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

Thursday, May 24, 2007

The L.A. Times Book Review Review

The thing I like most about the Los Angeles Times is its even-handedness---if a book is liberal, it gets reviewed by a liberal. If a book is conservative, it's reviewed by a liberal.

First up is Al Gore's latest assault on reason, The Assault on Reason. True to form, it's reviewed by ubiquitous southpaw Joe Conason (the Nation, Salon, HuffPo, truthdig, the Prospect). Conason's latest polemic, It Can Happen Here: Authoritarian Peril in the Age of Bush, was already obsolete when it hit the presses this year, unless Dubya gets his keister in gear. So many constitutional protections to dismantle, so little time.

The only surprise, then, is learning that if there's one thing even better than Al Gore's book, it's the "always unusually smart and farsighted" Al Gore himself, who speaks with "the moral authority of a man who many believe was wrongly barred from the presidency." The moral authority of a mook who lost an unlosable election, then lost every bit of national sympathy by trying to get votes from the military disqualified, I reckon.

Gore's book is about Bush and global warming and news media concentration and the vacuousness of television and stuff. Gore prefers "facts to metaphysics," we're told, so that's a relief. But when Conason tells us that Gore's "insistence on detail and thoroughness...is rooted in his conviction that most Americans have little understanding of the world in which they live," the educated consumer of Times-ese unearths the review part at last: Gore thinks we're all ignorant and Conason admits the book is boring.


For a review of the new Reagan Diaries, it's over to that renowned expert on political philosophy and history, the Times' Fox News-denigrating media writer Tim Rutten. He allows that Reagan was a nice guy and not ego-driven in the least, and doesn't drag in Iran-Contra until the ninth paragraph! This is the only mention Rutten makes of the Cold War except for Reagan's affinity for the refuseniks. Reykjavik, John Paul, Solidarity? The Sandinista government slipping Cuban arms into El Salvador? Nah. (Rutten does like the bit about Nancy Reagan throwing out the first ball at the World Series, though.)

"Reagan's conservatism runs through his observations less as an ideology than as a deeply felt emotion," writes Rutten, Reagan apparently preferring metaphysics to facts. "He believed communism was evil..."

As if Reagan didn't know his Hayek. It is questionable whether Rutten does, though, which makes one think Al Gore might have a point about people who don't understand the world in which they live. Especially those who are paid to write about it for us.

Fortunately, here's a nice batch of excerpts from The Reagan Diaries. It's a pity that because of the concentration of the news media in so few (and hostile) hands, the readers of the LA Times will have little idea of what's actually in them. We pajama folk will have to point the way.

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Wednesday, May 23, 2007

The Demise of the USSR

Yegor Gaidar, lately an advisor to the late President Yeltsin in Russia, gave a very interesting talk recently at the American Enterprise Institute on the collapse of the USSR. Short version: the Soviet economic system was fundamentally screwed up and by the 1980s was unable to feed the country. When oil prices dropped in the mid-1980s, it was a hit the system couldn't handle. Now, I'm not all that convinced by the economic determinism of the piece, but I'm more than ready to think not being able to feed your people has a negative impact on political legitimacy.

But here's what interested me: according to Gaidar, when Saudi Arabia began producing more oil in 1985, the USSR lost $20 billion in oil revenues from the resulting drop in oil prices. And that's what started the whole ball rolling. Get that? $20 billion. If I've done the calculations right, that's $38 billion in today's prices. Can you imagine our whole system folding on account of a $38 billion hit? With a federal budget somewhere north of $2 trillion, that's chump-change. A rounding error, right?

The USSR was done in by a rounding error. Talk about ignonimous endings...

Friday, May 18, 2007

Benedictimus Te, Gratias Agimus Tibi, or: Good Food, Good Meat, Good God, Let's Eat

Via my good friend and pal, Jonathan Rowe:

Orthodox priest John Parker resents ("Benediction Fiction") being asked/required to leave Jesus Christ out of his benediction at the University of South Carolina med school's chapel, in favor of a "We Dig God, Whoever He Might Be" speech. He declined the honor.

Parker has somewhat of a point when it comes to the sectarian origins of private institutions. One should not feel embarrassed about speaking about Christ in a chapel with a cross on it, nor feel an obligation to skip Him over.

