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

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Is Man Good?

So says Ronald Reagan's epitaph, which you can view for yourself a few posts below this one.

Now, not just Christianity, but classical philosophy as well sees man as fallen. And as we look at the world around us, it's difficult to disagree with that. He used to be really great, not so much lately.

My buddy Aquinas would soften Reagan's formulation (as I did myself): that man is by nature (God-given nature?) capable, if not oriented, toward responding to good.

That should work theologically, as God, not man himself, is the source of all good, and if it is not true in reality, we're in for it, folks.

If Reagan didn't believe that people (in his case the captive nations of the Soviet empire) would embrace the freedom he helped precipitate, he would have gone about things differently, I think.

Bush, too. We're in the throes of deciding whether the Iraqi people really want peace, brotherhood, and all that blahblah. I still think they do, but we should not overestimate their courage (and, it appears lately, our own) or underestimate the chilling effect of a few very bad men.

Monday, January 15, 2007

New Season of "24" Begins with a Bang

Kiefer Sutherland as Jack Bauer in "24" season premiereThe Fox TV series has progressed from a cult hit to an award-winning cultural bellwether, so it's an interesting thing to see what each season's central story line consists of. Last night was the first half of Fox's four-hour, two-night season premiere (an excellent way to get viewers deep into the season's story line very quickly).

The story starts off with a bang, with Jack Bauer, just released from a Chinese prison (having been traded by the Chinese for undisclosed U.S. assets), where he had undergone unspeakable tortures but not spoken a single word for two years (of course!), only to find out that he is being traded to a U.S. sympathizer in an Islamic terrorist organization (who hates Jack because the agent killed the terrorist's terrorist brother) so that the Muslim will turn over his brother to the United States, which is urgent because the brother is about to launch a series of bombings in the Uinted States.

The U.S. government and Jack both know that he will be killed by the Muslim, but Jack is willing to accept his destiny because in doing so he will be dying for something, as opposed to dying for nothing, as would have been the case had he died in the Chinese prison.

That is a beautiful and morally charged moment. It's truly great drama. Well done.

I hardly need tell you that Jack spectualarly and violently escapes from his Muslim captors, and then the double-crosses, shocking revelations, and violence rush forth in quick succession. The first two hours are the best start for a 24 season since season 2. Last year's episode struck me as rather disjointed in too many ways, and last night's installments showed a much tighter and stronger plot.

An interesting note: in the opening sequences of episode 1, various characters make several statements to the effect that mearl all American Muslims are loyal to the United States and don't support terrorism at all, here or elsewhere. Then, the villains turn out to be Muslims, and one of them is one of the people whom we are set up to think is an innocent Musliim American being unfairly targeted for abuse.

Very interesting indeed.

From Karnick on Culture.

Happy Martin Luther King Day

The local news here in Los Angeles had some footage of a "traditional" drum circle accompanying the Debbie Allen company doing an African-style dance in honor of MLK.

That's as silly as trotting out bodhrans and a riverdance to commemorate John F. Kennedy.

Dr. King, by the strength of his beliefs and character, led our country through a very dangerous time in our history, the days of rage of the 1960s. The whites threw him in jail, and the still-radical Malcolm X's people threw eggs at him, yet he bore the slings and arrows from every side and brought us all through it.

Let's get one thing straight---Martin Luther King, Jr. was an American, and an American hero, pure and simple, and that's why we honor him today. His work is surely not done, but his truth is marching on.

Political Football Report

It's actually a phrase from long ago---there was a controversy in Philadelphia around 1970 about naming the newly-built sports facility. The Democrats favored Harry Truman, the GOP wanted Dwight Eisenhower. They compromised and went for America's military veterans (we called it The Vet), but I always preferred the waggish Political Football Stadium.

Anyway, this past weekend, the former Baltimore Colts beat the current Baltimore Ravens (formerly the Cleveland Browns); the former Boston Patriots beat the former Los Angeles Chargers; the Chicago Bears, formerly the Chicago Staleys, beat the Starbucks Seahawks, and never mind about the New Orleans Saints beating my Eagles.

I mean, never mind about that, OK?

So now there are 4 teams left and the winners of next week's round go to the Super Bowl. Then, 2 weeks of SuperHype, the infamously banal and universally dreaded media coverage of America's biggest game because they have nothing better to do.

Now, if the Saints beat the Bears, we're in for a deluge of New Orleans "indomitable spirit" blather and how Dubya screwed up post-Katrina, even though New Orleans' indomitable spirit was conspicuously absent before, during and after Katrina and Bush.

And if the Colts beat the Patriots, we'll get a double whammy because Colt quarterback Peyton Manning's dad Archie struggled in pain and shame as the Saints' QB for so many years and tears back in the day.

What's funny is that if Clinton or Gore had been president, I'm sure they'd have nailed the Katrina disaster because it's their kind of thing, although Saddam and his lovely sons Uday and Attila would still be alive, thriving and reconstituting their nuclear program about now. And I'd be rooting for New Orleans, hands down. I always felt sorry for the Saints, and I loved Archie Manning.

Funny. My sentimental favorites and my picks are the Colts and the Saints, but I've never wished to be so wrong. If I'm not, the media will be playing some seriously gleeful political football. Patriots will find it unbearable.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Semen is Serious Business

Wait! Before you start throwing tomatoes, I am not trying to be prurient here. Semen is serious business when you’re talking about bulls and cows, horses, and who knows what other four, or probably even two legged, cash crops. Growing up in southern California as a good city boy I always thought that milk came from the grocery store. But then I moved to central Pennsylvania for too many years and discovered milk actually came from animals. Disgusting!

And then a few years ago I read Tom Wolfe’s “A Man in Full” and I’ll never be the same. Wolfe, he of the obsession with the most minute of details, and the ability to describe reality until it hurts, let me in on how the next generation of thoroughbreds are created. Not for those with a weak constitution. As everyone would agree, these are things we just don’t, and probably would rather not, think about. But there are a lot of people, and thank God for them, whose daily lives are lived in such worlds. I’ve always thought about the guys who pick up my trash, thank God for people who will take money to do such things. Ain’t capitalism grand!

So when I came across an article in the Denver Post titled, “The hot life of a Romeo bull: Semen sales are serious business,” I just had to click. As the writer sets it up, claaaasic:

They promise the bulls a quiet, tranquil, caring atmosphere where every need is met and there is no pressure to perform.

But really, all they are after is their sperm.

The business of extracting semen from prized bulls and then implanting it into a cow is so cut-and-dried that a mere suggestion that companies are taking the romance out of cattle production is met with a dismissive smirk.

"We are just providing something customers don't have," said Brian House, spokesman for Select Sires, an Ohio-based company that freezes and stores bull semen to inseminate dairy cows.

Hey, bub, what do you do for a living? Ever sit next to some guy in an airplane and ask what he does for a living? You’ve got to wonder what euphemisms these folks come up with in such circumstances. Not much else to say on this story, but the last sentence in the article is priceless:

Semen from bulls at Genex have spawned offspring all over the world. But the company is sending most of its sperm to South America, where beef production is high but the diversity of the cattle is minimal, Robertson said.

"Their industry is growing," he said, "and we hope to have a hand in that."

Friday, January 12, 2007

Fired For Mentioning Jesus!

Damn, what's the world coming to?

Our blog, (formerly The Reform Club), mostly leaves the reblogging to others, like Glenn Reynolds' essentially bookmarkable Instapundit.

But it's always nice to put in a plug for your pals, and I'm happy to do it today for Jonathan Rowe's excellent blog, which is oriented toward examining Christianity and the general role of religion in the Founding. His research is thorough and honest, and he was also linked the other day by the notorious and notoriously popular crooksandliars, whose name betrays its leftist bent. (Ooops, sorry, somehow I can't find a link to that one. What were the odds?) That this right-leaning blogger also links to him speaks very highly of Jon, I think.

In short, via the also-notorious World Net Daily, a Navy chaplain was fired for bringing up Jesus Christ in a White House benediction, even though he was ordered not to. (They were looking for something a bit more generic.) Law prof Rowe persuasively---to my mind---argues why the firing was justified and even necessary, and I add a few words of support for his conclusion in his comments section.

I often defend religious expression in the public square on general principles, specifically Christian religious expression, even when I find it obnoxious (also often). But this one's a slam dunk. As a practical matter, the issue of Jesus' divinity gives many people heartburn, and for whomever it doesn't, assertions of Muhammad's status as God's authoritative and final prophet by a different chaplain certainly would.

