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

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Whither Justice In Transaction?

As our technologies have ramified, certain aspects of knowledge have become more, not less, problematical. Much of this stems from the recognition that a new device or practice can have long-range effects that might not be visible in the near term. Much of the rest arises from the entirely excusable ignorance of the average citizen about, well, just about everything.

The extremely simple legal environment of the nineteenth century was founded on a set of extremely simple principles, which are no longer honored. One of these, the doctrine of assumption of risk, undergirded all commercial transactions. It made it possible for employers and employees to contract for any sort of labor, under any sort of conditions, and for vendors to sell potentially harmful products to customers, without fear that a lawsuit might reverse their a priori agreements to indemnify / hold harmless. But assumption of risk came under heavy fire in the early twentieth century, and began to be displaced by the doctrine of informed consent: the principle that a man could not be bound by a contractual agreement of any sort unless he had been fully informed of all the pertinent risks and had explicitly consented to them.

Informed consent has been taking a beating these past few decades, mostly because of Calabresian "legal positivism" and "deep pockets" liability theory. In essence, the prevailing view in American civil courts today is that, given the complexity of technology and society, no one is sufficiently well informed of the risks pertaining to anything to enter into a binding agreement to indemnify or hold harmless any other involved party under any conceivable set of circumstances. In consequence, such agreements, wherever we may find them -- and they're more numerous than one might imagine -- are considered "flypaper," and are dismissed or rewritten by judges at whim. The same is true for every sort of contract, for, once accepted, the assumption that only judges have the insight required to write a binding agreement knows no bounds.

The rot in our tort law proceeds directly from this absence of contractability. Without the ability to enter into a binding contract, persons desirous of transacting with one another must commit to a sequel of infinite uncertainty. Each is at the mercy of the intentions and character of the other. Under these circumstances, the most valuable thing a man can have, the sole protection he can offer a would-be partner in commerce, is an unstained reputation...the very thing one can most easily lose in a milieu where law is infinitely luxurious and infinitely elastic, slander is commonplace and usually escapes punishment, and no standard of proof can free a man from the invidiousness of the lumpenproletariat or the Fourth Estate. It puts one in mind of a passage from Atlas Shrugged:

Rearden, that evening, his coat collar raised, his hat slanted low over his eyes, the snow drifts rising to his knees, was tramping through an abandoned open-pit coal mine, in a forsaken corner of Pennsylvania, supervising the loading of pirated coal upon the trucks which he had provided. Nobody owned the mine, nobody could afford the cost of working it. But a young man with a brusque voice and dark, angry eyes, who came from a starving settlement, had organized a gang of the unemployed and made a deal with Rearden to deliver the coal. They mined it at night, they stored it in hidden culverts, they were paid in cash, with no questions asked or answered. Guilty of a fierce desire to remain alive, they and Rearden traded like savages, without rights, titles, contracts, or protection, with nothing but mutual understanding and a ruthlessly absolute observance of one's given word. Rearden did not even know the name of the young leader. Watching him at the job of loading the trucks, Rearden thought that this boy, if born a generation earlier, would have become a great industrialist; now, he would probably end his brief life as a plain criminal in a few more years.

However, few legal scholars -- Thomas and Epstein are exceptions -- are willing to consider returning even to an informed-consent standard, much less the sterner assumption-of-risk rules that governed the Nineteenth Century.

From where is the next fundamental principle of justice-in-transaction to come? Will it be some product centuries in the making, slowly turned by jurists from Blackstone through Holmes on the lathe of our legal system, or will it arrive all at once, a jewel unearthed by a single brilliant mind in a flash of unprecedented insight, as the theory of property rights occurred to John Locke?

More important, with the costs of human interaction mounting steadily in consequence of the mounting uncertainty of all dealings, what, apart from our sterling characters, shall we use in the meantime?

The Need for Moral Courage (ABC's Path to 9/11, Part 2)

Part 2 of the ABC miniseries The Path to 9/11, which aired last night, was, if anything, more critical of the Bush administration's obliviousness to the threat of al Quaeda than it was of the Clinton admin. Yet I hear no complaints about it, nor any threats of censorship.

The film's critique of the Bush administration is basically that it didn't get up to speed quickly enough (which is rather to be expected when the enormous White House bureaucracy switches parties) and was too devoted to political correctness prior to 9/11.

Regarding the former, then-National Security Advisor Condoleeza Rice comes off as manipulative and unprepared to run a big office. That may be true or it may not be, but it certainly does not suggest that she is responsible for 9/11. Hence: no harm, no foul.

Regarding the Bush administration's continuation of the previous team's concern for political correctness, throughout the narrative leading up to Sept. 11, 2001, a concern over "racial profiling" prevents the nation's defense and policing agencies from picking up and holding obvious terrorists. This was a huge error, of course, and was something many people had warned was posing a serious danger. Now we know.

In a very revealing scene in episode 2, a terrorist who has been taken in for questioning insists that the agency release him, stating, "I have rights!" The agents accept this and ultimately release him. This was a disastrous policy.

Fortunately, the notion that aliens have the same constitutional rights as citizens has been set aside, as it should, in the years since 9/11. I recommended this less than a week after that day, in fact.

The lesson to learn from this aspect of the 9/11 story is clear:

People without moral courage hate to make distinctions.

The making of distinctions is central to human reason and is a good thing that should never be suppressed. In real life, relativism is not an option. And, based as it is on relativism, hard multiculturalism is not an option.

An alien is a person of different status from a citizen, and that is a distinction that society must accept. Certainly vistors to our country should not be mistreated, but holding an obvious terrorist in custody for more than 24 hours is not an atrocity; it is simple common sense.

The other impression one gets from last night's episode is that the sub-agencies of the Bush administration had more than enough information to suspect that the 9/11 attacks were coming and could have prevented it by grounding all air traffic on that day. That appears to be more than a bit of a stretch, but it makes for compelling TV drama and fulfills the central purpose of a docudrama. That is, as I mentioned yesterday, "to tell a whacking good story through the use of historical events" and thereby afford us insights into human nature and the world around us, in addition to helping us understand the issues surrounding the matter at hand.

The big lesson to learn from The Path to 9/11 and the real life events that inspired it is the need for moral courage. A people without it is a people doomed to destruction.

From Karnick on Culture.

Brad Pitt: 'I'll marry when everyone can'

Oh dear. Is it already time for another installment of Hollywood’s social conscience?

Brad Pitt, ever the social activist, says he won't be marrying Angelina Jolie until the restrictions on who can marry whom are dropped. "Angie and I will consider tying the knot when everyone else in the country who wants to be married is legally able," the 42-year-old actor reveals in Esquire magazine's October issue, on newsstands Sept. 19.

One wonders what Mr. Pitt expects us to make of such a statement. Had he employed such a line to keep some mistress du jour at bay, we would simply smirk and move on. But since Ms. Jolie does not strike me as someone unable to get her way, I think we can safely assume that she’s in on the whole thing too. Far be it from moi to question their motives, but what exactly are a couple of millionaire divorcees who have been living together for over a year sacrificing by not getting married? Are they going to go Old School, and forswear sex until same-sex marriage becomes the law of the land?

Or is it more likely that, in an effort to keep the Billy Bush’s and Nancy O’Dell’s of the world from asking the same friggin ‘When are you two kids gonna get married?’ question for the umpteenth-thousand time, Mr. Pitt figured that throwing traditional marriage under the bus might be a classic Hollywood Win-Win?

Well played, Mr. Pitt. But I hope realize that you're not the only one with deeply held beliefs, and there are a large number of us that still hold traditional marriage to be sacred. Are you really willing to pay the price for your convictions? You don't need to work in Hollywood to be an activist, and we watch an awful lot of movies.

So I hope you'll hear me loud and clear when I pledge to never watch or buy some of your movies ever again.

Take that.

* I absolutely adored 'A River Runs Through It' - so there's no way I'm giving that one up. And people really seem to enjoy the 'Ocean's' series - so I still plan on seeing those sometime too. But the promos for 'Interview with a Vampire' always creeped me out, and given your disdain for marriage, you can definitely count me out on that one. Unless some friends want to come over and watch it.