I'd not be insulted if I heard about Allah or Vishnu in an appropriately dedicated chapel.

But to the heart of the matter, about generic benedictions in the public square per Ben Franklin's American "civil religion": I would cringe on behalf of my Jewish friends if Parker started his prayer as intended, "O Lord Jesus Christ our God..."

If Parker felt the need, in a non-sectarian milieu, to testify for Jesus Christ as God, anyone in the audience with a theological disagreement with that "Truth" would be well within his own needs to get up and testify to the contrary, or in the least, walk out.

We, as a society, don't need that noise. We've done everything we can to get around it.

Now we might discuss the Founding's "civil religion," that America has some established culturally Judeo-Christian/monotheistic foundation, and that appealing to the gods or The Goddess---whoever She might be (or perhaps....SATAN??!!!), might likewise be an unnecessary provocation in the public square. But that would needlessly complicate things, eh?

But we love needless complications these days.

What I would say is that the Judeo-Christian God is our cultural baseline. There is One of Him, and He looks after us. The Founders were OK with that.

Look, if a Jewish friend is over for dinner, we say grace in some universalist fashion. Of course. But I admit that the atheists get the whole "through Jesus Christ Our Lord, Amen" deal. What the hell---in for a penny, in for a pound, and besides, to accommodate their sensibilities would require me to negate all of my own. It's one thing to show respect, another to put a bullet through your own head.

Besides, the food's always great at Casa TVD due to the divinely-inspired Missus. Nobody's complained around here yet, and me, I think they like the grace being said. Makes the food taste better. Like life. And Mrs. TVD doesn't mind atall when the thanks get directed slightly upward.

It Just Doesn't Get Any Better Than This

Well, now, it really is the case that politicians leaving office can speak the truth. On NPR's Morning Edition today, the utterly confused Tony Blair offered the following wisdom for the ages: "The world’s inability to execute a global agreement to seriously reduce greenhouse gas emissions is fueling Islamic terrorism."

Who knew? Ahmadinejad, Bin Laden, Hamas, Hizballah, all of them: They're nothing more than we-are-the-world greenies. And that's the real reason the Iranians want nuclear reactors.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

"None of the Above" Gaining Fast

"None of the Above" being Fred Thompson, so aptly appellated by our Kathy Hutchins.

The "All Fred All the Time" newsticker on our right side panel
(over there>>>>>>>>)
was put in as a lark, since Fred is the X-Factor and things have been fairly predictable in the GOP nomination race.

But Fred has just tied John McCain for second place at 18%. Although Rudy still enjoys a massive lead (at 38%), if Fred keeps not running like he is, he'll be taking that oath of office in January '09, fer sure.

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Late add: Like me (see comments to Dr. Zycher's post below), Fred prefers no immigration bill to this one---“With this bill, the American people are going to think they are being sold the same bill of goods as before on border security. We should scrap this bill and the whole debate until we can convince the American people that we have secured the borders or at least have made great headway.”

Like a fungus or a future spouse, Fred kinda grows on you...

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The Rantings of the KnowNothings

My usual political allies seemingly are up in arms about the immigration deal reportedly reached in the Senate. But the source of the outrage, to me, remains entirely obscure. Does anyone---anyone at all---actually believe it possible as a practical matter to put 12 million people on buses to be driven south?

And even were such a monstrous action possible, the inevitable news clips of such family misery would destroy public support. Far better to get rid of the disincentives to assimilation: bilingual education, bilingual ballots, welfare for the native-born children of illegals, ad infinitum. Even with such policies, the evidence is strong that substantial assimilation in the form of English language skills and the like is the norm by the second or third generation.

And let us not forget that people who come to America to work do us no harm in the aggregate, while the substitution of a wall in place of the Statue of Liberty as the symbol of America is hardly salutary. The rantings of such as Michelle Malkin---who, as I believe I have mentioned before, does not appear to have had any ancestors on the Mayflower---are devoid of analytic content, curiously analogous to the rantings of the ineffable Al Gore, Laurie David, and Cheryl Crow in the context of purported anthropogenic climate change, and thus are fundamentally religious in nature.