The Founders were wise in keeping G-d as generic as possible in order to gather us to Him, as a nation under Him, without setting us apart.

Flash: New Sin Invented!

"It's a sin not to do [embryonic stem cell] research," declared Rep. Al Green (D-Texas)...

A Google search shows zero hits in the mainstream press for this recent quote.

Now, I don't know where this leaves us on secular neutrality or the free exercise of religion, but if a congressman had argued that embryonic stem cell research itself is a sin, the creation of human life in order to us to cannibalize it, I think it would have gathered far more notice, not to mention derision and ridicule. The notion of sin is so, I dunno, quaint. Nice to see it making a comeback, though, even if inverted. One step at a time.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Benny and the Feds

Or maybe it should be Benny and the Meds.

In any case, longtime TRC/Newswalk member Benjamin Zycher has a piece up at National Review today explaining why the feds shouldn't negotiate prices on meds.

Money quote:

Federal price negotiations will cause sharp price reductions, but this will yield less research and development investment in new and improved medicines over time. Recent economic analysis published by the Manhattan Institute yields projections that the effect would be a reduction of about ten new drugs per year on average, causing a loss of about five million life-years each year, valued conservatively at $500 billion annually, a sum far in excess of total U.S. spending on pharmaceuticals.

It is no mere cliché that life and liberty are always at risk while Congress is in session, and Congress in haste makes the most waste of all. The proposal for drug-price negotiations is an example of a sweeping government measure that ostensibly aims to improve public health and well-being, but will actually result in the redistribution of huge amounts of wealth from the private sector to various constituencies, without the stigma of a “tax increase.” And all that in the first hundred hours.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

The "Surge"---Iraq's Last Chance

Yeah, I cried when I visited Reagan's Tomb. With my dad, about this time last year. I cried right now pulling up this image of it, to tell you the truth.

I've thought for some time now that neo-conservatism (to which I've subscribed) will be buried in Iraq, not in an unmarked grave, but with flashing neon signs. Bush and the Vulcans completely missed that Iraq would throw its first chance in generations for peace, freedom and dignity into the mud. Into its own blood.

Conservatism prides itself on figuring the depravities of human nature into its human equation, and Bush, et al. (including me), seem to have got caught dreaming that there is a universal human nature that is pulled towards the right and the good. But Ronald Reagan's decidedly unconservative epitaph still haunts me. The "surge" is probably the last attempt to secure a successful outcome for the Iraqi people, and if we are genuinely interested in doing the right thing and pursuing a just peace, we must try this.

I, like most Americans and I think our troops as well, am skeptical that it'll work, and admit to a despair in the Iraqi people themselves, or to be more circumspect, the Iraqi culture. Very soon, the only reasonable alternative will indeed be to step back, "redeploy" if you're fond of euphemisms, and let them butcher each other to their little hearts' content.

I can take being wrong, and certainly George W. Bush. But please, God, not Ronald Reagan. Let this work.

After Decades, Gangs Still Kill

Gang violence in America’s big cities has been an issue for decades, and no matter what law enforcement seems to do the killing continues. In today’s LA Times a story covers how the city is changing tactics because they simply are not making progress. Sound familiar?

Los Angeles' top law enforcement officials have agreed on a new attack on gang violence, one that focuses more enforcement on smaller neighborhood gangs and uses a new legal tool tried last year on skid row.

The effort comes as L.A. officials are trying to quell a 14% increase in gang-related crime during the last year, marked by several high-profile incidents of race-motivated violence.

LAPD Chief William J. Bratton met this week with Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley and representatives of City Atty. Rocky Delgadillo to begin formulating the plan.

Think about this in relation to Iraq. The American people, impatient as we are, expect total victory in a few years over vicious terrorists who make gangbangers look like boy scouts. And check out this statistic:

Police have identified 720 street gangs in Los Angeles, with 39,315 members. But officials said a small number of them are causing a disproportionate amount of crime in the hardest-hit neighborhoods.

Almost 40,000 gangsters just in LA alone! And after 30 or 40 years of trying to wipe them out. That is amazing. But if we are having such a tough time snuffing out the insurgency in Iraq we must understand that this is the nature of what is called asymmetric warfare. It is a cultural thing as much as it is a law enforcement or military thing. And Iraq’s culture is a whole lot more screwed up than that of south central LA or the Bronx or the south side of Chicago.

The president tonight will lay out his plan for a change in his Iraq strategy. Democrats and liberals are already bitching and moaning that, well, there are little green men on the moon so it won’t work. It doesn’t matter what the president does, they will revert to their natural selves, i.e. they are inveterate political opportunists devoid of principle, and complain. City government and law enforcement officials in LA are fortunate they don’t have to put up with lying unprincipled louts as they seek to make their city a better place.

Blegging Michael Simpson

Michael, you know a lot more about Christian Democracy than I do. How about putting up a post about it? I'd be particularly interested in whether you think a Christian Democrat party might emerge in the U.S. and what such a party might look like. To me, it looks like the potential third party that would have the best shot possible at becoming one of the two big guys or at maybe holding place as a third party.

Wouldn't such a party have a strong chance of holding together a coalition with people like Jim Wallis and James Dobson in the same structure? Wouldn't it have a better shot at bringing in African-American Christians and maybe Hispanics, as well? It seems to me to have the capacity to do a lot better than Ross Perot ever did.

Valentine to the Memory of Jim Baen

I was happy to see this piece by Hal Colebatch on his association with James Baen, founder of Baen Books, who died in 2006.

My friend Lars Walker is a Baen author with three books published by that house.

His memories seem to be in accord with Mr. Colebatch's, who writes about a man who performed a cultural service as an ex-hippie combatting the suicide of the West through the publication of sci-fi that elevated honor, duty, chivalry, patriotism, and military valor.

Colebatch also includes anecdotes about the personal affection Baen had for authors and illustrators. He was the kind of man who would guarantee future work (wow) to help talent get a mortgage and would give advances larger than those requested!

I once worked for a pharmacist who owned a little neighborhood apothecary. After my half year driving his truck around town and manning the cash register, he gave me a $500 check as a going away bonus. He knew I needed the money for getting set-up at graduate school. When he gave it to me, he said, "This isn't a loan or a gift, it's an obligation. When you see an opportunity to help someone who works for you or with you, then it will be your turn." Jim Baen sounds a lot like my old pharmacist friend and I imagine he's left a lot of obligations out there in the world that his friends will gladly fulfill.

The New Atheists

Interesting article from Gary Wolf in an unlikely source (Wired Magazine?) about ‘The New Atheists’, a group of non-believers seeking to inspire (evangelize just doesn’t seem appropriate) atheists everywhere to ‘come out of the closet’. The idea here being that: 1) there must be a great mass of people out there who call themselves agnostics when they are really atheists; 2) these people need to be mobilized in order to put down the destructive force of religion. Wolf, who identifies himself as part of their target market, takes the reader along for the ride on his own personal journey to discover whether he should respond to their call.

Wolf’s conversion adventure is centered around his interviews with three of the movement’s leading members - evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, neuroscientist Sam Harris, and philosopher Daniel Dennett. Each man world-renowned in his field; each with his own special point of emphasis in the reason and need for an un-revival. Yet, despite his favorable disposition towards their non-theistic foundations (along with an understanding of Christian apologetics so pathetic that it could only have come from its opponents), the call does not resonate with Wolf.

Wolf concludes:

When prophets [i.e. the New Atheists] provoke real trouble, bring confusion to society by sowing reverberant doubts, spark an active, opposing consensus everywhere – that is the sign they've hit a nerve. But what happens when they don't hit a nerve? There are plenty of would-be prophets in the world, vainly peddling their provocative claims. Most of them just end up lecturing to undergraduates, or leading little Christian sects, or getting into Wikipedia edit wars, or boring their friends. An unsuccessful prophet is not a martyr, but a sort of clown.

“Where does this leave us, we who have been called upon to join this uncompromising war against faith? What shall we do, we potential enlistees? Myself, I've decided to refuse the call. The irony of the New Atheism – this prophetic attack on prophecy, this extremism in opposition to extremism – is too much for me.”

But why does he arrive at this conclusion? Despite the gaping holes he pokes in the arguments of Dawkins, Harris and Dennett (one wonders if there might there be more:), it's not as if Wolf is about to lose his faith in the non-existence of God (…if we continue to have respectful conversations even about things we find ridiculous…).

