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

Monday, January 22, 2007

The Free Lunch Party

Well, the beginning of the new Democrat congress, waggishly dubbed the 100 Hours of Terror and Irrelevance, is over. They started late because nobody can be expected to legislate on the Monday of the college football title game, and ended 14 days later, which adds up to 100 hours more or less. Most of us probably didn't even know the clock ran out, so I'm happy to be the bearer of good news. The accomplishments were considerable, and totally in character:

---Other people's money was given away, in this case a hike in the minimum wage. As Shaw noted, a government that robs Peter to pay Paul can always depend on the support of Paul. The Democrats gave Paul a raise. Peter was unavailable for comment, but there's not as many of him, so who cares?

---National security was ensured by declaring war (finally!) on the real enemy, those evil cargo containers. We can now bring the troops home and disband the military.

---Oil companies lost tax breaks that are available to most other US industries because, well, just because. Because oil is stinky and so are the cigars of rich, overpaid oil company executives.

With the money saved, we'll do more research on alternative energy sources. Seems you can put sunlight in one end of a black box and out the other comes cheap, unstinky and beautiful electricity. Is that cool or what?

---The taxpayers will also fund more scrambled eggs, in this case human ones, and in this case fertilized ones, in the form of more and better stem cell research. So far, embryonic stem cell therapy has proven invaluable in growing brain tumors, although, admittedly, not much else. But more money should result in even more and better brain tumors, so this one sounds like a winner, too.

---College students will get lower rates on student loans from the government, cut in half from the present 7% or so. The government will also jawbone lower prices from Big Pharma for Medicare-covered drugs. Students and old folks get a better deal, and absolutely nobody has to pay for either of these decreases, which is the really great part. You pass a law, things get better.

Republicans make things so complicated sometimes.

Bush Dodges Hurricane

Compliments of the Chicago Bears' 39-14 triumph on Sunday, the New Orleans Saints won't be going to the Super Bowl after all. The president and the nation will be spared two weeks of 24/7 reports on how the administration screwed up on Katrina, and instead SuperHype™ will be the usual stuff on how somebody got raised by their grandmother or that the 4th-string wide receiver was working as a chicken castrator until a month ago.

The president hasn't had a lot of luck lately, but this was his biggest win of the season. Win or lose, Da Bears should get an invite to the White House.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

"The Curse of the Golden Flower" and Two Ideas of Tragedy

Director Zhang Yimou and Chow Yun-Fat on the set of Sony Pictures Classics' Curse of the Golden Flower - 2006The Curse of the Golden Flower, Zhang Yimou's latest film to be released in America, is a brilliant motion picture that interestingly exemplifies important differences between East and West.

Following on the heels of two superb, epic dramas released in the United States in 2004—Hero (Ying xiong) and House of Flying Daggers—the Chinese director manages to top those films. The Curse of the Golden Flower is even more visually gorgeous than its recent predecessors, which is saying a lot. Zhang has been making brilliant, critically acclaimed films since his 1987 debut with Red Sorghum.

In Curse, the visual themes are even more cohesive than in the beautifully photographed Hero and Flying Daggers. Red and gold dominate, and the symbolism is carried through thematically, with red characteristically representing blood and life, and gold suggesting both riches and the power and beauty of nature, in its evocation of the sun. Black intrudes as the specter of death. Though these visual cues are truisms nearly to the point of being cliched, Zhang's intelligent use of them, and the astounding beauty of the compositions, enable the visuals to add meaning to the narrative without being annoyingly assertive about it.

As in Zhang's other recent dramas, the interiors of buildings are puzzling mazes, in which the viewer often becomes as lost in the architecture as the characters are in the complex plot.

The plot is indeed complex but told with great clarity and coherence. Gong Li plays Empress Phoenix, who is being slowly poisoned by her husband, the Emperor Ping, played by Chow Yun-Fat. Phoenix is aware of the poisoning but cannot openly disobey the emperor and must continue to take her deadly daily dose of fungus-laced medicine. However, she is plotting to take the kingdom away by conspiring with her elder son, the emperor's second son. (He has a son by a previous wife who is identified later in the film.) On the night of the Chrysanthemum Festival, an army of ten thousand will storm the palace under the command of Prince Jay.

