formerly the proud owner of oodles of cold cash in his freezer, who refuses to resign from the House Ways and Means Committee on the grounds that he has not been charged with a crime. And so the Goddess of the Culture of Noncorruption, the stalwart Nancy Pelosi, whose campaign mantra for this fall's House races has been destroyed singlehandedly by Jefferson, now is trying to find a way to remove him. Alas, the Congressional Black Caucus is in no mood to cooperate. And so if the Republicans are smart, they will refrain from charging Jefferson with anything until the election is past, thus preserving the most amusing spectacle seen in the Beltway since, well, a few weeks ago, when the Honorable Rep. Patrick Kennedy was tucked into bed by the Capitol Hill cops. It just doesn't get any better than this.

Speaking of Patrick, is he not a godsend for that other giant among Congressional intellectuals, Cynthia McKinney? How are they going to charge Her Black Highness with assault when White Bread Patrick got off with a teddy bear, warm milk, and a bedtime story about a 3am vote on the floor of the House? Yes, racism accusations are a dime a dozen, worthy of all the contempt that we habor for them; but---let us be honest---they are useful indeed when threatened against guilt-ridden liberal elites inside the Beltway.

Speaking of intellectuals, we now have Bill Lockyer and Fabian Nunez, respectively the Attorney General (and Democratic nominee for State Treasurer) and Speaker of the State Assembly, calling for "temporary" price controls on gasoline during "abnormal market disruptions." It is not clear what "normal market disruptions" might be, but, anyway, this would apply only to California, of course; beyond the obvious effects in terms of gasoline lines, the larger effect would be to shift supplies out of California to other states, thus lowering their prices. And so the cheers you hear for this bill are those not of California gasoline consumers, already the victims of so very much government compassion, but instead of consumers in the rest of the west. Yes, the boutique gasoline regulations will temper this effect somewhat, but far from fully. Can these people possibly be that stupid and that cynical? Well, actually, yes. Emphatically. And that stalwart defender of Milton Friedman's principles, Governor Arnold, has not yet taken a position on the bill.

I see that repeal of the death tax failed to achieve cloture in the Senate. Can it possibly be the case that the remaining red-state Democrats are happy about this? This behavior on the part of Harry Reid and the Senate Democratic leadership suggests to me that the degree to which they are beholden to the DailyKosMoveOn.OrgMichaelMoorePaulKrugmanBarbraSteisand crowd is worse than anyone imagined. Do they want a party only of leftists? Apparently, yes indeed.

May the Ayatollah Zarqawi be blessed with the 72 virgins promised somewhere in the fine print, and may they be the losers in the past pageant stampedes for Miss Burkha. Anyway, all the reports claim that Zarqawi's location was divulged by an inside source; even if not true, this is useful disinformation, in that it might create suspicions and greater compartmentalization than otherwise would be the case. But everyone---from DoD spokemen to Iraqi government officials---are claiming this. Loudly. Which leads me to doubt that it is true; if it were, it would be far more effective to let the fact of such treachery leak out. That it has been broadcast from the rooftops loudly and often looks like someone protesting too much. The other hypothesis is that it is true, and the CIA in its usual incompetence has spread the word stupidly. Only my plumber knows, and he's not talking.

Luther, Calvin, and Gay Marriage

How exactly is the Christian to view the state? The answer to that question answers a slew of other ones, including, perhaps, the thorny question of gay marriage sanctioned by the state.

Three options jump out at me as I think about Christianity and the state:

1. The medieval Catholic view
2. Calvin's view
3. Luther's view

The medieval Catholic view has the state below the church. If we were to draw an org chart, the state would be at the bottom, the church in the middle, and God at the top. In this scheme of things, it clearly makes sense to speak of a Christian state.

Calvin's view is a little different. The church and the state are not in a hierarchical relationship. Each answers to God separately, but the implications are not what you might think. Because God invests government with authority, governors should be primarily concerned with things like right worship and doctrine. Heresy would absolutely be a punishable offense.

What is similar about the two views described above is that the state is a sacred entity and it is going to be involved in matters of religion.

Luther represents a definitive break. His state is not sacred or confessional. Instead, it is purely instrumental, which is to say that the state has no eternal destiny but it has a job to do. The job is simple: restrain evil. Because of the fallen state of man, sin is everywhere on the earth and without the restraint of rulers the world would be a desert as the wolves preyed endlessly on the sheep. Luther's state shouldn't worry so much about correct doctrine and punishing heretics. That is for the church to handle through persuasion and excommunication. Instead, the state should wield the sword against those who will do evil in the form of violence, theft, and fraud.

Of the three options, it may be clear that I think Luther's view is the best and is of the closest accord with the New Testament. Christ really didn't bring a doctrine of the sacred state, at least not as far as I can tell. The church's mission is far more important than the state's, but we often act as if we believe the state is where all the action is. I think that is a legacy of Calvin. I should also add that I see foreshadows of Locke in Luther, but Luther rarely gets the credit.

Gay marriage comes into the picture because it is of such great moment for Christians involved in American politics. I still recall talking to John Whitehead of the Rutherford Institute in 1998 with a group of fellow summer associates. Whitehead told us gay marriage was already lost. We protested. I think he was right and we were wrong. The question is how upset we should be about that.

If you take Calvin's view of the state, then I think gay marriage is completely unacceptable. The honor of God is implicated in the Calvinistic state and something so clearly at odds with Christian doctrine would be an ultimate affront. The result is that you have to fight and fight hard because the state is a covenant entity and God will punish a faithless people.

If you take Luther's view, the picture is a bit less bleak. Gay marriage is really outside of what the state should be doing, but the honor of God is not on the line because we are only talking about an instrumental entity for earthly convenience. It is quite possible that gay marriage will represent a milestone that immediately fades into insignificance as we discover the whole thing was primarily about making a point rather than about the desire to build nuclear families.

