Friday, April 20, 2007

Sean's Insanity

Infotainer Sean Hannity is fond of the word "reprehensible" in describing the words and actions of America's left, and as his ideological bedfellow I can't resist nodding in agreement. But Sean, welcome to their club.

It appears that vociferous lefty Alec Baldwin's ex-wife, Kim Basinger, slipped to the press Baldwin's profanity-pumped voicemail to his daughter after she missed yet another phone date. Hannity, whom Baldwin once called on the air a no-talent construction worker, had his payback, and today spent a goodly portion of his radio show and evening Fox News show making that payback a goodly hell.

Look, all's fair in love, war, and partisan politics, but family is out of bounds. Reprehensible, and when Hannity rhetorically linked the Virginia Tech obscenity to Baldwin's relatively tame profanities under the guise that Baldwin is somehow dangerous to his daughter, "reprehensible" started to seem not strong enough.

But that's Hannity's lookout. An infotainer makes his living on the edge, and if and when he goes too far, the market decides his punishment. Don Corleone wouldn't judge how a man makes his living and feeds his own family, so neither will I.

But there is a growing connection between the toy department of infotainment and the real world of politics. I still get a guilty pleasure from Ann Coulter, who dares to say some things that need to be said. But she's lost her place at the grownups' table---I don't want her anywhere near any Republican Party function, whose electoral success isn't a matter of entertaining debate, but of life and death.

As for Sean Hannity, I don't want him around either unless he backs down, which I think won't happen because it would be out of character. If he'll use a man's family troubles to settle a personal vendetta, then he's a bedfellow I want at arm's length.

I never expected the Democratic Party to repudiate Al Sharpton for the sake of mere decency. Votes are votes, and throwing them away is unilateral political disarmament. Sean Hannity is immensely popular, with a fiercely loyal following; the best thing about Bill Clinton's Sister Souljah moment was that it cost him absolutely nothing. (Who the hell was Sister Souljah, anyway? No Sean Hannity, to be sure. Not even an Al Sharpton.)

Reputed Christians Hannity and Sharpton are debating this very night, which is entirely fitting and proper. Each side has its strange bedfellows, and crosses to bear. I just wish one or both would repent, but I don't think either one ever will. For my part, if and when Sean Hannity gets away with this (and he will, sort of), and is a celebrity host at a party function, I'll feel a little less proud of being a Republican.

What Embarrassment

I'm not, generally speaking, a "party" guy. (I'm not much of a partying guy, either, but that's a different story). I generally vote GOP, but unlike, say Hugh Hewitt, I'm not as engaged in making sure "my" guys win, even if I think they're simply awful on the most important issues. (So, for example, there's no way I'd vote for or lend my support to Rudy Giuliani for President). And I found the GOP leadership of Congress in the last few years a thoroughgoing embarrassment.

But they were nothing like what the Dems have to offer. In the House, you have a Speaker who thinks it's just dandy - as Speaker, as Third-in-line to the Presidency - to go and play footsie with a nasty dictator whose country (Syria) is, for all intents and purposes at war with us. In the Senate, you have a Majority Leader who condemns a court decision upholding a bill HE VOTED FOR and thinks that the best way to "win" a war is to withdraw and hand the country over to our enemies. On the Presidential campaign trail, you have *every single* contender rushing to defend an unspeakably gruesome medical procedure under the blatantly false idea that (a) we're putting women's health in danger and (b) that we shouldn't have the state interfering in medical decisions. (It's amazing how libertarian these guys become when it comes to killing unborn children).

Now that's some embarrassment.

"Diversity" Uber Alles

This story just looks atrocious. According to Inside Higher Ed, Colgate University's President is urging his departments to alter their hiring criteria so as to value "diversity" over subfield specialization.

For those who aren't in academia, here's how the hiring process generally works. A department has a certain number of budget lines that determine how many people they can hire. And so when they have an open line (either through someone leaving, retiring or just getting a new line) they'll come together and decide what sort of scholar they'd like to hire. So when a political science department (my discipline) has an open line, they'll decide whether they want to hire someone who teaches political theory or comparative politics or whatever. What's more, they'll typically even have a preference, say someone who teaches women's politics or Latin American politics. They do this because they're either trying to fill a gap in their teaching or because they think the area is important intellectually. Of course, sometimes these rules are merely prima facie and if the department finds a truly excellent candidate who is outside what they advertised, they may go ahead and hire him or her anyway. Typically, though, to put it in sports terms, academic hiring is sort of like a team that drafts the best position player as opposed to just the best athelete.

