"Go not for every grief to the physician, nor for every quarrel to the lawyer, nor for every thirst to the pot." —George Herbert (1593-1633)

Monday, September 03, 2007

Deus In Machina

Recently an odd sort of duel was fought in the American Spectator; not with pistols, but epistolary.

The combatants were that Derbyshire fellow who writes for National Review with a sort of weighty weary wisdom that recalls pre-20th Century intellectualism, and Tom Bethell, perhaps the most courageously open-minded magazine writer of our time, thirty years and counting on the front lines of the culture wars from his trench at the aforementioned Spectator.

Mr. D was grunting through a barely suppressed yawn (think Nero Wolfe) that anyone with an evolved mind knows that the "irreducible complexity" of small cells is a bogus argument against evolution, one only advanced by that killjoy cabal of clerical types who would twist any premise to confirm their preconceived conclusion of Creation.

Mr. B countered - with vivacity - that even the most minute constituent cell of a living organism was equipped with complex circuitry like a computer, and the idea that such an "active ingredient" could have evolved from simple undesigned matter is the sort of absurdity only a pompous pseudo-intellectual could sell himself and try to sell the world.

It won't surprise anyone, I hope, that Bethell's approach impassions me while Derbyshire's draws an answering yawn.

But what I find most fascinating in all skirmishes of this type is how both miss a key point. Let's skip for a moment the question of whether the cell's being like a computer proves design. Computers themselves prove the world is designed; why get locked into cells?

The idea is simple. The theory of evolution says there is no mechanism to create right things in the world, there is only a way of eliminating wrong things. There is no trial and error, there is only error, with the result that a trial occurs by default only. Bad things can't survive, what remains is the self-sustaining, which we then define as good. Fine. Such a system could exist but it could not have within itself potential creative systems. If anything it naturally tends to spawn spontaneous and arbitrary properties, more likely to be troublesome by a factor of zillions to one.

The fact that the forces and properties existing in the world can be rearranged via human intervention to form a computer indicate a designer who anticipated that arrangement. To assume that all the parts for something so amazing were present for no purpose at all and a human mind could discover that possibility as a coincidental reconfiguration of reality is monstrously absurd.

The Larry Craig Affair (and not much of one---he didn't even get any)

In this day of live-and-let-live---which, mind you, is largely a good thing---we still prohibit things like sex on the sidewalk. We all draw our lines, the only question is where.

Former US Senator Larry Craig (R-ID) attempted something like having sex on the sidewalk in the restroom of a major metropolitan airport, and has paid for it with his career. That should be the end of it, but it's not.

Because there is an aspect of homosexuality to all this, and necessarily so: if heterosexually-inclined men could get some action simply by tapping a foot in a public toilet, even the Super Bowl would play in front of a helluva lot of empty seats. Most of the guys would be in line outside the crapper.


Now, experts in gaydom have opined that cruising public men's rooms is largely amateur hour for the bi-curious or almost-fully repressed, and that seems logical; gay bars are usually far more tastefully appointed than the airport loo, although you still have to listen to disco either way. Still, if a person wants to be closeted, most people are willing to honor that, including most gay folk.

It's a fact that there are many people in the closet who hold ranking posts in the GOP, and even the straight people they're surrounded by have some functioning level of gaydar. They're dimly aware of it, and that's how they like it, with the emphasis on "dim," not "aware."

Are you now or have you ever...? Ehh. Been there, done that.


So we might say Larry Craig's sin was in getting caught, which makes it a legal/prudential issue, not a moral one. Stupid. Sex on the sidewalk. Geez, get some self-control, man. At least hire a professional, who's paid not for the sex but for the confidentiality. Don't chase your bliss on the cheap. What do we pay you people so much for?

Republicans stand on their heads to avoid sexual-preference McCarthyism. They'd heard the rumors about Larry Craig. He was on the downlow, but it hardly seems proper that the party should gather rumors, investigate, and kick out anyone who's suspected of being on it. Mark Foley's closet was half-open, but what would have been the hue and cry if the GOP had made an issue of his improper advances?

We know the answer to that: "anti-gay," heads or tails. You lose.

So they let the Foley rumors slide, and it might have cost the control of Congress in the 2006 election. But what can ya do? To be seen as persecuting him as a gay man would have been even worse, nor was there any genuine enthusiasm for it. (His real sin against the republic and the polity was in trying to diddle the help, but outrage at sexual harassment seldom leads to anyone being removed from office, as we discovered a decade or so ago. It's a perk, not a crime.)



