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

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Journalism At CNN

I noticed this morning while at the gym---they had the TV tuned to CNN and I had no choice in the matter---that below a "report" on Mitt Romney the caption read "Mitt Romney The Mormon Candidate."

Will the ineffable Obama be labeled "The Black Candidate"? Or Hillary "The Woman Candidate?" How about Rudy: "The Italian Stallion?" Edwards: "The Ambulance Chaser Candidate." I can't wait for the first Asian: "The Manchurian Candidate." Etc.

It really is quite amazing. Back in the days of BrokawJennngsRather the bias was more subtle, and therefore more amusing. Yet another of life's little pleasures down the drain.

A Gallimaufry of Galimatias - III

Heather MacDonald:

Mr. Novak cheerfully and tolerantly predicted that I might not follow his analysis of how free will coexists with God's omniscience and omnipotence. Alas, he was right. I feel like a primitive still trying to figure out the decimal system, when what is required is a leap into the realm of quantum physics. I do not understand how by "permitting" human choices that in his "simultaneous present" he has already willed, God passes responsibility for tragedy onto fallible humans... I understand even less how humans "choose" to become victims of natural disasters or accidents wholly outside of their control.
I am not up to the intellectual challenge that Mr. Novak presents. I take some solace, however, in the fact that after his sophisticated treatments of human time and divine timelessness, of human choice and divine permission of human choice, he returns to the principle that I have always assumed underlies the Christian concept of God: that He has absolute power over the world and could make it otherwise in an instant.

This is so horribly distorted as to be hypnotic. It is like looking through a prism where natural form is slanted and you acclimate yourself to a new shape for everything. When every word is dead wrong, it actually creates an illusion of cohesion.

Let us follow again our system of breaking the misrepresentations down into points:

1) She says she is bothered by the contradiction between God's omniscience and human free will. This is a classic question posed by philosophers: if God knows in advance what you will choose do you really have a choice? Personally I never got why that's a problem, but since Saadya Gaon (10th Century) and Maimonides (12th Century) troubled to answer it, I guess they consider it a valid question.

But for someone arguing as an atheist, a question like this is a total fraud. It is a question against a particular Jewish and Christian tenet, namely that God knows the future. What does that have to do with an atheist deciding if there is a God?

If the question bothers her, let her decide that God has no foreknowledge. That does not alter the basic structure of belief, which says there is a God who set up life as a testing ground for humans and will reward and punish their free choices.

If you can't see free choice coexisting with foreknowledge, then drop foreknowledge. How do you get from there to dropping the basic principle that your choices of right and wrong matter?

2) Take that from another angle: does she believe she has free choice or does she SENSE her choice is circumscribed? Of course she believes she has choices. That is her intuition; it forms the premise of her argument.

So if she feels she has a choice and the idea of God creates a presumption that the very choice she senses is the purpose of life, then she has no innate quarrel against theism. If anything, her intuition rebels against the idea of foreknowledge BECAUSE she feels she HAS a true power of moral choice.

But foreknowledge plays no role in the moral demands of religion on the individual. It is a theological detail that serves mainly to create confusion for believers. So why should that concern her at all?

What she ends up doing, in essence, is using a flaw in the irrelevant idea of foreknowledge to impugn the ultimately relevant issue of humans having real choices of right and wrong - and being accountable for those choices.

3) Her saying she is not sophisticated enough to figure it out - a clearly snarky bit of disingenuousness - is presented as a reason why she cannot accept God.

This a totally fraudulent argument. Can she understand the idea that a God created the world and man chooses between right and wrong? Clearly, yes. So what can't she understand? How other aspects of God comport with this scenario.

Fine, so you don't understand. Work harder at pondering. But how does your not understanding that detail relieve you of your duty to the essential task of choosing right over wrong? You have no piece of evidence undermining that construct.

4) I think it's pretty crazy to say that humans "choose" to become victims of natural disasters and if Novak really said that, I join her in disagreement.

However, there is no philosophical reason on the theist side to say that natural disaster has to be a choice. (If Christianity says such a thing, it is not to answer a philosophical need essential to the principle of belief in a God who grades us on application of free will.)

There is no reason natural disaster cannot be natural. Just as the body is designed to run out of life at some point, there can be various movements within the nature of the planet that cause death if encountered. Why is a world that has periodic avalanches harder to understand than a body made of cells that sometimes become cancerous?

5) Indeed even the word "tragedy" is a loaded word designed to obfuscate logic. That is to say, tragedy is itself a subjective construct. From a standpoint of reason, my mother's death at age thirty is no more a tragedy than her mother's death at seventy-five. The sense of tragedy is created by the expectation that people live to an age between seventy and eighty. What if all people lived to thirty? Would we sense tragedy in that? Certainly not; thirty years would become the standard unit.

Had my mother known in advance she could only live thirty years but they would include a happy marriage for eleven of them and four healthy children, would she have refused that life? Hardly: she had a wonderful, though abbreviated, life.

In fact, her soul might have known before birth and made that choice; what do we know about such things? The point is that the tragedy is only relative to an erroneous hope we had that hers would be a seventy-five year life. God does not need to pass the blame for her foreshortened life onto anybody. He reserves the right to deliver a thirty-year life to the world. Would we prefer she was not born?

How does death at thirty militate against a Creator more than death at seventy?

6) She wriggles like an eel to get to the juicy premise she hopes to demolish. "That He has absolute power over the world and could make it otherwise in an instant." This sets up the potential for all sorts of complaints.

But this itself is not really true. Well, it is true, but not in a sense that has any reality. Technically, He can. But for all practical purposes He can't.

Let me explain. If GM makes a certain car model, it confirms two preexisting decisions. One, to make cars as a business. Two, to make this car as a model. Can they stop it? Yes, if they eliminate a well-thought-out product, essentially vetoing a prior decision. Or by shutting their business down completely, vetoing the entire business concept. If you come with a complaint about the windshield wipers, should they junk the car model? No, they should fix the wipers.

God already decided to make a world, and He decided to make it with earthquakes and hurricanes built into the design structure. Is that negotiable? Definitely not. If every believer on the planet prayed simultaneously for earthquakes to disappear forever, no rational religion would expect that prayer to be considered. God CAN'T do that because He won't. That decision has been made and built in; it is beyond the purview of 'possible' change short of shutting down the whole world.

Any idea of changes in policy effected through human behavior or through prayer must be limited to details outside the basic formula of the world's existence. It might be possible to pray the earthquake should occur only when so-and-so is out of town, for example.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Welcome to the Club, Sisters!

It's not to say the Dixie Chicks didn't deserve the Grammy award for Album of the Year. They're over-the-top talented not only vocally but instrumentally, and they'd been nominated twice before.

But it's also safe to say that most members of the academy would prefer a colonoscopy over hearing country music. If they listened to the album at all, they dutifully popped the free promo CD in the day before the ballots were due. Most couldn't pick out Charley Pride at an Edgar Winter lookalike contest, but everybody knows the Dixie Chicks hate Bush, and that's qualification enough.

To everybody else outside the circle of the culturally anointed, it was laughably predictable that the Dixies would become the first country act ever to receive the honor.

Yes, Glen Campbell won it once, but his Jimmy Webb pop was about as country as Brokeback Mountain was a western. O Brother, Where Art Thou? was a George Clooney movie soundtrack, and though the twangy Bonnie Raitt won a few years back, too, you'll more likely find her at an abortion rally than on red state radio. The Dixie Chicks are now officially in the club. If there's one thing your fellow artists can respect more than your art, it's your politics. If they're the same as theirs.