At Colgate, the President wants the departments to elevate their "diversity" priority over subspecialty because, he says, Colgate has a hard time hanging on to their minority candidates. (They don't seem to have a problem holding onto their female candidates as the faculty is 40% female). In practice, this will mean that the President is urging departments to prioritize hiring the best minority (read black or hispanic) candidate, irrespective of sub-discipline. If departments actually *do* this (and I doubt they will), this might mean they'd have a bunch of people who might be quite good, but who don't cover the department's teaching needs. A good political theorist should be able to teach, at an undergraduate level, the full range of theory courses (Plato to NATO, as the saying goes) but he won't be any good at teaching, say, Latin American politics or political economy or Congress.

But I guess this really isn't about the education the school gives the students, it's more about what the school can do to make itself feel better about the color of its faculty. Very sad.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Weird Man on Campus

And Terry was weird. I mean, world-class weird. He gave everyone the creeps.

He was one of the few black guys at our college, but he never spoke to the other ones or anyone else besides me as far as I could tell, and our conversations ran about a word a minute.

He kept a Jimi Hendrix 'fro, and dressed with a Jimi-type style, style being something that eluded the rest of us completely. In fact, he had a white Fender Stratocaster just like Jimi. Maybe his roommate fled the first week, but anyway, Terry was the only one in the dorm who lived alone. You could hear his tuneless playing through a little Pignose amp echo down the halls sometimes.

I played a bit too, so I struck up our halting imitation of conversation, and he even let me in to jam with him. "Jam" used loosely---he didn't know any songs or even how to make chords, but he did have one piece where he put one finger on one string and moved it around to just the right three places. Over and over, round and round, some sort of mantra, and it sounded sort of good. I filled in with my acoustic as well as I could, but half an hour of few words and even less music was usually my limit.

Terry had a vintage Camaro in semi-decent shape---black, with a few red-black-green Africa decals on it. It always seemed to be parked in the space closest to the dorm doors, backed in and facing out, wheels turned and pointing to the exit. His room had a perfect view of the space, and we figured Terry sat at his window watching and pouncing on it when it opened up.

Terry took his meals in the cafeteria alone, always looking straight ahead. Two dinner rolls, the butter not spread inside, but parked on top. I found out later that's penitentiary-style, a show of existential resistance.

The one time we ever went out together, a Saturday night, we drove through one of the small and very Old South towns outside of Miami. Terry got stopped for speeding and they put him in jail. I knew nothing of the new Old South back then, in fact, I didn't even know we were in it. I thought Florida was like New York City, only with more Jews and better weather. I was wrong. Standard Negro Procedure, I thought at my epiphany when they summarily hauled him away. Today they call it DWB.

They let me drive Terry's car back to campus, saving him the impound charge, which was mighty white of them, I guess, but they didn't let him out until Monday morning. I picked Terry up, but we, or at least he, said nothing.

I'm not sure we ever spoke again. A week or a month later, the black Camaro was gone, for good.

The events of this past week reminded me of Terry. I never heard of him again, certainly not in the national news. He seemed a gentle soul, but with a Bartleby-like muteness and a thousand-yard stare that he used to separate himself from everyone and everything in the world around him. I don't know if he ever hurt anyone, or he ended up hurting himself. I hope not, but maybe just now I'll pray he didn't. There's so much I still don't understand.

Grimm Fairy Tale

This column by Fred Grimm in the April 19 Miami Herald elicited my first-ever letter to a fellow columnist.

Here it is:

Dear Mr. Grimm,

This is a first for me at age 48. As a columnist myself, I refrain from hassling my colleagues. But your column today was simply astonishing.

You make the point, not by reasoning but as a casual assumption, that the Virginia Tech massacre reflected badly on the guns-at-work bill. I may not be the sharpest knife in the drawer but even I can recognize when a conclusion is at exact odds with the evidence adduced.

A bunch of unarmed people are gunned down in their workplace by a madman and that is an argument against law-abiding people like college professors arming themselves at work? What am I missing here? Looks to me like a responsible legislature would immediately step in to make sure that armed citizens are in place to provide a bulwark against such atrocities.