Yes, a nation is far more than a labor market. But the labor market is not irrelevant, and it is leftist multiculturalism that is the real threat to a nation united around the ideal of equal opportunity. That "conservatives" now are rallying around an outlook so destructive is deeply disturbing.

Elizabeth V. "Simpson"

was born to us yesterday, a healthy, beautiful baby girl. What blessings!

J. Falwell, R.I.P.

I shall miss Falwell, altho as Mike D'Virgilio notes below, not as much as the anti-religious---specifically the anti-Christian---left will. He made some rhetorical blunders (the worst of which he apologized for, but that's of no concern to the Jacobins), but was undoubtedly instrumental in realigning Christianity politically, from FDR communitarianism (read materialism and the Enlightenment's "relief of man's estate") to the reembrace of personal virtue, without which a republic cannot survive.

The founders of the American republic and their dear Mr. John Locke were quite sanguine with Christianity (specifically non-miraculous Jesusian principles) as their nation's foundation. FDR didn't have to deal with the decay of virtue that modernity ushered in during the latter half of the 20th century. Order and societal cohesion gave way to the language of "rights."

But the Founders wouldn't have been particularly concerned with Rev. Jerry. Falwell's wildest statements were coherent with even theological outliers like Tom Paine and that notorious sybarite Jefferson, both of whom accepted a Providential God (and Who conforms most closely to the Judeo-Christian one above all others), and Who favored the virtuous and allowed the wicked to fall from His favor.

Jefferson himself suspected that the young republic might soon be punished for its toleration of the "peculiar institution." The punishment, if it was such, was grave indeed, today commonly called The Civil War. We can say that even Rev. Falwell's opportunistic/inopportune statement about 9-11 being a result of the United States' fall from virtue isn't terribly out of line with even the most skeptical of the Founders. Go figure.

Jerry Falwell was unsophisticated to be sure, and the moderns will miss kicking him to the curb, since he was pretty easy pickin's. Dear Mr. Locke may not prove to be such a cakewalk, because when one speaks of America, one cannot push him out of the way, one must go through him.

Unless one chooses a path through the gutter, of course. Jerry Falwell would have liked that linked essay, I think, and so, R.I.P. In the end, his public life (not his ministry, which never made the papers) wasn't about Trinitarianism or heaven or hell. It was about virtue.

I'm out on a limb here, but I think even Jefferson would have found some sort of good word to say about him. Certainly George Washington would've:

Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports...[L]et us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.---Farewell Address, 1796



The Rev. Falwell has passed from the scene. His Bible, John Locke, George Washington, and Thomas Jefferson have not. The dialogue, and the inquiry, sustain. We cannot relieve man's estate while ignoring his soul.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Fred Thompson Responds to Michael Moore Challenge

This is simply brilliant.

Jerry Falwell’s Death and the Liberal Hate Machine

You knew it would not take long for the Liberal Hate Machine to pile on Jerry Falwell, the Christian conservative every good liberal loves to hate. Well, maybe not every liberal, but there certainly is a vicious vitriolic pack of liberals in the blogosphere who are so blinded in their self-righteousness that anyone, especially a Christian conservative, who dares to challenge their worldview is the enemy. A sampling of this venomous drivel can be found at Newsbusters.

I was never a big fan of Falwell as my theology is quite a bit different than his, but the man did a lot of good for a lot of people and never harmed anyone. But to the Liberal Hate Machine he is Satan himself.

What’s amazing about liberal bile is that so little of it is reserved for Muslim terrorists who are our real enemies. For some reason, probably that they just aren’t Christians, Muslims get a pass even though everything they believe is antithetical to liberal Western culture and life. Not to mention that a certain subset of Islam wants to wipe us and everything we believe off the face of the earth. No big deal, as long as they aren’t Christian fundamentalists.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Rudy at Houston Baptist University

I sat about five feet from Rudy Giuliani while he made his pitch to agree to disagree over abortion. He yam what he yam and all that.

I wrote it up for American Spectator.

A baby burbled audibly in the silent crowd. Perhaps it was pure serendipity that the child wore a t-shirt proclaiming "I love NY," but I remembered the old stories of LBJ's campaign appearances where he exhibited tremendous flair by tossing a gorgeous white Stetson into the assembled mass. What the folks never knew was that the greatest of Texas campaigners had practiced his aim and had a staffer charged with the task of catching that hat at every stop. When Giuliani walked over to the baby, mugged with it, and jumped back to the podium proclaiming, "Hey, I am a politician!" to the obvious delight of the audience, I wondered how often such happy accidents occur. Nobody at HBU was skeptical. They loved it and the ice was broken.