And boy, did the Chicks speak Truth to Power---well, actually it was more like they insulted Power behind its back with the Atlantic Ocean in between---but word got back anyway, and their toothless Bush-voting slob audience stayed away in droves. So mebbe---just mebbe, mind you---Grammy decided to make it up to them, so much so that they gave 'em Song of the Year too:

I'm through with doubt,
There's nothing left for me to figure out,
I've paid a price, and I'll keep paying

I'm not ready to make nice,
I'm not ready to back down,
I'm still mad as hell

Mad as hell. Good. Through with doubt, nothing left to figure out. Bingo! Sounds like a lot of liberals, especially the 2008 Democrat presidential candidates. First one to be honest enough to make it their campaign song ought to get the nomination. Oh, how they'll sing along. They could have written the words themselves.

Which brings us to the equally courageous and talented 50 Cent, who alienated his own core audience by announcing that except for the felony conviction that made him ineligible to vote, he'd have gone for Dubya.


And when fellow minstrel Kanye West made headlines with "George Bush doesn't care about black people" on a nationally-televised Hurricane Katrina fundraiser, it was the righteous Mr. Cent who got his boy's back, although you didn't hear about that for some reason, even though 50 Cent was a far hotter star at the time.


So put the word out---somebody somewhere ought to scrape up some bling for Fitty somehow, I dunno, mebbe the Speaking Truth to Power medallion at the Country Music Awards. Let's get him a new audience. Let's be there for him. Sure, he's a rapper, but he's one of us. Like the culturally anointed, we toothless Bush-voting slobs got to look out for our own, too, or else all is lost.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

A Gallimaufry of Galimatias - II

Heather MacDonald:

Michael Novak's explication of Christianity's joys and mysteries underscores a powerful truth: that millions of human beings, struck with sometimes inconceivable tragedy, have shown astounding courage and grace in the face of tribulation, thanks to their belief that God loves them. Many other Christians have eased human suffering through their seemingly boundless charity and self-sacrifice. Their good works have uplifted countless lives.
Yet Mr. Novak's exegesis of God's ways persuades me that to create anything like a just, decent society, human beings would do well to run as fast as possible from the divine model of governance and power. Only by following our innate sense of fairness and compassion can we hope to wrench the human world from the arbitrariness and injustice that is its natural state.

These two paragraphs alone are so weaselly and manipulatively fraudulent as to discredit her from a presumption of good faith. The following points should be made.

1) If the record shows that Christianity is producing all this courage and grace, but Michael Novak's exegesis of God's ways is problematic, that proves one thing at most: that Michael Novak is not the best exegete. The evidence from performance far outweighs the concerns raised by one guy's poor debating presentation. Assume that you need to seek out a better teacher.

2) Furthermore, if the performance is good but the exegesis SEEMS weak, why not consider the possibility that you're the one who is a little thick?

3) If the performance is good, then even assuming that Novak's exegesis is 100% accurate in its depiction of the system creating that performance, why would you "run as fast as possible" away from this model? For whatever reason this bad idea produces good results; why run away?

4) If arbitrariness and injustice is the natural state of the world, how can any innate human sense cure that?

5) A variation on that point: If there is no higher spiritual reality, how can humans have an innate sense higher than the prevailing reality?

6) If arbitrariness and injustice is the natural state of the world, and religion is a bad idea on top of that, how can religious people eclipse nature to produce 'seemingly boundless' charity and self-sacrifice?

In fact - and here a surfeit of irony washes over us - the main conclusion emerging from Heather's set of premises is this: religion is false, but since the natural state of life is guided by self-interest and thus arbitrary and unjust, the best strategy for beating the system is to sell people the false message of religion. This creates an illusion of something higher, thus obviating the evolutionary impulse towards arbitrary and antisocial self-interest.

It would be funny if it wasn't tragic.

(To be continued.)

A Gallimaufry of Galimatias - I

The debate between Heather MacDonald and Michael Novak in the December and January issues of American Spectator was to me a source of annoyance. Ostensibly, Ms. MacDonald represented the prevailing atheist view while Novak, a Catholic, was representing the class of believers.

Neither of them can lay claim to this qualification: I took the religious side in a debate with the late Sidney Hook that is published in a standard college philosophy textbook.

So I would like to begin a series of responses to Heather. She is probably a lovely gal, but her arguments are a gallimaufry of galimatias.

This is the introduction. Next segment we will begin to examine her points. (I will focus only on the January issue where her ideas have presumably been sharpened by the broad opening volley in December.)

Tiger Woods: Wimp?

It’s official: Tiger Woods won’t be playing at the Nissan Open next week in L.A. (Where he was born and raised, by the way.) If you are at all familiar with golf you no doubt know that Mr. Woods has won seven PGA golf tournaments in a row. That is the second best string of consecutive victories in the history of golf, four behind the 11 in a row won by Byron Nelson in 1945.

Tiger is all about history and records and being the best ever. He hasn’t stated the reason he isn’t playing, but maybe the fact that over his career Riviera (the course where the Nissan Open is played every year) has eaten his lunch has something to do with it.

In 11 appearances he has never won there, and if you’ve seen him play in the event he looks positively mortal. Compare this with the second least effective tournament he has played in without winning, the Barclays Classic, with four winless appearances, and you can see just how humbling this tournament is for arguably the greatest golfer of all time.

The Nissan open is the one tournament, the one thing in golf Tiger has not conquered, and this week he has admitted to the world that he can’t. The record is more important to Tiger than facing down this Goliath in his golf life. Fair enough. But seeing something in golf humble the greatest kind of makes a struggling single digit handicapper like me feel good.

Friday, February 09, 2007

More on Cloture

My good friend Jim Elliott gets it wrong again in his argument (comment below on my post on ending debate) that Comrade Reid wanted only to have a vote on (presumably) the Biden-Warner resolution. And those evil Republicans refused to allow it, thus preventing a debate on the Senate floor.

Sorry, Jim. McConnell wanted debate not only on Biden-Warner, but also on alternative language from McCain and others, that would have forced the Dems to vote up or down on more than merely "supporting the troops" or similar eyewash. Appropriately, McConnell refused to play Reid's game; if Reid would not allow debate on alternatives, then the Republicans would not allow a one-sided debate on only the Biden-Warner resolution.

And so I repeat: It is the Democrats who do not want a debate on the surge; they merely want to throw bones to the political left while avoiding responsibility for the effects.

What's Really Behind "Babel"

Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett in Babel film
The film Babel, currently in theaters, has received great acclaim from critics, along with a nomination for the the Oscar for Best Picture.

I wonder, however, if they would be so enthused if they realized exactly what is going on in the film.

As you perhaps already know, Babel stars Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett and tells four separate stories, set in four different countries, that ultimately interlink and affect one another. The central story is the shooting of American tourist Cate Blanchett in Morocco, and her husband's frantic efforts to get medical help for her in that economically undeveloped area of the world.

An obvious theme of all four stories is the difficulties people have in communicating with one another, and not just across cultures but even (and perhaps most importantly) within families. That's really an enormous cliche of our times, however, and hardly worth the acclaim heaped on the film. Another evident theme is the nearness of violence and death to each of us every moment of every day. Ditto the cliched nature of that one.