No, what's clearly disgusting about this whole (non-)affair is that in some circles, it's not being gay, but being "anti-gay" that justifies taking the gloves off. But what is "anti-gay?"

I can't find much that Craig said or did politically except his opposition to gay marriage (with an apparent openness to civil unions) and objections to entering sexual preference into hate crimes legislation. This brings down the pejorative "anti-gay," a hideous term of art, on the order of "baby-killer."

If one is "anti-gay," then, is he fair game for "outing," by opposition activists and even "journalists?" Apparently some people think that's A-OK, including the Idaho Statesman, a newspaper that admitted investigating if not stalking him.

That's the disgusting part, folks.

They might have had a point if Larry Craig had been an advocate of overturning Lawrence v. Texas and restoring anti-sodomy laws, which do indeed extend to the private bedroom. But the issues of gay marriage and of hate crimes legislation are entirely ones of public policy.

Larry Craig may have stepped over the line between public and private, but if there was ever any line between public and private, it was they who obliterated it.


Now, it turns out that some of the Democratic presidential candidates don't support gay marriage either. And at least one has been the subject of, um, rumors which do not bear repeating.

What shall be done with them? Has the Idaho Statesman assigned a reporter to the beat?

More questions to which we already know the answers.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Smokers of the World Unite!

Now this is my kind of gal: an unapologetic smoker for 93 years! No PC health fetish for her, no sir. Five a day will keep the doctor away.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Waiting for Fred-ot

Well, it works better if you say it. As in Godot.

In the Oscar-winning movie Tootsie, Jessica Lange confesses to Dustin Hoffman in his female disguise that all she wants from a man is for him to play it straight, no games, and tell the truth that he simply wants to make love to her.

When Hoffman actually tries the tactic as his real-life male self, the comely Jessica throws her drink in his face. Such impertinence.

The GOP has been putting on the hair shirt. Not only has the perhaps last of its flirtations with idealism (Iraq---the other two being Reagan vs. communism and the Civil War) gone not-that-well, but domestically, it proved that once entrusted with actual governing power, it would cynically loot the public treasury to buy votes just like any other ruling party, and without the moral confidence. (Or acclaim.)

After they punted congress in the 2006 elections, there was barely a Republican, and not a single conservative, who didn't see it as justice.

Enter Fred-ot.

By most accounts, so far Fred Thompson's trip down the 2008 rhetorical runway has a lot of honesty, a lot of hair shirt. Truth, you might call it. The GOP has abandoned its principles, the Democrats don't take anything seriously. But will it fly?

His tone is a bit mournful, a bit stumbling, not passionate. (May I recommend as background here the exquisite Harvey Mansfield on thumos, on political passion. It's what makes things go.)

No, you don't court Jessica Lange or the American electorate with brutal honesty and the offer of a hair shirt. You'll make a lot of sense to the wallflowers of America like me, but the rest, friend and foe alike, will throw their drinks in your face.

Word up, Fred.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Perfidy of the Private Sector, 24/7

Let's see here. Ten years ago, twenty years ago, the failure of the mortgage lending industry to make most subprime loans was called "redlining." Now, the overwhelming willingness on its part to find ways to qualify almost everyone is called "unfair/unsound lending practices". That in a nutshell is a good history of Hillary's intellectual development. There's just no pleasing some people.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

He's Oh So Sorry

I see that the ineffable Larry Tribe, Harvard law professor and man of action, has apologized to the widow of the late Professor Bernie Siegan for having written Senator Joe Biden in 1987, questioning Siegan's "competence as a constitutional lawyer and sincerity as a scholar." Siegan had been nominated to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, but never was confirmed.

Maybe Tribe sincerely feels bad and believes that his words were misguided. Or maybe he believes that Hillary will be president and that she might nominate him to the Supreme Court, and that the time is now to backtrack on his treatment of Siegan so that the Republicans might be induced to refrain from engaging in a little payback. Call me a cynic, but I believe the latter.

The Vietnam Fallacy

Since long before the actual invasion, any number of commentators suggested that our involvement in Iraq would enmesh us in "another Vietnam." The Democratic Party even ran a lame nominee for President largely (it seems) on the sense that as an anti-Vietnam war veteran, Sen. Kerry would command the respect and admiration and trust of enough Americans to win the Presidency. As things have continued to remain tough (though perhaps improving a bit over the last few months) the comparisons have continued to roll in.