Just to clarify a bit through comparison we can see that in Calvin's world gay marriage would be every bit the problem abortion is. Gay marriage might be even worse than abortion because it runs directly counter to scripture. In Luther's world, abortion would be far more grave because the state is licensing real harm and violence against innocent parties. Gay marriage represents something less troublesome by several degrees.

Love to hear discussion and feedback on this one. The thinking here is early and tentative.

Update: I mentioned three models of the state from a Christian point of view, but there are others. For example, one could embrace a radical reformation view in which the church withdraws almost completely from the state, viewing it as a source of corruption and malignant worldliness.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Zarqawi Is Dead

The killing of insurgency leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi is a major accomplishment for the Iraqi government and allied forces, without question. The question now is how much difference it will make in the hostilities there. Certainly the Sunni hatred of Shias, which Zarqawi worked hard to foment, will remain, as will the corresponding feeling of Shias toward Sunnis. That is the heart of the conflict, and this does not change that. Zarqawi was a skilled tactician and strong leader, but replacements will arise. However, it is important to remember that each leader killed is a message to the rest: We're coming for you, and it's only a matter of time. Leaders do make a difference.

Of course, having bin Laden's head on a platter would send a much stronger message, but let us be happy with each victory in the long process of bringing some sense to a highly disturbed region of the world.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Bill Shatner: Rocket Man

Back before Bill Shatner realized the value of parody, he simply was the single greatest unintentional purveyor of cheese the world has ever known.

(HT: Galley Slaves)

Internecine Warfare over NC Prosecution

In a comment on my first Duke post, below, Michael Simpson notes that he did not explicitly state that the Duke players had committed the rape of which they were accused. I acknowledge that, and wish to correct the implication that he did so. He did not. The conviction to which I was referring when I wrote about Michael's earlier post was his claim convicting the Dukies of extraordinary boorishness, utterly embarrassing behavior, and other hyperbolic descriptions of desperate immorality. And I must note that it would have been disingenuous for me to fail to mention that such opinions, which I was criticizing in my post, had appeared on this very blog. It would have left us open to charges of favoritism.

As noted, Michael Simpson stopped short of saying the Dukies had commited the rape of which they wre accused, but he did exemplify the conservatives' rush to judgment in claiming that this case shows the decline of Western civ., etc. And that's his prerogative, as it is mine to seek a little truth in and perspective on the matter.

Another commenter referred to the racial epithets supposedly flung by the Dukies at the party, and the nasty email that was sent afterward, as proving that these players, all 30 or so of them, are strange monsters given to utterly perverse and fiendish activities at which Mr. Hyde would have shrunk in revulsion. I emphatically disagree. I have said that I don't believe the epithets happened, as they are an additional charge by the person who says a lot of other things happened that couldn't have happened. The claim is embroidery on a phony story, and we have no reason whatever to believe that it is true. And even if someone did say something racial at the party, this is no news story, much less a sign of the moral collapse of the West. It would have been wrong to do, of course, but lots of wrong things happen in this world without causing a ripple in the national press. As I've pointed out repeatedly, it is the false charge of rape that gives this story (false) significance: Does anyone here really believe that every shouted racial epithet should be a major newspaper story? If so, there would be no room for anything else.

As to the email, yes, that was putrid. But did all 30 players sign it? Then how can anyone but a fool condemn them all for it? In addition, young males say things like this all the time, and good young men as well as the slimy ones do so. It's wrong, but not exactly a hydrogen bomb. The difference here is that the individual put it in an email, which could get into the wrong hands (and unfortunately did—those of the colege administration and district attorney's office). In its original form, a message to a single individual, the statement could not have hurt anyone, given that it was absurdly unlikely that anyone would tell the next stripper what this fellow had written. (Bad business practice, that, at the very least.) The email would never have gotten out to the public had not the authorities sent it out to the press in the first place. So, who is more responsible for any hurt feelings the message might have created, the player who sent it to one person who would surely not have repeated it to anyone whose feelings might be hurt by it, or the authorities who sent it out to the world? Without the false rape charge, this email stays where it belongs, in the fevered fantasies of a hormone-engorged college boy. But the authorities chose to publicize it. Let's put the relative responsibility where it belongs.

How this entire incident could be exemplary of the decline of society is utterly beyond my comprehension, given that the Duke players have been much better than the average college student, as noted repeatedly in my previous postings on the subject, as documented by Duke's own witchhunt, er, study. It's important to remember that even in conservatives' beloved Victorian era, things like this happened. They're incidents, not things by which we can characterize people's entire lives. Anybody with a soul has said things they regret, whether drunk or not. Who here really has the right to cast this particular stone? Well? Just so: a single email or attendance at a drunken party surely cannot establish one as an example of utter depravity except in the most lurid and hypocritical kind of mind. I do not believe that Michael Simpson or most of the other critics of the Duke lacrosse team have such minds, and I press this point so that we can all understand exactly what is important about this incident.

It is the evil power of politics that stands out most vividly here.

Political Propaganda From The Academy

In a startling new book The Enemy of My Enemy: The Alarming Convergence of Militant Islam and the Extreme Right, George Michael, the author, disinters Richard Hofstadter’s Paranoid Style in American Politics. This time, however, the views are so wildly inaccurate and prejudicial as to appear as caricature.

Professor Michael asserts, for example, that because David Duke, the former Klan leader, and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran, both condemn the state of Israel, there is some right wing – Islamic nexus. Yes, both figures may be anti-semitic and anti-Zionist, surely both deserve condemnation, but one may have nuclear weapons which can destroy the state of Israel and the other is an appropriately discredited individual without any influence.

Michael also notes that Muslims and right-wingers (a term he doesn’t define) have similar critiques of American foreign policy in the Middle East, modernity and globalization. “Both see the U.S. government as hopelessly under the control of Jews or Zionists,” he writes.