Of course, things don't work out as planned, and the plot twists are truly Shakespearean in character, with the tawdriness of the characters' schemes making a great contrast with the grandeur of the settings and the importance of the events to the empire's future.

And there's the rub. In the end—without giving away any plot secrets—much happens, but nothing changes. And that is so very Eastern, with the cyclical sense of history common in the East. Ultimately, nothing changes. Yin and yang go out of balance, and in the end, they are back in balance. But that is all. Things don't get appreciably better for anybody, and the great irony of The Curse of the Golden Flower is that after all the effort to change who will sit on the throne, none of it changes anything—and, more importantly, it's clear that things wouldn't be noticeably different in the realm if Prince Jay had the throne. The individuals' loves, hatreds, and ambitions put things out of balance, and once the conflicts are resolved, balance is restored. But that's all.

American critics seem to sense this but not understand it at all. For example, Boston Globe critic Wesley Morris claims, "once it's all over, 'Golden Flower,' like 'Hero' and 'Flying Daggers,' leaves a flat taste." Other critics have had the same complaint.

But it's only a flat taste if you're expecting a Chinese director to make Western-style dramas. Which is, of course, a silly thing to ask.

Things are very different in Western drama of the past two millenia. One could surely argue that Greek tragedies exhibit a cyclical sense of history, driven as they are by the idea of fate. In the Christian era, however, Western tragedies have often been driven by a sense of progress. In Shakespeare, for example, there is frequently a great sense of a malign presence being driven out of society. By the end of Hamlet, for example, the stage is littered with the corpses of schemers, miscreants, the indecisive, and the weak, yet the playwright conveys a powerful sense of optimism about the future for the Danish kingdom. At the end of Macbeth, both tyrant and his evil muse are gone. The same is often true of the history plays.

In contemporary times, consider former Hong Kong and now American director John Woo, whose films tend to reflect a belief in the possibility (indeed the necessity) of personal and social transformation. (One of his Hong King films is even named A Better Tomorrow in English translation.) Woo, though born and raised in Hong Kong, was educated in a conservative Lutheran missionary school. His ideas are thus quite Western.

The Curse of the Golden Flower comes from a very different tradition. As in Hamlet, the stage is littered with corpses at the end, but the vision for the future is altogether different. Understanding that difference makes the film a richer and more rewarding experience.

From Karnick on Culture.

Friday, January 19, 2007

American Muslims' Protests of Fox TV Show "24" Are Misdirected

American Muslim groups have protested to Fox Television for the use of Muslims as terrorists on the Fox TV program 24, CNN reports:

Two years ago, Muslim groups protested when the plot of the hit Fox drama '24' cast Islamic terrorists as the villains who launched a stolen nuclear missile in an attack on America.

Now, after a one-year respite during which Russian separatists played the bad guys on the critically acclaimed series, Muslims are back in the evil spotlight. Unlike last time, when agent Jack Bauer saved the day, the terrorists this time have already succeeded in detonating a nuclear bomb in a Los Angeles suburb.

As we noted earlier this week on this site, the attribution of the fictional terrorists as Muslims actually makes a good deal of sense. After all, if you are going to have the premise that terrorists are operating on American soil, then Muslims would indeed seem to be the most likely ones to do so at this point in time. That much should be obvious.

If anything, the program has gone too far in the opposite direction over the years, pretending that threats other than Islam are predominant. As Fox pointed out in a written statement reprinted in the CNN story:

Over the past several seasons, the villains have included shadowy Anglo businessmen, Baltic Europeans, Germans, Russians, Islamic fundamentalists, and even the (Anglo-American) president of the United States. The show has made a concerted effort to show ethnic, religious and political groups as multidimensional, and political issues are debated from multiple viewpoints.