Jonah Goldberg over at NRO makes a point, though, that had always niggled at me a bit, but that I had never seen properly expressed. Sure, there's a conventional wisdom about Vietnam that says it was a mistake to get in - and there are plenty of reasonable arguments on that side. But it seems to me wildly inflated to suggest that our withdrawal and South Vietnam's subsequent defeat was either (a) a good thing for the U.S. or (b) a benefit to the Democratic Party. Consider the thirty-odd years since our withdrawal and tell me which party has done better politically? Part of the Republican success has been predicated on the sense that the Democratic Party is not to be trusted with our national security and a central part of that distrust was its mushiness on the Cold War. And central to that sense was the Dems' evolution into the anti-Vietnam War party, perhaps best exemplified by McGovern's presidential campaign in 1972.

I grew up in a military family with a father who had flown B-52 and C-130 missions over Vietnam and I understood from early on that the Democrats could not be trusted because they didn't understand or were willing to take it to the enemy - and Vietnam was the clearest example. Two anecdotes. Sometime around 1980 we were at my grandparents' house and my aunt mentioned that she had gotten the new Jane Fonda workout tape. My dad, whom I had never heard swear before, turned around and barked, "What!? You're watching that b**ch!? I had friends die because of her!" Clearly, the anti-war folks were anathema to dad. A couple of years ago, as a new (untenured) faculty member, I was chatting with an older (tenured) professor who was exercised because some of the anti-Kerry guys had used the term "traitor" (or something like that) and, as a veteran, there's hardly anything worse to be called, he fumed. Being untenured, I sort of smiled and nodded, walked to my office and thought to myself: well, that's likely true, but the overheated, cynical and false claims Kerry made after returning from Vietnam (most notably at the Winter Soldier conference) were themselves deeply offensive and meant that folks like my dad (and I, for that matter) couldn't ever vote for anyone like him.

If Iraq is going badly next summer, the GOP will take it on the chin electorally. But the Dems won't gain any long-term advantages by making themselves the agents of withdrawal. Why do you think the smartest candidate for the nomination - Sen. Clinton - has been the most resistant to the withdrawal siren? Americans, I think, don't particularly like to fight long, drawn-out wars but even more they hate to lose them.

A Poor Man's Amanpour

Usually I don't stop by to tout my regular offerings. Visitors here know that I generally do a column a week for The American Spectator and one for Human Events.

But I thought I would make an exception for today's piece at Spectator. It provides an important response to CNN's mini-docu-series, God's Warriors, presented by their Queen of Moral Equivalency.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Deflated Hopes

Fascinating headline on Yahoo today:

ZIMBABWE INFLATION HITS RECORD 7634.8 PERCENT

Drat! I thought the previous record of 7633.9 would stand the test of time. Showing once again just how fleeting are our achievements in life.

Congress, More Unpopular Than Ever

According to a recent Gallup poll, Congress got a whopping 18% approval rating. That makes President Bush seem like a rock star in comparison. In the 33 years since Gallup first started the poll Congressional ratings have only been this low one other time, and that was in the early 90s when the House banking scandal came to light. The president’s approval rating, while low at 32%, gives him quite a leg up on Congress. Of course the press won’t play it that way, so all we’ll ever hear about is a “deeply unpopular president.”

One interesting aspect of the poll is that the Democrats are loosing support from their own:

Frustration with Congress spans the political spectrum. There are only minor (but not statistically meaningful) differences in the approval ratings Democrats (21%), Republicans (18%), and independents (17%) give to Congress. Typically, partisans view Congress much more positively when their party is in control of the institution, so the fact that Democrats' ratings are not materially better than Republicans' is notable.

The nine-point drop in Congress' job approval rating from last month to this month has come exclusively from Democrats and independents, with Democrats' ratings dropping 11 points (from 32% to 21%) and independents' ratings dropping 13 points (from 30% to 17%). Republicans' 18% approval rating is unchanged from last month.


If you’ll remember back in November Republicans lost control of Congress because of lukewarm support from their base and Independents moving toward Democrats. They have now lost that advantage. I love the irony here, because in the campaign Democrats were withering in their criticism of the Republican Congress, but they offered no alternative other than how rotten Republicans are so vote for us. Now it seems that most Americans think the Democrats are rotten too.

Now what? If Republicans would simply go back to 1994, remember what they stood for when they took control of Congress, and govern that way again this Democrat Congress will be short lived.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

The Dean's Listless

As a resident of South Florida, I was thrilled to see the headline: Dean Downgraded.