But perhaps I should stay quiet, maybe even relieved or grateful for his conclusion. Perhaps he is serious about his agnosticism, and is genuinely open to the possibility that God exists.

Or perhaps he has discovered that it is just easier to shut down the investigation there and remain in a position that is extremist in its own right - one that requires no defense and nothing of you. He can have it; sounds a little too much for me.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Realism and Bible Films

Still image from The Nativity Story filmSurface realism is a perfectly nice thing for a movie to have, but it's a mistake to elevate it beyond its real importance — and that is true for audiences, critics, and filmmakers alike.

In the case of films based on Biblical events, the temptation in recent years has been to deride movies of the past as unsophisticated and kitschy, and to elevate current-day religious films as superior. This is a mistake, as there are many excellent films with Biblical themes that viewers obsessed with surface realism would miss, as I noted in my National Review Online review of the excellent 2004 film The Gospel of John.

In the case of Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ, the passion for realism manifests itself in a shocking luridness that happens to serve the film very well. (For a full analysis of Gibson's film, see my National Review Online article on it.)

In The Nativity Story, now in theaters, a similar sense of the violence, corruption, and dirtiness of the Israel of that time prevails, but here too, the filmmakers make sure that it serves the story.

The film depicts the Israel into which Jesus Christ is born as a rather dirty, poor place under Roman occupation. The focus of the film is nonetheless strongly on the widespread belief that the Messiah is about to arrive. Following the Biblical account accurately, Mary's cousin Elizabeth conceives a child late in life, which God sends as a sign of the One to come. The child, of course, will grow up to be John the Baptist.

Still shot from The Nativity Story filmUpon realizing that his fiancee, Mary, is with child, Joseph is understandably appalled by what he can only assume is an act of unfaithfulness on the part of his betrothed, and the actors do a fine job of playing these scenes. By introducing the specter of the Jewish punishment for adultery at the time—stoning to death—the film gives a strong motivation for Joseph's decision to accept the child as his own; it will save the lives of both Mary and the as yet unborn child. Afterwards, as in the Biblical accounts, Joseph is visited by an angel who confirms Mary's story. This entire story line is presented very well indeed.

Meanwhile, somewhere in the distant East, three wise men interpret the stars and some old texts and conclude that a savior for the entire world will soon be born. Guided by a unique star formation, they set off to greet this individual. Debating amusingly among themselves, the magi provide a welcome lightening of tone in their scenes.

Of course wicked Herod, King of Israel, fears the coming Messiah and plots to avert his arrival (and Herod's presumed downfall as the new king comes) by killing everyone who fits the varying interpretations of the descriptions of the Messiah in the Tanakh, what Christians call the Old Testament. This leads, of course, to some violent movie action, suspense, hairsbreadth escapes, and the like.

It's all, however, in great accord with the Biblical accounts and illustrates the story quite well. (The biggest factual quibble I noticed is that the magi seem to arrive on the night of Jesus's birth, whereas the Gospel of Matthew makes it clear that they must have come at least a few days later, and even that's a pretty minor complaint.)

I wouldn't throw away De Mille's King of Kings, William Wyler's Ben-Hur, or any of my other old favorites, but The Nativity Story is a fine addition to one's collection of films based on the Bible.

The Nativity Story is in theaters now.


From Karnick on Culture.

Christian Democrat Party USA?

There never has been a need in the United States for a Christian political party because avowedly anti-Christian forces have been historically rare. Instead, we've had a continual alliance between moderate Enlightenment thinkers and Christians who have had similar agendas.

I sometimes wonder whether it is this coalition that is under more strain than the one between conservatives and libertarians that everyone talks about.

I also sometimes wonder whether the United States will ever see the emergence of a Christian Democrat party of the kind we see so frequently in Europe, though the U.S. version would surely be a tad more laissez-faire simply because of the American heritage. Such a party in the U.S. would be pro-life, pro-traditional family (through promotion rather than making alternatives illegal, probably), pro-modest welfare state tied to moral requirements, and soft on immigration. It would come down more or less in the center of American politics economically with a rightward tilt socially. I suspect it would also be typically pro-Israel given the sympathies of the great majority of American Christians.

There are a few fellows working on the Christian Democrat United States version on the web. For an interesting thought experiment as much as anything else, check 'em out at

(This fella off to the right is Abraham Kuyper, former university professor, newspaperman, prime minister of the Netherlands, and probably not a bad mascot for Christian Democracy.)

Monday, January 08, 2007

NC Bar Charges Nifong with Ethics Violations

The North Carolina Bar has filed charges against Durham District Attorney Thomas Nifong. The Center for Individual Freedom's Freedom Line reports:

On December 28, 2006, the North Carolina State Bar filed ethics charges against Durham, North Carolina District Attorney Michael B. Nifong for public statements made related to the so-called Duke University rape case.

As noted earlier on this site and on Karnick on Culture (see articles here, here, and here), the case was a blatant instance of false prosecution from the beginning. The Freedom Line article nicely summarizes Nifong's motives in pressing the entirely groundless case forward:

As most everyone now knows, Nifong was a career prosecutor until he got appointed District Attorney to fill out an uncompleted term. He liked the top job. He decided to run for election to keep it. At the time, he had some competition. He needed a political edge.

Nifong got that edge when, in March 2006, a stripper hired to perform at a party for the Duke lacrosse team claimed she had been gang raped there.

Talk about a prosecutor's political dream. The stripper was black, poor, a single mother working her way through college. The lacrosse players were mostly rich, mostly white, going to that school of privilege and prestige. In the . . . South! (Harper Lee, call your agent.)

Nifong went public, talking, talking, talking. The media, scandal-starved after months of not discovering the dastardly deed or doers thereof to little Natalee in Aruba, took the story global. The Duke University administration, after years of carefully cultivating its reputation to match its ivy-covered facades, looked ever so presumptuously at the prosecutor's edge and decided to jump over it with him. (Now, Duke is clumsily trying to jump back.)

Exactly. There may well be additional charges in the bar association's action, the Freedom Line article notes:

The ethics charges filed against Nifong thus far cover only violations resulting from his public statements. Based on subsequent developments, including collusion with a DNA lab to obfuscate exculpatory evidence, amended complaints and other actions should soon follow. . . .

For those who pay attention to such arcane proceedings, several aspects of the North Carolina State Bar complaint against Mr. Nifong are noteworthy.

First, the State Bar said that it opened a case against Nifong only weeks after the original rape charges were made. Second, the State Bar seems to have initiated the ethics action itself. Third, the complaint is about as public as any could get, while most such actions by state bars are secret.

All three of those initiatives – speed, responsibility, transparency -- are to be commended, because all are so rare.

Your intrepid correspondent, as you will remember, called for Nifong's impeachment and removal from office last May, and for the prosecution of the unnamed accuser and the firing of Duke University President Richard Brodhead at the same time. I branded this "the North Carolina false prosecution scandal" from the start.

It is good to see that the state's bar has finally gone on record as agreeing with that assessment. Now it is up to other state authorities to follow suit. Let justice be done.

From Karnick on Culture.

Bow Before the Worldwide Leader . . . in Sports!

ESPN is, as it likes to tell you over and over, the Worldwide Leader in Sports (TM). And they don't mind leaning on you a little to establish it.

I was listening to Colin Cowherd, who I can't stand but is the only thing going at 10-12 noon in Athens, GA, talk to Kirk Herbstreit about tonight's national title game.

They bemoaned the fact the game was spaced out so far beyond the other bowls. I agree. They said the game had lost momentum. Again, I agree.

But here's the kicker. Herbstreit suggested that people weren't as interested as they might be in the title game between Florida and Ohio State because it was a Fox property rather than an ABC/ESPN production. He and Cowherd then went on to discuss how maybe in successive years BCS bowls would consider that ESPN/ABC might not give as much coverage to events that aren't owned by the Worldwide Leader and that therefore the games not under that rubric might suffer a disability in publicity.

I'm not sure they realized how much they sounded like the kind of Evil Monopolists that made Teddy Roosevelt wanna bust trusts like a soft-spoken bad boy with a big stick.