The Fox statement also pointed out that the show's audience is not grotesquely stupid:

24 is a heightened drama about anti-terrorism. After five seasons, the audience clearly understands this, and realizes that any individual, family, or group (ethnic or otherwise) that engages in violence is not meant to be typical.

What is most annoying about the protests, however, is the blatant lying being perpetrated by some of the complainers, as in this quote from the CNN story:

Engy Abdelkader, a member of the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee from Howell, New Jersey, launched a campaign Wednesday to encourage Muslims offended by the program to complain to Fox.

"I found the portrayal of American Muslims to be pretty horrendous," she said. "It was denigrating from beginning to end. This is one of the most popular programs on television today. It's pretty distressing."

That is bunk. The program is taking great care to ensure that viewers do not see all Muslims as jihadists, as I noted in my comment here on Monday, and as the CNN report also observed:

Concerns about Muslims' civil rights, detention of terror suspects in Guantanamo-like holding centers, and stereotyping are given vastly expanded treatment on '24' this year. In one exchange, the show depicts the president's national security adviser challenging the White House chief of staff over the detention of Muslims without criminal charges.

"Right now the American Muslim community is our greatest asset," the security adviser says. "They have provided law enforcement with hundreds of tips, and not a single member of that community has been implicated in these attacks."

"So far," the chief of staff responds.

Those American Muslims who fear being tarred with the same brush as the jihadists should simply take care to ensure that the U.S. Muslim community stresses its full loyalty to the United States and the rejection of jihad here and everywhere else. Whether that changes their relationships with Muslims elsewhere in the world is for them to work out for themselves. Fictional TV shows can't change that reality.

From Karnick on Culture.

Thursday, January 18, 2007


Hillary R. Clinton, who by party machinery, war chest, owed favors, and mebbe some secret dirt on anyone who matters, is the Democrat presidential nominee for 2008 before a primary vote is ever cast. Slam dunk.

If she decides not to run, it would be understandable, because she herself is dirtier than her husband ever was, and the GOP has many gigabytes of evidence to prove it and would delight in breaking it out. But even if she does run, she's already screwed her candidacy bigtime, overreacting to a blip on her radar named Barack Obama:

MATT LAUER: But do you think he's qualified? I mean, he's a fellow Democrat. Would you be comfortable with him in the White House?

FUTURE PRESIDENT CLINTON: I'm going to let all of those decisions be sorted out by voters.

Huh? Obama is even more certain to be the 2008 Democrat vice-presidential nominee than Hillary's a slam dunk for the top spot. And she disses him like that? He's the greatest guy in the history of the world, and will follow two Clinton terms and be our next-next president in 2016. (Like Al Gore, sort of.) He's an asset, not a rival.

If for some reason, Sen. (pro tem) Obama doesn't get the VP nod from his party, its near-monolithic black vote may well just stay home. A black person on the ticket, as Everett Dirksen might have said, is an idea whose time has come, and Barack Obama's time has come, albeit a bit too suddenly. (That's not his fault---most presidential timber has already been felled and even provided the axe, like Newt Gingrich, for instance.)

She's not even nominated yet, and she's already made the first big mistake of her presidency. Foreign policy is hard enough, but first you have to master your own party, and certainly not eat your own. (But more on John McCain later...)

Is Man Good? Redux

Once again, I defer to Adam Smith's wonderfully wise and sadly overlooked other book, The Theory of the Moral Sentiments (1759):

"How selfish soever man may be supposed, there are evidently some principles in his nature, which interest him in the fortune of others, and render their happiness necessary to him, though he derives nothing from it except the pleasure of seeing it.... The greatest ruffian, the most hardened violator of the laws of society, is not altogether without it."

"What is it that prompts the generous, on all occasions, and the mean, upon many, to sacrifice their own interests to the greater interests of others? Is it not the soft power of humanity, is it not that feeble spark of benevolence which Nature has lighted up in the human heart, that is capable of counteracting the strongest impulses of self-love?"

Smith, Reagan, and I are softies, I admit...

A Fascinating New Sport . . .