Imagine my dismay when I read the article and found that Howard Dean is still Mr. Chairman. Poor Arafat, to have his title besmirched in this way.

Now Here's Some Religious Bigotry

I've been skeptical of the campaign Hugh Hewitt has been waging in his multi-media, multi-part defense of Mitt Romney, in particular of his efforts to tar anyone who says anything negative about Mormonism as a religious "bigot." (I don't think it's right to rule Romney out of bounds simply because he holds certain religious views I find wrongheaded, but I also don't think that a candidate's religious views are somehow sacrosanct when reflecting on who one wants to lead our country. His or her religious views tell us something about their moral and rational judgment, after all).

For a real example of what seems to me to be outright religious bigotry check out this post over at CQ regarding how the Louisiana Democratic Party is wheeling out that old anti-Catholic nastiness against the Republican candidate, Bobby Jindal. Jindal's a Catholic and has written a number of apologetic defenses of the faith, which the Louisiana Dems have decided makes him "anti-Protestant." It's a smear and utterly groundless (and I say that as one of those still "protest"-ing and who disagrees with some of Jindal's theological claims). Louisiana politics has always been a bit nasty, but this is despicable.

Monday, August 20, 2007

As Britain Steps Down, France Steps Up

Who'd a thunk it? I've always blamed France for the Iraq war, and of course that was right, as we shall see in a minute.

But first, as the new Gordon Brown regime evacuates the slim UK force from Basra, Nicolas Sarkozy's new foreign minister paid a surprise visit to Iraq on Sunday and offered to help. The world is stunned, but they shouldn't be. Bernard Kouchner, a founder of the Nobel Peace Prize-winning organization Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders), is a most amazing man:

Now we are turning the page. There is a new perspective. We want to talk about the future. Democracy, integrity, sovereignty, reconciliation, and stopping the killings. That's my deep aim.


Why, just recently, I meself resolved to turn the page when maneuvered into discussing Iraq with my friends from the left: Don't mention Bush. Already, things have gone unfathomably smoother that way. (And never underestimate a little success on the ground, no matter how tenuous.)

Now, way back when The New Republic was a credible magazine (two months ago), it ran a fascinating article by Paul Berman on Kouchner and the Iraq War that's a must-read except you can't because it's behind their subscription wall. (The enterprising must-reader can get behind it by removing "tnr.com" from his stored cookies.)

Only, by then, everything was already going to hell, from Kouchner's point of view. He was already furious--judging, at least, from what he went on to write during the next year. He was furious at his own government, in Paris. Bush and the United States had been putting ever more pressure on Saddam and had been making it ever more obvious that, unless Saddam caved, the invasion was guaranteed to go ahead. The French should have done everything possible to make these American threats look ever more fearsome.

Instead, Chirac's French foreign minister was running around the world actively campaigning against the American policy. Kouchner was convinced that, by agitating so energetically against the American invasion, French diplomacy was only sustaining Saddam in his fantasy that somebody, somewhere, was going to rescue his regime. This was a disaster. The no-war policy was the enemy of the less-than-war possibility. After the invasion, when the American investigators had finally managed to interview Saddam and some of his generals in their prison cells, we learned that, until the last moment, Saddam did imagine that, because of objections in the Security Council, the United States was not going to invade. This was Kouchner's fear entirely--what he had warned against in his manifesto in
Le Monde.

Indeed---had France gotten the US/UK's back, Saddam and his lovely sons Uday and Attila would have abdicated and be sunning themselves on the Riviera as you read this instead of joining their hundreds of thousands of victims six feet under. Instead, the corrupt Chirac regime set about building a critical mass of world opposition to toppling Saddam & Sons. The US and UK were on the clock, and so they made the precipitous decision to drop a few bombs and try to take him out. The die was cast, but the timing was dictated by France, not---according to popular belief---America and Britain.

The TNR article continues unsparingly with Kouchner's disagreement with casting the die and invading, his disdain for Bush's rhetorical clumsiness in playing the WMD card in the court of world opinion instead of what Kouchner saw as a slam-dunk humanitarian argument (although that could have been more Blair's idea, seeking UK legal cover), disagreement with disbanding the Ba'athist army (although it largely disbanded itself), and a revulsion with Paul Bremer's---and the Bush Administration's, it must be admitted---autocratic stewardship of the resulting mess (can't think of any objection there).