One could far more comfortably – I believe – make this statement about the left. After all, the left has reflexively embraced the Palestinian cause from Tony Kushner to Ramsay Clark. The argument that the U.S. government is under a hypnotic spell of Zionists was recently made by John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, two university professors more aligned with the left than the right. Demonstrations against globalization in Europe were mobilized almost entirely by left wing organizations and when it comes to the challenges to modernity, it is again primarily left wing environmental groups in the forefront.

Clearly Mr. Michael has an axe to grind. Evidence is marshaled to make his case without a glance at the other side of the political spectrum. He is not the first and he certainly won’t be the last to employ quasi-scholarship as a propagandistic exercise.

What is truly maddening about the book is its assumption that right wingers and Islamists have much in common. I could easily assert that Stalinists and Islamists have much in common. I can assert as well that ACTUP and NOW have much in common with Muslims. I can further assert that the National Guild of Lawyers, a left wing hothouse, has been a defender of radical Islamic terrorists.

That David Duke appears as a right wing exemplar is revealing. Surely Michael could have selected Pat Robertson. He is a religious leader, supports right wing causes and has made irrational – in my view – comments about homosexuals. But he is conspicuously omitted from the treatise because he is an undeviating supporter of Israel. This comes under the heading of “if it doesn’t fit, ignore it.”

That anyone would call this book a work of scholarship is laughable. Then again that which satisfies the gods of political correctness will have legitimacy. No enemies on my left is still a theme from Hollywood to Greenwich Village. Only the right can be caricatured.

Facts, however, have a strange way of being persistent. What are the areas of right wing and Islamic cooperation which are inferred in the book? Unless one relies on the author’s tortured logic, they are hard to find.

When Paranoid Style… was written decades ago Hofstadter also ignored paranoia on the left, which was exemplified with the Weathermen and Black Panthers, but, at least, he made his case with appropriate examples. In Michael’s book he begins his analysis with a prejudice and ends with a prejudice sandwiched between ipse dixit.

Yes, there can be paranoia on the right and paranoia on the extreme left. There may be some crack pot who identifies with Ahmadinejad and is a right winger and he may have a counterpart on the left. If political science research is to be more than polemical it should follow the evidence wherever it may lead.

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

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Could the Dukies Be Guilty After All?

A persistent commenter has asked what evidence suggests the Duke lacrosse players are innocent. Well, let's see. As regards the DNA under the accuser's fingernails, no one denies that she was at the party, and that is all that that bit of evidence confirms. She has made exactly this kind of false accusation before. The DNA found, ahem, inside the accuser was that of her girlfriend. The photos she was shown in the photo "lineup" were only of Duke lacrosse players. And so on and so on. And since when, in this society, are we supposed to have to prove people innocent, even in the court of public opinion? There is no evidence whatsoever showing that the accused young men raped that girl. None. These young men are innocent, and that woman accused them falsely, and that is precisely what the evidence shows.

If this were any other case but allegedly rich white boys and a stripper from a minority group, people like the commenter would be outraged at the rush to judgment and the prosecutor's outrageous behavior. They should be so regardless of the color and financial status of the individuals involved. That is what justice requires.

More on the NC False Prosecution Scandal

A comment on my previous post on this subject suggested that I was judging the truth of the Duke lacrosse rape allegation too soon, just as I have accused those who assumed the players did it, of having done.

If we await a trial, however, we will never be able to comment, as there will be no trial of the Duke lacrosse players charged of rape. That is an absolute certainty.

Fortuntely, it is perfectly fair and reasonable to comment now. The evidence is in, and the charge is false, just as I said.

Unlike those who rushed to blame the players, I withheld public judgment until the evidence was clear. (Look at the date on my Reform Club post, and also note that I got it right when Newsweek was getting it spectacularly wrong, as noted below.) It did not take very long for the evidence to become clear, as it happens.

The Newsweek story referenced here is a good example of the kind of hooey that was being written shortly after the allegations arose. The DNA tests had already come back negative, but the story recounted the prosecutor's claims of use of a date rape drug, etc., suggesting that the accuser's accusations would prove true anyway. Characteristic of the piece is this claim: "From the beginning, the case has provided a tawdry real-world blend of true crime, high life and low manners, for the likes of novelists John Grisham and Tom Wolfe." The main problem with that assessment is that there was no "real-world . . . crime" of the sort they were suggesting, only the despicable crime of a made-up accusation of rape.

The Newsweek story characterized all lacrosse players as spoiled rich boys, which is an incredibly stupid thing to write, and entirely wrong, if you must have it spelled out for you. The article says, "The antics of the lacrosse team had attracted the notice of administrators at Duke, both for raucous tailgating parties before football games and a high rate of campus misdemeanors, like public underage drinking (15 of the 47 players on the roster have been cited by police at some point in the last three years)." But as K. C. Johnson noted in NRO and I quoted in my posting here, "An investigation headed by James Coleman, a Duke law professor and former (Democratic) counsel to the House Ethics Committee, confirmed that while the men’s lacrosse players had a disproportionate number of alcohol violations, they also performed extensive community service, achieved athletic excellence, and demonstrated unfailing courtesy to Duke staff. The Coleman Committee found no evidence that 'the cohesiveness of this group is either sexist or racist.' On the academic front, more than half the team made the ACC’s academic honor roll; one professor recalled that “the lacrosse players were willing to defend unpopular positions in class.' "

The facts are indeed in, and they prove that Nifong, Broadhead, the accuser, Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, Newsweek, and all the other agitators, journalists, and political commentators who jumped in to convict the Duke lacrosse team and its coach were wrong, and that many of them were utterly despicable in their cynicism.

You know, if you care.

The Scandal of the Conservative Mind

In an article on National Review Online today, K. C. Johnson notes that most conservatives jumped on the bandwagon when an ambitious prosecutor in North Carolina went after what he clearly saw as an ideal group of Great White Defendants, to use Tom Wolfe's astutely devised term from Bonfire of the Vanities, and pushed ahead with a no-evidence case against three Duke University lacrosse players accused by a stripper of rape allegedly done at a party at which she had been performing her great art. It's entirely clear now, that this case was a railroading from the start, and it is going to fall by the wayside quietly in the end, without the accused ever getting a chance to clear their names.