In addition, the film deals with trendy issues such as the War on Terror and War in Iraq, immigration, and income inequality, all without taking any explicit political stands (a smart move on the part of the writers and director). That probably accounts in large part for the critical acclaim, along with the screenwriters' and director's skill in presenting the four stories.

But what few people seem to have noticed is what sets everything in motion in the film: parents neglecting their children as the adults pursue their own wandering interests. In each of the stories, parents' failure to look after their children results in tragedy and contributes crucially to the central incident of the film, the shooting of Blanchett's character.

I don't have an opinion on whether the filmmakers did this in order to make a statement. I rather think not. However, it is indeed there and is the one really interesting and fully true observation in the film.

So here we have what turns out to be a postmodern pro-family film. Sounds like a winner to me.

From Karnick on Culture.

Global Warming: Please, Don’t Let the Facts Get in the Way

I find myself continually annoyed at the absolute certitude cultural elites have toward global warming and man’s causation. In almost every media presentation dealing with the issue all questions are banished, and to question the “consensus” is tantamount to heresy. Why just the other day on NPR I heard a reporter/prosecutor sound amazed that the Bush administration ever had the temerity to question the science behind global warming.

Unfortunately this will not change anytime soon, because environmentalists have strategically foisted upon the world a 50 to 100 year playing field. It’s going to take quite some time before in all likelihood global warming is proven to be another in a series of environmentalist hysterias that prove false. Voices of reason and skepticism (“deniers” to the faithful) will continue to shout in the wilderness and one day they will be heard.

I was very impressed with an article by one of these stout souls, the indomitable George F. Will. You read stuff like this and it makes the global warming fear mongering that much more grating. Will’s logic is impossible to deny:

Climate Cassandras say the facts are clear and the case is closed. (Sen. Barbara Boxer: "We're not going to take a lot of time debating this anymore.") The consensus catechism about global warming has six tenets: 1. Global warming is happening. 2. It is our (humanity's, but especially America's) fault. 3. It will continue unless we mend our ways. 4. If it continues we are in grave danger. 5. We know how to slow or even reverse the warming. 6. The benefits from doing that will far exceed the costs.

Only the first tenet is clearly true, and only in the sense that the Earth warmed about 0.7 degrees Celsius in the 20th century. We do not know the extent to which human activity caused this. The activity is economic growth, the wealth-creation that makes possible improved well-being—better nutrition, medicine, education, etc. How much reduction of such social goods are we willing to accept by slowing economic activity in order to (try to) regulate the planet's climate?
This question is one that the hysteria mongers would rather most Americans not address. In order to make a trade off, human beings have to be convinced that the value of the trade is worth it. The only way Americans would be willing to radically alter their lifestyles is if they have the lifestyle scared out of them. The global warming fanatics and their allies in the media are doing their best.

One paragraph in this splendid article hit me like a ton of bricks:

It could cost tens of trillions (in expenditures and foregone economic growth, here and in less-favored parts of the planet) to try to fine-tune the planet's temperature. We cannot know if these trillions would purchase benefits commensurate with the benefits that would have come from social wealth that was not produced.
It boggles the mind that certain people actually think they have the power and knowledge and utter certainty to “fine-tune the planet’s temperature.” Let that sink in a bit. The earth’s weather patterns and climate are almost infinitely complex, with multitudinous variables that we barely understand.

Accurate weather records are a relatively recent phenomenon. I know in the Chicago area where I currently reside, it is only since the 1880s that weather records have been kept. Yet somehow we are supposed to know without a shadow of a doubt, beyond any possibility of debate, that over the tens of thousands of years or more that our climate has been similar to what it is now, that one degree over a hundred years is a portent of our demise. And we, little capitalists that we are, have caused this! The hubris of such a mentality literally takes my breath away.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Who Is Cutting Off Debate?

I see that seven Republican senators, having joined in a successful effort to block Harry Reid's resolution on the Iraq surge---nonbinding, of course---now are scrambling to force further debate, as the newspaper headlines accused the Republicans of "cutting off the debate" by refusing to vote for cloture.

Huh? Cloture by definition would end the debate, and the unified Republican stance against cloture continued it. So, as usual, the headlines in the New York Times and the Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times and a number of others, well, lied; and the magnificent seven capitulated. And they wonder why the Republican base has abandoned them.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Uncommon Ties

As a general rule, I don't come out here to hawk my wares. Folks know that I do a weekly column for The American Spectator and another for Human Events, and my readers find their way there without me mechanizing The News Walk to get them thither.

But the piece I did for Common Ties this week might well be worth a visit even if you can do without my vaporings on matters political and cultural. Common Ties is the wonderful web magazine that buys only true life experiences. They were gracious enough to pay me for a reminiscence about events from my childhood, including the day in 1968 when my mother, Rachel Homnick (Ruth to her friends), passed away.

There is a beautiful picture of her on her wedding day accompanying the article.

"Supernatural" Debate About Religion

Last Thursday night's episode of the CW drama Supernatural included some interesting Christian-oriented discussion. Sam and Dean Winchester, a pair of brothers who hunt preternatural monsters, encounter a series of murders committed by people who say an angel told them to perform the killings. The angel wants these people killed, it appears, because they are horrendous evildoers—or potential ones. In at least two of the cases, the murder was called for to prevent the person from committing a crime, and the brothers' investigation confirms that these incidents were indeed about to take place.

Much of the episode takes place in a church and its grounds, including a crypt in the basement. The central interest of the episode is the two characters' discussions about belief in God. Dean, the older brother is a believer in demons and vampires but not in angels and God. He represents an aggressive atheism. Sam disagrees strongly:

Dean: Look, I'll admit I'm a bit of a skeptic, but since when are you all "Mr. 700 Club"? No, seriously, from the git-go you've been willing to buy this "angel" crap. I mean, what's next? Are you going to start praying every day?

Sam: I do.

Dean (shocked): What?

Sam: I do pray every day. I have for a long time.

Dean (face shows disbelief, then grudging acceptance): The things you learn about a guy. . . .

Dean states explicitly and indeed dogmatically that there is no God and no meaning in the world. He says that he requires hard proof that there is God, although he doesn't need any hard proof that God doesn't exist.

Later in the episode, Sam sees the angel himself. Dean is skeptical, of course, and asks for details. After describing what he saw and heard, Sam says, "This feeling washed over me, like peace, like grace."

Sam says that he has been given an assignment to kill an as-yet-unknown evildoer, and he soon encounters the target. Dean intervenes and says that he'll do the job himself, leaving Sam behind.

Sam is no fool, however, and determines that the "angel" is in fact the ghost of a former priest in the parish. A bit of interesting, offbeat theological discussion between Sam and a priest follows, and the ghost is put to rest by a performance of the Catholic Last Rites.


Dean, meanwhile, has gone after the person Sam was told to kill. It turns out that the person was about to commit a rape, which Dean intervenes to prevent. The man tries to escape, and in the ensuing automobile chase he is killed in a distinctively unusual accident, impaled by a metal post. Surveying the scene, Dean looks on in evident wonder.

Afterward, Sam and Dean discuss the implacations of the events. Sam confesses that he was fooled by the ghost: "I just wanted to believe so badly. It's so damn hard to do this, what we do, all alone. There's so much evil in the world, I feel like I could drown in it. . . . I needed to think that there was something else watching, too, you know? Some higher power, some greater good, and that maybe . . . I could be saved."