Despite the moment described above, I fully agree with those who think the Giuliani campaign is over and doesn't know it, yet. Read the rest of the article for the explanation.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Will They Shoo Fitz?

I have never been prejudiced against the Blacks, so I follow their case closely and reserve judgment. It’s not every day that a TAS contributor goes on trial, so arguably I have a collegial duty to devour every tidbit of collateral gossip. Well, duty or not, it’s fun for sure. If one of the major networks had the brains to preempt regular programming to show the proceedings, they would sweep the sweeps. The cast of characters here makes Ocean’s Eleven look like the 4-H Club.

First there is – here I rise to point a quivering forefinger – the defendant, Conrad Black. Or Lord Black, of the House of Lords; Baron Black of Crossharbour is the technical title. His sesquipedalian prepotency is a synecdoche among scriveners; he knows a lot of big words. In fact, his friends knew in 1992 he was besotted with Barbara Amiel when he told them she was “quite pulchritudinous”. His media empire included the Telegraph of London, the Jerusalem Post and most of Canada’s newspapers.

He is being prosecuted by Patrick Fitzgerald, fresh from jailing Scooter Libby. The accusation is he defrauded stockholders by writing personal bonuses into deeds of sale and disguising them as non-compete payments.

Need help? Okay. Say I create the Miami Scroll to compete with the Herald and quickly gain a million readers. Murdoch offers fifty million to buy it from my company. My fifty-one percent share of the stock would be worth 25.5 million. So we rewrite the deal for 40M and add a 10M personal payment for my promise not to start another paper. My take now: 30.4 million.

Barbara Amiel is the loyal second wife, since he became her fourth husband in ’92. She was the Ann Coulter of Canada, the right-wing bomb-throwing columnist who thrived on being out of step with the liberal media. She played a very important role for high society men, that of the beautiful-woman-smart-enough-to-be-squired-around-by-a-billionaire-without-looking-like-a-dope-who-fell-for-a-Las-Vegas-showgirl. Black was the final feather in her cap and to her credit she is sticking.

The word on the street is that her spending habits put the financial pressure on Black to accelerate his earning. Angry at a delay in a British Airways flight, she prodded her husband to buy a Gulfstream that could cross the Atlantic. There was only one bathroom on the plane for passengers and crew, so a new one was installed to the tune of a quarter-mil. As for her attitude to staff, the following anecdote gives a clue. When each new third butler was given a tour of the house by senior butler Andrew Lightwood, he would take them to the roof and remind them to keep the “landing lights” on at all times: “Madame takes off from here on her broomstick looking for cats.” She grew up poor, you see.

Still, we love her for her prose. In defending soccer players accused of pushing a girl around, she wrote: “Female groupies in see-through tops and micro-minis, trawling spots where footballers hang out, are tinsel-wrapped bait. One can hardly blame footballers for their inability to resist what middle-aged Presidents of the United States cannot.”

The defense attorney, by a special dispensation, is the Canadian superstar “Fast Eddie” Greenspan. To get the court to accept the foreign attorney, Black had to sign a waiver ceding his right to appeal based on inadequate representation. Fast Eddie started slow in the early going, but came on strong last week, humiliating economist-socialite Marie-Josee Kravitz and former Illinois Governor “Big Jim” Thompson on the witness stand. The two of them, members of the auditor board of Black’s company, were testifying for the prosecution to the effect they were gulled by his shenanigans.

Greenspan identified eleven separate reports that each of them had signed which openly included the non-compete payments. Their only response was they had failed to notice them. Greenspan ran them through the wringer, document by document, making them testify again and again they had missed the key entries. Thompson tried to use some bravado by saying he had “skimmed” rather than read. Fast Eddie lighted on that word and asked him one by one whether he had skimmed it; a man has very little credibility with a jury after saying eleven times he had skimmed over multi-million dollar transactions.

Perhaps the best line came when Greenspan asked Thompson if his role as head of the auditing committee gave him extra responsibility. “No, it was a very democratic committee,” said Jim.