Equally repugnant was the rush to judgment by Duke University president Richard Broadhead, documented in sickening detail by Michael Rubin in NRO today. Rubin writes,

On March 25, Duke University President Richard Brodhead issued a statement declaring, “Physical coercion and sexual assault are unacceptable in any setting and have no place at Duke.” Of course, he issued the caveat, “People are presumed innocent until proven guilty,” but on campuses today, such presumption is secondary. On April 5, Brodhead canceled the lacrosse team’s season and promised an investigation of the culture of college athletes as well as Duke’s own response. The lacrosse coach resigned.

Months later, more is known about the incident. While District Attorney Mike Nifong is pressing on with charges of rape and related accusations against three lacrosse players, his case is unraveling. Photos, witnesses, alibis, inconclusive DNA evidence, and even passed polygraphs make his case increasingly tenuous.

That last sentence is an understatement. Nifong has no case, and he knows it, but he doesn't care because he got what he wanted out of it: renomination to office on the votes of people gulled into thinking he was protecting them when in fact he was using them as cynically as could be.

I understand that there were valid reasons for Duke coach Mike Pressler to resign, given that his charges had taken part in underage drinking and hired a stripper, both of which are common activities among young people but which the college formally opposes. It was understandable that his head should roll, even though he is not known to have condoned his players' behavior. But if not for the charge of rape, which was entirely false, would there have been any public stain on Duke's program? Of course not. I certainly hope that Pressler will catch on somewhere soon and continue the fine coaching work he was doing at Duke.

Along with the Duke players who foolishly put themselves in position to be exploited as socioeconomic tackling dummies, it is Nifong, Broadhead, and the accuser who are to blame for this ugly incident, not Pressler.

Brodhead should resign and apologize. Nifong should be impeached, and the accuser should be prosecuted. Of course, none of these things will happen, which is an indictment of the voters of North Carolina and Duke University's trustees, donors, and parents.

The interesting political angle that Johnson points out in his NRO piece is how political conservatives jumped on the bandwagon to convict the Duke team before a shred of real evidence was in. Even our own, esteemed Reform Clubber Michael Simpson did so, writing on our site, "Duke's lacrosse team has managed to thoroughly embarrass itself and the rest of the school by hiring strippers for a party and then, allegedly, taunting one of the strippers (who was black, while the team is almost entirely white) with racial taunts and then (again, allegedly) raping her. A real class act, these guys." Yes, Michael did use the word allegedly, but the thrust of his comment was to place the blame squarely on the Duke players and then on the permissve attitude toward student sexual behavior that prevails among college and university administrators. Michael's point was that this kind of behavior was the inevitable repulsive consequence of the prevailing campus ethos.

But other than the underage drinking and presence of a stripper, and possibly the racial taunts (though I very much doubt they occurred), the team did nothing at all outside the mainstream of college behavior, and certainly did nothing at all that could be characterized as "thoroughly embarrassing." It was the rape claim that made this story important, and that was false.

As Johnson puts it,

A few conservative bloggers and columnists have seared Nifong’s behavior, and the issue has received play on talk radio and television. But many conservative thinkers either have declined comment or concentrated on condemning the lacrosse players’ acknowledged behavior (drinking, hiring a stripper for a party) while calling for more focus on academics at colleges.

Typical of such sentiments is John Hood, president of North Carolina’s John Locke Foundation, who denounced the players as “irresponsible louts” and called for colleges to refocus on “the life of the mind, not the life of the party.” Vin Cannato compared the lacrosse scandal to Harvard’s treatment of Larry Summers and Yale’s admitting a former Taliban official as a student—two of the most indefensible events in higher education in the past year. At NRO’s Phi Beta Cons, Carol Iannone cited the case to endorse “the return of in loco parentis, and preferably the old-fashioned kind of parens. It’s only four years and you can actually live without strippers for that time.”

Although not a conservative, your present correspondent was one of those happy few on the Right who criticized Nifong and argued that the Dukies were being railroaded unconscionably. I wrote,

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.

I think that this case illustrates the difference between conservatives and classical liberals. The former are intensely (and appropriately) concerned about the need for social order, whereas we classical liberals seek the right balance between liberty and order. In the present case, a little attention to classical liberal values went a long way toward finding a reasonable position. Having attended many a bacchanal that got out of hand in my young adult years, and having been to the occasional party at which there happened to be naked prostitutes and the like, I recognize that these things happen, and I cannot see any reason why an otherwise exemplary person—which is precisely what the Duke lacrosse team consists of—should be cast into the third circle of hell merely for a little spirited hijinks.

As Johnson notes regarding the Duke players,

Ironically, the calumny heaped upon them has obscured the lacrosse players’ actual records. An investigation headed by James Coleman, a Duke law professor and former (Democratic) counsel to the House Ethics Committee, confirmed that while the men’s lacrosse players had a disproportionate number of alcohol violations, they also performed extensive community service, achieved athletic excellence, and demonstrated unfailing courtesy to Duke staff. The Coleman Committee found no evidence that “the cohesiveness of this group is either sexist or racist.” On the academic front, more than half the team made the ACC’s academic honor roll; one professor recalled that “the lacrosse players were willing to defend unpopular positions in class.” Given the ideological tenor of the Duke faculty, the positions that the players took can easily be imagined.

Those who still wonder if the players’ character should distract from a campaign to restore justice in Durham should follow the lead of Duke’s women’s lacrosse team. Coach Kerstin Kimel explained, “There is a strong camaraderie between our teams, and my players—being smart, savvy young women—would not associate with them if they felt on the whole, there was an issue of character.” And so, having made the 2006 Final Four, the women’s team members wore “innocent” headbands to express solidarity with Nifong’s targets. In light of their own faculty’s response to the case, this demonstration of personal values and courage should make even the strongest critics of the Duke lacrosse program reconsider.