Polly Esther (L) gets slugged by Betty Clock'er during an elimination match in the Pillow Fight League (PFL) at a late night event in Toronto, January 12, 2007. Betty Clock'er, who defeated Polly Esther, will challenge the current champion Champain for the title in the league's first live event in the United States in New York City on January 19. (J.P. Moczulski/Reuters)Another item in our Everything Happens in the Omniculture series: professional pillow fights. Reuters reports:

Welcome to the Pillow Fight League, which has been drawing growing crowds in Toronto since it formed early last year, and is now set to export its campy fun to New York City.

The league is the brainchild of 38-year-old Stacey Case, a T-shirt printer and musician who came up with the idea that people would pay to see young women in costumes beat the tar out of each other with pillows -- and that women would volunteer to whap each other in front of a crowd. . . .

However, they're quick to point out it's not really just about young women in revealing costumes tussling in front of a largely male audience. Well, maybe it is a bit.

Rather like professional wrestling but with scantily clad women as the fighters, the bouts are presented as if they were real contests, and the performers adopt amusing stage personae:

But it's the fighters that make the show, and they come in all shapes and sizes, with names like Sarah Bellum, the smart one, and Boozy Suzie, who enters the ring with a beer that referee Patterson confiscates with a stern wave of his finger.

Lynn Somnia staggers to the ring in a hospital gown with electrodes dangling, apparently released from her sleep-deprivation chamber.

Top contenders include Betty Clock'er -- by day a financial editor and by night a cushion-swinging housewife who brings a plate of cookies to ringside -- and Polly Esther, billed as the waitress from hell ("And somebody's gonna get served!," The Mouth bellows as she struts toward the ring).

While the personas are all good fun, the action in the ring is real, and as Case is quick to point out, unscripted.

The rules are simple: women only, no lewd behavior, and moves such as leg drops or submission holds are allowed as long as a pillow is used. After that, it's up to the combatants. . . .

This past weekend, Polly didn't disappoint, torquing her long arms to deliver punishing pillow blows to Betty Clock'er in a fight to decide who will travel to New York this week to face PFL title holder Champain, an event Case is hoping will give an adrenaline shot to the league's profile.

Of course, the real money, and the promoters' real goal, is in TV:

The bigger picture involves a TV deal. Case says he has already turned down bids that didn't offer the mix of attention to the action and characters that he says makes the league more of a draw to the arts community than the mud-wrestling crowd.

It won't be long, I'm sure.

From Karnick on Culture.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Copy Writing: Concise, Precise, Incisive

The great copy writer, Lyle Wexler, formerly head of advertising at Bank of America, has created a fabulous blog offering valuable insights into copy writing. And if you can write copy, you can write non-fiction for sure - and have a leg up on fiction as well.

If you are honing your writing skills, whether for a directly related field or as a tool of communication, you can learn from this man. The Electric Idea Circus: have a gander.

Obama, Clinton and Identity Politics

Now that he’s throwing his hat in the ring, as will Hillary, it’s time to address the inane question of “Is America Ready for a black or woman president.” Well, if that black man and woman are Obama and Hillary, then absolutely not! The question shows just how race and gender obsessed American liberalism remains. Give me a solid conservative and I don’t care about their race, religion or gender, I’ll vote for them. I am sure practically every conservative would say the same.

It is a sad commentary on the state of modern American liberalism that the true racists are to be found there. That may be the wrong term, in that I don’t mean they hate white people, but that they are incapable of seeing anything outside of the construct of race. Sam’s piece below on black coaches in the NFL is testament to that. The ideals of the Civil Rights movement have been completely shattered, distorted and disfigured. If Dr. King is the apogee of that movement, then his dream has turned into a nightmare.

This manifests itself in strange ways. Look at the first black, female Secretary of State. Because she is defined by black liberals as a conservative, and even worse she works for the Bush administration, she isn’t authentically black. Skin color will only take you so far. If you don’t toe the line ideologically, then you are a traitor and you may as well be white, green, purple or yellow. “Real” blacks are simply liberals. Imagine how the media would have obsessed for months and have consistently thrown around the word “historic” if the first black female Secretary of State had been a liberal working for a Democrat administration.