“Even in a democracy someone has to be the governor,” was Fast Eddie’s fast rejoinder.

This week, Black’s partner and supposed co-conspirator David Radler, not so affectionately nicknamed “the Rat” by their journalist employees, has taken the stand. He cut a deal with the government to talk in return for getting only 29 months in a Canadian jail and paying back umpteen millions. He began Monday with the early history of their partnership in the 1970s and continued Tuesday and Wednesday painting himself as a dupe, guilty only of not asking enough questions about all the millions he was getting. Cross-examination began yesterday with Greenspan establishing Radler had lied to at least 24 different investigators. Stay tuned.

Put a Fork in Him...

He's done. According to the NYT, Giuliani plans on being much more forthright about his support of abortion rights and press his campaign in states where he thinks it will be more well-received. In a way, it's a relief. His half-way talk of "I hate abortion" (which I always took to mean "I hate that abortion matters in Republican politics because it means I'll never get to be President unless we can find some way around it"...) wasn't ever going to get the job done for him. But here's the clear truth of the matter: Giuliani wants to be President and is firmly in favor of a constitutionalized right to kill unborn children *and* thinks that the Congress should spend tax dollars to assist those procedures. He's a consistent supporter of Planned Parenthood and NARAL Pro-Death America.

Make him CIA director and sic him on the bad guys. But not President, no way.

More Foolishness from Academia, Part XVXII

So Inside Higher Ed asks if it is "Inclusivity or Tokenism?" that the American Historical Association *requires* that panels include a woman in order to be accepted. Is that even a serious question? What would tokenism be otherwise? For the panel in question, all the folks did was to add in a female scholar to be the chair of the panel, which if you've been to these sorts of meetings you must realize that a chair hardly does anything, except to pass little silly notes trying (usually in vain) to get the loquacious profs to cut short their presentations on the transsexual warrior in 4th century pottery work. It's nice to know that we've made such progress.

The Worst US President in the History of the World

Well, my friends on the left---although the friendship is unrequited---universally agree: Bush is toejam. The Iraq war, the deficits, the...well, the list sort of stops there, but that's enough.

The Iraq thing sucks. The deficits suck.

---But the economy goes ticking along, even though it should have slid into recession after the dotcom bust and the CEO scandal/robberies ala Enron.

---After 9-11, there hasn't been another major Islamicismist attack on American soil.

---And Bush appointed a critical mass to the Supreme Court which finally ruled that piercing viable babies' skulls and sucking their brains out is barbaric, and must end.

He could have done a whole helluva lot of things better, but I don't know a president who couldn't have done things a lot better. As for the money, well, every family goes into debt when an emergency arises. And though we've lost over 3000 brave American lives in Iraq over 4 years, now 4 to 5000 innocent babies might not get their brains sucked out each and every year.

Mebbe we should have left Saddam in place. Mebbe we could have saved the money. Mebbe there was some clever way to handle the threat, like sitting home and inspecting cargo containers. But balancing the scales, I'm OK with Dubya. No attacks, the end of partial birth abortions. It's about our babies, stupid. They're why we do what we do, why we get up in the morning and go off to work and then come right home to bounce them on our knees. I don't even have any children, but they're why I vote like I do.

Which is why I might have to wait on Rudy Giuliani, and look for somebody---anybody---else. I think he'll be great on national security and good on the economy too. But there's that other thing. The babies.

I don't think he would've lifted a finger to save them.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Poverty On Wall Street

So John Edwards, Democratic Presidential wannabe and fabulously wealthy trial lawyer, worked part-time at a NY hedge fund because, he says, he wanted to "learn" about markets. And, no, he won't say how much he was paid, though we'll all learn that in May (when he has to file his financial disclosure forms or somesuch). Just wanted to learn about markets. Righty-o, Mr. "Two-Americas," Mr. "we gotta end poverty now", yep, that's entirely believable. Because I'm just sure that there's no-one, not a soul at that fine institution, the University of North Carolina, who could spend, oh, a few days with Mr. Edwards to get him up to speed on markets. Not a soul. Heck, there's no where in the world where you could get such information. You can only learn that sort of stuff while getting some big bucks on the side.