Yes, what the Dukies did at the party was stupid and wrong, but real adults don't fly into a panic about such things.

Political conservatives often do exactly that, however, and that is why the Republicans so frequently run into entirely unnecessary political trouble. They're very willing to take the good with the bad when it comes to having a market-oriented economy, but when it comes to college students having a few beers—and possibly, heaven forbid, having a few too many—suddenly liberty is a dangerous thing. Real people, however, know better than to blow up over a little tomfoolery, and this kind of silly crusade is precisely what turns people off about current-day political conservatism.

Merry Antichristmas (6-6-'06)

Wishing you all the joys and horrors of the day. Posted by Hello

Monday, June 05, 2006

Buy, Sell, or Hold: Google and Gay Marriage

It's time to sell whatever stock you're holding in the Bush effort to ban gay marriage. I'm one of those people who is generally opposed to the concept of legalized gay marriage, but even I can't help but view Republican work on the issue with anything but the most world-weary cynicism. It just feels as though the GOP rolls opposition to gay marriage out whenever they feel worried about their base. It's not working. The base is just feeling manipulated. Small government is going to eventually become the defining GOP issue again in the future -- that and pro-life, which is a heckuva lot easier to argue than gay marriage (but that's another post entirely).

It's also time to sell Google, not just till the price is better, but entirely. I watched the Google stock price soar through the roof and never understood it. Sure, it's the first option in search, but it doesn't have some unassailable technology that can't easily be matched or replaced. The truth is that Yahoo does virtually everything Google does and has a commanding lead in email users. Yet, for some reason I've yet to fathom Google is worth far more than Yahoo. How to explain apart from a feeling. I think Google is another example of irrational exuberance and it will fall farther and harder, yet.

The Problem of Evil, and Politics

In his column on Pope Benedict's speech at Auschwitz, Jeff Jacoby gives an excellent presentation of the problem of evil. The existence of evil, of course, has often been used as an argument against the existence of the Judeo-Christian God, and the answer is not difficult to explain but is extremely awful to comprehend. Jacoby wisely considers the matter from both the global perspective, as in the examples of Nazism, the gulags, the slaughters by the Khmer Rouge, and other such mass atrocities, and in the acts of individual criminals. He asks the atheists' question: Why would a benevolent and all-powerful God allow such things? Jacoby's answer, as excerpted below, is the answer long given by Christian theologians, and it is the right one.

The importance to politics, our subject here, is precisely what the Founders of the United States placed their greatest emphasis on: the need to create a secular realm that enables and encourages people to be good and discourages evil. And it was to do this for entirely practical, secular reasons, not religious ones. Although the Founders realized that religions, specifically the Christian religion, created the foundations for a proper morality, religion was not seen as the logical foundation for their form of government. The logic behind our form of government was a practical matter, as the Founders recognized that the encouragement of virtue in the people was the way to create the greatest combination of liberty and social order simultaneously.

Their insisghts still remain true.

This political structure is an entirely different matter, the Founders understood, from executing God's judgments on the world, a point that Puritan-descended Evangelicals and Fundamentalists too often forget. God will execute his judgments himself, but human beings must govern themselves. This thinking is a straightforward expression of Martin Luther's Two Kingdoms theology, which is itself the foundation of modern, classical liberal political philosophy. Luther's insight was precisely that although God is free to execute his judgments in the world, he allows human beings moral freedom, and that creates the need for government. And in creating the need for governmnent, our moral freedom establishes the logical limitations on what government should do.

Here is a goodly excerpt from Jeff Jacoby's excellent column:

The Nazis' ultimate goal, Benedict argued, was to rip out Christian morality by its Jewish roots, replacing it with "a faith of their own invention: faith in the rule of man, the rule of the powerful." Hitler knew that his will to power could triumph only if he first destroyed Judeo-Christian values. In the Thousand-Year Reich, God and his moral code would be wiped out. Man, unencumbered by conscience, would reign in his place. It is the oldest of temptations, and Auschwitz is what it leads to.

"Where was God in those days?" asked the pope. How could a just and loving Creator have allowed trainload after trainload of human beings to be murdered at Auschwitz? But why ask such a question only in Auschwitz? Where, after all, was God in the Gulag? Where was God when the Khmer Rouge slaughtered 1.7 million Cambodians? Where was God during the Armenian holocaust? Where was God in Rwanda? Where is God in Darfur?

For that matter, where is God when even one innocent victim is being murdered or raped or abused?

The answer, though the pope didn't say so clearly, is that a world in which God always intervened to prevent cruelty and violence would be a world without freedom -- and life without freedom would be meaningless. God endows human beings with the power to choose between good and evil. Some choose to help their neighbor; others choose to hurt him. There were those in Nazi Europe who herded Jews into gas chambers. And there were those who risked their lives to hide Jews from the Gestapo.

The God "who spoke on Sinai" was not addressing himself to angels or robots who could do no wrong even if they wanted to. He was speaking to real people with real choices to make, and real consequences that flow from those choices. Auschwitz wasn't God's fault. He didn't build the place. And only by changing those who did build it from free moral agents into puppets could he have stopped them from committing their horrific crimes.

It was not God who failed during the Holocaust or in the Gulag, or on 9/11, or in Bosnia. It is not God who fails when human beings do barbaric things to other human beings. Auschwitz is not what happens when the God who says "Thou shalt not murder" and "Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself" is silent. It is what happens when men and women refuse to listen.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

A Spectator of Events

Well, it's time for the party of linkin'. Weekend impends. Tranquility beckons. The easy chair, the tall glass of something chilled, the feeling of utter relaxation: the perfect mood for a Jay Homnick column.

What did the old boy cover this week? Well, over at the Spectator he was bemoaning and bewailing the weird transmogrification of the '60s crowd into a bunch of killjoy spoilsports whose nouveau secular religion prohibits anything with a modicum of risk.