Monday, September 11, 2006

My Own Private 9/11

At 7:46 AM Central Daylight Time on September 11, 2001, I was rushing my kids out the front door to the bus stop. It was a typical early fall day in the Upper Midwest: gray, chilly, and unpromising. I argued briefly with Rachel about wearing a jacket. I lost.

My husband was a 3L at the University of Minnesota School of Law; I was a research fellow in the School of Public Health. He had only been back in Minneapolis for a few days, after a Washington DC summer associateship at a large, well heeled downtown firm. We were anxious about receiving a permanent offer for 2002, but otherwise life was going about as smoothly as it ever seemed to go for us. We owned a little Arts and Crafts Tudor revival on the western edge of Minneapolis proper, next to a city park. Our neighbors were mostly liberal neo-urbanists with "Free Leonard Peltier" bumper stickers and bake sale flyers for Sara Jane Olsen's defense fund, but Minneapolis civic etiquette is largely live and let live and they overlooked our American flag/Fox News/Catholic school household's peculiarities as long as we kept our sidewalk shoveled in the winter.

John wasn't re-adjusting to a school schedule very smoothly, and I heard low-level radio snooze alarm warfare proceeding upstairs. I put a load of clothes in the dryer and headed towards the back door to leave for work when John barreled down the stairs, practically knocking me down and in obvious alarm. "Turn the TV on. The radio just said a plane has crashed into the World Trade Center."

We switched on Fox. I still don't know if we saw the second plane impact live at 8:03, or if they were already replaying it. John started surfing for news on the computer. I sat on the couch and stared for awhile. I was very shaken, but this was something remote, that was taking place hundreds of miles away. It certainly didn't seem a good excuse to miss work or school. No one on screen seemed to know anything concrete either, and it was still not absolutely clear that it wasn't some hideous accident. So after half an hour or so John started for the shower, and I fumbled for my purse. And Fox News reported that a plane had hit the Pentagon, and I yelled at John, and sat down again.

What seems strange now is that it took so long for it to sink in that this was not analogous to a hurricane or a tornado or even the Oklahoma City bombing. This affected the whole country. I was still thinking I needed to get to work. Our federal contract for Medicare data support had just been renewed, and Tuesday afternoons were my shift on the help desk. I still had no notion that the entire country would be paralyzed. So I left for work, now more than an hour late. In the few moments between the back door and the garage, the first tower collapsed. On the way to campus, local news announced that the university was closing and all students were being sent home. Evacuation of the 57-story IDS Tower, Minneapolis's tallest building, was under discussion. I thought it all sounded silly. This was happening in strategically important cities, not Minneapolis.

The parking lot was almost completely empty by the time I arrived on campus. I parked anyway, and walked to my office. The shuttle buses didn't seem to be running. The office was deserted. My boss was in Atlanta for a conference, so it wouldn't be surprising even under normal circumstances that the secretaries would bug out early for lunch. But none of the other faculty or fellows were around either. I sat down for my shift anyway, the radio tuned to KSTP and searching the computer for live news feeds.

No one called all afternoon. I was alone in the building. I kept picking up the phone to make sure the lines weren't dead. John called when the kids got off the schoolbus. They were a little spooked, but the school hadn't made a big fuss. They had held a prayer service. They knew something very bad had happened, but not exactly what, and were fuzzy on the where as well.

There were seven cars in the parking lot when I left work. The parking attendant was gone. Someone had tied an improvised American flag to the open gate. I stopped at the liquor store on my way up University Avenue. I was still trying to make the day normal; I stopped there every Tuesday and Friday. There was a radio tuned to the news. The employees looked worn and old, pale green under the fluorescent lights. I bought cider and wine, spent more than usual. I tried to chat up the cashier. She tried to respond.

I guess I made dinner that night. I made dinner every night. I guess I bathed the kids and read them a story and tucked them in. I did that every night. But I don't remember that. I remember seeing John Fund interviewed on Fox. John Fund, who is usually so brash and caustic, so snarky, so full of himself. John Fund looked out his window and saw people jump from the tops of the towers, and watched them fall, and his voice broke, and he couldn't speak any more. I opened a bottle of wine, watched the self-confident and unflappable public personae at a loss for words, and I got very, very drunk.

The next morning, I didn't just shoo the kids out the door to the bus stop. I walked to the corner with them. And I turned around to walk back to our house, and looked down the length of York Avenue. Every house was flying an American flag.

I sat on this post a long time, because the potential for saccharine self-indulgence is almost limitless. In the end, the pros seemed to outweigh the cons. The comments are open to anyone who wants to post a private reflection. No partisan bickering, please.

ABC's Path to 9/11: Analysis

Part 1 of ABC's The Path to 9/11 two-part docudrama aired last night, and reactions from political types were largely as expected.
This photo, supplied by ABC, shows Harvey Keitel who plays FBI counterterrorism expert John O'Neill, in a scene from ABC's miniseries'The Path to 9/11.' The two-part film is a dramatization of the events detailed in The 9/11 Commission Report and other sources which airs on Sunday. Sept. 10, and Monday, Sept. 11, 2006. Former Clinton administration officials criticized the miniseries, saying it distorts history so drastically that it should be corrected or shelved.(AP Photo/ABC, Peter Stranks)

Supporters of former president Bill Clinton complained about some scenes in advance copies of the program (which were altered before airing, to reflect their concerns), some on the political right were disgusted by leftists' calls for censorship and retaliation against ABC, and others on the right took what they apparently considered to be the high road, claiming that the film's condensation of certain events into dramatic scenes was outrageous. The latter included Bill Bennett, Bill O'Reilly, John Podhoretz, and John Fund.

Fund, in his Opinion Journal article on the film, even goes so far as to say that it is fundamentally dishonorable to make docudramas: "Their rules simply aren't good enough when dealing with events that are still fresh in the minds of so many. At worst, they can be used by ideological gunslingers like director Oliver Stone, who smeared the reputations of Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon in paranoid fantasy films."

That seems to me to be a serious overreaction to this film, as indeed were the reactions of the Democrat opponents of the film. The rules for dramas are different from the rules for histories, and they should be.

It's a movie, people.

Everyone involved seems to have no idea whatever of the purpose of a docudrama.

For the rest of this analysis, click here.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

New Film to "Speak Language of Sex" to Mainstream Audiences

Another item for our ongoing Everything Happens in the Omniculture department:

Shortbus, a film that is highly sexually explicit but allegedly not salacious according to its director, has received a distribution agreement to appear in mainstream theaters in the United States and elsewhere. It is not clear at this point how widely it will be distributed in the United States. Reuters reports:
Three months after John Cameron Mitchell showed his sexually explicit film "Shortbus" out of competition at the Cannes film festival, he said it had attracted distributors in dozens of countries, including the United States, Canada, Japan, France and Singapore.

"People are ready for change. There is a thirst for something different," Mitchell told reporters on Friday at the Toronto International Film Festival, where "Shortbus" was set for its North American premiere before an October opening in the United States.

Mitchell aims to use sex as a metaphor to tell a story about people looking for solace and searching for something more in their lives in a post-September 11 world.

"What pissed me off was that it was ... generically identified of as porn," Mitchell said of his film. "We are not trying to do anything salacious here. That is just the language which we speak."

The film is graphic: Scenes include a man being whipped by a dominatrix as he masturbates and a straight couple having sex in a variety of positions.

But pornographic? Mitchell argues not.

"Porn is really to arouse. This film explores the other areas of sex," he said.

The story revolves around two couples, one straight and one gay, accompanied by a few other lonely souls.

From Karnick on Culture.

Does a Man Own Himself?

Who is the only Jewish winner of a Heisman Trophy?

---Fred Goldman.

That was the joke a few years back when O.J. Simpson was found liable in a civil trial for the wrongful death of Ron Goldman on the awful night of June 12, 1994. Father Fred won a judgment of what is now with accrued interest $38 million, which Simpson has never paid off.

Yes, he really did get the trophy, which was auctioned off for $382,000, the proceeds split with Nicole Brown Simpson's survivors, the only money they've seen. And so, he and the Brown family want to own O.J. Simpson, at least his public self, even his autograph.

