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.