Well, in case you're not entirely convinced by former Sen. Edwards' Richie-rich sorta-faux populism, let me suggest another reason for his working for a NEW YORK hedge fund...donations, donations, donations. The article notes that the employees at his former fund constitute now his single biggest group of contributors. What better way to cut into the Wall Street crowd and lure some campaign contributions than to be shoulder to shoulder with them?

Not So Thankful...

Inside Higher Ed reports that a professor at Glendale Community College is likely going to lose his job because he sent around an email to all the rest of the faculty with a Thanksgiving message by George Washington. But, apparently, that's not quite the problem. The real problem is the he acknowledged where he saw that message, Pat Buchanan's blog, and there were anti-immigration messages on the website - five employees complained that such messages constituted harrassment.

That's just ridiculous.

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Monday, May 07, 2007

I Fear (Pt. II)

A nation unglued, continued---via Philosoraptor, a Scripps poll supports Rasmussen:

Thirty-six percent of respondents overall said it is "very likely" or "somewhat likely" that federal officials either participated in the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon or took no action to stop them "because they wanted the United States to go to war in the Middle East."



36% of the public would correlate with Rasmussen's 61% of Democrats, and is even more alarming than Rasmussen's total of 22% of all Americans. This is bad.

Philosoraptor makes a rational defense of such irrationality, that Bush drove 'em crazy, what with stealing the 2000 election and lying us into war and all. Still, it can no longer be denied that Bush Derangement Syndrome indeed exists, and is far more virulent than first suspected.

On the other hand, the lefty "netroots" must be ecstatic. They apparently got their message out, and how. They must be very proud of how they've changed the country.


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Friday, May 04, 2007

For the first time in my life, I fear for my country...

(Via RedState) Pollster Rasmussen Reports:

Democrats in America are evenly divided on the question of whether George W. Bush knew about the 9/11 terrorist attacks in advance. Thirty-five percent (35%) of Democrats believe he did know, 39% say he did not know, and 26% are not sure.


61% of the reality-based community believe that is or may be a FACT? And almost a quarter of our whole nation? No wonder they hate Bush's guts. I would too, if I were that deranged.

I just can't wrap my mind around this yet, and my astonishment is genuine. I had no idea, really. It's one thing for Harry Reid to shoot his mouth off for the netroots. It's one thing for the lefties to cocoon themselves against any and all dissent to enjoy the self-pleasure of bashing the other guys. But folks, this is national madness. We are one nation, come unglued.

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Thursday, May 03, 2007

The LA Times: The Hits Just Keep On Comin'

According to a front-page headline in today's LA Times, "France's Royal Relishes the Role of Underdog." Really? She wouldn't rather be ahead in the polls? Just asking.

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Tuesday, May 01, 2007

The Times Sinks Deeper Into the Abyss

I see that the new newspaper circulation numbers are out, and the ineffable Los Angeles Times, chock full of self-esteem, leftist silliness, and journalistic ignorance, is down over 4 percent from last year. The numbers apparently are for only print circulation, a revealing bit of myopia on the part of the bean counters, but I rather doubt that online readership could possibly compensate very substantially for the reported decline.

Let us be very clear and very blunt: The readership decline is driven by the biases and ignorance inherent in modern journalism. The LA Times in particular is a swamp of leftist assumptions, analytic ignorance, and pedantic silliness masquerading as "reporting." An example: The recent front-page, above-the-fold tear-jerking stories about the injuries suffered by a man and his daughter at the claws of a bear. Was this story really worth something on the order of 7000-8000 words or more? And then there are the editorials, not quite as knee-jerk leftist as a couple of years ago, but still pretty silly. And the op-ed page: a repository of high-minded ignorance from the likes of Rosa Brooks and Erin Aubry Kaplan and other worthies with little to say, poor writing skills, little information to reveal, few analytic talents, but a column to file each week. Even the ineffable Robert Scheer was worth more space than this crew. The problems of modern newspapers are far deeper than any tension between the newsroom and the accoutants. I have said it once before and I am happy to repeat: Modern journalism is a swamp of ignorance, stupidity, laziness, dishonesty, bias, and arrogance. And they wonder why their business model is failing. Actually, I suspect that they do not wonder; it would be no surprise if they blame it on the perceived ignorance of the masses.