Some Positive Words for Alan Reynolds

I have a link at my blog for Donald Luskin’s website and I love the name: “The Conspiracy to Keep you Poor and Stupid.” In a post yesterday, Luskin has some very powerful words of praise for one of our esteemed contributors, Mr. Alan Reynolds. Income inequality is a liberal shibboleth, one that goes without saying condemns capitalism as a cold, hard-hearted system that liberals must save us form. Mr. Reynolds has obviously done some amazing work to destroy this supposed self-evident truth.

Here’s the first paragraph, but I’m going to be checking out some of the links and resources about the debate he references. So check it out.

In the true spirit of science, in which competing researchers test each other's hypotheses and experiments in search of a higher truth, Alan Reynolds -- author of “Income and Wealth” -- has been doing brilliant work in investigating the widely held hypothesis that income inequality has increased steadily over the last 20 years. Yes, that is just an hypothesis, though it is so widely believed and frequently quoted as to have the air of fact. What makes Reynolds' work so powerful is that he's patiently and systematically demolished the apparent experimental evidence behind that hypothesis, and dared to stand nearly alone against the conventional wisdom of economic science. When it comes to income inequality, Reynolds is a modern Galileo.

High praise indeed.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

College Football: Last Lap Around the Bowls

Used to be you named a college bowl game after some agricultural product---a peach, a pecan, an orange, a rose, sometimes corn or cotton. Everybody rounded up a couple of teams to play each other on New Year's, and after the carnage and marching bands were done, at the end of the day some sort of #1 was voted on.

Well, like all elections, national champions are seldom decided to everyone's satisfaction. And this year, the scientifically-determined Bowl Championship Series final 'twixt Ohio State and Gatorade U. won't even be played until January 8. Talk about prolonging the agony, and not only that, the crappier (pun somewhat intended) bowls plop at last over the finish line: January 6 is the International Bowl (whatever that is), to be contested between Western Michigan (we might accurately guess where that might be) and the legendary University of Cincinnati.

Alas, the fruits, nuts, flowers and fibers of the bowl games of yore have largely given way to over 40 bowl games bearing the TMs of MCS Computers, Meineke Mufflers and Doritos, but here's to the champs of not exactly an entire corporation, but at least their website:

To the University of South Florida, vanquishers of East Carolina University (24-to-something), I shall remember your achievement at the 2006 Bowl always, or at least as long as they continue their $4.99 (large, one topping) carryout special. History is what you make of it, especially when it's a great deal on a pretty good pizza.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Why We Hate

Peter Wood, the brilliant anthropologist and author of the new book A Bee in the Mouth: Anger in America Today, has contributed a very astute analysis of "The Liberalitarian Dustup" in National Review Online. I recommmend it highly.

Analyzing the disagreement between libertarians and liberals as to whether the two sides have much in common and might make good political bedfellows, and concentrating on leftist Jonathan Chait's furious rejection of libertarian Brink Lindsey's overture suggesting an alliance, Wood uses the exchange to exemplify the absurd amount of anger in political discourse today, and the amount of it that seems so thorougly unjustified by the intellectual or political differences at hand.

We know all of that already, of course, but Wood adds something of value to the discussion. He succinctly and correctly identifies the sociological and cultural origins of the great unleashing of anger in contemporary political discourse:

The Newly Angry are moved by a sense that they are most authentic, most transcendently themselves, when they are unleashing their anger. New Anger is the narcissistic self in high dudgeon.

Wood points out that modern-day, extreme expressions of anger in political discourse are actually attempts to characterize oneself as authentic and one's cause as just. This, he astutely observes, is an outgrowth of our transition "from a culture that prized self-control to a culture that prizes self-expression" (a phenomenon which I identified in NRO in 2003). Wood notes that although polictical anger has existed for a long time (ever since people have had any influence over their governments, I would note) the big change is the movement away from an ideal of self-control to one of self-expression:
Anger at political adversaries, of course, is nothing new. Reflecting on the intensification of political anger in the last few years, some commentators have pointed to the extraordinary acrimony between partisans of Jefferson and Adams in the 1800 election as proof that the nation has seen worse. But that comparison misses something. Go back and read the vitriolic diatribes of 1800 and you will find numerous attacks on Jefferson as a would-be tyrant and a man of low morals; and numerous attacks on Adams as a scoundrel who would sell the nation back to the British. But you will nothing remotely like, “I hate Thomas Jefferson,” or “I hate John Adams.”

Why not? Americans in 1800 certainly knew what political anger was but they faced powerful restraints. George Washington, who was completing his second term, was a living reproof to those who couldn’t control their anger. He was known to be a man of quick temper who, by dint of hard effort, smothered it. That was the ideal. Children were taught from a young age that they had to master their anger, and that to fail at this was to own a morally serious flaw. Politics, being inherently oppositional, is bound to test such a principle. The newspapers and pamphlets of 1800 are full of Jeremiads, hard-hitting satire, and libelous personal attacks, and the writers give the impression (usually behind the mask of a pseudonym) of enjoying the rollicking pleasure of their verbal extravagance.
I should observe that the period leading up to the War Between the States included expressions of anger similar to those we see today, in which people routinely characterized one another as demons and in which reason was regularly tossed out the window. I think that this observation actually brings up a point that should be crucial in understanding the current situation:

Slavery was important.

It was a central moral issue. It went to our very definition of ourselves and what is human.

And there could be no compromise on it.

Today, by contrast, political discourse has become absurdly impassioned over issues such as when to turn Iraq over to its elected government, what if anything to do about climate variation, how much more money to waste on propping up the welfare state, and other such issues which, however important they may be in making our comfortable lives even cushier, have not one one-hundredth of the importance of the issue of whether people should be viewed as property.

Antebellum Americans had a demmed good reason to be angry at one another. There is nothing like that in play today, with the possible exception of stem cell research and related issues—and on that issue there hasn't been much discussion at all in comparison with the issues mentioned above.

As life has become easier for Americans, the arguments have become more ferocious.

The biggest difference between America then and now, and between today and all other times in the history of the United States, is this: We were vulnerable to attack.

When Jefferson and Adams were arguing and their followers fuming, the British were a severe, present danger, and in fact would attack the United States just a few years later. In that regard, both Jefferson and Adams were on the same side. There could be no doubt that they were allies of the heart on the fundamental level.

Today it is our very sense of post-Cold War, sole superpower invincibility that allows us to fight each other so furiously.

The hostilities, so evident during the Clinton administration and after the 2000 elections, died down temporarily when we perceived ourselves as threatened after the 9/11 attacks. But as the threat receded, there being no terror attacks on American soil after our intitiation of the War on Iraq, the furor over every little thing arose again, even greater than before.

Everything happens in the Omniculture, and without a central set of accepted premises to guide us in our search for solutions to our social problems (which are endemic to mankind and will always exist), our political discourse becomes increasingly disturbed and pornographically violent.

That is unlikely to change until we are either confronted by a real, undeniable, and imminent danger to our very existence, or we come once again to share a set of general values widely across society.

The first is, of course, a consummation for which no sensible person would wish, and the second is something that, alas, appears to have become very unlikely indeed.

From Karnick on Culture.

More on Hate Crimes

Jim, it's interesting you bring up these little verbal street assaults. There may be something about some of us pale fellas that occasions taunting from men of darker hue.

I don't know what it is, but I have, in the past racked up the following incidents:

1. On an unmotivated walk, just strolling through Charlottesville, VA into an unfamiliar neighborhood, I began to hear threatening remarks issuing forth from somewhere out of my vision. I suddenly realized I was the only caucasoid on the street. "You bettah get yo a$$ outta here, BOY. You bettah RUN."

I don't mind admitting to you that I RAN.

2. Same town, different day. I was walking through the charming downtown area. Two African-American gents hung out on a corner just staring at passersby. When I passed, they issued a gratuitious racial insult. I kept walking, head down, seriously peeved. The Christian humanist in me wanted to engage these guys and find out what was at the bottom of insulting somebody they didn't know anything about. I was too mad and too afraid of where a confrontation would lead, so I kept walking with a knot in my stomach.

3. Atlanta: Running late to get to the capitol for lobbying work. I jumped out of my train and stepped onto the escalator. I may have walked up the first two or three steps. A large African-American man dressed in heavy jacket and baseball cap turned around and menaced, "Don't you ever run up on me like that, boy."

4. Atlanta: Riding MARTA to the capitol. Made the mistake of boarding a car full of African-American young people while dressed in a suit. A young woman came and stood over me and then began to RAP at me and unleashed a number of lines I could barely understand, but were clearly not complimentary. Her companions leered and giggled. I sat there thinking, "Here I am working, trying to establish a career, and I've somehow merited RIDICULE."