But his greatest revulsion was reserved for the Western left (and as an official of France's Socialist Party and with a plan for global health care, a member of the left himself), with its mindless anti-globalist knee-jerk anti-American opposition to even the clearest of moral imperatives, because Kouchner is one of those idealists who believes that if you hear a man killing his wife in the next apartment, you have a moral duty to break in and stop it.


He thought about the European peace movement. The mass marches against the war, the placards, the slogans, the chanting crowds--every last aspect of this movement reminded him of the grossest errors of the left-wing past. "In our generation," he told [close friend Daniel] Cohn-Bendit, "antiwar marches used to offer protection to the worst Stalinist regimes, the most frightening massacres, and because of this, I wouldn't let myself take part anymore--nor would you, Danny. God knows how often we heard people shout, 'Down with Bush!' But I didn't hear even the tiniest cry, 'Down with Saddam!' And let's not even mention--or rather, we had better mention--the anti-Semitic incidents...

Kouchner's argument about Iraq mostly focused on a specific reality, and this was the scale of the disaster in Iraq under Saddam's rule. The grimness of the human landscape in Iraq, together with the plea for help that so many Iraqis had been making for so many years, sufficed to justify the invasion, even without reference to worldwide principles. Yet where were the champions of the humanitarian cause, the human-rights militants, who should have responded to these pleas? Kouchner wasn't concerned about the orthodox left--the traditional left that had always been wrong about totalitarian movements, the left that pictured America as the fountain of evil, the left that had never wanted to overthrow Milosevic, the left that, in February 2003, was perfectly content to march in the streets side by side with the supporters of Saddam and the wildest of Islamist totalitarians, as masses of people had done in the giant antiwar demonstrations in Paris and London...

The tenor of Kouchner's comments on the intellectuals and human-rights and humanitarian militants suggested pretty plainly that, in his judgment, a huge number of people had betrayed their own best principles--had done this out of anti-American spite, or out of loathing for Bush, or who knows why, but they had done it. A dismaying situation: America, in its maladroit fashion, had just succeeded in overthrowing the worst tyranny of modern times, and the world's intellectuals were virtually quivering in indignation that such a thing had taken place.


A leftist mugged by reality and repulsed at his own side's obtuseness---a neo-con, if you will, at least by European standards. (Although to be called one might destroy him in the eyes of his enlightened fellows. Shhhhhhhhh.)

Paul Berman's article has many other wonders, few of them complimentary to the Bush Administration, about the man Bernard Kouchner, but he's worth our time to learn of him. A most amazing man:

You'll see, history will say that the Americans liberated the Iraqis, whatever the future may be, even if they did it poorly...The Americans have led a legitimate war on the basis of bad and false reasons, and, unfortunately, without the international community. In the long run, they will win, even so--but badly.



At this moment in time and history, winning badly will have to do, and I believe Bernard Kouchner is just the guy to help us do it.

_______________________________________

Friday, August 17, 2007

A Capitalist Creed?

I'm all for free markets, but this story looks really quite bothersome. Colorado Christian University didn't renew the contract of Andrew Paquin because he didn't seem supportive enough of the university's revised mission, one that included a commitment to free markets. Apparently, he had the temerity to assign in class works by Peter Singer and Jim Wallis. Both of those guys are deeply wrong in their policy prescriptions (and, at least with Singer, his fundamental moral claims) but a student who is taking a class on views of economic justice and the like ought to be acquainted with their views. Dumb, dumb, dumb.

But just to be fair, though, it might be worth noting that someone who was teaching in your typical liberal arts college and assigned works by, say, Milton Friedman and Thomas Sowell (and taught in a way that made it clear he agreed with them), he would certainly be in grave danger of not securing tenure. But inasmuch as we think that unfair (and we should) so too should we think this.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

2008: Too Much Too Soon

Glenn Reynolds links to some of the predictable concerns about 2008; at 20 months or so, it's perhaps the longest presidential campaign in history.

Barack Obama's current misspeakages notwithstanding, and who knows, he might be absolved of them by the time the first primary vote is cast---Americans have notoriously short memories---what I hope the process proves is that absolutely nobody these days is qualified to be President of the United States, so perhaps we'll get off the next president's back a little, whoever she may be.