Now, John Locke was very big on self-ownership, and it certainly was ludicrous when the copyright holder of the Creedence Clearwater Revival catalog, Saul Zaentz, sued John Fogerty for plagiarizing himself.

But a public image has been recognized as a legal and commercial commodity entirely separate from one's private personhood. Such a weird world we live in.

A Los Angeles attorney, Bela Lugosi, Jr. (yes, that one), has become a specialist in defending the commercial rights of name and likeness for the estates, survivors and copyright holders of the famous. Lugosi, Jr. helped win a trial for the legal owners of the Three Stooges' images, so I guess he's pretty good.

I wish he'd been around a few years ago.

"If only I'd sent that blue dress to Dan's Dry Cleaners. I would've
got Osama bin Laden, and 9/11 would never have happened."

Bill Clinton™, Inc., ©2006 is a wholly owned subsidiary
of Paula Jones Enterprises. All Rights Reserved.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

More on The Path to 9/11

Our new friend Akaky Bashmachkin weighs in very thoughtfully on the controversy, and by popular demand, we gratefully promote his considerations from our comments section to the mainpage:

This, I think, brings up the question of just how much accuracy can anyone expect from any art form depicting a historical event. Hollywood is notorious for rewriting history in order to get a better story on film, but it isn’t just Hollywood that has done this over the years. In Henry V, for example, Shakespeare has his Chorus apologize to the audience for mangling the full course of his characters’ glory and for turning the accomplishment of many years into an hourglass. The play contains the battle of Agincourt and then follows the battle with the Treaty of Troyes, where in fact Henry fought the battle in 1415 and signed the treaty with the French in 1420. In 1942, Warner Brothers had Gary Cooper play the great Lou Gehrig in Pride of the Yankees. One of the high points of that film is Cooper’s rendition of Gehrig’s famous speech at Yankee Stadium, the one in which he proclaimed himself the luckiest man on the face of the earth. Cooper gives a moving performance, giving the speech wonderfully, until you realize, as many people did at the time, that Gary Cooper gives the speech in his own Montana accent, whereas Lou Gehrig not only played for a New York team, he was born and raised in New York City, and spoke with a New York accent. And in the greatest of all historical fictions, Tolstoy’s War and Peace, Tolstoy depicts Field Marshal Kutuzov as an earthy son of the Russian soil, almost a peasant military genius, not at all like the smooth courtier the actual Kutuzov really was.

So, what is the responsibility of artists when it comes to depicting actual events? I think that the standard in such a case must be that the producers and writers do their level best to be historically accurate. You do not have major historical characters say or do things they did not actually say or do. The producers should restrict compression of time and character to events and people not absolutely central to the story. If a historical character must deal with a fictional character, then it behooves the artist putting these two people together to have the historical character say or do nothing that would offend the historical record. In Shelby Foote’s Shiloh and in Herman Wouk’s The Winds of War and War and Remembrance, for example, both authors made certain that they had their historical characters interact with the fictional ones in the places where the real people really were at the time depicted, and both men had all their characters hew closely to the historical record.

In the case of this film, if the charges of slanting are true, and I should point out that as I write this it is the Saturday before the film is broadcast, so I have not seen it yet, then at least some of the Clinton administration officials upset by this film have every right to be. Ms. Albright, for one, is a woman whose opinions on foreign policy I almost never agree with, but she has spent years serving this country faithfully and deserves better than to have someone basically accuse her of tipping off Osama bin Laden that the United States had launched a cruise missile strike against him. This, I think, is uncalled for and unnecessary.

As for Mr. Berger’s complaint, it strikes me that Mr. Berger is singularly lacking in irony here. A man who tries to distort the historical record by stealing documents out of the National Archives should be the last person on the planet to accuse others of trying to alter history. Still, his ire, and the ire of the Clintonistas is understandable; no one likes being accused of aiding and abetting a mass murderer, no one likes being accused of negligence and dereliction of duty. It is easy, five years after the event, to pick out the relevant intelligence from all of the background noise, to see the dots that someone should have connected, to see that certain policies harmed rather than helped those responsible for the day to day running of the nation’s intelligence and law enforcement agencies. And yet, for eight years, these were the people responsible for those agencies.

What happened in New York on September 11, 2001 did not come out of the blue; it was the final blow in an ever-mounting series of attacks on Americans and American interests around the world. From the bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993 to the attacks on the Khobar towers in 1996 to the East African embassy bombings in 1998 to the attack on the USS Cole in 2000, al-Qaeda and its minions hit the United States again and again, even, at one point, publicly declaring war on the United States. The Clinton Administration did launch missile attacks on al-Qaeda camps after these attacks, and did set up intelligence groups to track and locate bin Laden, but it is clear that they did not take the threat seriously enough and neither did the incoming Bush Administration in 2001. Both administrations dropped the ball when it came to this threat, both administrations refusing to take bin Laden at his word. Both administrations filed him away as a minor annoyance, a man capable of minor terrorist attacks that might get a few people killed but unable to harm any long-term American interest. Both administrations were wrong, and three thousand people paid for their mistakes with their lives.

ABC Continues Edits on 9/11 Miniseries, Will Air It Despite Dems' Protests

Still shot from ABC TV miniseries The Path to 9/11E! Online reports that ABC is carrying on with its Path to 9/11 miniseries despite complaints by former president Bill Clinton and threats of retaliation from high-ranking Democrat politicians:

Don't believe the hype. Or believe it. Either way, don't decide either way until you've watched all five hours.

That's pretty much the gist of ABC's message to potential viewers of the network's two-part miniseries The Path to 9/11, which airs commercial-free Sunday and Monday. (Ironically there will now be a 20-minute break Monday at 9 p.m. to accommodate a speech from President Bush.

While ABC has stated that the $40 million production is still in the editing process and is being slightly tweaked in response to concerns that it unfairly attacks the Clinton administration for failure to act on terrorist threats in the years leading up to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the network has not bowed to pressure from former Cabinet members and left-wing groups to "dump," "yank" or otherwise pull the movie from the schedule.

ABC has altered at least some of the scenes that have been criticized:

According to reports, a scene alluding to the idea that then-National Security Adviser Sandy Berger put the kibosh on an order to kill bin Laden has been "toned down."

"That sequence has been the focus of attention," a source close to the production told the Los Angeles Times.

ABC has also altered the credits to say that the film is "based in part" on the 9/11 Commission Report rather than "based on" the document.

An ABC executive told the Washington Post that any changes that were made "intended to make clearer that it was general indecisiveness, not any one individual," that left the United States vulnerable to attack on 9/11.

Hopes of opponents of the miniseries were disappointed when 9/11 commission member Tom Keane not only refused to condemn the film but instead strongly endorsed it:

Ex-New Jersey Governor Thomas Keane, who chaired the 9/11 commission and served as a consultant on The Path to 9/11, was asked to pull his weight with the filmmakers to have the project scrapped, but he has since spoken out in support of the picture.

"It's something the American people should see," Keane said during an interview on Good Morning America Friday. "Because you understand how these people wanted to do us harm, developed this plot and how the machinations of the American government under two administrations not only failed to stop them, but even failed to slow them down."

Keane did ask the filmmakers to take some of the complaints into consideration, however.

"These are people of integrity," Keane told the Post. "I know there are some scenes where words are put in characters' mouths. But the whole thing is true to the spirit of 9/11."

My opinion: The events that led up to the 9/11 attack are an important matter for public discussion which greatly merits further analysis, as we should all want to know exactly what in American policy worked and what did not, and the presentation of this miniseries will be a very good thing if it stimulates such a discussion.

From Karnick on Culture.

Perry Mason Season 1, Volume 2 DVD Announced

CBS Home Video has announced that volume two of season one of Perry Mason, the popular 1950s-'60s TV series based on the character created by Erle Stanley Gardner will go on sale on November 21.

The five-disc set will include the last twenty episodes of the first season. Volume 1 included the first 19 episodes.

That is all the information about the new DVD set available at this time. For information on the Perry Mason Season 1, Volume 1 DVD, click here.

For more on Perry Mason and author Gardner, see my Weekly Standard article on "The Case of the Bestselling Author" here. For more information on the Season 1 Volume 1 DVD and an important addition to my Weekly Standard article, see this Karnick on Culture post.