5. On another occasion, I walked through the underground train station in Atlanta. A young, black man dressed in the gangsta style ran up to me, dropped down to a football three point stance, and waited, I think, for me to get out of his way. By this time I'd had enough. I outweighed this guy by a hundred pounds and I wasn't moving. He jumped up, spun around me and yelled as he passed, "Boy, I would have KNOCKED you down!" I replied, "In your dreams." My cheek had been turned about 270 degrees from its original position and I was beginning to react.

Strangely enough, since that time the unwarranted cross-racial attacks aimed at me seem to have stopped. Maybe the Lord decided I'd had enough. I don't know. Maybe I walk a little taller, stand a little straighter these days. But I do know that it's a very unpleasant thing to be insulted, called out, and taunted, and verbally spat upon when you haven't done a thing in the world other than mind your own darn business.

Hate me, Baby, just leave me alone

A WALK IN THE PARK: I think I was a hate-crime victim. Guy called me a white faggot as I walked through Scoville Park in the gloaming a few weeks ago. I didn't stop. He and his friends were irritated at my NOT stopping. They were desperate for my attention, and I refused it. This was my offense, and so I got victimized. Or was I?

All the guy did was toss out a "white faggot" to an unassuming white fellow trying hard to mind his own business. I had passed them earlier. One was jawing at another, three or four others stood chatting each other up. It's a free country, I thought, go ahead and jaw. I got a few steps past them and heard, "Hi, brother." Who, me? I'm not a brother, I thought -- except to an octogenarian in Gurnee and a septuagenarian in Arlington, VA -- and kept walking.

Again the call: "Brother." I'll bet it's me, I mused. But out of 40-year-old misty memory came a guy yelling, "Hey, you with the collar!" in an open field at 13th and Loomis on a midsummer night in 1966, as helmeted police gathered all down Roosevelt Road. The caller had me cold, I wore the clerical collar. I ignored his cry for attention. Twenty-something and intent on mischief, he had an audience of five or six teen-aged boys, to whom he would have given a lesson in how to deal with the likes of me. No, thanks, I muttered, continuing my way towards the Baptist church at the other end of the project, where do-gooders were gathering ineffectually.

Ignoring this Scoville Park greeting came easy, therefore. But my response rankled, and when I returned 15 minutes later heading the other way, I was accused incontinently of being "a snob" who "wouldn't talk" to them. I was "Sherlock Holmes" in my floppy hat (heh). I was told to commit an indecent if not impossible act. These were truly disgruntled youth. Later on Lake Street, I ran into them again. This time they tossed the N-word at a fellow African American, who was also told to commit an indecent if not impossible act. Now I ask you, were we all victims of hate crimes?

JUMPING TO CONCLUSION: You hear a lot about the school achievement gap, but what about the basketball gap? White kids can't jump, but so what? So they don't suit up or if they do, they warm the bench. That's what happens to the American dream in a dog-eat-dog society. Look, white kids are grossly underrepresented on basketball teams not just in Oak Park and River Forest but nationally. I say enough. Let's train our sights on this gap too. And nuts to this can't-jump stuff, which is transparently racist. It's environment, folks. How many white fathers shoot hoops with their sons?

THROUGH A PRISM DARKLY: The Oak Park District 97 strategic plan draft calls schools "the educational prism through which students realize meaning and purpose in their lives." It says they are "to guarantee that each student achieves optimal intellectual growth while developing socially, emotionally and physically." That's all?

How about the prism through which students realize how to read, write, and do long division, not to mention shut up when teacher is talking and otherwise cooperate for the more or less common good? And who says schools are a prism in the first place? In what respect are they "a transparent optical element with flat, polished surfaces that refract light, the exact angles between whose surfaces depend on the application"? Beats me.

As for "realizing" -- learning? achieving? both, splitting the difference? -- the meaning and purpose in life, oh my. Are these schools or houses of worship? And there's a guarantee of optimal growth? Listen to that carnival barker.

Maybe we would all pay more attention to a plan that made more sense. Or did not belabor the obvious, favoring "a culture of inclusion that respects and promotes diversity." This deftly undercuts the powerful exclusion and uniformity lobby, but it's also grand language impossible to disagree with, reeking of groupthink and lack of imagination, cobbled together in meetings.

The good news is, it's a draft. So hello Baby, give us rewrite.

(From Wednesday Journal of Oak Park & River Forest, 1/3/07)

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Is Conservatism Really Losing?

In light of the last election a lot of conservatives are going all navel-gazing on us. I’m not sure I share what appears to be the prevalent pessimism. But maybe I’m wrong. I came across an intriguing article at “The American Thinker” by Steven Warshawsky, and he argues that America is moving left, not in evidence because of the election, but because the left controls all the most powerful means of culture to influence Americans: academia, mainstream media, Hollywood, law, etc. This is otherwise known as the ubiquitous liberal message machine that is American culture.

I can sympathize with his concern, but the reason I don’t share his pessimism is that liberalism is a political philosophy today that dares not speak its name. Hillary Clinton may be a leftist, but she doesn't run as one, even in New York. If we look at modern political history, let's say post-WWII, then conservatism, which really didn't exist on a popular level before WFB came along, has done tremendously well. In poll after poll, self-described liberals are fewer than self-described conservatives.

What we are really talking about here is the great unwashed “middle”. These people are primarily apolitical and are most easily swayed by the soft sweet liberalism they’ve been swimming in since they hit kindergarten. He makes the irrefutable case that most conservatives are talking to themselves (all you liberals out there reading this please raise your hands). As a parallel example, Conservative Christians have been rightly accused of living in a “Christian ghetto” for years. Preaching to the choir, if you will.

His answer in the short run is advertising. Yes, you read that right, advertising. Maybe, but in the long run the only answer is to get more conservatives in all those places of influence. I believe most Americans would buy the conservative argument every time if those weren't so easily demagogued as they are in our political and cultural environment.

I grew up politically with the election of Reagan. I voted for Carter in '80 because of complete ignorance, but started not too long thereafter to read the WSJ editorial page and National Review. I wasn't ignorant long. It was interesting for me at the time to see the amount of effort put in to recruiting young conservatives into politics. Those young conservatives are now the ones who dominate the Republican Party.

We need to do the same today. Using a similar model we can recruit young conservatives into academia, journalism, Hollywood, law, and the arts. This can be done on college campuses and to those of college age. We simply, though it would not be simple, connect with all the campus conservative or Republican organizations and recruit young conservative firebrands into careers that will “make a difference.” We hold conferences, training sessions, basically whatever they did in the 70s and 80s to raise up a generation of conservative politicians and political operatives.

The 60s boomers who dominate culture today will be dead and gone in the next 30 or 40 years. I believe that the generations coming after them are not nearly as ideological, so as more and more conservatives begin to take over positions of power in our culture in the next decades the heyday of liberalism can be put in the trash can of history with its kissin' cousins, communism and socialism.

Nifong Drops Rape Charges Against Falsely Accused Duke Students

As you may have heard in the news, District Attorney Michael Nifong has dropped the rape charges against the Duke University lacrosse players falsely charged last March. As Thomas Sowell notes in National Review Online, Nifong decided to drop the charges when the head of the lab that looked at the DNA evidence in the case testified under oath that the accuser had DNA from other men on her, but none from any Duke player.

However, as Sowell astutely notes, Nifong has left some relatively minor charges hanging over the three young men identified by the stripper in a rigged photo lineup. Nifong's blatant misconduct led to this author's call for his impeachment last May, along with prosecution of the accuser and the firing of Duke University President Richard Brodhead, who sided with the accuser and castigated the Duke lacrosse team, the Duke student body, all non-poor caucasians, and all males. The man is an utter disgrace.

From the start of this sordid affair, I have consistently referred to the players as falsely accused, the accuser as phony, Nifong as guilty of gross prosecutorial misconduct, and Brodhead as a race panderer and a disloyal, smarmy class warrior. Nifong's latest action confirms all of those characterizations.

Sowell notes that Nofong's strategy in leaving some charges remaining against the falsely accused men is designed to save not only his political life but indeed to keep himself out of prison. His blatant misconduct in this case merits disbarment and criminal prosecution for obstruction of justice, as I have argued before on this site. Sowell points out that the remaining charges are Nifong's only hope of evading disbarment and possible criminal prosecution against himself:

It is an old ploy to keep some charges hanging over the heads of accused individuals, even if you don't have enough of a case to convict them, just so that they can be persuaded to plea bargain down to something with minor penalties, in order to get the hassle over with.