The only presidents to get their grist through the mill in the 20th century were the Roosevelts (although Teddy was a bit crackers before and after, although not during), Ike, and Ronald Reagan. Harry Truman is bouncing back a little, mostly through Democrat-leaning historical revisionism, and Bush41 and Bill Clinton had rather tame times that were immune to any major screwups. Jack Kennedy's star sinks the more we learn about him, and praise for his presidency these days rests mostly on eyewitness testimonials on what he would have done had he lived, like pull us out of Vietnam or actually lift a finger about civil rights.

Our current president---at the mention of whose name many Americans descend into a certain derangement---could not be said to have been a stellar candidate in 2000. He was a six-year governor of a large state, but one whose top job was constitutionally weak. Neither could he be accused of a mastery of the rhetorical arts or a history of elegant self-authored position papers.

But he knew how to handle himself, which his opponents Al Gore and John Kerry did not. Gore lost an unloseable peace-and-prosperity election by mookiness alone, and George W. Bush (there, I said it), for all his verbal clumsiness, never said anything as foolish as "I voted for it before I voted against it," which alone lost Kerry his chance to become JFK44.

And speaking of losers, it's difficult to make the case that Walter Mondale, Michael Dukakis or Bob Dole never becoming president was a great tragedy for the republic.

But they sure look good to me about right freaking now:

The most qualified for the job in 2008 could very well be Joe Biden and Newt Gingrich. Each has a creditable intelligence, insight and vision. Each has an alarming lack of self-control and statesmanship. Dang. It's a fact that if you can't be trusted to handle yourself, we cannot trust you to handle what is now an impossible job.

My quick takes on the rest---

His Rudiness: The ultimate metrosexual---agnostic on social issues, agnostic on them in his personal life, too. The most glib and able rhetorician since Clinton42, and Reagan and JFK before that. Seems to like tax cuts and is a bear (bull?) on national defense, and even his, um, nuanced position on it will wipe the floor with any Democrat hem-and-hawer on illegal immigration. Can win any given election on the quality of his BS alone, and if nobody else shows up at the post, conservatives will have to take 2/3 of a loaf, and mebbe get a skosh more around the seams.

Clinton44: Likewise for leftists, about 2/3 of a loaf. Not as dovish or as socially progressive as they'd like, and a bit of a free-trader to boot. Still, she hates tax cuts, which are a moral obscenity to the cosmic justice crowd, and that goes a long way. And although I've seen her turn in some lousy performances on the stump as only a six-year elected official, she's also put in a lot of excellent ones. She's still learning, and unlike Obama and the late great John Kerry, has never put her foot in it, and neither do I expect she will.

Mitt the Last---the odds being prohibitively against there ever ever ever being a second president named Mitt: Leave out the Mormon thing, which would hit the fan on both left and right bigtime. (Wait until you hear about the Mormon underwear: if the press is forced to use it to down the GOP candidate, they certainly will. They've been polite so far, but if Mitt gets anywhere near the danger zone, rest assured that the article is already written up, like Chuckles' obituary.)

No, the problem is not just being a mere former one-term governor (four years, Connecticut)---Mitt says weird things, like his sons are serving the nation by working on his campaign instead of volunteering for Iraq. And that thing about putting his dog carrier (with dog inside) on the roof of the family car on a vacation trip, and then saying he enjoyed it, the poopoo jetting down the car windows as proof to the contrary.

This is never going to wash in a presidential election. Even Al Gore was never that much of a mook.

Barack Obama: Man, I'd love to have a black president. It would be good for the country, it'd be good for the world. Just not this one. He's a follow-the-dots lefty, and on those rare occasions when he actually thinks for himself and departs from orthodoxy, trouble follows.

John Himself McCain: His departures from orthodoxy have become orthodox for him. If Reagan's model of leadership was finding a parade and standing in front of it, McCain's is building his own drum, pounding on it, and then marching to it. We all love and respect the guy, but he never perfected the technique of making new friends without losing the ones he's already made.

John Edwards: Parlaying the millions he scored as a trial lawyer into a Senate seat, all on the strength of his BS (and great looks) alone, he (and the lovely missus) somehow got the impression that works in the real world, too. Sorry, our standards are much lower for the legislature (see Kennedy, Ted) than the executive. Much, much lower.

By all outward metrics, he's the perfect candidate and will get the Martian and turnip truck vote, but that's about it.

Bill Richardson: Ace credentials, but punting his interview with the American people farther and farther as you read this, making us all wonder why anyone ever took him seriously in the first place. Mook.