Here's the cover art for the DVD edition:

Perry Mason s 1 v 2 DVD cover art

From Karnick on Culture.

Friday, September 08, 2006

If It's on Film, It's Got to Be True

Realizing that many people get their education in history from the movies, Michael Moore dashed off a passionate note to Roger Ebert: "If I state something as a fact, I need the viewers to trust that those facts are correct." (And we do, Michael.)

So Bill Clinton and members of his administration have a bulletproof point here: If Sandy Berger didn't hang up the phone on a CIA operative ready to whack Osama bin Laden, and if Madeleine Albright didn't tip off Pakistan resulting in Osama slipping away on another occasion, such actions should not be attributed to actual political personages---living or dead.

There is always a duty to truth. Now, it really doesn't matter that the Philadelphia Eagle in Invincible didn't, in actual fact, scoop up the fumble and return it for the winning touchdown, and it's only a minor irritation that people think the Roman emperor Commodus died at the hands of Russell Crowe and not the Pretorian Guard. But the acts ascribed to Berger and Albright are more of the same info-nonsense, and are potentially far more corrosive. The Clintonites have a reason to kick.

Apparently unnoticed by the producers of The Path To 9/11, though, was that the Clinton administration often and provably did nothing (and worse) when it could have: turning down Sudan's offer to hand over bin Laden, and instituting the perverse legal "wall" of separation between intelligence agencies that likely let the 9-11 attackers slip through. (The latter being the work of administration attorney Jamie Gorelick, who eventually sat on the 9-11 commission. Hmmm.)

The proper slapping down of the producers' overreach and dramatic license, which in fine Hollywood tradition did not let the truth stand in the way of a good story, will result in an apparent vindication of the Clinton administration, and throw more dirt on where the skeletons are really buried. And that's the real offense to history and to truth, especially in these epistemologically troubled times.

Bill Clinton's lucky streak continues. He dropped the ball many times, but so far there has been no Eagle to pick it up and run it back.

"It is critically important to the safety of our nation that our citizens, and particularly our school children, understand what actually happened and why - so that we can proceed from a common understanding of what went wrong and act with unity to make our country safer."---Jamie Gorelick

You got one right for once, ma'am. The tragedies of the Clinton administration were never in what they did, but in what they couldn't bring themselves to do.

Did I mention I'm from Philadelphia?


Late Add: John Podhoretz agrees, to the letter. Scary.


The Disney organization's production "The Path To 9/11" has prompted Senate Democrats to threaten to revoke ABC's broadcasting license unless the mini-series is revamped to conform to their specifications.

We have at last a genuine example of a threat of censorship: the use of State power to punish an organization for something it has said. Indeed, this goes further than that, in that those Democratic Senators are exercising their threat prior to the "statement" represented by the mini-series. That makes it a case of politically powered extortion, which would surely be adjudged a felony if any private party were to try it.

But wait! There is an exception to the First Amendment's protection of freedom of speech: the laws against slander and libel. Smith has slandered Jones if he has made defamatory oral statements about Jones that Smith cannot substantiate. Smith has libeled Jones if he has allowed such statements to be printed or broadcast.

Note the qualifying clause: " that Smith cannot substantiate." A defendant in a slander or libel action can escape unscathed by asserting and demonstrating the truth of his statements. So if ABC could produce evidence to support the statements made in "The Path To 9/11" to which those Senate Democrats object, the objectors would lose their case.

Does ABC have such evidence? Unclear, especially given the statement by the series's executive producer:

Executive Producer Marc Platt acknowledged that "there is dramatic license taken" in the docudrama to "render the program effective and accessible for viewers."

"But we do try within the boundaries of what is fair and reasonable to communicate the essence of what occurred (and) the intentions of those individuals involved," he told Reuters in a telephone interview from London. "We have no intention or desire to be political, to intentionally distort."

Since the series is being billed as a "docu-drama," the implication of dramatic license, to heighten the entertainment value of the series at some expense to its provability, should have gone without saying. But that opens a larger question: is it morally defensible to write fiction about the actions of persons who have occupied high office in the real past?

The BBC production "The Death Of A President," which chronicles events in the aftermath of the assassination of President George W. Bush, should be included in this sheaf of conundra, don't you think? And what about the many statements by Democratic partisans imputing felonious behavior to Vice-President Dick Cheney, to presidential advisor Karl Rove, and to others for political advantage -- imputations for which there was never any substantive backing, and all of which are now provably false?

Shouldn't all of these defamations be weighed for addressability under the slander and libel laws? Shouldn't those who made them have to rise to the same standard, at the minimum, that the Senate Democrats are demanding of ABC and Disney? After we've settled all that, perhaps we can make a group appointment to have our teeth filed down to points.

Senate Dems Join Push to Censor ABC 9/11 Miniseries

In a furor echoing conservatives' continuing claims of left-wing bias among the media, Democrat Sen. Harry Reid (NV) and other senate Democrats have joined former U.S. president BIll Clinton in pressing ABC to cancel its showing of The Road to 9/11, the network's docudrama based on the 9/11 commission report and other factual sources.

A production still from ABC's upcoming film 'The Path to 9/11' shows actor Stephen Root portraying Richard Clarke. Amid an election-year debate over who can best defend America, U.S. congressional Democrats urged ABC-TV on Thursday to cancel a miniseries about the September 11 attacks that is critical of former Democratic President Bill Clinton and his top aides. NO SALES NO ARCHIVES (2006 American Broadcasting Companies, Inc./Handout/Reuters)

Reuters reports:

Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid of Nevada denounced the five-hour television movie, set to air in two parts on Sunday and Monday nights, as "a work of fiction."

Reid and other leading Senate Democrats wrote to Robert Iger, president and CEO of ABC's corporate parent, the Walt Disney Co., urging him to "cancel this factually inaccurate and deeply misguided program."

Chronicling events leading to the September 11 attacks, the movie suggests the Clinton administration was too distracted by the Monica Lewinsky sex scandal to deal properly with the gathering threat posed by Islamic militants.

The furor comes as Democrats and Republicans jockey for political position in advance of the November 7 congressional elections over who can best secure the United States from another attack. . . .

In recent days, former members of the Clinton administration also lodged complaints with Iger, urging ABC and Disney to fix or eliminate what they called errors and fabrications.

ABC issued a statement saying the production, "The Path to 9/11," was still being edited and that criticism of the film's specifics were thus "premature and irresponsible."

From Karnick on Culture.

Bill Clinton Protests ABC 9/11 Miniseries, Demands Revision or Shutdown

Still image from ABC-TV miniseries The Path to 9/11The New York Post reports that former President Bill Clinton has sent ABC president Bob Iger a letter protesting the network's depiction of his administration's response to terrorist threats as shown in the upcoming miniseries, The Path to 9/11, to be broadcast by the network this coming Sunday and Monday at 8-10 p.m. EST. The Post reports:
A furious Bill Clinton is warning ABC that its mini-series "The Path to 9/11" grossly misrepresents his pursuit of Osama bin Laden - and he is demanding the network "pull the drama" if changes aren't made.

Clinton pointedly refuted several fictionalized scenes that he claims insinuate he was too distracted by the Monica Lewinsky sex scandal to care about bin Laden and that a top adviser pulled the plug on CIA operatives who were just moments away from bagging the terror master, according to a letter to ABC boss Bob Iger obtained by The Post.

The former president also disputed the portrayal of then-Secretary of State Madeleine Albright as having tipped off Pakistani officials that a strike was coming, giving bin Laden a chance to flee.

"The content of this drama is factually and incontrovertibly inaccurate and ABC has the duty to fully correct all errors or pull the drama entirely," the four-page letter said.

The movie is set to air on Sunday and Monday nights. Monday is the fifth anniversary of the attacks.

The docudrama does indeed include some fictionalized scenes to help compress the story into a manageable form, as such productions customarily do, but appears to be accurate overall. It is based on the comprehensive 9/11 Commission Report and other factual sources. The cast includes Harvey Keitel, Patricia Heaton, Penny Johnson Jerald (of Fox's 24), Amy Madigan, and Donnie Wahlberg, none of whom will ever work in Hollywood again if the former president has anything to say about it, as he clearly wishes to do.