He used Al Gore's film as the foil. This new bit of cinema purportedly documents our sin against Ma Nature, bringing her to a slow boil with our excess. (Sad to have to criticise a movie directed by Elisabeth Shue's husband.) Well, we have moped enough about the mo-ped. It's his Democratic Party and he can cry if he wants to: count Jay out.

In his humor-in-events column over at Human Events, he chuckles at the chuckleheads of Right and Left who were all still gung-ho about collecting the phone tax, a relic of the Spanish-American war of 1898 that managed to function in three centuries. Finally, the courts tossed most of it out, saying it could only be applied to long-distance calls billed by the minute, which are becoming increasingly rare. So the government agreed to stop collecting it.

Although Jay does not go into that level of detail in the column, this is also a case of the arrogance of power. There has been no repeal, but because it has had its wings clipped, the Executive branch decides that it's just not worth the hassle. All in all, the workings of government, seen lately in a series of close-ups, have emerged as markedly unpretty.

An Excellent Aphorism

Chicago Tribune sports columnist Sam Smith, a very talented and imaginative writer, came up with a classic bit of satire in his column of today. Here it is:

An unscientific survey, by the way, is usually where we make up the results. That differs from a scientific survey, in which professional pollsters make up the results.

Funny and true.

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Return to a Familiar Theme: The Natural Law

Friends, neighbors, TRC'ers, I have returned. Your faithful correspondent was back in Waco taking his doctoral preliminary exams.

I can report two things.

First, I have now equalled one Dick Cheney in terms of progress toward the Ph.D. He is ABD and so am I. (Cue the Bentsen-tribute where a ghostly voice reminds me that I'm no Dick Cheney.)

Second, the subject of the natural law came up in a talk with a friend. She is very passionate about the rights of illegal aliens, border issues, etc. I happened to know prior to the conversation that she considers herself a "nontheist." If I understand correctly, the word nontheist is being used by some to get away from the highly negative associations attached to the word atheist.

Anyway, I listened to her talk about the rights of various people and finally had to ask: "Where do those rights come from?"

She thought about it and said, "I think I'd go with the Constitution on that." (This would strike some as a bad response, but it isn't so wrong. Just because one doesn't have all the constitutional rights as with a youth, prisoner, or illegal alien, it doesn't mean one has no constitutional rights.)

I replied, "Those are just words on a piece of paper. They could easily say something else."

She then returned, "I can't see the answer being natural law."

Me: Why not? I have a friend from Nigeria and we agree on the essentials. Lying is wrong. Stealing is wrong. Murder is wrong. Unprovoked assault is wrong. Yet, we are on opposite sides of the globe. These notions seem to be built into the structure of reality.

She: But there have been people who sacrificed virgins!

Me: That doesn't do anything to undercut natural law.

She: Huh?

Me: The people who have sacrificed virgins have offered justifications for doing so. In fact, they offer an ultimate justification -- to satisfy a god. What would damage natural law thinking would be if they thought it wonderful to sacrifice virgins for no reason at all. They may be wrong about the justification, but they aren't wrong that one must have a good one before murdering innocent people.

And at that, we had to switch the subject because she did not wish to be converted to natural law any more than to Christianity.

The Work Americans Won't Do

Last week, the normally able and perceptive economist Thomas Sowell published a series of three columns claiming to debunk the myths of immigration bill proponents. I do not disagree with his entire analysis: I do believe there that crass political opportunism is shaping large areas of the congressional debate, and the worries about unassimilated immigrants isolated by tongue and economic status need to be openly addressed.

However, I find it puzzling that a serious, thoughtful economist like Sowell makes this kind of mistake:

Even in occupations where illegals are concentrated, such as agriculture, cleaning, construction, and food preparation, the great majority of the work is still being done by people who are not illegal aliens.....(T)he highest concentration of illegals is in agriculture, where they are 24 percent of the people employed. That means three-quarters of the people are not illegal aliens. But when will the glib phrase-mongers stop telling us that the illegals are simply taking "jobs that Americans won't do"?

Professor Sowell knows full well that the level of aggregation used to construct large industry categories like "agriculture" and "construction" empties this statement of analytic content. He also knows, I would have thought better than I, that economic decisions are not about averages, but about what happens at the margin. The U.S. arguably has the freest labor markets in the world, yet the burden of regulation still affects hiring and production decisions at the margin. The use of illegal, off-books and grey market labor has for years been the safety valve that excused our politicos from having to confront the real costs imposed by the absurdly low levels of legal immigration permitted by our current laws.

We do not need illegal immigration; in fact, it is a national shame that we have looked the other way while it has gone on unabated ever since Simpson-Mazzoli. What we do need is greatly increased legal immigration. There should be no attempt to ration access to the U.S. labor market for any reasons other than criminal background or public health threat. Because there is one job Americans won't do, and haven't done for thirty years or more. Americans will not do the work of begetting and raising children.

The total fertility rate of American women fell below replacement in 1971, and although it has increased slightly since the rate hit bottom in 1976, Americans still do not replace themselves through reproduction. Even more telling , the percent of American women who age beyond childbearing without having borne a single child has, over the same time period, doubled -- from 10% to nearly 20%.

There are many adjustments an economy makes in the face of fewer, and therefore more expensive, workers. One, of course, is to replace labor with capital. The American economy is adept at such realignments, and if we insist on halting illegal immigration without substituting the legal kind, economic actors will make those adjustments. But there are some professions, and some industries, where there is a limit to how much a machine can do.

Thomas Sowell and Tom Tancredo and James Sensenbrenner may not think we need more workers to pick the strawberries, build the roads, or cut up the chickens. But who is going to drain their catheters, swab their bedsores, and spoon feed them Jello when they are too old and frail to blockade the borders?