That would also get the heat off Nifong, who could then claim that in fact he had some basis to prosecute in this case, when in fact he had nothing from day one.

If bad gets to worse, Nifong can take the case to a jury, hoping to find at least one juror so biased by racial resentments as to refuse to declare the Duke students not guilty. A hung jury can save Nifong from being hung for a groundless prosecution.

As I argued months ago and regularly since, this case is not just about three college boys, a stripper, and a prosecutor. It is about whether ambitious prosecutors are to be allowed to use the power of the law as a tool of their own political ambitions. Sowell agrees, noting that if Nifong gets away with this outrageous misconduct,

. . . it would allow a nationally publicized gross misuse of prosecutorial powers to go unpunished, emboldening other prosecutors across the country to think that they can get away with anything.

What happens to Nifong matters far beyond Nifong, just as what happens to these Duke University students matters far beyond these students.

That is why we should care about this case, and why Nifong should be impeached forthwith. Once he's impeached, his replacement can drop the charges against the falsely accused Duke students, and the prosecutions of Nifong and the accuser can begin.

That will be a good day for all of us.

From Karnick on Culture.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Abort the Children of Men

I was eagerly awaiting the movie based on P.D. James's The Children of Men, but after this review by Thomas Hibbs on NRO, I think I'll just wait until it hits Netflix. Alas.

My Democrat Friends

Sadly, my friendship is unrequited. They largely cull their wisdom from bumper stickers, in this case "FRIENDS DON'T LET FRIENDS VOTE REPUBLICAN," they can't dissuade me from doing so, ergo we cannot be friends. The logic is impeccable; still, it hurts.

Now, I took a lot of deserved grief at the last election over the conduct of the GOP congress. Although by 1994 the Democrats had cut to 30% the number of bills they let the minority party weigh in on, by 2006 the GOP, as the majority, went the extra mile or two and cut it to 10%. Admittedly ungracious, the Democrats pledged to do better, and it was a point I had to yield.

However, DRUDGE tells us that the Democrats will keep the bulldozer running at least for the coming 100 Hours of Terror and Irrelevance.

I do expect the republic to survive, and as for the return of civility, the nation holds its breath. The Democrats will still have to keep their core happy, and the early returns are not promising. It's hard for Democrats to be friends with anyone, especially each other, it seems. In future, I shall try not to take it personally.

Fair & Balanced

Since we spend the lion's share of our time spotlighting the idiocies of the left, duty requires we note those on the right.

Pat Robertson, please shut up. If you want to do something useful, pick me a horse.

Where Are They Now? Dept.

It's not earth-shaking news, but...Do any of you remember James Elliott, who once graced The Reform Club with his frequent commentary? Well, he has a site of his own now. You might want to drop by and wish him well.

My Bold Prediction for 2007-2008: Obama Fever Unstoppable

Barack Obama is going to be the presidential nominee for the Democrats without breaking a sweat. He is going to win the presidency of the United States, too.

I had this feeling about Bill Clinton well before he became the frontrunner. Obama's going to make it look easy. The guy is an absolute master at sounding like the perfect moderate while simultaneously voting party line left-wing liberal. Thus, he shall be loved and lauded by the press and pushed by the party hungry to retake the White House.

Obama will also make a major impact on religious voters. Despite his voting record, Obama has mastered the valentine to persons of faith. He goes out of his way to show he does not share the secularistic contempt of the faithful even if he does share the secularists' voting record. He's going to get ALL the Jim Wallis-Tony Campolo types and a good chunk of the "emergent" Evangelicals as well.

This guy could have a gay lover scandal followed by falling into a pile of horse manure all before a 10 a.m. campaign stop and still be our next president.

The only thing that could stop him would be another 9-11 type disaster on American soil, which would make Rudy the next occupant of the White House.

Alan Reynolds, Champion of the Downtrodden

Since our esteemed colleague Alan Reynolds is too demure to toot his own horn as loudly as it deserves to be tooted, I point readers to his commentary piece which originally appeared in the Washington TImes on Christmas Eve. The more Alan talks about his new book, Income and Wealth, the more people will absorb his sensible explanations of the real economic meaning of the concepts business reporters, Beltway eggheads, and members of the House majority seem to delight in misusing.

I especially appreciated Alan's highlighting of the disproportionate role energy prices play in the consumption of the poorest households, and how they are hit especially hard when energy prices rise. This reinforces one of my pet gripes about the American left: while they blather endlessly about how they are the True Friends of the Poor and Downtrodden, their policy proposals almost invariably harm the poor most of all. From increasing the brutally regressive FICA tax, to the minimum wage, to regulations that stunt economic growth, those with the fewest options, the least political leverage, and the smallest resources are the ones that get it in the neck. Given increasing global demand, the only way to lower energy prices is to increase the supply. ANWR is not off limits because the relatively impoverished Alaskans, including the native tribes, want to keep it closed. They overwhelmingly support increased drilling in Alaska. ANWR drilling is opposed by upper middle class urbanites in the lower 48, the kind of people who buy thousand dollar fly rods from Orvis and go on ecotours of the Galapagos Islands. John Edwards is right -- there are two Americas. He's just wrong about which side he's really on.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Elizabeth Fox-Genovese

Elizabeth Fox-Genovese, history and humanities professor at Emory University died this morning in Atlanta. She is perhaps best known as a critic of modern feminism and especially the way it tended to elevate the aspirations of upper-class women and ignore the devastating effects things like "sexual liberation" had on those without such resources. I once had the honor to introduce Professor Fox-Genovese at a talk and I asked her assistant to send me her CV. It ran to 26 pages. My wife and I also once hosted her to dinner at our house. She was as gracious and delightful as she was accomplished. Her story of her conversion to Catholicism is here. RIP.

Bureaucrats Stay Home

Back to the daily routine after a week and a half of Christmas vacation, and back therefore to the daily dose of drive time local talk radio. So what was the big controversy this AM? Whether closing the federal government to mourn Gerald Ford's passing was a fitting mark of respect or the end of civilization as we know it. (DC talk radio thrives on this sort of logical fallacy.) Many opposed to the closure thought it was a waste of resources. These people must not ever have actual dealings with the federal government. Any day the gray buildings of Independence Avenue are shuttered is a day some bossy GS-14 who thinks his MPA is a license to pester ordinary folk can find something better to do for 24 hours. National productivity probably soars on federal holidays like this.

Not that I feel any great grief at the passing of Gerald Ford; I'm sure he was a great guy and did his best under trying circumstances, but all I really remember about his presidency are those silly Whip Inflation Now buttons and how my goverment teacher looked like his head was going to explode when told us Nixon had been pardoned. But just to show my heart's in the right place, I propose to observe a period of penance today for the sin and stupidity of voting for Carter in 1976. I'm sorry, Gerry. You're in a better place now and I'm sure you've forgiven us, but you could have been an utter scoundrel and still not have deserved to lose the White House to that sanctimonious creep.

The Bucking Bronc Stops Here

It seems scary to contemplate, but I intuit that Denver Broncos cornerback Darrent Williams was gunned down by a gangster who lost a lot of money when the Broncos choked and coughed up their NFL playoff spot on the last day of the season. It may not have been planned; seeing a Bronco player partying in his limousine hours after the numbing defeat could have triggered a temper and tempered a trigger.

If players figure this out, whether or not a police arrest provides confirmation, it will introduce a chilling new component to our sporting events.

This kind of thing can only be solved one way, by the Marines landing in Afghanistan, i.e. a very harsh and intolerant police assault on the mobsters who are the heavies of sports betting. This has been done a few times in the past, most notably after the Black Sox scandal.

Monday, January 01, 2007

Welcome to

We've changed our name and our look, but the song remains the same. But keep an eye on us, because you never know.

College Football

We don't do much sports around here, but here I am watching the half-time of the OU-Boise State game and they're showing the marching bands for a few minutes. Very nice! I've long wondered why some bowls (especially the Super Bowl) think that people want to see some lame-o performer strut about a stage on a football field surrounded by a small crowd of cheering adolescents and some dancers, twirlers, and the like.