Dean sympathizes and acknowledges that the events of the episode were so extraordinary as to shake his beliefs.

Dean: "I don't know what to call it."

Sam: "What? Dean, what did you see?"

Dean: "Maybe . . . God's will."

From Karnick on Culture.

In Defense of McCain


John McCain faces one serious problem in his run for the Republican nomination. He's perceived as a maverick. He's not a team player and he doesn't mind running against his team's play if he feels the need. In a parliamentary body, this is a major liability. You need your players disciplined and working together. It's a mark against John McCain, the senator.

This maverick quality, however, is not a mark against John McCain the would-be president. Executive qualities are very different from parliamentarian qualities, which may be why proficient senators are sometimes not very good presidential candidates. McCain may simply be a president trapped in a senator's body.

Other than that, what are the knocks against McCain?

He got bad advice in 2000 to run against evangelicals and try to divide them from Catholics. That's easily corrected. He hired Pat Hynes. Hynes is very savvy about the religious voter and in fact is one himself.

Another knock is that he wasn't always in step on Iraq policy. That doesn't look too bad right now. He said we needed more troops and he was right.

The only serious nick I can see on the guy is that he may not be a convinced tax cutter.

McCain is already substantially pro-life with an established pro-life voting record. The fact that he isn't pristine in that area is hardly worth mentioning since Giuliani is more liberal there than he is.

And the war hero stuff? That wouldn't hurt a bit right now.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Salvo, Salvo: Baker, Karnick

Salvo is a very cool magazine that just happens to have brought on your beloved commentators Samuel "L." Karnick and Hunter Baker. We wrote for the first quarterly issue and my essay is finally available via .PDF on the web.

I give you my own "Grave New World."

Mr. Karnick's "Five Myths Crafted by Hollywood" remains behind the subscription wall.

This mag deserves your attention. They had the good sense to make me a Contributing Editor and Mr. Karnick a standing Columnist.

Besides, how can you not like a mag dedicated to:

Blasting holes in scientific naturalism, marveling at the intricate design of the universe, and promoting life in a culture of death.

Critiquing art, music, film, television, and literature, interrupting mass media influence, and questioning the sanity of our consumerist lifestyle.

Countering destructive ideologies, replacing revisionist fictions with undeniable facts, and paring away political correctness.

Debunking the cultural myths that have undercut human dignity, all but destroyed the notions of virtue and morality, and slowly eroded our appetite for transcendence.

Giuly, Giuly, Giuly

As a social conservative, as a Dobson apologist, as a Colson fan, as a man who has been in love with Alan Keyes in the past, I am surprisingly enthusiastic about the idea of Rudy in the White House.

Yes, he's socially liberal. Yes, he won't be anybody's moral crusader. That's alright with me.

If the man understands the real nature of the office AND follows his career-long law and order instincts, then there is arguably no one better for the White House than Rudy G. He is articulate, effective, and widely admired.

He saved New York. I dare say he can pull Iraq out of the crapper, too.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Hail to the Prince!



Right-wing radio was pretty embarrassing today, with a number of commentators questioning the selection of Prince as the Super Bowl halftime act. Most hadn't even heard of him, but rest assured anyone who's not old, dead or white probably has.

Black music, an umbrella of R&B (that's old school rhythm and blues for the pale set), hip-hop, and dance music, is by far the most popular genre in American pop, and Prince is a giant, both as a creative influence and a performer himself.

And although not quite in his prime at 47, he's not a museum piece either, and with some flashy guitar chops, can also rock with the best of 'em. Last year's fare, the British Rolling Stones, plays American music at least, but Irishmen U2, who played 2002, don't even have that going for them.

So hooray for the red, white and blue, and three cheers for Prince, who turned in perhaps the best halftime ever. I was genuinely entertained, and I'm neither a fan of the genre or Prince in particular. But I know great when I see it, and Prince was smokin', with not only his own dance/rock catalogue, but some nice touches of Creedence Clearwater and Jimi Hendrix, too.

On a sad note, the usually silver-throated Billy Joel rendered a heavily tarnished Star Spangled Banner. He'd have been a fine choice for halftime himself in the future, but based on yesterday, any Simon Crowell worth his salt would have to give him the boot.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Super Bowl Close-out

I sparred with Wlady P. over the American Spectator site over the NFL playoffs and managed to win the majority of the picks versus the esteemed editor, including the final call. He went Bears. I went Indy. In a fit of ego, I offer my own final thoughts cross-posted at the AmSpec site:

Wlady, it's only a very small comfort that I've had such a large edge on you in the NFL postseason. After all, I was the guy who drank the Alan Keyes' Kool-Aid and licked the sugary dust off the rim of the pitcher. You were tolerant, but wisely skeptical.

I do have a few ending thoughts. Manning was masterful, but I'm not sure he deserved to be the MVP, except maybe if you consider it a lifetime achievement award or a nod toward his on-field play-calling.

I remain spell-bound by the clutch quality of Dominic Rhodes' play. Until part-way through the last quarter I felt the Bears could win the game, but Rhodes just kept driving knives into the heart of that stalwart Urlacher-led defense. Addai is the future, but Rhodes was Mr. Right Now. He killed the clock and he kept the ball moving. Manning seemed a little too ready to risk unnecessary interceptions to hit the big ones.

You also have to consider Bob Sanders for the Indy defense. That unit changed utterly with his presence in the playoffs and he looked very strong again tonight. His tackling was sure and so was his coverage. His interception was also a key determinant of the game's outcome.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Democrats Put it on the Line

It’s nice to see that Democrats are actually being forced to stand for something when it comes to Iraq. It today’s LA Times: “Iraq plans divide Democratic hopefuls: The candidates shift attention from attacking Bush's strategy to defining their own, and criticizing each others'.” A presidential election will tend to do that. These Democrat presidential hopefuls’ ideology is only outweighed by their ambition. It’s real easy for them to mouth the typical liberal bromides when it comes to wooing the base for the upcoming (yea, like in a year) primaries, but the war in Iraq is a whole different ball game.

Maybe they are beginning to feel a little bit of what it’s like to be president. Can you say accountability? Can you say your choices now have real world consequences? Can you say it’s no longer adequate to sit on the bench and just criticize the quarterback?

The 2008 Democratic presidential candidates, who have been nearly unified in support of universal healthcare, abortion rights and alternative energy, have begun an increasingly harsh debate over an issue that will probably define the early part of the campaign: when to remove troops from Iraq.

Until recently, most Democratic presidential candidates, like the party generally, found success by bashing President Bush's Iraq strategy without offering comprehensive alternatives.


As Obama said to the Democrats at their winter meeting:

"It was enough to run against George Bush during this past congressional election; it will not be enough now," he said. "The American people are expecting more. They want to know what we are going to do."


To continue the football metaphor this Super Bowl weekend, the Democrat presidential hopefuls will continue to gang tackle the president, but now they’ll begin to see what it’s like to run a pattern out into the flat and get slammed by a linebacker. For those of us who’ve backed the president lo these many years it’s nice to see others beginning to feel the heat for policies they actually have to defend and that they may very well have to answer for in the future.

Friday, February 02, 2007

The Obamessiah!