I am not an NRA member but I respect them a great deal. They are a lobby of concerned citizens, essentially the same thing as a labor union, except they fight to keep people safe. I am 48, as I said, and I read the news with a fine-tooth comb ever since age 10. I do not recall a single instance where a major crime was committed by an NRA member. I do, however, recall many stories of rescues by NRA members.

This is a bad week for the NRA? Sad to say, crass as it sounds, nothing could be 'better' for the NRA.

Yours In Puzzlement,

Jay D. Homnick

A Killer's Family

This essay on NRO by Jennifer Roback Morse reminds me of something that I meant to write about the other day, that is, how awful it must be for the parents of that young man. I once had a boss, a retired Navy Captain, whose son killed himself (over a girl) two days before he was supposed to graduate and get commissioned in the Navy. For a year afterwards, I would find him occasionally just sitting at his desk, staring out the window, lost in his own thoughts. There is little more tragic than losing one's child and I can't think of a worse way to lose a child than through suicide. But add to it the knowledge that your child took with him 32 innocent bystanders has to be unbelievably devastating. I don't have any idea how one could cope with that.

Librescu Libris

Where, Kathy Hutchins thoughtfully asks, does a Jew conversant in the traditions reach for inspiration in a moment when he or she is called upon to give up life to save others from death or pain? A wonderful question.

The Talmud tells the story of Rabbi Hanina, son of Tradion, who was killed by the Romans for group teaching of the Bible. They burned him at the stake by wrapping a Torah scroll around his body and setting it afire. To prolong the agony, they strategically placed moist sponges around the vital organs so the fire would not kill him quickly.

The guard assigned to managing the pyre was a Roman named Klastinuri. He said, "Rabbi, if I remove the sponges so you suffer less, will I get a place in Heaven?" The scholar assured him he would. Klastinuri removed the sponges and then fell on his own sword. It was said that a prophetic echo was heard to announce: "Rabbi Hanina and Klastinuri have been cleared to enter Heaven immediately."

Before he died, the Jews who were there asked Rabbi Hanina what he saw. "I see the scroll burning but the letters are flying through the air." Those letters are still flying two thousand years later, against all odds and historic tendency, and the noble people in every generation can reach up and pluck them for their own.

Think about Judah in Genesis (44:33) stepping forward and saying: "Take me as a slave instead and let my younger brother go home to his father."

Think about Moses in what stands as the greatest act - or series of acts - of pure heroism ever recorded. First (Exodus 2:11) this adopted grandson of the king of Egypt leaves the palace to see the plight of his Jewish brothers. (The text does not record who told him he was a Jew, but the Talmudic tradition is that his adoptive mother, Pharaoh's daughter, secretly converted to Judaism.) That was already a risky course of action for someone who enjoyed personal immunity from the Jewish laws, not to mention a life of luxury in the royal family.

Then he witnesses a beating being administered unjustly by an Egyptian to a Jew. (The text offers no background, other than the general vibe that this sort of thing happened in this oppressive environment. The tradition is that the Egyptian had sent the Jew on an assignment away from home, then gone in and raped his wife. When the husband came home earlier than expected, the Egyptian started whipping.) Moses looks around to be sure there are no witnesses and then smashes the Egyptian (with his fist?) and kills him.

Although he tried to be circumspect, he was certainly risking his cushy life. Sure enough, the Jew he saved blabbed to others, among whom was an informer. A death warrant was issued for Moses and he became a fugitive.

He ran to Midian and he "camped near the lake".

Take a moment to consider his plight. Not long ago he was an Egyptian prince. Now he is wanted for murder. The trial process has been conducted already in absentia (according to tradition he was there and escaped later but the text does not reflect this), so at this point the orders are to kill on sight. He is forced to run to a foreign country. Probably he does not even know the language. But even if he does he is still identifiable as an "Egyptian man", by accent or garb or appearance. So he has no local citizenship, he has no local resources or friends, and he would prefer to avoid the expatriate Egyptians that a traveler would ordinarily call upon for help.

No family, no friends, no job, no money, no protection, he sets up a little homeless existence alongside a lake, drinking lake water, maybe catching a few fish. Most important of all is to avoid being seen and identified. Most likely, he stays camouflaged during the day, observing his surroundings through a little peephole he has fashioned between the thick branches of a tree. At night he forages for his meager sustenance. Getting by, marking time, forced to learn gritty survival skills his palace tutor left out of the syllabus.