This gets us to the heart of the unspoken question behind the question. What our liberal, unbiased friends in the media are really asking is whether a hopelessly racist and misogynistic America will vote for a black man or a woman. If that black man or woman is conservative, then the question becomes moot. Only if a liberal black man or woman is elected to the White House will America be considered by the Fourth Estate to have finally come out from under its benighted rock to see the light.

Fathers and TV Fiction

In recent days National Review Online has published a couple of very good articles on the value of fathers, using cultural products as their examples and evidence. First, Kathryn Lopez wrote about Rocky Balboa, noting that the title character presents a strong image of fatherhood in his dealings with his son and with the fatherless son of a woman he meets in a tavern and eventually hires to help out in his restaurant. I would add that Rocky also acts as a surrogate father to several other characters in the film, such as his buddy played by Burt Young, and the ex-boxer he defeated in an earlier film

Lopez quotes an excellent and memorable speech from the film, in a scene where Rocky talks to his self-pitying son:

Let me tell you something you already know. The world ain’t all sunshine and rainbows. It is a very mean and nasty place and it will beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently if you let it. You, me, or nobody is gonna hit as hard as life. But it ain’t how hard you hit; it’s about how hard you can get hit, and keep moving forward. How much you can take, and keep moving forward. That’s how winning is done. Now, if you know what you’re worth, then go out and get what you’re worth. But you gotta be willing to take the hit, and not pointing fingers saying you ain’t where you are because of him, or her, or anybody. Cowards do that and that ain’t you. You’re better than that!

Lopez then gives some real-life facts about fatherhood:

That’s notable because, as Dr. Meg Meeker writes in her recent book Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters, pop culture isn’t exactly overflowing with messages encouraging men to be manly and to take pride in knowing they have something their families need. In what is a bit of a motivational seminar, Meeker writes to dads: “You were made a man for a reason, and your daughter is looking to you for guidance that she cannot get from her mother.”

Meeker, focusing on girls, goes on to contend that girls with a dad in their lives have higher self-esteem, are less likely to get pregnant as a teen (are less likely to lose their virginity before they turn 16), and find themselves with fewer learning and behavioral problems. And the list goes on. The National Fatherhood Initiative has its own long scary-stat list. Kids without dads are more likely to be poor, to wind up in jail. Absent fathers can affect weight, dropout rates, smoking, and drug and alcohol abuse.

Looking at Sweden, where big government (Hillary’s village) steps in to take over where a dad isn’t providing, a 2006 Institute for American Values study finds that “boys reared in single-parent homes were more than 50 percent more likely to die from a range of cause — such as suicide, accidents, or addiction — than were boys reared in two-parent homes.” How’s that for a dire dadless picture?

I have long thought that a strong and loving father is a critical element in ensuring that a girl does not grow up to be promiscuous and easily abused emotionally and physically by romantic partners—which are characteristics very much to the detriment of any individual of either sex but especially to women (as one should hardly have to point out)—and the statistics certainly confirm this.

Hence it's good when the Omniculture offers up positive figures such as Rocky Balboa. Of course, everything happens in the Omniculture, so there are plenty of alternative examples, of bad fathers, but even these can provide valid lessons if seen correctly, as Rebecca Cusey points out in today's issue of NRO. Citing prominently featured laudable fathers in Friday Night Lights, Ugly Betty, and Everybody Hates Chris, Cusey identifies what is good about these fathers:

These three dads have one thing in common: They’re there and they care. In the real world, study after study confirms what humanity has always known: Dads matter. Kids who grow up in homes with dads who are there and who care are less likely to do drugs, drop out of school, become sexually active, and engage in criminal behavior. TV has come a long way since Father Knows Best, Leave It to Beaver, or The Cosby Show, but TV still reflects society’s view of dads. Fathers on TV can be broken into three basic categories: The good, the bad, and the bumbling.