From Karnick on Culture.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Trial by Media

David Broder points out in his column today, "One Leak and a Flood of Silliness," that the press owe Karl Rove a big apology for their asinine treatment of him in the Valerie Plame leak incident.

I agree entirely with Broder's indictment of the press's rush to judgment in this case.

The media's overheated and absurd reaction to the Plame case reflects a common but utterly irresponsible and unacceptable phenomenon in journalism today: the assumption that people are guilty simply on the say-so of someone the members of the press want to like, as in the outrageous public execution of the Duke lacrosse team, or because the accused is an individual they are disposed to dislike.

Regarding the press's mistreatment of Rove in the Plame case, I will let David Broder speak for himself in the following excerpts:

For much of the past five years, dark suspicions have been voiced about the Bush White House undermining its critics, and Karl Rove has been fingered as the chief culprit in this supposed plot to suppress the opposition.

Now at least one count in that indictment has been substantially weakened—the charge that Rove masterminded a conspiracy to discredit Iraq intelligence critic Joseph Wilson by "outing" his CIA-operative wife, Valerie Plame. . . .

No one behaved well in the whole mess—not Wilson, not [Lewis "Scooter"] Libby, [Vice President Cheney's chief of staff,] not special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald and not the reporters involved.

The only time I commented on the case was to caution reporters who offered bold First Amendment defenses for keeping their sources' names secret that they had better examine the motivations of the people leaking the information to be sure they deserve protection.

But caution has been notably lacking in some of the press treatment of this subject -- especially when it comes to Karl Rove. And it behooves us in the media to examine that behavior, not just sweep it under the rug. . . .

In fact, the prosecutor concluded that there was no crime; hence, no indictment. And we now know that the original "leak," in casual conversations with reporters Novak and Bob Woodward, came not from the conspiracy theorists' target in the White House but from the deputy secretary of state at the time, Richard Armitage, an esteemed member of the Washington establishment and no pal of Rove or President Bush. . . .

[Salon.com, Newsweek, The American Prospect] and other publications owe Karl Rove an apology. And all of journalism needs to relearn the lesson: Can the conspiracy theories and stick to the facts.

From Karnick on Culture.

Are You Ready for Some Football?

Daunte Culpepper of the Miami DolphinsThe college football season started last week with a great set of games, and continues this week with a showdown between no. 1 USC and no. 2 Ohio State University. And the NFL season starts tonight, with a game between the reigning Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers and the up-and-coming Miami Dolphins.

The Steelers will be without the services of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, recovering from an emergency appendectomy. The Dolphins, under second-year coach Nick Saban, are attempting to return to respectability after a long drought. With Daunte Culpepper at quarterback, they should be better, even though the former Minnesota gunslinger is still recovering from knee surgery.

Tonight's game aptly represents one of the great strengths of the NFL as a sports entertainment venture: parity.

Parity—the relatively small gap in ability between the league's best and worst teams—in the past decade has made the NFL in some ways an even more exciting proposition than before. Only one team in the NFC, for example, has reached the playoffs the last two years in a row (the Seattle Seahawks).

Hence in week 1 nearly everybody starts out with both optimism and great concern: we can almost imagine that anybody might end up anywhere. There is great drama as teams struggle for position and some players and organizations rise while other perform less impressively than expected and fall into the also-rans.

It's America in microcosm.

From Karnick on Culture.

A Magazine for the Modern Lady's Hectic Schedule

Here's a publication no one should be without: Four Weeks is a new monthly magazine that includes a variety of articles in four categories customized for the four weeks of a woman's menstrual cycle.

In week 1, the magazine informs us, ladies like things to be "Fun, Familiar," and in subsequent weeks "Exciting, Exotic," "Indulgent, Introspective," and "Cautious, Caring," respectively.

A yummy treat for a lady in week 4
This is information that could be very useful to any smart fellow as well, as it is obviously disastrous for a chap to give his lady fair a gift that is of the wrong type for her particular week of the month. We've all been forced to puzzle through the mystery of the wrong-week gift, haven't we?

Also of great interest is the magazine's Hormone Horoscope, which deftly combines two things of utter inscutability into an easily understood guide to life.

Thanks, gals!

From Karnick on Culture.

Tell Someone the Truth

The earnest young women speak directly into the camera, begging the listeners to "Tell someone.....tell someone about HPV." The message is repeated several times, so the target audience will not forget that cervical cancer is caused by human papilloma virus. OK, so let's tell someone -- but let's tell the whole truth.

This message is not new. Medical researchers have known for fifteen years that cervical cancer is caused by a subset of human papilloma virii. Physicians have also known three other uncomfortable truths about human papilloma virus: it is spread by sexual contact, only females contract a lethal disease from exposure, and its spread is not prevented by the use of condoms. But this information has been practically impossible to glean from either the popular medical press or from direct questioning of physicians. I know because I've tried to get doctors to tell me what I already knew to be the truth -- and concluded that you already had to know in order to get your OB-GYN to admit it, and even then it wasn't easy.

Every young woman in this country is constantly harangued, beginning in puberty, to submit to annual gynecological exams including Pap smears. The Pap test is indeed a true marvel of modern medicine: a relatively inexpensive, noninvasive, and safe test that provides accurate early detection of a potentially lethal cancer. There is nothing wrong with advocating regular examinations, but annual tests in an otherwise young and healthy population would under any other circumstances be considered intrusive and unnecessary. At the very least, some consideration of potential exposure to the disease would be made, to offset the very real costs, both monetary and emotional, that high numbers of false positive tests entail.

Why the silence and obfuscation? And why no outcry from the interest groups that are usually eager to publicize sex discrimination in medicine? For years, the only ready source of this information came from the pro-life grassroots. I long ago concluded that organizations like NOW and Planned Parenthood are not interested in advising young women that there is, for them, no such thing as "safe sex."

There is a controversy surrounding the "Tell Someone" campaign -- because it is funded by Merck, the pharmaceutical company that earlier this summer obtained FDA approval for an HPV vaccine that covers the virus subtypes responsible for about 70% of cervical cancers. Medical ethicists are upset that the information is being presented by a party who stands to profit. But they were not bothered, and are still not bothered, that no public or nonprofit agency saw fit to publicize this information in the past, nor are they bothered that failing to tell women all the facts about HPV will probably lead to many women to accept vaccination for themselves and in the future their infant daughters, without fully understanding that this disease is only completely avoidable, even for the vaccinated, by abstaining from sex.

The bioethics community is obsessed with "informed consent," but only consents to share some of the information.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Protecting Our Freedom From Our Duopoly

Pardon the coinage. It's merely a succinct way of saying that the Democratic and Republican parties have used legal means to prevent any new party from seriously threatening their shared control of the political system. In consequence, their power brokers are relatively well insulated from the displeasure of the electorate, since each can point to the other and say, "Oh yeah? Well, if you don't stick by me, look at what you'll get instead!"

For a freedom lover, the most galling thing about this arrangement is that each party, when in power, applies far more energy to advancing the anti-freedom parts of its agenda than it does to the pro-freedom parts. When the party in power is deposed and its adversary takes the helm, rather than undoing its predecessor's crimes against individual liberty, it adds its own.

In The God Of The Machine, Isabel Paterson made reference to the political ratchet effect:

Further, political power has a ratchet action; it works only one way, to augment itself. A transfer occurs by which the power cannot be retracted, once it is bestowed.

Paterson's major example, the persistence of the Prohibition enforcement agencies even after the repeal of the Eighteenth Amendment, suggests that her focus was on "issue" usurpations, independent of party involvement. I wonder what she would have thought of today's "ping-pong ratchet," wherein citizens are encouraged to look to the Democrats to undo the excesses of the Republicans, and vice-versa, but are almost always disappointed and worse.

We who consider the global anti-terrorism campaign to be the most important issue of our time have been strongly encouraged to return Republican officeholders to power, despite their excessive federal spending and their repeated trouser-dropping for various interest groups. Come November, quite a lot of Americans will pull the Republican levers with distaste, for those very reasons. Similarly, a lot of left-of-center types will pull the Democratic levers with a grimace, because of Democrats' clear unwillingness to fight the War Against Islamic Aggression without the French alongside them. But if history is a guide, whichever party should have hegemony after the fall elections will do further damage to freedom through its domestic policies.