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Hiring Bias?

The NY Sun has this article about Mark Moyar, an historian who has had a very hard time getting a job, in part, it seems, because his major book attempts to argue that Vietnam was not a mistake. Now, on the face of it, it sure seems pretty odd. Moyar has two books, has very good credentials, and should be able to find a job, regardless of his conservative credentials. And I think the presumption has to be that his views, as opposed to his scholarship, made it more difficult for him. But it's not quite a slam-dunk case. History departments have been weeding out military history positions for years (they'd rather teach the history of fashion or peasants or sex or something) and job searches are notoriously fickle things. You just don't know what goes on when a bunch of prickly, over-sensitive, egoistic types get together in a committee room and try to agree on a candidate.

But fair warning: if you're interested in being a professor, be careful with what you write.

Monday, April 30, 2007

Dang. Abstinence Fails Yet Again...

Vice paid its tribute to virtue again the other day, or however the saying goes, when Bush’s chief of the $15 billion African AIDS initiative, which pushes abstinence, got outed as a consumer of professional sex services.


Although it must be, um, liberating to have little in the way of standards, I wouldn't deny anyone their schadenfreude at someone else violating theirs. It's only human, both the failing and the schadenfreude.

But let's not pretend that the "reasonable" people have any genuine enthusiasm whatsoever for the concept of abstinence. If they did, they'd be disappointed, not gleeful, that Randall Tobias failed his duty:


It’s denied by no one that only abstinence can prevent AIDS. The ideal, the 100% solution.

The agreed-upon protocol for AIDS prevention, and generally held across the ideological spectrum to have effectiveness , has been ABC: Abstinence (for the single), Be faithful (for the married partnered), and, of course, Condoms.

However, since the American education establishment might fairly be regarded as “progressive,” as is the western social science community, which includes those NGOs (Non-Governmental Organizations, better understood as secular do-gooders as opposed to religious do-gooders) who prowl Africa, you have to wonder about the "progressive" commitment to abstinence as a desirable thing. This is the 21st century after all, not the 19th, and tradititional sexual moralities are so, I dunno, bourgeois.

I expect the average progressive ABC program goes something like this:

"Be careful about who you have sex with. Don't just sleep with any old body. The more careful you are, the more you know about your partners, and the less casual your sex, the safer you are.*"

Now that we’ve got that out of the way,

“…people are going to have sex whether or not they're taught about abstinence, as studies show. So teaching people how to have sex in the safest manner possible is therefore better than teaching them nothing about how to more safely have sex.*”

So here’s how to use a condom…


There’s been a spate of sociology lately indicating that abstinence programs are ineffective, and that should not be dismissed out of hand. However, the objections to abstinence were a dogma of their own and started well before any survey results started trickling in. People are going to have sex anyway.

But the hole in the condom, if you will, is that they aren't 100% effective, and 90% is pretty much as generous as estimates get (and 5-10% less in male-to-male relations).

It might be true that Africa could be educated more deeply on proper use and into a better percentage, but the fact remains that in the media- and sex education-saturated US, the failure rate of condoms is pretty much the same. By the light of reality-based metrics, how much improvement we can reasonably expect is questionable.

Further, even if the use of condoms could be successfully be framed as safer (although still not safe) sex, the failure rate in the face of a fatal disease is unacceptable by any standard we use for safety in any other hazardous situation, like crossing the street or climbing a ladder.

If my understanding of the math is correct, condom failure rates are annualized: If you have sex even with a condom in Botswana---where 35% of the population is already infected---your risk of exposure over 10 years is 35%. Not good. In fact, since condom failure rates are calculated by the resulting pregnancies, not by actual failure and trickle-down theories, "exposure" might not fully describe the awful truth.

Which brings up an imaginary dialogue with me playing both parts (since lefties aren’t as game as Socrates’ foil Thrasymachus in Plato’s Republic):


If you had a pill that could make smoking safe for 90% of people, but would leave the others at grave risk, would you still dispense it?

---Certainly.

Would you stop urging people to quit smoking?

---That’s ridiculous.

Would you be afraid that dispensing the pill might make people less apt to quit?

---Human nature being what it is, I'd have to say that's possible, if not likely.

That people might actually be less afraid to take up smoking?

---Again, human nature being what it is...