Movies and Whether to Obsess

Being as we have young children about the house, we don't get out much. Heck, we don't even get to do all that much at home. But having joined the Netflix cult, we watched Mad Hot Ballroom last night, a movie about kids in NYC public schools preparing for and competing in the city's ballroom dance competition. To tell the truth, I was a bit disappointed in the documentary. It really dragged - too many shots of NYC streets and kids sort of playing, too little about the kids and how dance was fitting into their broader lives. You saw glimpses of their homes, their families, their neighborhoods, but that's it, just glimpses. One of the instructors disappeared from practices for about 45 minutes of the movie without any explanation. Some nice moments, but just got the feeling that the whole thing was a missed opportunity for the filmmakers.

It got me to thinking, though, about how we structure our kids' education. There is a part of me that thinks the most important thing is to try and help your kid become "well-rounded," exposed the variety of art, sports, literature, etc. that the world has to offer. Who doesn't want to be well-rounded, after all? But there's another part of me that thinks the thing to do is to help the child find the thing that really engages him and let him embrace that almost obsessively. The problem with being well-rounded is that, unless you're a polymath, you end up being mediocre at lots of things, and I think the obsession model (if I can put it that way) has the virtue of really engaging children in the pursuit of "excellence." Once you learn what excellence really feels like and have a desire to be excellent, whatever else you want to do flows thereon. Or so I muse...what say ye?

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Bob Kerrey and The New School Commencement

Bob Kerrey defends (sort of) his rowdy students' rude treatment of Sen. McCain at The New School's commencement:

I now speak in defense of the behavior of my students – the minority who protested and the majority who did not. On the surface, some of the tactics of the protest were rude, noisy, and disrespectful. Less obvious, however, was the self-restraint that prevented the protestors from behaving in a fashion that would have shut down the commencement or made it impossible for Senator McCain or me to continue. Though many in the audience – including Senator McCain and I – were offended by the heckling, at no time were we in danger of not being able to proceed. By the end of the program, we had awarded five honorary degrees and graduated 2,630 students in The New School’s 70th Commencement ceremony.

More importantly -- and also lost in the charges and counter-charges -- is this fact: student protests are a necessary and essential part of democratic free expression. Did we not love the brave and disrespectful students at Tiananmen? Did we not applaud the determination of the student led movements that helped bring down the dictators that ruled Eastern Europe in 1991? Have we forgotten the critical difference students made in reversing an unlawful election in Ukraine or in driving the Syrians from Lebanon or who still seethe in discontent under the religious law of Iran’s mullahs?

So, let's see. The students are to be commended because they didn't upend the ceremonies or prevent McCain from speaking. Talk about low expectations. Then, we should embrace student rowdiness because....well, because students have been important in the overthrow of noxious dictatorships. So Sen. McCain is comparable to noxious dictatorships? And what's so special about students anyway? Sometimes they're on the side of liberty and sometimes they're on the side of the dictators (as they were in the 1979 Iranian Revolution).

Better to say that they just acted immaturely.

The Christianity Today Book Awards

Christianity Today has their book awards out. I've read two of them (Jacobs' book on C.S. Lewis and Christian Smith's book on teenager spirituality). Some good stuff there.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Merry, But Quite Contrary

A conclusion is boring its way inexorably into my consciousness: namely, the people in Washington whom I write about think in lines that run opposite to mine. Perhaps I have become a true contrarian. (My definition of 'contrarian': a farmer who marries the traveling salesman's daughter.)

For example, I thought nothing of the fact that the FBI executed a search warrant in the Capitol building. That did not "chill me" in the least. There was a suspicion, a judge issued a warrant, everything was aboveboard.

But what chills the marrow in my bones is President Bush issuing an "order" to seal the evidence for 45 days. This was the calming move designed to defuse a constitutional crisis? An executive gives an order to a policing body not to examine the evidence that it has lawfully collected in an active investigation. Now, that is scary. Have you ever seen a mayor instruct a police commissioner in this manner? Or a governor instruct a state's attorney? Very unpleasantly autocratic in my book.


As I have been remiss lately in linking my columns, here are two weeks worth.

1) Last Friday, at Spectator, my proposal to allow Mexico a role in jointly policing the border.
2) This Wednesday, at Spectator, my analysis of the difference between our inability to fight against evil purposes and our ability to fight against evil tactics.
3) Last Wednesday, at Human Events, my observation that the immigration situation yielded some good news for conservatives, in that they were able to push back and affect the orientation of the debate.
4) Yesterday, at Human Events, my comedy-laden attack on the habit of debating and voting on long bills that nobody has read but a few scheming aides.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

GDP Surprises

Real GDP has grown at a 4 percent annual rate ever since the second quarter of 2003, when marginal tax rates were reduced on dividends, capital gains and human capital (professional and managerial salaries). Real GDP from nonfarm businesses did even better – rising at an annual rate of 4.7 percent. Some call that a coincidence.

What has been most surprising is that the economy did so well despite the burden of increasingly expensive imported oil. Part of the answer is that U.S. exports have grown very rapidly -- particularly exports of manufactured and farm goods rather than services. Since the third quarter of 2003, real exports of goods have increased a 9.7 percent annual rate, while imports of goods (including oil, of course) increased at a 9.2 percent rate.

The GDP report contains a useful measure of inflation which minimizes the use of estimates and is instead “based on household expenditures for which there are observable price measures.” It is called Market-based PCE (personal consumption expenditures).

With energy and food included, the market-based PCE rose at 3.9 percent rate in the third quarter of 2005, 2.6 percent in fourth quarter and 1.7 percent in the first quarter of 2006. The “core” version, without food and energy, was 1.5 percent in 2004, 1.7 percent in 2005 and 1.6 percent in the most recent quarter. Food is essentially irrelevant -- energy alone is what creates the statistical illusion of inflation (such as that 3.9 percent annualized figure in the third quarter).

Aside from the relative price of energy, I have yet to see anyone present any evidence of higher inflation. I have seen many words about higher inflation, but no facts. The consumer price index less energy rose 2.2 percent in 2004 and 2005 and it also rose 2.2 percent for the 12 months ending in April. The April PPI was only 0.8 percent higher than a year before.