Given the stability of the duopoly, what alternatives does the freedom lover have? Is there any way to discipline the G.O.P. out of its profligacy? Is there any way to turn the party of Jefferson and Jackson away from special-interest statism and back toward Constitutional liberty?

I've long been a fan of "None Of The Above" -- the only "candidate" that never, ever lies or abuses his powers -- but that choice has been forbidden to nearly all of us as well. Apart from a massive tax rebellion or an armed uprising, what other avenues remain?

November draws ever nearer. We should give the matter some thought.

Anti-Bush Films Hot at Toronto Festival

Still shot from Death of a President filmThe British-made film Death of a President, which uses computer generation to create a vivid depiction of the assassination of President Bush, leads a significant roster of films critical of the president and his policies at this year's Toronto Film Festival, Reuters reports. The 10-day festival opens Thursday, and in addition to the political issues there will be plent of star power with appearances by Brad Pitt, Sean Penn, Penelope Cruz, Russell Crowe and others. Reuters reports that 352 films from 61 countries will be shown.

Festival offerings will certainly reflect the visceral hostility many in the entertainment industry feel toward the current U.S. president.

Reuters reports:
British-made "Death of a President," . . . is one of a number of films with a decided political focus.

The documentary-style film raised hackles last week, as several British newspapers ran photos of the fictional assassination it depicts. The controversy elicited a terse "no comment" from the White House.

But it is not the only Toronto entry likely to raise eyebrows in Washington, particularly with U.S. midterm elections looming in November.

The festival will premiere the documentary "Dixie Chicks: Shut up and Sing," which focuses on the aftermath and fallout of Dixie Chicks singer Natalie Maines' criticism of Bush at a concert in London in 2003.

As well, controversial filmmaker Michael Moore will discuss the reaction he's had to his anti-Bush documentary "Fahrenheit 9/11," and show parts of upcoming release "Sicko," which takes aim at the U.S. healthcare system.
Filming a scene for Amazing Grace movieBut that is by no means all that the festival entries will reflect, as films such as Christopher Guest's For Your Consideration and Werner Herzog's Rescue Dawn will premiere as well.

The festival will close strongly with a showing of Michael Apted's Amazing Grace, a historical drama about William Wilberforce, the devoutly Christian British parliamentarian who led the nation's crusade to end the slave trade. The film has a strong cast including Ioann Gruffudd and Albert Finney, and an important story to tell.

From Karnick on Culture.

The Story of Upton Sinclair

John Wilson of Books and Culture has an excellent article on the socialist American author Upton Sinclair in today's edition of National Review Online.

Sinclair is best-known, of course, for his 1906 novel The Jungle which brought public attention to the unpleasant working conditions in the nation's meat-packing industry.

Wilson's article includes some things I hadn't known or had forgotten, such as Sinclair's authorship of three series of novels centered on adventure. Wilson provides a balanced view of the author and even includes a suitable moral to Sinclair's story:

Unwieldy and imperfect as our democracy may be, Sinclair’s life testifies to the genius and robustness of the American polis. And impervious to irony as he often seemed, I suspect that Sinclair himself came to recognize his good fortune: to live and work for 90 years in a country that honored its principled critics instead of shooting them.

From Karnick on Culture.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Please Pray for Air Canada

It seems that an Orthodox Jew was taken off an Air Canada flight to New York because his prayers while the plane was taxiing toward the runway seemed weird to a flight attendant or someone. Or something. So he was escorted off the plane.

So: Suppose a Muslim started praying at the outset of an Air Canada flight. Would those morons take him off of the flight? No need to answer; the question answers itself, just as the utter stupidity and cowardice of many in the West reveal themselves blindingly each and every day.

Hope in Disney's "Invincible" Film

Still image from Disney movie InvincibleThe Walt Disney movie Invincible won the box office competition again last weekend, bringing in a gross of $15.2 million.

The film merits attention. More than just a sports movie, Invincible tells the true-life story of Vince Papale, a 30 year old bartender who made the Philadelphia Eagles in an open tryout that then-new Eagles coach Dick Vermeil meant as mostly a publicity stunt and a way of motivating players.

Set during the economically depressed late 1970s among the working class in Rust Belt South Philadelphia, the film presents the theme of hope in several different ways.

First, of course, there is Vince's hope—vague at first but increasingly real—of making the Eagles as a wide receiver and special teams player. (Mark Wahlberg's portrayal of Vince is very solid and affecting.) Second, there is Vince's hope of finding a woman who will love him and stay with him through good times and bad. Third, there is the hope of Vince and his working class brethren that they will find permanent work that pays decently. (The film regularly cuts to brief scenes showing union members on strike, in the bar discussing job cuts, and so on.) Fourth is the hope of Eagles coach Dick Vermeil (excellently played by Greg Kinnear) to bring some pride and intensity to the team. Fifth is the way the exploits of professional football players bring hope to people who follow the team. The film makes a point of telling how the memory of a great play by an Eagles player got Vince's struggling, blue-collar father through 30 years of hard times.

Poster art for Disney film Invincible

That may be a bit of an exaggeration, but not much. People in difficult conditions, especially men, do often find inspiration from the unlikely successes of sports heroes, especially underdogs. That is what athletic competitions bring most richly to the culture, and it is why we care about them. The moral drama of individuals trying through hard work to overcome others' advantages is a microcosm of American life, and it provides inspiration to all those who care to find it.

That insight is what makes Invincible such an inspiring and impressive film.

From Karnick on Culture.

A Race Against Time

And so, Election Day. September 5, 2006; by a weird fate exactly 38 years on the Hebrew calendar since my mother passed on.

Two months after I took over the campaign of Jay R. Beskin, running an impossibly quixotic - no incumbent has been defeated since 1994 - race for Miami-Dade County Commissioner (District 4) against the incumbent, Sally Heyman (who raised 400 thou to our 100), the local reporters all believe that the race is "too close to call".

Hopefully, tomorrow night we can reflect back upon a victory and analyze some of the unique things we accomplished. For now, mon ami Hastings, it is the biting of the nails.

Here is one historic move I did. Hired a company (Vowcast) that makes webcasts of weddings to make one of a debate between the candidates. We made no cuts at all and you can see
the entire debate - plus me at the end for a minute and a half explaining our intent. (Forgive my ruffled and rumpled appearance; it came at the end of a long day out on the campaign trail.)

Monday, September 04, 2006

"Crocodile Hunter" Irwin Killed

Steve Irwin in an undated publicity photo. Irwin, the Australian naturalist who won worldwide acclaim, has died in a marine accident off Australia's northeast coast. (MGM/Greg Barrett/Handout/Reuters)

Famed "Crocodile Hunter" Steve Irwin was killed yesterday when he was stung in the heart by a stingray over which he was swimming in Australia's Great Barrier Reef for a video shoot.

Irwin, 44, apparently frightened the creature by getting to close, bringing on the animal's self-protective attack.

Stingrays have a poisonous, barbed tail which can cause excruciating pain if a person is struck by it, but such attacks are only very rarely fatal. Irwin was struck in the chest, however, and the barb appears to have pierced his heart. It was an extremely rare and strange incident.

In his television programs and theatrical movie, Irwin gained great fame for engaging in close contact with crocodiles, poisonous snakes and spiders, and other dangerous creatures. His continual message was that we should respect nature, understand it, and protect animals from abuse and extinction.

Irwin frequently had highly dangerous encounters with animals, always warning his TV viewers of what the dangers were but telling us we should not be afraid of nature and should understand it and live in harmony with it. Part of his appeal, however, was the daredevil nature of his exploits, and the number of times he placed himself in jeopardy almost guaranteed that he would eventually be hurt or killed during one of these encounters. Yesterday it happened.

Irwin was an immensely likeable personality, and his many fans and admirers will miss him. The message he tried to send, that nature is dangerous but is no threat to us if we let creatures go their own way and don't disturb them, is one that he ironically disobeyed in his work and which eventually killed him.