If anyone could tell me with a straight face that some progressive person or NGO could teach abstinence in the US or Africa with the same passion as they could an anti-smoking class, perhaps I'd change my mind. But most would admit that’s a laughable mental image.

Turns out that the right isn't the only side capable of cultural imperialism. And if I felt they'd done the math on the true risk of sex in Africa even with condom use, and had a true appreciation of just how many deaths a 10% failure rate amounts to, I wouldn't be writing on this, and neither would Harvard researcher Edward C. Green. This is his opinion/account of Africa being used as a proxy battlefield in the West’s own culture war (do read the whole thing):

Condoms have been regarded as the first line of defense for everyone, everywhere, and anyone who disagrees with this orthodoxy has been dismissed as a religious fanatic with ‘an agenda...'

...reality is very different from the Western experts' perception. Surveys today suggest that more than half of African males and females between the ages of 15 and 19 are abstaining from premarital sex, and increasing proportions of adults are having sex with only one partner. Yet few who work in AIDS prevention have called attention to these important trends, perhaps because they contradict the image of the hypersexed African that Western AIDS experts have been selling since the beginning of the AIDS pandemic. They depict Africans as "polygamous by nature," and supposedly so driven by hormones and poverty that commercial and transactional sex, and the inability to make responsible decisions about sex, are simply part of what it means to be African. If you accept this condescending view, condoms seem to be the only realistic solution to AIDS.

The trouble with the image of the hypersexed African is that it was never true for most Africans. Meanwhile, sexual behavior in Africa has changed. Not only in Uganda, but also perhaps in Senegal, Kenya, and elsewhere, abstinence and faithfulness have worked better than condoms. I document the evidence for Uganda and Senegal in detail in my 2003 book Rethinking AIDS Prevention. I also show that in about 1999, Kenya switched to a Uganda-style approach. In the past four to five years, casual sex on the part of Kenyan men and women has declined by about 50 percent, and HIV infection rates have fallen...


For the record, I don't necessarily accept Green's proposition that A and B are even occasionally more effective than C. But it issues a serious challenge to abstinence being a lost cause, that people can't or won't adopt new behaviors. Indeed, C, trying to get people to use condoms, stakes many lives on the belief that people will.

The New Papacy, of modernism, of sociology, of statistics, must be content to work from worst to best on hopes of a better average. But that approach never gets anywhere near its destination, because what is not easily and universally achievable, the best course, must be discarded. We’re realists, after all, and there’s no time for idealism.

Fair enough, but we cannot surrender the conduct of human events over to (by definition) mediocrity, or more etymologically correct, the meanness of the social sciences. No society can survive by aiming toward the lowest, by being happy just to bail water.


As a matter of little-known fact, the Bush Africa AIDS program is not "A only"---it just guarantees a certain level of funding for abstinence programs because nobody else in the world will. It's been made out as “A only” by proponents of “C only” because they want abstinence to fail; I must suspect that they are doing everything possible to make sure it does. If they were solely, and properly, concerned with African lives, they’d bite the anti-bullet and tolerate even religion being enlisted into the cause. But if abstinence saves just one life…

(No, I don’t think that riff will work. Oh, well.)


I myself don’t know anyone on the right who’s opposed to the distribution and instruction in the use of condoms. (Such folks exist, of course, and likely believe Elvis is still alive too. No offense.) But the rest of us wouldn’t stop passing out Kevlar vests to our troops, although if it led to overestimating their effectiveness and therefore to unnecessary risks, concern for their lives would require that we emphasize their failure rate over and over.

And, of course, if there were a 100% guaranteed way of not getting shot, we would make that the primary focus of their education.

But those who favor the Kama Sutra and disdain the Bible don’t feel that way. They don’t want bourgeois sexual morality to prove out, for abstinence to succeed, and God forbid that the Bible regain any traction, even tangentially.

In this reality-based age, where every bean can be counted and the social sciences are both king and queen, such a thing would be intolerable. But the Golden Age of Sexuality that today's progressives and their ideological spawn revere---the Fifties to the Eighties of the past century---of liberation, of contraception and penicillin, where all sex was consequence-free, is gone. Dead and gone.

It all seemed so sweet at the time, but its taste now is of ashes.



*actual quotes