Rising energy costs do reduce real wage growth and squeeze profit margins in energy-gobbling industries. Yet U.S. business has been coping surprisingly well.

If it ain’t broke, don’t ask the Fed to fix it.

The Pedagogy of Transnationalism

Leave it to professional educators to come up with the next groundbreaking pedagogy that challenges U.S. uniqueness. Thomas Bender, an NYU historian, in his new book A Nation Among Nations: America’s Place In World History embodies this position.

In his words, national histories “are taught in schools and brought into public discourses to forge and sustain national identities, presenting the self contained nation as the natural carrier of history. That way of writing and teaching history has exhausted itself. In its place, I want to elaborate a new framing for U.S. history, one that rejects the terroritorial space of the nation as a sufficient context and argues for the transnational nature of national histories.”

Bender is not alone in this pursuit. Amy Guttman, president of the University of Pennsylvania, and Richard Sennett, a distinguished scholar at NYU, among others, share this transnational bias. There is a point to be made, albeit an obvious point: the history of one nation is related to events in other nations.

This obvious point aside, there is a philosophical assumption that underlies this transnational movement. It is a belief in internationalism as a form of cultural relativism. Whether that is the intent of these scholars is immaterial. The net result of this effort is to diminish American exceptionalism and emphasize the United States as having one history among others. Moreover, these scholars do not want what they would describe as an ethnocentric or an “exclusive” notion of citizenship, but rather a “cosmopolitan citizenship,” a citizen of the world.

Yet this view has poignant implications. What does it mean to be a citizen of the globe? How do you instill sentiments of national loyalty if you subordinate exceptional characteristics? And aren’t there exceptional characteristics in American history that should be emphasized?

Clearly the passions that undergird historical events may cross geographic lines, but does the history of Zimbabwe have anything in common with that of the United States?

The idea that one is a citizen of the world is compelling in the sense that people should be aware of and understand others. History, of course, has linkages across time and space. But Islam has not produced a Martin Luther. Iran has not had a George Washington or Alexander Hamilton. And our sense of the free market has been described by French “intellectuals" as “cowboy economics.”

Ultimately it is the differences that count. In fact, transnationalism as an idea is a distinctly American phenomenon. Would the Chinese consider this topic as a basis for study? Or the Saudis?

As I see it, the history of the United States is not but one history among many; it is a unique history that has produced the most free, open and prosperous society the world has known, despite its many flaws. To suggest that the history of exceptionalism is “exhausted” is to suggest the U.S. is exhausted, a point of view that is difficult to sustain even though many have tried to do so.

That transnationalism as an idea has gained ground is undeniable. The subject came up obliquely during the Congressional debate on immigration. Some liberal advocates of immigration reform even suggesting that national borders are meaningless since we are all citizens of the globe. It is instructive that some Mexicans who make this argument ignore the rigid restrictions that government imposes on its own immigrant population.

It is also the case that attempts to restrict membership in the U.N. Human Rights Commission to only those nations that uphold human rights was rejected with the claim all people have a stake in human rights. Alas, all people have a stake, but some nations intentionally deny these rights to their own people and yet have the ability to serve as a jury on violations elsewhere.

Karl Marx argued that the chains which bind men transcend national identification. But communism’s fall from grace occurred precisely because of national beliefs. The power of an ideology rarely dissipates national sentiment.

While transnationalism has traction at the moment, I hope it is a passing pedagogical fad, like the “new math” or “whole language” reading. Then again I always hope for the best.

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

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

The Soulless University

A review of what looks to be an interesting book lamenting higher education's lack of concern for shaping moral beings. As much as I'm tempted to think that the thesis is right, I suspect that it's perhaps a bit off - universities are in the business of shaping souls, two different kinds of souls, in fact.

On one side, universities are busy trying to create "good citizens," by which they usually mean political progressives. Lots of schools now require as a matter of course "service learning" components, pushing students into "volunteer" work as a way of exposing them to the poorer parts of our society. Speech codes, conferences, orientation sessions, condemnation of "conservative" campus political activity, and so on are all designed to push students to the Left politically. (That such efforts often fail says more about competence than intention).

On the other side, universities are also busy trying to create productive workers. Universities seem almost obsessed these days with having big endowments and the way to get there is to have economically successful graduates. This dovetails nicely with the broadly held conception that college is all about getting "certified" for a lucrative career. (Go to most any website for a humanities department and almost inevitably you'll see a list of things one can "do" with that major). So universities inflate grades, ease requirements, beautify dorms (if you haven't seen renovated dorm life in the modern university, you'd be shocked to see how nicely many students now live), and do dozens of other things as a way of making sure that students "succeed" while they're there and can make it once they leave (and start receiving those solicitations for donations for the next capital campaign).

So the modern university isn't soulless at all - it's organized and oriented toward producing the postmodern man: lightly attached to "progressive" political causes and willing to do his part provided that it doesn't get too much in the way of the accumulation of riches and pleasures.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Buch Review

People of my age (48) were raised on the humor of Art Buchwald. Unlike Rocky Marciano, he did not retire undefeated, so most of us drifted away at some point.

Still, Buchwald, even in his dotage, even with a limb amputated, even staring death in the face, has retained a remarkable, dignified aplomb. It is well worth reading this article, which describes his soldiering on despite having been told six months ago that he had three weeks to live.

When he departs, we shall be the poorer.

Bentsen Burner

The passing of Lloyd Bentsen has elicited from Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid the quasi-elegiac assessment that Mr. Bentsen was the best Senator ever from the great State of Texas.

In case you do not have the list of those Longhorn luminaries committed to memory, please follow this link.

You can't make sausage without breaking links, of course, but is it really necessary to put Uncle Lloyd ahead of Sam Houston and Lyndon Johnson to make the point that he was a fine, capable public servant?

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


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.