Nature is dangerous indeed and will often kill indiscriminately if we let her go her own way. The only thing that saves us from wanton destruction is our natural human inclination to harness the forces of nature to our own advantage and increased safety. Knowledge, reason, and a sense of benevolence are essential to such stewardship, as Irwin continuously pointed out in his life's work. But only through harnessing nature can we live well. That is the message we may best take from Irwin's life and tragic death.

From Karnick on Culture.

More Fun for the Intellectually Pretentious

Hehe. Already ordered mine, of course.

(HT: The folks at somethingawful.com are a hoot, well worth a look.)

Friday, September 01, 2006

Rain, Silliness Pound Mid-Atlantic

Tropical Storm Ernesto, despite its lack of hurricane status, is dumping large quantities of badly needed rain on the mid-Atlantic this morning. The sudden cooling seems to have unblocked my cranial logjam, and now I'm deciding which of a half-dozen topics I can't leave for last.

The race to fill the Senate seat being vacated by Paul Sarbanes is at the top of my talking points this morning, because the crowded Democrat field has pulled into the final two weeks of the primary campaign sounding more like Monty Python than The West Wing. Polls, pundits, and common sense all converge on the reality of a two-man race between Kweisi Mfume and Ben Cardin, but that doesn't stop the also-rans from demanding attention.

Last night, the Maryland League of Women Voters sponsored a debate among the Democrats, but only the aforementioned two met their established criterion of polling at least 15% support in the weeks before the debate. Three minor candidates noisily and publicly protested the decision at a public rally in Annapolis, but the League stood firm.

Allan Lichtman tried to make the most of the situation, but it may just have backfired on him. Lichtman is probably the only one of the minor candidates anyone outside Maryland has ever heard of. If he stuck to his day job, as a history professor at American University, you wouldn't have heard of him either. But Lichtman is also that cable TV talking head with the annoying voice and the weird hair, who shows up regularly on CNN and MSNBC, flogging his goofy "Keys" system of predicting election results (not to be confused with Alan Keyes, who is another bizarrerie of Maryland politics). He has never polled higher than 3%, he had raised less than $300,000 in a race where one of his junior league competitors has spent $5 million of his own money, and unless he's certifiably insane he could never have regarded this race as anything but a publicity stunt.

Even among the second tier, Allan Lichtman stands head and shoulders below the rest.

(Despite the evidence of your own eyes, these gentlemen are not, left to right, Tim Gunn of Project Runway and Michael Kinsley of Crossfire being studiously ignored by Senate candidate Allan Lichtman. They are Senate candidate Dennis F. Rasmussen and Senate candidate Josh Rales being studiously ignored by Senate candidate Allan Lichtman.)

He's got publicity now. The three excluded candidates reappeared at the debate site in Owings Mills, and Lichtman brought a posse that included his wife, Karyn Strickland. For years, Strickland was head of Maryland NARAL, and no doubt she has much experience of her own in staging political protest stunts. So when the Baltimore County police moved in to arrest the party for criminal trespass she shouted out advice on the proper response, advice that was captured by local radio reporters and played nonstop on the AM airwaves this morning.

Lichtman will never, I predict, be able to live down the fact that he is the man whose wife stood on the steps of the Maryland Public Television studios and bellowed: "Allan, go limp! Allan!! Go limp!!!"

The only possible career move for him now is to film a Viagra ad with Bob Dole.

Possible Prez Candidate Appears in Online Video Game

Former Gov. Mark Warner's Second Life Avatar

Former Virginia Gov. Mark Warner (D) yesterday appeared in a popular on-line video game, the user-created online world Second Life. Wagner James Au reports in New World Notes that staff members of Warner's exploratory campaign staff contacted him to ask if he'd "be interested in interviewing Governor Warner in Second Life."

Au reports on how it came about:

“Well,” Nancy Mandelbrot (RL info here) explains, “we were sitting in our offices one day and kind of goofing around, just geeking out about social technologies, gaming, that sort of thing, as we're wont to do. Someone made a joke about how great it would be if we brought an avatar of Governor Warner into Second Life.

“When we all quit laughing, we kind of looked around and said, ‘Hey, that's not a bad idea.’

“One of Governor Warner's operating principles is to go where the voters are,” she continues, “not make them come to you. We saw how rich an environment [SL] was. I mean, you can sit next to someone's avatar, strike up a conversation, and forget that you're not in the same room. We started to see that in Second Life, people can get together and talk politics with other folks without the obstacles of real life.”
Former Virginia Gov. Mark Warner's avatar appears in Second Life online worldAu, known as Hamlet in Second Life, agreed to interview Warner on the site, "But it’s still a bit vertiginous to be in-world standing there in front of the avatar of a man that leading Democratic Party financier Chris Korge (speaking to Bai) pronounced as, '[T]he one to watch as an outsider in this race. He seems presidential.' ”

The proprietors of the site are understandably excited about Warner's appearance in the online world, and are characterizing it as a history-making event. However, it is nothing of the sort.

Instead of slaying a gigantic robot or inventing a new kind of staple food, Warner's avatar simply sits in a comfy chair and answers questions about contemporary politics in the former governor's usual smarmy way.

The interview shows conclusively that politicians are politicians whatever the medium, and that empty suits are empty suits even when they're computer-generated.

From Karnick on Culture

UK Cracks Down on Violent Pornography

The United Kingdom is cracking down on violent pornography, after a campaign led by the family of a 31-year-old teacher killed by a man obsessed with watching websites showing necrophilia.

The Home Office said on Wednesday that it will "make it an offence to own images featuring scenes of extreme sexual violence," according to Reuters:
The new law would outlaw any material that featured violence that was, or appeared to be, life-threatening or likely to result in serious and disabling injury.
This type of material was already illegal in the United Kingdom, but websites were ignoring the law and the government was doing nothing about it:
Although it is already illegal to distribute or publish such images under the Obscene Publications Act, the material has become increasingly available via the Internet.

"The vast majority of people find these forms of violent and extreme pornography deeply abhorrent," Coaker said.

"Such material has no place in our society but the advent of the Internet has meant that this material is more easily available and means existing controls are being by-passed -- we must move to tackle this."

Presumably, the government will now enforce the law. We'll see.

From Karnick on Culture.

Religion And Polity

Two commentators of great skill, Heather MacDonald of the Manhattan Institute and Professor Michael Pakaluk of Clark University, appear to have "squared off" over how great an influence religious faith and its expression should have on political discourse. Miss MacDonald's article takes a strong secular position, whereas Pakaluk's adopts a position more favorable toward traditional public invocations of faith. Both evince considerable passion, both mount elegant arguments, and both miss the point.

The brilliant Michael Novak, America's foremost thinker on the interface between religion and politics, recently responded to a challenge from Miss MacDonald that Christianity prove its claims to truth:

Mac Donald is right to demand as much.

Either the Catholic Church (to stick to what I know best) is true, or it isn’t. That’s where the Church makes its stand. (As Lenny Bruce used to joke, “It is the only one true church.”) It can do no other, for the name it accepts for God is that God is “Spirit and Truth.” The very first commandment, handed on to the church by Judaism, is “thou shalt not have false gods before me.” Between false gods and the true God the decisive point is truth.

The significance of Novak's approach will be lost on many persons of our time, mostly because of the shallowness of contemporary education. Any religion that addresses the great questions of the human experience must deliver answers that, at the very least, do not require us to accept demonstrably false statements. If a creed's claims are consistent with the truths revealed by reality, it may get a respectful hearing. Of course, with the passage of time, Mankind becomes more capable of testing such claims; accordingly, a faith that appeared consistent with temporal reality in year X might not look so good in year X+100, or X+1000. But that's built into the nature of intellectual inquiry.

The two great Thomases, Aquinas and Jefferson, agreed that true religion does not demand that the mind accept absurdities, Tertullian's nonsense notwithstanding. In other words, they conceded that the evidence of the world around us, delivered through our sense organs and the instruments we build to extend them, is primary; it trumps theories of all kinds, not merely scientific ones. Neither Hillel nor Christ uttered a single word to dispute them.