Then he witnesses a nasty scene. A group of sisters brings a flock of sheep to drink from the lake. They worked diligently to draw water in their pails and then fill the troughs. Before they could line the sheep up to drink, a group of male shepherds came to chase them away.

How crazy would it be to step forward? He cannot afford to make any waves and call attention to itself. Even if he could singlehandedly intimidate a group of shepherds (the exact amount is not given), they are sure to spread the word. He could be killed by their gang of friends or he could be handed over to the authorities and extradited: the king of Midian would love to score points with the king of Egypt, the regional power. And the girls are not in real danger. They are just being ripped off and pushed around.

Sure enough, Moses "stands up" and saves them. He risked everything to fight injustice.

Lucky for him, they had an influential father who took him in and gave him a job. (Although the tradition says he had to hide Moses in a cave for some months until the local furor died down. Zipporah brought him his food in the hiding place and that is where their romance sprouted, leading eventually to marriage and children.) Having established himself as a savior at all costs, the stage is set for God to give him a much bigger salvation role.

Think about Esther, once again a Jew protected in the king's palace, this time as the queen. Her cousin (and adoptive father) Mordecai tells her (Esther 4:13-14): "Don't imagine that you can escape the fate of the Jews in the house of the king. If you are silent at this time, relief and salvation may come to the Jews from another source, but you and your family will be the losers." And he adds: "...and who knows if for just such a moment you achieved majesty?"

It is a calling, you see. Salvation may not even depend on you, but if you are in the right place at the right time, you must step forward.

Esther responds (4:16): "And so I will go to the king against the rules, and whatever I lose I lose."

The one who is willing to lose is the ultimate gainer. The book gets named after her for all time.

Liviu Librescu. You wrote the ultimate book. May your name live in liberty.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

His Name Was Liviu Librescu

Life isn't just a matter of technique, a little more this, a little less that. Not the important things. If you were there the other day at Virginia Tech, no matter what you would have done, you would probably still die, or not. Let's stipulate that.

But, coincidentally, or not, one of my blogbrothers (actually my blogsister, Miz H) mused today that the Catholic tradition suggests that we must think through such things before they happen, so that our moral decision is already made, and not at the mercy of our fight-or-flee instinct. (Flee! What, are you crazy?)

And, I would add, our blogbrother Jay Homnick, who was brought up in the rabbinic tradition, tells us that it presents the young not with theology, but with moral and ethical puzzles. What would you do if x happened?

That the one hero of Virginia Tech that we know of---who stood up against the murderer, who enabled almost everyone else to escape---was a Jew, a Holocaust survivor, and an Israeli, is not a matter of coincidence. His entire life led to that moment.

The rest of us, we (me, anyway), remain as children in our largely cushy and morally uncomplicated country. But perhaps our curiosity about this one isn't just morbid curiosity, but our search for meaning in this meaningless, nihilistic act. This isn't like watching the Anna Nicole trainwreck. That was easy to sit back on, go tut-tut, and assume some stance of moral superiority.

We're all trying to find ourselves somewhere in here.

His name was Liviu Librescu. We should all learn his name, inscribe it in the Book of Life, and remember it for the rest of our lives. And perhaps at our moment of truth (and it will come to each of us), we might lay down our own lives or reputations or whatever we hold of value for others, as he did.

This was a man.

Virginia Tech and the Cultivation of Courage

I remember going for an evening walk with my young wife some years ago. As we strolled past a heavily wooded yard with a house barely visible, I suddenly heard the menacing growl of a very obviously big and mean dog. My immediate reaction was to run. The big muscles in my legs flexed and fired. The only thing that stopped me was my wife's anguished cry, "Hunter, don't leave me!" I forced down the fear impulse, backed up and put myself between her and the threatening sound. We walked on and nothing happened.

When Professor Librescu, an old man, a septuagenarian whose body had been through the terrors of the Holocaust, spotted a terrible threat he pushed his weight against a door and tried to keep a killer from murdering his students. All but two of the students and Librescu got away. In an email exchange yesterday, one of our Redstate contributors wondered why able-bodied young men would have chosen to run instead of coming to the assistance of their heroic professor.

