Thursday, February 15, 2007

The Al Franken Century

Via Drudge, the Minnesota GOP takes a swipe at newly-announced US Senate candidate (I'll spare us all a photo):
"Franken offers Minnesotans nothing but polarization and vitriolic personal attacks."
Which, if the "netroots" like the Daily Kos have indeed taken over the Democratic Party, means that Franken should breeze through the primary. Although based on the unwatchable Stuart Saves His Family (I tried the other day, hard, but no luck), one might dismiss him as a clown and not a very good one, those who dig his politics can even be brought around to embrace his execrable art, judging by this Amazon review (sic):
"This has to be one of the absolute best movies I have ever seen! Al Frankin is genious! I am so excited he is from Minnesota and I hope fulheartedly he intends on running for United States Senator from our state."

(OK, that one's probably a ringer, but the netroots love to manipulate the Amazon ratings, and so Stuart one got an unreality-based 4 1/2 stars.)

Franken has built a few credentials, mainly---to his credit---going on USO tours and devising a frighteningly clever rhetorical riff called Midwest Values. As an comic actor and writer, Franken played dumb for a living, and then as a political provocateur played intelligent for a living. As unconvincing as he's been as either dumb or smart, he's scratched out success at both by never overestimating the intelligence of the American people.

To underestimate this Harvard cum laude grad is to underestimate one of the greatest talents of all in a democracy. There is no one in America who has calculated and developed his mediocrity better than Al Franken.

Front Page News Fit To Print

Ah, the New York Times. Gotta love 'em. Today's front page (the print edition no less) informs us that "Ex-Defense Official Hired, Briefly, by a Pentagon School."

It seems that Doug Feith, the former Undersecretary of Defense for Policy, after leaving the Pentagon began a book project and also signed a contract to teach at the National Defense University. Before his first course began, the leadership of the NDU changed, and announced that a top-to-bottom review of all contracts would be undertaken, and that no activities could be approved for some weeks. Feith needed to enroll students in his new course, but could not be given assurance that the course in fact would be approved. And so Feith---who needed the time anyway to work on his book, which was taking a good deal more time than anticipated---and the NDU agreed simply to cancel his contract.

But that is not the impression that the ink-stained wretches at the NYT undertook to give. No indeed: Feith's contract with the NDU, you see, was canceled "three days after" the Times reporter asked NDU about the matter. Not only does the article offer utterly no evidence of anything negative, it fails even to allege any such thing. Instead, the article gives us a lot of verbiage hinting at something slimy without ever telling us precisely what that might be.

The story clearly is yet another attempt by the NYT to make Feith friendless (or radioactive), as part of the larger effort to smear anyone involved in the Bush Administration Iraq policy. (Full disclosure: Feith and I have been good friends for over 25 years.) Feith truly is a gentleman and a scholar, but no matter: At the NYT, a teaching contract at the NDU now is front-page News Fit to Print. And they wonder why no one not already part of their choir takes them seriously.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Something New: Political Satire from the Right

Set your DVR for Sunday night, 10:00 p.m. EST, Fox News Channel. Joel Surnow, producer of Fox’s hit series “24” is test marketing a right-leaning political satire show. The left has all the biting, sardonic political humor on the tube. It’s nice to see we actually may get a little bit of humor balance.

This really should be a hit, because the left is so easy to make fun of. And conservatives generally don’t tend to skewer their political and cultural opponents with the bile so characteristic of the left. As Dennis Prager points out, the right believes the left is wrong, while the left believes the right is evil. And if evil is too strong a word for you, how about morally inferior.

Here is a brief description from the man himself:

"We're calling it news with a sense of humor," said Surnow, producer of Fox's "24." "It's a show that satirizes the targets that have been missed by the mainstream satirists on TV."

One seg discusses the timeless popularity on campus of T-shirts bearing the iconic image of Che Guevara. "We spin it into a campus T-shirt salesman who also sells T-shirts of Mao and Hitler," said co-producer Manny Coto.

How much more effective it is to reveal the stupidity and moral vacuousness of lionizing Che Guevara as culturally hip with comparisons to Mao and Hitler, than just riling against it with perfectly correct assertions. This should be some good fun. Hopefully it will get enough ratings to stick.

Let 'Em Freeze In the Queue

I see that the esteemed governor of the great state of Wisconsin, the Great Jim Doyle, wants to impose an excise tax of 2.5 percent on oil (and, presumably, refined products) sold in and/or for Wisconsin consumers, with an added constraint that the tax not be passed along in prices. This is because profits are enormous, and why shouldn't the evil oil companies pay for Wisconsin roads?

Wow. Forget whether the state accountants would be able to sort out the myriad influences on gasoline prices. Forget whether, analogously, the oil companies ought to get a subsidy when profits are low in the endless boom-bust cycle that is the oil market. Focus instead on the implications of this nostrum for Wisconsin drivers: If market conditions (relative demand and supply elasticities) otherwise would yield an increase in prices, then the no-passthrough requirement is a form of price control regulation of the gasoline market, with all of the problems and absurdities attendant upon it. Spot shortages and gasoline lines. Rerouting of supplies away from Wisconsin; not a bad idea, as I don't live there, and what better justice could there be for the Marxist sophisticates in Madison? Etc. Such destructive silliness is what federalism is for, and the entertainment value alone would be worth the agony of listening to Doyle's excuses.

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.