Oh, I know Jim Geraghty has renamed his NRO blog "The Hillary Spot," but I'm still sure Obama will be the main man for the USA in 2008. I feel sustained in my opinion by the newly minted concept of The Obamessiah.

I saw the Obamessiah speaking at the DNC meeting today via one of the cable nets. He was perfectly playing Reagan to the lefties. "We musn't spend our time attacking each other. Instead we must concentrate of saving this precious country of ours."

He won't get dirty. He'll keep his hands clean with no legislative program other than to be kinder, more caring, and more above the fray than any before him. Then Queen Oprah will embrace her true child and the stars will align and then New Hampshire shall fall before him and . . . and . . .

Confession, first step

My name is Jim and I am a compulsive reader of the daily newspaper. 

I read my ChiTrib.  I find on page one that the not-guilty finding in trial of Bridgeview Hamas supporters is “setback for Bush administration.” (subhead).  I find that a report’s forecast for Iraq is “grim,” according to “sources” who read a “classified intelligence document [that] points to further strife.”  (That’s a Wash Post story, by the way.)  And I find a big Chi Bears story (fancy that), with color pic, and on left a neither gloomy nor anti-Bush story (fancy that) about Chief Justice Roberts pushing for a “more private and less divisive” Supreme Court.  (Does the writer mean “divided”?)

I read my Sun-Times, mostly view it, that is: Great color pic on page one, “We are not terrorists” in big type, “Victory declared for former Chicago grocer as jury rejects major charges in Hamas terror trial” beneath it, a fifth its size at most.  (Page 3 AP story here, but pix are S-T’s)  What, no setback for Bush admin?  Pic is of men praying outside courthouse after grocer was acquitted of racketeering charges.  Mostly viewing it, because this is a TABLOID, brothers and sisters, and I am addicted also to tabloids.  Will anyone help me?

more more more

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Media Bias?

This is the lede of a reported piece published by the Associated Press:

WASHINGTON - The House passed a $463.5 billion spending bill Wednesday that covers about one-sixth of the federal budget as Democrats cleared away the financial mess they inherited from Republicans.

That's not a quote from a source or part of an editorial piece. That's the reporter's first paragraph in a "news" story.

Wow. Who needs a quantitative study on media bias?

(HT to both Donald Luskin and David Hogberg for noticing this one.)

Energy Independence---Who Needs It?

In his SOTU speech, President Bush made a call for US energy independence. So did Jimmy Carter, 30 years ago or so, and that irony was not lost on our Democrat friends. But Richard Nixon called for energy independence in January, 1974 and Gerald Ford put out a huge plan himself, which I ran across in the Daily Kos archives of all places. It was hardly a bold, progressive idea.

The principle behind energy independence is that our thirst for cheap and yummy oil dictates our foreign policy. How heinous, that we should sacrifice our goodly American principles to our hedonistic American lifestyle.

Now, it is true that the 1973 Arab oil embargo was designed to punish the US for its support of Israel in the Yom Kippur War. But as our thenewswalk.com colleague Dr. Benjamin Zycher notes in his entry in The Concise Encyclopedia of Economics:

Contrary to what many noneconomists believe, the 1973 price increase was not caused by the oil "embargo" (refusal to sell) directed at the United States and the Netherlands that year by the Arab members of OPEC. Instead, OPEC reduced its production of crude oil, thus raising world oil prices substantially. The embargo against the United States and the Netherlands had no effect whatever: both nations were able to obtain oil at the same prices as all other nations. The failure of this selective embargo was predictable. Oil is a fungible commodity that can easily be resold among buyers. Therefore, sellers who try to deny oil to buyer A will find other buyers purchasing more oil, some of which will be resold by them to buyer A.
Smart fellow, that Zycher.

So that's why the Arab oil embargo failed right quick---OPEC started it in October, 1973, but it was dead meat by February 1974. And as Ben explains further on, even if it had worked, OPEC couldn't, and has never maintained unity since, either.

Whether Carter was laughable in declaring energy independence the "moral equivalent of war" is another story. His rationale for energy independence was to the avoid economic disruption that dogged his presidency. That Ronald Reagan didn't see it that way is understandable, since oil went down to $11 a barrel or so after OPEC's powerplay failed and Reagan started sorting out the world's geo-econo-politic.

But the Arab oil embargo did put a permanent chill in the west's spine, and its lasting effect is that Europe abandoned its traditional support for Israel and has leaned against Israel ever since. Carterism survives, but let's note that it's absurd in light of recent revelations to believe that Jimmy Carter wanted energy independence just so the US could have more freedom to back Israel.

As for conservatives "ridiculing" Carter, as some of our friends from the left charge, perhaps they did. Reagan, in one of his first acts as president, tore off Jimmy Carter's solar panels, his energy hair shirt, from the White House. They ended up on ebay. Cheap.

But the real reason conservatives then and now disagree isn't out of partisanship or greed or evil, but because market forces would and will raise the price of energy, and conservation and innovation must necessarily follow. It's not all about driving SUVs and laughing at liberals. I meself drive a Honda Civic (but must confess to the latter when the occasion demands, which is often).

So that goes for you, too, Dubya. I'm all for Gerald Ford's proposed 200 nuclear power plants to give 'em all the Reddy Kilowatt finger, but energy independence is a chimera. The reality, and the irony, is that autocracies like the Saudis' and Hugo Chavez's rely almost exclusively on oil revenues to sustain their countries and stay in power---they're more addicted to western dollars than we are to their oil. "Energy independence" would loose our last and only bit of restraining influence on them.

Pithy Question

The Gospels are pithy, why expand them? is Rupert Shortt's objection to Walter Wangerin's Jesus: A Novel (Zondervan) in Times Lit Supplement of 3/17/06. "None . . . is a biography of Jesus, still less a neutral report. . . . The four evangelists all fashioned their sources [sic] with great ingenuity to substantiate prior convictions about Christ's divine mission. Their writing was pithy, as well as skilful. Mark's text, the shortest, omits almost everything considered inessential to the message of salvation."

"Christ himself is all brilliance or defiance" here, says Shortt, TLS religion editor and formerly asst. ed. of The Tablet, the British Catholic weekly. "In brief, the message lacks nuance." If this novel is aimed at non-believers, asks Shortt, the "tautness" of the Gospels themselves are more likely to convince them. To paraphrase Shortt's argument, if the risen Lazarus can appear to sinners without effect -- Luke 16:19-31: "If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead," Abraham told Dives, the rich man in hell -- why would "adding fat" to the original "well-chiseled body" of Scripture, as Shortt puts it, convince them?

Shortt approaches the Gospels as a work of art, or at least finely honed craft. I applaud this and understand expanding a text, as in Wangerin's book, as spelling out its meaning. An expansion says more than the original, and obviously there's room for that. Wangerin, a prolific writer on such matters, seems excellently qualified to do that. But it's tricky nonetheless.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

72 Hours Left to Vote in Writing Competition

As a person with hundreds of friends and thousands of readers, I am startled by the fact I only have 49 votes recorded so far for my entry in Simon and Schuster's First Chapters book competition. And the deadline for voting on my submission is Feb. 2 at 6 p.m. Eastern time.

The competition, billed as the American Idol of publishing, is structured as follows. Chapter 1 of your book is put up for 14 days. Readers vote by rating it 1 to 10, 10 being highest.

The top twenty rated pieces will go to Round 2 beginning April 1. You will put up Chapter 2 for 14 days.