Thinking of my own experience and looking at what happened in that besieged classroom in Virginia, I think I know the answer. Liviu Librescu had seen death up close much earlier in life. He very probably saw his friends and neighbors killed and had many opportunities to measure his own reactions in light of right and wrong, valor and heroism. It is no surprise to me that such a man would resist rather than run. I suggest to you that he knew exactly who he was. The young men in that classroom were probably a lot like me in the situation with the dog. They were untested and had probably never been in serious physical danger. More important, they had probably never stopped to consider what they would expect of themselves in a life and death situation.

There are a couple of lessons that come to mind. The one that many conservatives will point to is that we have a culture that does not successfully impute manliness. We already knew the ethic of dedication to wife and children had slipped badly. We knew less well that we weren't raising boys with expectations of self-sacrifice and protectiveness toward others. But this is the smaller of the two lessons.

The greater lesson is that we should all take pains to reflect on who we want to be and what we really believe. It was once common to speak of the examined life. That phrase fell under the massive heap of self-help materials and endless reflection on why we don't have a better sex life, more money, and a better job. But the examined life goes deeper than that. It comes down to knowing who you are. Without it, you will almost inevitably run in the face of danger, quail before the bully, and excel in self-justification after the fact rather than action in the relevant frame.

Jeff Emanuel made the point in his post that none of us know how we will react in these situations. I believe he is right about that, but I am at least equally sure that we can prepare ourselves for the event and drastically increase the chance that we WILL do what we merely hope we would.

Gun Control As Religion

I am just astounded: There actually are any number of supposedly serious people now arguing that the massive tragedy at Virginia Tech underscores the need for more gun control laws. How many existing laws did the killer violate? I'd guess, offhand, a dozen or more. But, sayeth the sophisticates, another law would have prevented this bloodbath. By the way, not only do the various laws fail to keep, say, cocaine out of the hands of those who want it, we seem not to be able to keep drugs out of prisons, the most controlled environments we have. We do seem to be able to keep guns away from prisoners, but do we want---or could we even manage to create even if we wanted to do so---the entire nation to be, as it were, a prison so as to keep guns away from citizens? I rather doubt it.

It truly is amazing. Are the Dems actually going to be sufficiently stupid to make gun control an issue in '08? Gun control arguably cost Al Gore the presidency in 2000; what else explains his failure to carry Tennessee, Arkansas, and West Virginia? Well, OK: Hobnobbing with the Hollywood Beautiful People probably did not help him. But it seems that the Dems are striving mightily to wrest from the clutches of the Republicans the coveted title "The Stupid Party."

Our Responsibilities

Read this op-ed in the NYT by Kirk Johnson, a dear friend of mine's brother, who worked in Baghdad and Fallujah with USAID. We have, it seems to me, a responsibility to those Iraqis whose fortunes have been irreperably harmed by their commitments to us and the very least we could do is to open our doors and give them the chance to reconstruct (and perhaps save) their lives. For more background on this, see this article in the New Yorker.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Playing (to the) Bass

Smokin' Tom, bass player for the Van Dykes, wrote below:

And Mike Huckabee played bass. No word on whether he was any good at it, but he probably was. Any idiot can play bass.

Judge for yourself: a home-made Pop-Up Video of Capitol Offense, courtesy of C-Span. (Pop-Up text has not been verified for accuracy, and at least some of it is most certainly Completely Made Up.) Also notice the governor is not playing just any bass, but a Tobias Growler.


Ordinarily I would have put this fluff in a comment, but our comments section, being Not As Smart as Fred Thompson, wouldn't allow anything as elaborate as an embedded YouTube video.

Fredophiles are already pointing out that we didn't do too badly the last time we elected an actor as president; Huckabee seems like a nice fellow and I hope he doesn't suffer from reflections on what we got the last time we elected a governor of Arkansas with a musical instrument on a neckstrap.
Thinking of running for president, or at least governor of Arkansas...

Judging from the audio, Capitol Offense has an opening for a lead singer.

Weekend GOP Prez-Wannabe Report

Well, they all went to Iowa, except for Fred, who, as the only smart one, stayed home and watched NASCAR. (My man Jeff Burton with the win! Booyah!)

John McCain was in favor of beating the Islamofrackheads in Iraq. Rudy was against losing to 'em.

Mitt was against abortion before he was for it but now he's against it again.

And Mike Huckabee played bass.

No word on whether he was any good at it, but he probably was. Any idiot can play bass, in fact, I play a little bass meself. Thinking of running for president, or at least governor of Arkansas...