Sunday, December 31, 2006

A Tribute to John Dickson Carr

John Dickson CarrThis is the last day in which I can decently mark the centennial of the birth of the truly great detection fiction writer John Dickson Carr. Carr flourished as a writer during the 1930s and '40s and wrote numerous classic detective novels and short stories, continuing to write until the 1970s. With Doyle, Chesterton, Christie, Queen, and Sayers, Carr is one of the greatest of all mystery writers.

Carr was the master of the "impossible crime" story and its best-known subset, the locked-room mystery. Carr's narratives are fiendishly deceptive and puzzling, yet he leaves the crucial clues right out there for the reader to see. Yet we never do, and the detective's revelation of the killer nearly always comes as a big surprise.

Carr's stories tend to include a bit of overly cute romance between some young couple unique to each book or story, and he has a habit of piling on melodramatic language at times (primarily in the dialogue) and setting obviously artificial rhetorical cliffhangers at the end of some chapters, but these are minor inconveniences that detract only a little from the overall excellence of most of his books and stories.

A lovely artistic rendition of John Dickson Carr's character Dr. Gideon FellHis achievement rests largely on two series. One, written under his own name, featured Dr. Gideon Fell, a delightfully larger than life English detective modeled on G. K. Chesterton and Dr. Samuel Johnson. Fell's exploits began with the splendid 1933 novel Hag's Nook, and extended through 23 novels and several short stories, most of which are of very high quality indeed. Highlights are The Mad Hatter Mystery, The Blind Barber, and The Hollow Man (aka The Three Coffins).

The Hollow Man is truly one of the great classics of the genre, and includes Dr. Fell's famous "locked room lecture," in which he tells the reader how to solve locked-room puzzles, in a novel in which the central issue is a murder in a locked room. Of course, even after reading the lecture, no sane reader can actually solve the puzzle anyway.

Although Carr was an American, born in western Pennsylvania, his detectives were predominantly English, and his second great series, written under the pen name Carter Dickson, features Sir Henry Merrivale as detective. These are rather more humorous on the whole than the Fell mysteries, and are indeed often farcical, usually in a highly entertaining and likeable way. (Thanks are due to the late Wyatt James, an enthusiastic and astute reader of Carr, for my capsule description of Merrivale.)

Merrivale, a bald, stout, Churchillian English baronet descended from Cavaliers, is one of the great characters of mystery fiction. Smoking vile cigars and dressed like a villain in a cheap melodrama, Merrivale sweeps grandly through each story, arguing forcefully with his friends and staying about fifty-five steps ahead of both narrator and reader. And the mysteries are often as brain-roastingly puzzling as those in the Fell stories.

Among my favorite Merrivales are The Plague Court Murders, The White Priory Murders, and the delightfully zany The Curse of the Bronze Lamp. One of Carr's very best novels and one of my personal favorites is a Merrivale: The Judas Key. It is one of the most Carrian of all of Carr's novels, and it is one of the greatest mystery novels of all time, in my view.

Carr's first detective character was Dr. Henri Benconlin of the Paris police. The Bencolin novels are highly atmospheric, often almost gothic in tone, and very tense and spooky at their best. The Corpse in the Waxworks is quite impressive. Another Carr detective who was featured in a series of short stories was Colonel March; his exploits are collected in the book The Department of Queer Complaints and in the excellent 1991 collection Merrivale, March, and Murde, edited by Carr biographer Douglas Greene.

Greene's biography of Carr, The Man Who Explained Miracles, is one of the greatest biographies of a mystery fiction writer ever produced. Perhaps the best, in fact.

John Dickson CarrCarr also wrote several excellent mysteries set in historical times; most of these appeared during the 1950s and '60. Among my favorites in this group are The Bride of Newgate, The Devil in Velvet, Fire, Burn!, Most Secret, and The Demoniacs. These are all great fun, often with a good deal of swashbuckling action not found in Carr's other writings.

In addition to all this, Carr wrote several novels and a like number of short stories featuring non-series detectives. Among these are a couple of my favorite Carr novels: The Nine Wrong Answers and Patrick Butler for the Defense. Also among these is my favorite of all of Carr's novels: The Burning Court. The latter is one of the top five mystery novels of all time, in my opinion.

Carr also wrote numerous scripts for radio, and the excellent mystery publisher Crippen and Landru has published a volume of these, Speak of the Devil.

It's a pity that Carr's writings have fallen into relatively obscurity in the three decades since his death. He is truly one of the very greatest mystery writers, and his writings still give great pleasure to those blessed enough to know about them.

One thing that may have contributed to this undeserved obscurity is the unfortunate fact that few of Carr's writings have been translated to television or film. In the 1960s the BBC produced a fondly remembered series starring Boris Karloff as Col. March, which alas I haven't seen and would dearly like to get a hold of. Other than that, there haven't been many adaptations of Carr for the visual media. Some enterprising British or American producer would do well to mine Carr's rich vein of great mysteries and bring these tales to a new audience while taking advantage of some really superb, atmospheric story material. Carr's narratives are ripe for the picking, and it's about time someone who appreciates great mystery fiction brought him to a new generation of readers.

You could certainly do much worse than to make a resolution to read some Carr this year. Start here and here.

Strongly recommended!

From Karnick on Culture.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Holland's Post-Secular Future

A very interesting article on a possible religious revival in the Netherlands. Two things to note in particular. First, that immigration into the Netherlands has been more Christian than Muslim. (I've had friends tell me about attending churches where African and Asian immigrants had come in and bought old liberal churches and turned them into vibrant evangelical ones). Second (and this isn't in the article) in spite of the fact that the Dutch are and have long been the most secular of European countries, they have also historically been quite religious. In the late 19th century, the Dutch were the country who had the highest percentage of individuals with no religious affiliation and the country with very devout (and politically powerful) conservative Catholic and Calvinist communities. Perhaps something similar might emerge in the 21st century...perhaps.

Scary True Believers

Dan Drezner has a nice round-up of the blogosphere dustup regarding Ann Althouse's attendance at a Liberty Fund conference and her horror at discovering that there are people who really, really believe things. Really.

Now, I have my libertarian (or what our STK would call classical liberal) leanings and I'm instinctively unsympathetic to someone like Althouse who bursts into tears on learning that some young woman doesn't quite appreciate the importance of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. But I have to say that, having been to a few Liberty Fund conferences myself, it is true that you can run across people who are so committed to their ideas that they really lose their capacity for judgment. I was at one where a young woman opined that the people of North Korea must not mind having the government they did. Since outcomes reflect "revealed preferences", they must be ok living a collective gulag. After violating the Liberty Fund rules (by talking out of turn) and calling her view "the dumbest thing I've ever heard someone say", I didn't think I'd get invited back to another conference.

I did, though, and I'm happy to say that in general, that young woman has been a minority and the LF conferences I've been a part of have been delightful weekends of serious, thoughtful, and invigorating discussion. Indeed, they are places where people take ideas and texts seriously and truly try to understand what some of our forbears have written - much more so than any university campus I've been on (and I've been on way too many). It's a shame Professor Althouse couldn't seemingly handle such an environment.

(As a side note, the incident is reflective, I think, of how much contemporary liberalism sees its moral capital tied up in the 1960s Civil Rights movement.)

Friday, December 29, 2006

Theology or Character?

Richard John Neuhaus responds a bit to this piece by Slate's Jacob Weisberg over at FT basically suggesting that Mitt Romney should be disqualified by voters from serious consideration for the presidency unless he denounces some central Mormon tenets. Neuhaus suggests, in response:

Mr. Weisberg is less than civil, but one may well share much of his evaluation of the LDS belief system without excluding the possibility of supporting Mitt Romney. (For my misgivings about the LDS, see “Is Mormonism Christian?” in the March 2000 issue of First Things.) First, what would people think of someone who abandoned the religion of his forebears in order to advance his political career? (Mr. Romney is apparently having difficulties enough in explaining some of his political changes.) Second, do we really want to exclude from high office millions of citizens born into a religion whose tenets strike most Americans as bizarre, especially when there is no evidence that those peculiar tenets would have a bearing on their public actions? Third, candidates should be judged on the basis of their character, competence, and public positions. That one was born a Mormon is not evidence of a character flaw. That one remains a Mormon may be evidence of theological naiveté or indifference. But we are not electing the nation’s theologian. And, it should be noted, there are very intelligent Mormons who are doing serious intellectual work to move their tradition toward a closer approximation of Christian orthodoxy, which is a welcome development.