The top five go to Round 3 and put up Chapter 3. One of the five wins and gets a book contract from Simon & Schuster.

My novel is entitled The Life and Times of Pfc. Ernest Taylor. Chapter 1 has been up for 11 days already, so we are down to the last 72 hours. I invite all my friends and readers to read and vote. Here is how:

1) Go to www.gather.com
2) Sign in or register now to get a user name.
3) Using the user name, go back to the Home page.
4) Where it says Search Articles at top of page, type Ernest Taylor, then Enter.
5) Click on The Life and Times of Pfc. Ernest Taylor and read Chapter One (not long).
6) Vote by rating it 1 to 10, 10 being the highest. (You rate by clicking the star next to the appropriate number.) Leave a comment if you are so inclined.

Thank you for participating. Obviously I am not asking anyone to color their views, but it is common sense that friends and readers of mine should be engaged in the process. Thanks again.

Left-Wing Talk Radio Is as Popular as Ever!

As AP reports, a wealthy leftist sugar daddy has come to the rescue of beleaguered, bankrupt radio network Air America:

Air America Radio, a liberal talk radio network, said Monday that it had reached a tentative agreement to be sold to the founder of a New York area real estate company. The network also said that Al Franken, its longtime headline personality, would depart next month.

The agreement with Stephen Green, the founder and chairman of SL Green Realty Corp., appears to rescue the struggling network, which has been seeking a buyer since last fall when it filed for bankruptcy reorganization after reaching an impasse with one of its creditors.

Any sale would have to be approved by the bankruptcy court. The company has signed what is called a letter of intent to sell itself to Green and expects to agree on financial terms soon, Air America spokeswoman Jaime Horn said.

I love that description of Air America as "a liberal talk radio network," as if it were one of many such.

Stephen Green is a brother of Mark Green, a particularly obnoxious leftist political commentator and landslide failure in a run for mayor of New York City several years ago.

The rumor is that Franken is leaving to make a run for a U.S. Senate seat in Minnesota.

The network has been in disarray from the beginning, both on the air and behind the scenes. Although the founders had what appears to have been a reasonable, achievable goal, the venture never took off and failed to develop a following. Many reasons have been suggested as to why this was so—and this analyst has contributed in the past here and elsewhere—but it appears to me that the main reason for the network's failure was that nobody wanted it.

I rather doubt that the change of ownership will alter that market reality. The only way for Air America to survive will be to change. Real change at the net, however, hardly seems likely.

From Karnick on Culture.

The Pursuit of Happyness—Review

It's not often that Hollywood depicts stockbrokers positively. That's only one of several nice surprises in The Pursuit of Happyness, a light drama based on a true story and starring Will Smith in a modern-day Horatio Alger tale.

Alger's popular stories were all about the value of hard work. The Pursuit of Happyness includes plenty of hard work on the part of the protagonist, but we live in an investment society today, so in this film the emphasis is on the value of the investments—of time, talent, and money—the various characters make.

The way he does so is through applying the film's central theme: investment. Smith plays Chris Gardner, a floundering medical-device salesman in early 1980s San Francisco. Gardner, heading fast toward middle age, with grey in his hair, wants to make it in life—he is pursuing happiness rigorously—but has flopped at his work and failed in his marriage. He's a decidedly poor provider, and the friction caused by the family's economically dire situation results in his wife leaving him and moving across the country.

Left alone with his five-year-old son, Gardner takes an internship at a big brokerage firm in hopes of getting that one big break.

The problem is that the internship doesn't pay a salary, and he has virtually no money at all. All he has is several hard-to-sell bone-density scanners, in which he invested all of his savings—unwisely, it turns out, as the machines aren't very good and are consequently difficult to sell.

It is clear, however, that he is an enormously intelligent individual; he simply hasn't invested his talents well. After his wife leaves, his situation becomes even worse, as her steady income as a nurse is no longer there to tide the family over the economic rough spots.

And rough spots there are indeed, as President Reagan and his team struggle to fix the economy after the depredations of Nixon, Ford, and Carter. Chris works diligently at the brokerage firm, having to do in six hours what the others have nine to do: he cannot work full days because he has to pick up his son after school and get in line at the homeless center lest he not get a room. As it happens, he and his son even have to sleep in a public restroom one night.

But Chris redoubles his efforts to sell the machines, and somehow he is now able to do so. Here too the theme is investment, as the machines Chris sells are investments in medical practices. Hence, as he spends his weekdays learning about the meaning of investment, we surmise that he is now better able to speak to the sales prospects about how the machine will pay off for them.

The film doesn't dwell on how Chris got to be in the poor situation he was in at the beginning of the story, but clearly he didn't use his gifts as well as he might have. Instead of continuing to work steadily and save a little each week, he went for the big time with the medical devices, but obviously hadn't invested enough time in research before deciding to plunge all of his family's savings into it. Otherwise, he would have known, as is revealed early in the film, that the devices are really unnecessary.

His wife has invested much in her marriage to him, but she decides to cut her losses and leave. The rest of the film will tell us whether her investment would have paid off, anc consequently whether she should have remained with him (beyond, of course, our opinions regarding divorce in general).

At the brokerage firm, only one of the twenty interns will get a job after the six-month trial, so this too might seem a bad investment. But Chris is so smart and so much more mature, motivated, and diligent than the others that one suspects he might just have a chance. Hence it's not so much a gamble as an investment—one that might not pay off, but certainly one well worth making.

His work at the brokerage firm, of course, is all about investments as well. And it's interesting how Chris makes his sales pitch: he talks exclusively about the individual being able to make the most of their resources and retire well, etc.

But most important of all to Chris is his son, Christopher, played by Smith's real-life son Jaden Smith. Despite several instances in which circumstances are conspiring to take the boy away—especially when Chris's wife leaves him—Chris won't let the boy go. He invests everything he can in him, playing little learning-games with him as they walk the streets or ride subway trains. This is an investment too, and it is an investment entirely of love.

Of course, investments don't always pay off, but as Chris learns, no one can guarantee happiness; having a chance at the pursuit of happiness is enough. And in Chris's case, it is.

Recommended.

From Karnick on Culture.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Is Rudy a Conservative?

In a very interesting City Journal article, Steven Malanga argues that "Yes, Rudy Guiliani Is a Conservative/And an electable one at that."

Malanga makes a strong case for Rudy as a Reagan-style conservative. He recounts well Giuliani's record as mayor of New York City, in which, as Malanga establishes firmly, Rudy supported free markets and individual responsibility, as exemplified vividly in his tax cuts , welfare reform success, "zero tolerance" crimefighting, and firm rejection of racial politics.

As Malanga notes, Giuliani did this in what was one of the most leftist cities in the United States until he became mayor.

There's no question in my mind that Giuliani was a superb mayor and is a solid man of the right in most of his public stances. What many conservatives question, of course, is his record on social issues (such as support for legality of abortions, homosexual marriage, and gun control) and his occasionally unsteady personal life (such as his divorce from his somewhat eccentric wife).