Mike Huckabee: I like him. But although creationists don't have an official underwear, if 1960 was a referendum on JFK and Roman Catholicism (and there was a dry run with another loser, Al Smith, in 1928), Mormonism and creationism haven't even put on their uniforms yet, regardless of what might lie underneath. I mean, creationism can't even carry the Roman Catholic vote, which has trended toward the GOP since Reagan. It's weird, even by Roman Catholic standards.) Mook.


Did we forget anyone? Oh yeah, Fred Dalton Thompson. We'll soon see if he has the right stuff to justify putting him in the Big Chair, but he's the only one among them who's taken his own time about this president thing, and didn't let anxiety dictate when he should show up to lead the parade. First you've got to let it gather, and showing up too early to lead it is gauche, excuse my French.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Iraq, Iraq, Iraq

We're all sick of the talk of it. But that changes nothing.

I've been struggling with the current truism, that the only solution to Iraq is political, not military. Even St. David Petraeus has been known to mouth that one. No justice, no peace, it's been formulated in another context.

But by "military" we really mean "security." There is no security solution, then?

Those who would sacrifice freedom for security deserve neither, said Ben Franklin. But is that really true outside the United States? (Like in the UK, where what the ACLU considers egregious abrogations of civil rights are routine, and people love them.)

Folks are fully willing to sacrifice freedom for security all over the world, and that's the fact. It's why there are so many dictators still in power, and dictators are the rule not the exception throughout the fractious Arab world.

The prophet Sting advises us that there is no political solution to our troubled evolution. I'm not a disciple, but I think he was onto something there. What I can glean from the confusing reports from over there is that Iraqi society is moving ahead of its government, as successful societies always must. (The medieval Muslim philosopher al-Farabi notes that first there is a common ground, an ethos, that defines a nation or a people. Politics simply follows.)

The Iraqis have no choice, but I dunno if the American polity will give the situation until January '08 to leave more divinable tea leaves, although our generals are already making those noises. Is the surge "working"? Even some Democrat senators think so. But what is this "surge"? What does "working" mean? Language devolves into nonsense so quickly these days.

A>B has been the conventional wisdom, that political agreement will result in stability. Or maybe it's A>B>A+, that stability will result in political progress will result in greater stability. I'm not sure the Arab world (or human society at its most naked, as Iraq's is) works that way, as previously noted. Politics, as we in the West have grown to understand it, is not what politics is when practiced at the tribal/sectarian level.

Maybe A is simply A, and B is only a corollary. If people want peace, they tend to get peace, even if you tend to have to kill most of those who don't want peace first. Politics might simply be those who are left standing writing up the details.


I ran across a contemporary Muslim philosopher who said that the West are the children of Rousseau, but the Islamic world is Hobbesian. (Life is nasty, brutish and short, and one simply does what one must do to survive.) Jihadism certainly stands in opposition to that, and indeed supplies an acceptably Islamic answer to Hobbes' insufficiency for the human spirit.

But, if the Taliban hadn't been enough proof, the barbarity and outright obscenity of bin Ladenism as exhibited in Iraq has turned all but the most self-annihilating of Muslims against this latest centennial round of Islamic eschatology.

So, what remains is Hobbes, and as bin Laden himself noted, people go with the strongest-looking horse, the likely winner.

We are continually told that we must keep our eye on the real ball, the real villain, the real threat, Osama bin Laden. I submit that his real defeat has been not in forcing him physically into a cave somewhere over the Pakistan border (or killing him), but in Iraq, where his ideology has been shown for what it is, and appears to be finding increasing rejection.

Whether that's because it offends Rousseau in aesthetics, or whether the strong horse of our military is enforcing Hobbes, I don't care. Probably a lot of both.

9-11-01 was designed as a clarion call for global jihad, the re-establishment of the caliphate, blahblahblah. In 2007, I think Europe---from within---has more to worry about from jihadism than the Muslim world itself.

Oh yeah, there's still Iran. Dang.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Amateur Hour 2008

At yet another Democrat presidential debate the other day, Barack Obama referred to "the president of Canada."

Did you hear about it? Maybe if you're an internetable newshound, but most people didn't. They weren't watching the debate in record numbers, and the non-partisan American press so far hasn't found it very newsworthy. Although the Canadanadians seem to have noticed.

But it's OK. I'm sure this Harvard Law School grad knows how to spell potatoe, which we have a lot more of than Canadanadians. He'd make a perfect VP. Do you want fries with that?

Christian Socialist Authoritarianism

Via Jason Kuznicki at Positive Liberty, a very interesting website, "The Stiftung Leo Strauss." Something there to like and hate for everyone.