Wherefor, then, the wrangle over the political admissibility of faith? Politics -- "the art of the possible" -- is concerned with achieving particular conditions and results in this world. Politicians have unlearned the nasty habit of predicting that their opponents will roast in Hell; among other things, the concomitant lip-smacking tends to leave spots on one's tie. More important, the temporal world operates according to strict rules of cause and effect, without regard for one's faith. A political platform that promises results of some kind because God, if properly petitioned and propitiated, will intervene to deliver them is massively presumptuous, to put it mildly.

The great orators of America's past were sensible enough to confine their public religious statements to expressions of faith and gratitude. Those who argued for this or that policy or program "because God wants it that way" are less well remembered. But conversely, secular sorts were once far less disposed to take offense at public figures' expressions of faith in or gratitude to God. Our contemporary anti-theists have turned militant, as if for President Bush to quote Isaiah or cite Christ as his favorite philosopher were somehow a mandate laid upon them as well. That's a modern vice which we would do well to unlearn.

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Well, As Long As We're Being Shameless...

...perhaps the new guy can get away with inviting The Reform Club's readers to peruse this brief disquisition on classical liberalism and constitutionalism.

(It struck me as a bit discursive for this site.)

Glenn Ford and the American Character

Glenn Ford (r) and Lee Marvin in Fritz Lang's classic crime film "The Big Heat"Actor Glenn Ford died yesterday at the age of 90 after a long career in the movies and television. Perhaps best known to modern audiences as Clark Kent's father in Richard Donner's Superman—The Movie, Ford made a solid career as a leading man despite a near-complete lack of charisma and magnetism.

Ford's stolid, mature persona contrasted greatly with those of popular contemporaries such as Marlon Brando, Montgomery Clift, and James Dean who valued a high degree of explicit emotional expression. Ford could show passion when called upon, as in the suspense film Ransom (remade in 1996 as a Mel Gibson vehicle) and the drama The Blackboard Jungle, but even in those cases his stoicism is what we remember most vividly.

Ford's characters often had serious flaws—such as stubbornness, irresponsibility, jealousy, and lack of intelligence—and these flaws led to interesting moral complexities in his best films. In both his virtues and his flaws, Ford represented a strong strain of the American character—the adventurousness, the uncompromising striving for rectitude, and the relentless and often disorganized pursuit of what is right and good in life.

Ford's best films and most memorable performances admirably reflect this complex set of attributes: classic crime dramas such as Gilda, The Big Heat, and Experiment in Terror;The Man from the Alamo, westerns such as 3:10 to Yuma, The Desperados, Cimarron, and The Violent Men; dramas such as Trial, The Blackboard Jungle, and The Brotherhood of the Bell; films in which he played contemptible villains as in The Man from Colorado; crazy comedies such as The Gazebo and The Teahouse of the August Moon, and many others.

He was a man who made the most of his talents and opportunities.

Commemorating 9/11

Promo shot for The Path to 9/11The TV networks will be doing a significant amount of programming commemorating the forthcoming 5th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.

ABC has produced a four-hour docudrama, The Path to 9/11, which is based on the government report on the attack and helps explain how the attack happened. After the second, concluding episode of the miniseries, ABC will air a special edition of Primetime hosted by Charlie Gibson. Good Morning, America, World News, and Nightline will also cover the story.

NBC will run a number of programs, including coverage on the Today show. The network will rerun in primetime several programs originally aired in 2001. MSNBC and CNBC will present programs as well, but nobody will watch them.

CBS will air an updated version of the documentary 9/11 on Sunday evening, and on Sept. 6 will present an hour-long, primetime special, Five Years Later: How Safe Are We? (My guess: they'll conclude that we've been demn lucky, not smart.) In the special, Katie Couric will interview President Bush. Hilarity ensues when Couric takes offense to the President calling her Elfy and giving her a whopping great noogie.

From Karnick on Culture.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

CBS Does Its Part

A Proper Response

Some years ago, at the conclusion of an essay on competitive monies and monetary reform, economist Pamela Brown of Auburn University quoted Brian Loasby's statement in Choice, Complexity, and Ignorance that "competition is a proper response to ignorance." This concept can be traced back through several economic minds, including Nobel Laureate Friedrich Hayek. The central filament of the thing is, of course, that the results of free-market competition in the provision of some good or service cannot be predicted ab initio, the presumptions of statists and monopolists notwithstanding.

Today, John Stossel at Jewish World Review makes a vital connection to America's preeminent ignorance factory:

When a government monopoly limits competition, we can't know what ideas would bloom if competition were allowed. Surveys show that most American parents are satisfied with their kids' public schools, but that's only because they don't know what their kids might have had!

Surveys taken in various parts of the nation indicate that the average high-school graduate of our time is less knowledgeable, particularly in the politically critical fields of American and world history, than an eighth grader of a century ago. The need for such graduates to take remedial classes in English composition and mathematics as college freshmen is a well known national ignominy. The persistent inability of college graduates to express themselves clearly and coherently in the workplace speaks even more eloquently about the low standard of performance to which we hold our expensive educational institutions.

This has been going on, and getting worse, since World War II. You'd think we didn't know any better...or didn't want to.

Yet the major educrats' union, the National Education Association, maintains a stout barrier against educational competition of any sort: vouchers, tuition tax credits, open enrollment among public schools, or any other alternative. The NEA's ability to galvanize its two-million-plus members to fight initiatives toward that end has defeated school choice proposals in state after state. It's also thwarted the expansion of pilot choice programs such as those established in Cleveland and Florida. It routinely wins the support of state Departments of Education, which should surprise no one. Today, it fights most fiercely against measures intended to ease the burdens of homeschooling families, an option it has impeded but failed to criminalize...so far.

Sure sounds as if there's something the NEA doesn't want us to know, doesn't it? Which explains a lot about the erudition level of our kids, when you think about it. But Americans don't like to be kept in the dark. When we discover that someone in authority has been hiding something from us, we tend to take it badly. The more important the subject, the worse we take it.

So: When confronted by a gigantic, very wealthy union determined to keep you and your children ignorant, what would you deem a proper response?

Of Vikings and Christians: A TRC Emeritus Post

I came out of semi-retirement just to put you on the scent of a remarkable author, the intrepid Lutheran (ya listenin' Sam?) Lars Walker. I already posted about him at TAS and Southern Appeal, but I couldn't bear thinking any of the TRCers might miss out.

It happens every once in a while. You discover something that is really special, that should be incredibly successful, but unaccountably, isn’t. A very well read friend made me aware of the fiction of Lars Walker. He writes mostly about Vikings during the period when Christianity contended with pagan religions, but he also has a contemporary novel (which happens to deal with Viking lore!).

I cannot give a high enough recommendation to Lars Walker’s The Year of the Warrior. I had to wait for it, but it was completely worth the wait. The narrator of the story is a young Irishman taken captive to sell as a slave by Vikings. They give him a tonsure to make him look like a priest so he’ll fetch a higher price. A newly converted Viking nobleman buys him because he needs a priest for his village. The Irishman decides to play the part of the priest in order to survive and the action flows from there.

Wonderful historical saga. Interesting insights about the Christian faith and its relationship to political power. Some beautiful battle sequences, too. Fully developed characters. Worth reading in every way.

So why the lack of bestseller status? I have a guess. The Lars Walker novels are published by Baen, which really specializes in sword and sorcery/science fiction. The covers of the Walker books have that look to them, but they are actually much deeper. I think the normal Baen reader is disappointed by the lack of standard genre stuff when they buy the book. But you, dear reader, will not be disappointed. You shall be blessed.

Baby Poop Art

In our ongoing Everything Happens in the Omniculture department, E! Online reports that a bronze sculpture purporting to be the first solid poop from Tom and Katie Cruise's daughter, Suri, goes on display today at a Brooklyn, NY, art musuem.

Yes, but is it Art?

Short answer: No

Of course, the museum makes a nice excuse for it, as E! reports:

"It's partially a statement on modern media that 'celebrity poop' has more entertainment value than health, famine or other critical issues facing society and governments today," the Capla [Museum] crew said in a statement, "and also the absurdity of the media coverage on Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes' new baby, Suri Cruise, which has reached stellar proportions, eclipsing far more notable events with more substance."
Yes, a comment on modern media. Thanks for that. Without a sculpture of baby poop, we would never have known that the modern media are superficial—and that modern museums are so much better.

From Karnick on Culture.