None of this, Malanga argues, should preclude conservatives from supporting Giuliani for President:

[I]n a GOP presidential field in which cultural and religious conservatives may find something to object to in every candidate who could really get nominated (and, more important, elected), Giuliani may be the most conservative candidate on a wide range of issues. Far from being a liberal, he ran New York with a conservative’s priorities: government exists above all to keep people safe in their homes and in the streets, he said, not to redistribute income, run a welfare state, or perform social engineering. The private economy, not government, creates opportunity, he argued; government should just deliver basic services well and then get out of the private sector’s way. He denied that cities and their citizens were victims of vast forces outside their control, and he urged New Yorkers to take personal responsibility for their lives. “Over the last century, millions of people from all over the world have come to New York City,” Giuliani once observed. “They didn’t come here to be taken care of and to be dependent on city government. They came here for the freedom to take care of themselves.” It was that spirit of opportunity and can-do-ism that Giuliani tried to re-instill in New York and that he himself exemplified not only in the hours and weeks after 9/11 but in his heroic and successful effort to bring a dying city back to life.

Malanga's argument against conservative rejection of Giuliani is twofold. Point one is that the social issues are not as important as the economic and national defense policies which are Giuliani's great strength. Point two is that Giuliani is conservative in the really important ways:

As part of Giuliani’s quintessentially conservative belief that dysfunctional behavior, not our economic system, lay at the heart of intergenerational poverty, he also spoke out against illegitimacy and the rise of fatherless families. A child born out of wedlock, he observed in one speech, was three times more likely to wind up on welfare than a child from a two-parent family. “Seventy percent of long-term prisoners and 75 percent of adolescents charged with murder grew up without fathers,” Giuliani told the city. He insisted that the city and the nation had to reestablish the “responsibility that accompanies bringing a child into the world,” and to that end he required deadbeat fathers either to find a private-sector job or to work in the city’s workfare program as a way of contributing to their child’s upbringing. But he added that changing society’s attitude toward marriage was more important than anything government could do: “[I]f you wanted a social program that would really save these kids, . . . I guess the social program would be called fatherhood.”

As a consequence of his rejection of the time-honored New York liberal belief in congenital black victimhood, Giuliani set out to change the city’s conversation about race. He objected to affirmative action, ending Gotham’s set-aside program for minority contractors, and he rejected the idea of lowering standards for minorities. Accordingly, he ended open enrollment at the City University of New York, a 1970s policy aimed at increasing the minority population at the nation’s third-largest public college system but one that also led to a steep decline in standards and in graduation rates.

This is a strong and important argument, and it will be good for the right to argue this one out.

Later in the article, Malanga makes the case that Giuliani is an important enough figure to merit presidential consideration:

The national, and even world, press marveled at the spectacular success of Giuliani’s policies. The combination of a safer city and a better budget environment ignited an economic boom unlike any other on record. Construction permits increased by more than 50 percent, to 70,000 a year under Giuliani, compared with just 46,000 in Dinkins’s last year. Meanwhile, as crime plunged, New Yorkers took to the newly safe streets to go out at night to shows and restaurants, and the number of tourists soared from 24 million in the early 1990s to 38 million in 2000, the year before the 9/11 attacks. Under Giuliani, the city gained some 430,000 new jobs to reach its all-time employment peak of 3.72 million jobs in 2000, while the unemployment rate plummeted from 10.3 to 5.1 percent. Personal income earned by New Yorkers, meanwhile, soared by $100 million, or 50 percent, while the percentage of their income that they paid in taxes declined from 8.8 to 7.3 percent. During Giuliani’s second term, for virtually the only time since World War II, the city’s economy consistently grew faster than the nation’s.

Today, Americans see Giuliani as presidential material because of his leadership in the wake of the terrorist attacks, but to those of us who watched him first manage America’s biggest city when it was crime-ridden, financially shaky, and plagued by doubts about its future as employers and educated and prosperous residents fled in droves, Giuliani’s leadership on 9/11 came as no surprise. What Americans saw after the attacks is a combination of attributes that Giuliani governed with all along: the tough-mindedness that had gotten him through earlier civic crises, a no-nonsense and efficient management style, and a clarity and directness of speech that made plain what he thought needed to be done and how he would do it.

Like great wartime leaders, Giuliani displayed unflinching courage on 9/11. A minute after the first plane struck, he rushed downtown, arriving at the World Trade Center just after the second plane hit the South Tower, when it became obvious to everyone that New York was under attack. Fearing that more strikes were on the way—and without access to City Hall, the police department, or the city’s command center because of damage from the attacks—Giuliani hurried to reestablish city government, narrowly escaping death himself as the towers came down next to a temporary command post he had set up in lower Manhattan. “There is no playbook for a mayor on how to organize city government when you are standing on a street covered by dust from the city’s worst calamity,” one of his deputy mayors, Anthony Coles, later observed.

This is all true, and I think that Malanga is right to conclude that Rudy Giuliani merits serious consideration as a presidential candidate.

In addition to that, I think that the discussion of Giuliani's qualifications for national leadership could be very salutary for the right. Those who define themselves as conservatives find it hard to support someone with Guiliiani's record on social issues.

As a liberal of the right, I too disagree with Guiliani's positions supporting abortion, gay marriage, and the like. However, I think that Guiliani would have to move a little to the right on these issues in order to secure the Republican nomination, and that as president he would not be any less supportive of the Right's social agenda than Ronald Reagan was as president.

Guiliani reminds me rather strongly of Reagan, in fact. Although Reagan talked the talk on social issues, he didn't really walk the walk, unless I wasn't looking when Sandra Day O'Connor and Anthony Casey voted to turn back Roe v. Wade in the 1992 Planned Parenthood v. Casey decision. Similarly, Reagan had been divorced and had a rather less than perfectly salubrious family life. But on the big things Reagan was the best president of the past century.

If Rudy Guiliani could be half that good, that would make hiim a superior president indeed. His candidacy merits serious consideration.

From Karnick on Culture.

Friday, January 26, 2007

I Like(d) Bill Richardson

Of all the Democrats in the mix for 2008, I've been best with Bill Richardson. Currently governor of New Mexico, a former congressman, ambassador to the UN, and executive branch experience, too, as Secretary of Energy.

The depth and breadth of his resume, his curriculum vitae, is without equal in the Class of '08 from either party, hands down.

Latino, too, which would be A-OK for this fractured USA. I'd never vote for crappy cake for the sake of diversity, but all things being equal, I could be influenced by the icing or even the cherry on top.

But Richardson let me down bigtime in this interview (and kudos to the Los Angeles Times for asking the unaskable question):

LAT: The can't-be-any-worse argument was also very popular in 1975 in Vietnam, and Cambodians found out that it could actually get quite a good deal worse. Is that something that worries you? What do you build into that process?

Richardson: Yeah. It worries me, but how worse can it get?

Anyone who thinks things can't get any worse has no imagination. Gov./Amb./Sec./Rep. Richardson must know that's so, but has given himself over to the cynicism, despair and hopelessness of our age and its chattering class.

We shall need more from our next president.

A Little Perspective on Death

Rush had an interesting experiment on his show today related to the number of deaths in Iraq last year. He pointed out that a response to the question of how many American military deaths there were last year would indicate whether someone has been brainwashed by the MSM. I guessed around 500. The actual number was around 800. If someone came up with a larger number or a much larger number, you can bet they get all or much of their information about the war from the MSM.

He also points out something that I’m sure will turn liberals apoplectic. Why are we making such a huge deal of 3000 deaths in a war, when 40,000 people a year die in motor vehicles, or 7000 a year die from botched prescriptions. You get the idea. I can imagine liberals hearing that throwing their radios against a wall to smash it, and by extension, Rush, into a thousand little pieces.