These men are a strong contrast to the many bad dads on TV. Cusey writes:

But some TV fathers are just plain bad. This often comes, as in real life, when parents put their own desires above the welfare of their children. Bimbo after bimbo parades through Two and a Half Men. Uncle Charlie (Charlie Sheen) instructs young Jake to manipulate, ogle women, and swear despite the bleating protestations of dad Alan (Jon Cryer). In The New Adventures of Old Christine both parents are more interested in bedding new people than in their son. Scrubs, often a thought-provoking show, has reached a post-modern low with a story line in which star Dr. Dorian (Zach Braf) impregnates casual date Kim. In a series of scenes that is intended to be lighthearted, but is more sickening, they whimsically try to decide: parenthood or abortion? Usually intended to be shockingly funny, these dads’ indifference to their children comes off as just mean. In The War at Home, parents wage a losing battle against kids’ behavior, refusing to set any standards higher than emerging from adolescence without a police record. Melodramatic dramas, such as Desperate Housewives and The OC portray parents as selfish and poorly behaved as their children. Sometimes more so. These are the postmodern dads, who figure kids will be kids, teens will party and sleep around, and character is not worth molding. They reflect real-life parents whose biggest fear is to be seen as judgmental or hypocritical.

Given the prevalence of bad fathers in real life, the variety of rotten ones found on TV is realistic and a source of good moral lessons for all of us. As Cusey notes, however, "Happily, good fathers aren’t as hard to find on TV as one might think."

Conservative critics tend to look at the surfaces of things and complain that the media send bad messages to the society as a whole. As Cusey's article exemplifies, and as I've pointed out on frequent occasions, surface events are not what is really important in cultural products. What really counts is what the events mean. These articles show a good trend in right-of-center media criticism: a desire actually to understand things before pontificating on them.

From Karnick on Culture.

Black Coaches and Equal Opportunity

NFL Chicago Bears coach Lovie SmithAs if the pressure on National Football League coaches weren't enough, especially during the playoffs, Chicago Bears coach Lovie Smith and Indianapolis Colts coach Tony Dungy are forced to labor under the additional condition that everything they do will be characterized as having been accomplished—or failed, as the case may be—by a black American.

This Sunday, the two coaches will be leading teams in the NFL conference championship games, with the possibility that both will coach in the Super Bowl this year. And of course reporters have characterized this as a significant event, which of course it is, insofar as football is significant.

But there is a thorn in the acknowledgment of the men's accomplishment. Smith noted in a TV interview that he is forced to bear an additional responsibility because he is black.

It's unfortunate that a black American cannot just be a coach, or an entrepreneur, or a housewife but must be seen as a black coach, entrepreneur, or housewife. Americans tend to see each black or woman as a representative of a group rather than an individual.

As Smith put it yesterday,

I hope for a day when it is unnoticed, but that day isn’t here. This is the first time. You have to acknowledge that. We do. I do. I realize the responsibility that comes with that.

But as much as anything, I realize my responsibility of just being the head coach of the Chicago Bears, and it’s been a long time since we’ve been in this position. I’m just excited for our football team to be able to take another step.

Smith and Dungy have both handled these expectations admirably over the years, but they shouldn't have to. New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton and New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick are coaches, not white coaches, and that's the way it should be for Smith and Dungy. They are people, not symbols.

We should hope that the day arrives soon when black Americans don't have to bear an additional responsibility to other blacks or to society as a whole (having to exemplify our national ideal of equal opportunity) because of an accident of skin color, but instead are judged solely by their own accomplishments. To add to people's burdens by making them symbols only makes their lives that much more difficult.

Most important of all, judging people as individuals gives each person the greatest incentive to use their time and talents—and that is the surest way to open the road to success for everyone.

From Karnick on Culture.

Harder to Find Good Help

The appointed Miss New Jersey USA, Ashley Harder, has disappointed herself. She is resigning (not re-signing) her post (is it a post?) due to pregnancy. This does not accord with the image, or perhaps the form, expected of such a dignitary.

Personally, I was bemused by the whole thing. I would have thought the most natural gift for a newly expectant mother would be a new jersey.

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, thenewswalk.com (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 www.cdusa.org.

(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 papajohns.com 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.