In any event, Romney’s being a Mormon may be a factor but it should not be the decisive factor in supporting or opposing his candidacy. Once again, in politics the question frequently comes down to, Compared to what? Depending upon the character, competence, and positions of the other candidate or candidates, it is conceivable that one might support Mitt Romney.

Please note that this is not an endorsement. It is a response to Jacob Weisberg and others who would use religion to oppose a candidate for the presidency in a manner not substantively different from their use of religion in opposing the present incumbent of the White House. One need only recall the innumerable rants against a president who is born again, prays daily, thinks he has a hotline to God, and is bent upon replacing our constitutional order with a theocracy. In the game book of unbridled partisanship, any stick will do for beating up on the opposition.

This seems to me a bit tougher of a call than RJN seems to make it out to be, mostly because I don't think you can distinguish quite so distinctly between a candidate's "theology" and his (or her) "character" and while theology might or might not matter politically (does the Spirit come from just the Father or the Father and the Son?) surely character does. Most presidents get defined by quite unexpected events and they are judged by how they handle them, at least part of which depends on their judgment, their capacity for moral and practical reflection, their character. Now, as I said, some theological questions don't show us much of anything about character, but surely others do. If you're committed to believing things that are flatly untrue what might this suggest about your judgment in other things? Suppose a candidate is such a biblical literalist that he thinks the sun actually revolves around the earth? Would you vote for such a man or woman? I would be very loathe to do so, thinking that such commitments reveal something unsatisfactory about his (or her) judgment. (On the flip side, just to be fair here, I would be equally suspect of someone who embraced the mushy-minded view that all religions are just different paths to God, as if the very real and very serious distinctions were just so much fluff above the "real" stuff "we all" believe.)

So what does this say about Romney? Well, it's unclear - he hasn't really addressed this yet. Does he really believe that Joseph Smith was a prophet who translated a new Revelation? Does he really think there was an enormous civilization in North America that vanished without so much a trace? If so, that seems reason enough to at least wonder about his judgment. That doesn't mean, though, that it's a smack-down case for thinking his judgment thereby necessarily bad. I'm not quite sure how to draw those lines, but I don't think RJN gives the question enough credence.

King Jr. (But No Memorial)

The passing of former President Leslie Lynch King Jr. goes unremarked, because he is better known by his adoptive name, Gerald Rudolff Ford Jr., which he spelled as Rudolph, perhaps because he had a red nose.

Of course, he did accede to the Presidency because people said: "Let's lynch the king." The king said, "Nix on that." And Gerald was resigned to his fate.

But the object lesson is this. Had Leslie Lynch King Sr., the wealthy wool merchant from Wyoming, been an honorable mensch, he would have honorable mention in every history book, because his eponymous son became President. Instead house painter Gerald Rudolff Ford Sr. gets that honor.

Chew on that as they drop the ball for the new year and resolve: in this new year I will not drop the ball.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Bobby Knight and the Power of the Press

Never a silent KnightTomorrow night Texas Tech basketball coach Bobby Knight goes out to break Dean Smith's record for lifetime victories by an NCAA men's basketball coach. Knight has been vilified for years by the press, and of course some of his behavior has certainly earned rebuke. However, as Michael Ledeen points out in National Review Online, the press tends to hold Knight to a higher standard than it sets for most coaches. For example, Ledeen notes,
Yes, he’s got a temper. I have never known a winning coach in any spot who did not have a terrible temper. A few years ago I went to the Final Four in Indianapolis and watched Wisconsin lose to Florida. The Wisconsin coach was named Bennett, and everybody loved him. At a certain point one of his players committed a stupid foul and he called timeout, walked onto the court, and let fly at this poor kid with a torrent of abuse that would have made Knight blush (which is saying something). We were sitting two rows down from the Arctic Circle, and we heard every epithet. But there was no mention of it in the press coverage, because the hunting pack had decided the guy was lovable.
That is a thoroughly correct observation, and I'll add the "why" to it. The real reason the press go after Knight so aggressively is not his infamous actions such as chucking a player under the chin during a game or throwing a chair, unpleasant as those incidents may look on television.

The press will forgive even things such as that—consider the kind of rancid behavior we've seen on football and baseball fields that has been entirely forgotten by the press.

But what the media won't forgive or forget is being exposed as ignorant. And that that is what Knight consistently does in his postgame press conferences and other public forums. Knight treats the press just as he does his players: when they do something stupid, he tells them so, in no uncertain terms.

His press conferences are often hilarious, as he takes ignorant writers to task for asking absurdly stupid questions.

Knight is the one sports figure who does this consistently, and he has paid the price in public scorn. Yet he doesn't appear to mind at all. Here is a man who does what he thinks is right and doesn't give a crud who thinks otherwise. That's a very masculine way to act, and Knight makes no apologies for it. That's another reason many in the press fear and dislike him: he's not the type to worry about other people's opinions and back down under fire. Instead, he fights back.

That's what men do, and it's something our modern mores find unacceptable. That's a pity. We need more examples of fortitude like Bob Knight.

Congratulations to Coach Knight on tying the record for victories. I wish him continued success.

From Karnick on Culture.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

A Christmas Derangement

From Yahoo News:

Israel agreed Monday to remove some of the military roadblocks that have hindered Palestinian travel in the West Bank, one of several gestures aimed at boosting moderate President Mahmoud Abbas in his bitter struggle with the militant Islamic Hamas.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert approved streamlining checkpoints and removing roadblocks "to strengthen moderate (Palestinian) elements," according to a statement from his office. Olmert has already offered $100 million in frozen tax income to Abbas and indicated he might release some Palestinian prisoners.

Deputy Defense Minister Ephraim Sneh said inspections would be eased at 16 checkpoints, and 27 unmanned roadblocks would be removed. Also, crossings for people and cargo between Gaza and Israel would be upgraded "in order to accelerate the economy in Gaza to lessen the poverty and despair."

This may appear as insane to you, Gentle Reader, as it does to your Curmudgeon. But, needless to say, it does not appear insane to Ehud Olmert. Why?

Heads of state habitually favor other heads of state, including heads of hostile states and pseudo-states such as "Palestine," over other forms of life. It's midway between professional courtesy and a fantasy that elected officials are inherently supreme over their peoples. Olmert probably believes he can buttress terrorist-turned-politician Abu Mazen -- Abbas's cognomen from his terrorist days -- in a fashion that will conduce to the security of his own consitutents. But has he reckoned with the hostility of HAMAS, or with that of the many thousands of Palestinians who voted HAMAS into overwhelming power? Is his belief in the supremacy of political authority as firm as that?

Possibly. And let's be candid: Olmert could be right even against such formidable odds. But he's playing high-stakes poker with the lives of Israeli citizens, when the evidence is strong that the dominant sentiment in the West Bank is viruently hostile to Israel. If the slackening of security eventuates in an increase in Israeli deaths at Palestinians' hands, will he take responsibility for the outcome? Will he admit that his gambit has failed and should be retracted?

Admitting their mistakes is another thing heads of state don't do terribly often.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Merry Christmas from the Moon

(The below was our blog's message from this time in 2005. Just a year has passed, but remembering the important things, as these men did, seems longer ago and even farther away, and even kind of silly. Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah to all those here gathered, and may we smile today, give thanks, and be inspired in the coming year to perpetuate their silliness...)

It was on Christmas Eve 1968 that the astronauts of Apollo 8, Frank Borman, Jim Lovell, and Bill Anders, became the first of mankind to see an earthrise from the orbit of the moon, and looking back on us, they spoke these words:

Anders: "We are now approaching lunar sunrise. And, for all the people back on earth, the crew of Apollo 8 have a message that we would like to send to you...

"In the beginning, God created the Heaven and the Earth. And the Earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. And God said, Let there be light; and there was light. And God saw the light, that it was good; and God divided the light from the darkness."

Lovell: "And God called the light Day, and the darkness He called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day. And God said, Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters. And God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament; and it was so. And God called the firmament Heaven. And the evening and the morning were the second day."

Borman: "And God said, Let the waters under the Heaven be gathered together unto one place, and let the dry land appear; and it was so. And God called the dry land Earth; and the gathering together of the waters He called Seas: and God saw that it was good."

And from the crew of Apollo 8, we close with good night, good luck, a Merry Christmas, and God bless all of you, all of you on the good earth."

It is good. God bless us, every one.