As I was listening I came up with my own little thought experiment. Literally every day in the MSM we hear, see or read of American military deaths or bombs and destruction in Iraq. We are beaten over the head with it day after day after day after day. Imagine if every car or truck or motorcycle accident were national news every day, with pictures, video, audio, interviews, you name it. Broken down by day that would be approximately 110 accidents a day. Carnage and human suffering on that scale is really hard to fathom. If we were beat over the head with this day after day after day after day, how long before that price we pay for our freedom to travel would no longer be tolerated.

Being in the military in Iraq is relatively safe compared to any other war in history. In the almost four years 3,000 precious lives have been lost in Iraq at least 160,000 also precious lives have been lost on American highways. I agree with Rush that a little bit of perspective is in order.

Lit'ry matters

* U.S. southern novelist Walker Percy was a medical doctor.

* Longfellow is the most put to music of English-language poets.

(Items from Times [of London] Literary Supplement, hereafter TLS)

* The idiosyncrasy of Gerard Manley Hopkins’ poetry may be explained by the “constraint” of Jesuit life.  Toeing the line in all else, he broke out in his verse.  (You could say he sprang out with his rhythm.)  Indeed, the tension he experienced — conflict between vocation and creativity — may have been productive.  (Simon Humphries, “A Eunuch for God,” TLS 12/22&29/06)

* In Honor: a History (Encounter), James Bowman (no relation) displays “a propensity to be judgemental and didactic.”  (Ditto Harvey C. Mansfield in Manliness [Yale].)  Thus reviewer George Feaver, retired poly sci prof at U. of British Columbia and this year at UT-Austin, who was left with “nagging suspicions” about Bowman’s judgment of U.S. military decisions, having read to the end of his “dense, discursive account of the alleged ‘decline and fall’ of Western honour.”

In this and other matters, Bowman offers a “gloomy reading” of history, “overly selective” in Feaver’s view, as in its ignoring the civil rights revolution of the ‘60s and “real-life heroes” such as Martin Luther King and the New York firefighters on 9/11.  Feaver closes with commendation of both books, “despite their shortcomings [for reminding us] of the importance of remembering the past, and standing up for beliefs central to the achievement of our civilization.” (“Limp Responses,” TLS 12/22&29/06)

* Reviewing Patrick Wyse Jackson’s The Chronologer’s Quest: The Search for the Age of the Earth (Cambridge), John North says J. has “useful things to say,” albeit with “a weakness for discursive irrelevance.” 

Whether J. displayed this weakness or not, I do not know, nor do I know if other reviewers’ comments are well-aimed, but I do find that phrase helpful.  May writing teachers and editors everywhere hold discursive irrelevance to be a weakness not a strength. (TLS 1/12/07)

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

What's the Worst That Could Happen Anyway?

For the record, this famous photo isn't of the US embassy in Saigon, but of an apartment house where CIA types lived. They took as many of their Vietnamese allies with them as they could, but that wasn't many. What happened to the rest, we can only guess, but an informed guess isn't pretty.

Now, it's getting to be our perception that there are no good guys left among the Iraqis, so when we leave and our putative co-workers for peace and freedom are slaughtered, we shouldn't feel too bad about it.

Besides, the United States has a history of this sort of thing:

---In 1956, encouraged by John Foster Dulles, not to mention President Eisenhower and Radio Free Europe, the people of Hungary revolt against their Soviet masters. The CCCP's tanks roll in, 4000 die, and the US does nothing.

---In 1961, John F. Kennedy and the CIA send a band of Cuban exiles onto the beach of the Bay of Pigs to reverse Fidel Castro's revolution. Kennedy gets cold feet, the exiles are left on the beach, and they either die on the spot, get shipped off to Castro's prisons or are simply executed.

---American troops had actually been withdrawn from Vietnam by 1973. "Vietnamization," the people defending themselves, was actually a success for 2 years at least. It was the US Congress' (to this day inexplicable, except that we got bored and tired) cutoff of funds to South Vietnam that led to the events in the above photo in 1975. Then boat people, re-education camps, death.

---In 1979, Jimmy Carter not only withdrew support from the Iranian Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, Carter threw him over the cliff, to the shock and awe of the West, including even France. The Shah was not only a US ally, he helped out in defeating Hitler back in the day. You could look it up.

Not only did Carter withdraw US military and political support, and forbid the Shah's forces from confronting his Khomeneist enemies, but the leftists who went along in the name of freedom got slaughtered by the new Islamicist regime, and you could look that one up, too.

---In 1991, the Bush41 administration gave nods, winks, and open encouragement to an uprising against the same Saddam Hussein whom the First Gulf War had left in place. The people rose up, the US did nothing, and slaughter ensued.

---We might also add that Ronald Reagan put US troops into Lebanon in 1983, 241 US troops got killed in a bombing, and the US withdrew 4 months later. Hezbollah, whether responsible or not, takes fortification to this day that they defeated the United States, and particularly Reagan, who is otherwise reputed to have never lost a tussle. And Bill Clinton sent a skeleton crew of US Army Rangers into Somalia in 1993, they were killed, and we promptly quit the country. Osama bin Laden crowed about our defeat and withdrawal often as a sign of our weakness, and the movie Black Hawk Down became one of Saddam's favorite flicks.

But never mind that last bit. The US quits all the time and leaves allies and other good people out to dry, so why not bail this time, too? It's in our character. I'm bored and tired with Iraq, who isn't, and what's one more betrayed ally among friends, or to our enemies?

Bin Laden is a student of history, and so is the entire Muslim world. They sussed out the paper tiger long ago, and that's what makes Islamism go. Their faith tells them that Islam must someday become the way of the world, but that could be in a 1000 or 10,000 years, sort of like Christianity's prophesized Second Coming Of Jesus. But the fecklessness of the west tells the Muslim world that that day, the end of times, might be right frigging now.

But, hey, the United States survived all those other regretful embraces of realpolitik, so one more won't make any difference, right? We still have our toasters and our TVs and our steel-belted radials, after all, so why should we say anything? Surely we can survive one more betrayal in the name of realism.

Iraq is boring, let's face it. To those Iraqis who actually believed we were liberating you and would get your back as you risked your lives for peace, freedom and human decency, sorry, you're on your own. You screwed up---you trusted us. You should have known who and what we are. Bin Laden understands us, far better than we do ourselves.

Bush’s State of the Union

I must confess that I had no desire to watch the president’s State of the Union address this evening. I am sick of hearing the carping and slamming of this man who has done noble work on the state of our union. Is he perfect? Has he done everything right? Of course not, but he is a man of conviction who has gotten an awful lot right, despite what his critics have claimed since he took office. One would think in light of the pressure and constant drip of negative that he would be bedraggled or show some of the wear and tear of the office. He has not.

I was impressed by his conviction that the war on terror, and in Iraq, is something we cannot simply turn away from and wish away. As he stated:

This war is more than a clash of arms -- it is a decisive ideological struggle, and the security of our nation is in the balance.


I am reminded of other statesmen in history who spoke truth about great ideological struggles and faced ridicule, including Winston Churchill and Ronald Reagan. The pacifists and isolationists were wrong then and they are wrong now. Thank God there are leaders of conviction who understand that leadership is not about following polls, but about standing on conviction. President Bush is one of those, and I believe history will prove him out.

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

Barack-Slapping

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.