The Stiftung long argued that Bush-As-Spirit-Of-The-Age is perhaps
not entirely comically absurd. Christian Socialist Authoritarianism in
the U.S. came from somewhere. True, the Movement's various strands
took advantage of 9/11. And true, they together routed and used the
hapless Democrats as props and sock puppets until 2006. But the extent
of the regime's transformation of American social fabric, mores,
politics and destiny was not wholly imposed top down. The Joe Kleins
of the world didn't and still don't get it.

The Enlightenment was always a thin veneer in America before 2001. It
is thinner still in 2007.



Nice formulation, that: "Christian Socialist Authoritarianism" would be entirely defensible by someone like Leo Strauss, I think, as preferable to Jacksonian democracy, civil war, The Gilded Age, Progressivism, and Wilsonianism, as well as a thousand other bad ideas from the world at large.

It's been said that the American Jewish messiah looks a lot like FDR, and Strauss, a Platonist-Jew, dug him bigtime, or so I've heard.

Christian Socialist Authoritarianism certainly fits FDRism, I think, and "compassionate conservatism" seems pretty close, if only running on FDR's fumes.

Was the Founding Era America's Golden Age? Hard to tell, as things got unsettled before they got settled. Regardless, it didn't survive democracy and Andrew Jackson, so its tenability is in doubt, as Strauss and a number of others might observe [if they indulged in a bit of historicism]. Christian Socialist Authoritarianism seems to
round the bases of electorates throughout the West.

(I will put in a plug for Fred Thompson here, whose noises on federalism are the most Founder-like thing I've heard in my lifetime.)

(And I think the linked essay trickles into la-la-land a little [a lot], but I admire its boldness.)


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Adventures in Parenting

We discovered a real treasure in CD of American folk songs. Our kids love them and they're pretty easy on parents' ears to boot. But they will sometimes get you an odd look in the grocery store, especially when your five and three-year old are skipping through the grocery store singing "Follow the Drinking Gourd." It's an old song supposedly sung about the Underground Railroad (though this site throws some doubt on the story). You can find the lyrics here and hear the song (after a bit of a lesson) here. The "drinking gourd" refers to the big dipper, by the way,...

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Glenn Reynolds and John Lott

I sent the following note today to Glenn Reynolds, the ineffable Instapundit and self-appointed referee of all things scholarly:

Dear Professor Reynolds,

I notice that your blog has shined virtually no light on Steve Levitt's utterly embarrassing letter to John McCall, a letter that most scholars with a shred of dignity would write only after having crawled into a deep hole. (As best as I can tell, all you have done is offer an "update" posting with a link.) In case you missed it: Levitt admits that even as he claimed that the special issue of the JLE that Lott put together was not refereed, Levitt himself was one of the referees. Second, Levitt's claim that Lott invited only authors whose views were consistent with his was undermined completely by his admission that he had been invited to submit a paper. (As, by the way, were others with views differing from Lott's.) And, third, the comedy highlight of Levitt's letter is his claim that "[Levitt] did not mean to suggest that Dr. Lott did anything unlawful or improper in arranging for the payment of the publication expenses for the Conference issue." Of course not; precisely what, then, did he mean to suggest?

Perhaps you could offer some of your usual musings on that. More generally, your rather loud silence on this latest development in the Levitt/Lott controversy is interesting, particularly given the massive amounts of attention, quotation, and credibility over these past few years that you have deemed appropriate for those attacking Lott's integrity. Now, why is that? Could it be that you simply are far less objective or "fair" than you like to pretend?

No obfuscations, please: A straight answer would be appreciated. Feel free to post this note if you wish.

Benjamin Zycher

I Want My Liberals Back!

Some of them were OK.

The New Republic was the reliable bastion of America's liberals---the center-left, if you will---since the 1950s. But over the past few years, its circulation has dipped, and it cut back from a weekly to a bi-weekly. It was also slipping onto the (ever-growing) "not-approved" list among the leftist netroots. Now, these folks can't get within five feet of a copy of National Review without breaking out in a cold sweat, but when their epistemological limits shrink past TNR, it's time for alarm.

So this Beauchamp business at its inception hit me as a shabby attempt to get relevant again. What concerned me was that it illustrates how much the intellectual center-left has collapsed, represented for 2008 only by Joe Biden and God help us, Hillary Rodham Clinton. The question isn't of the apparent fabrications in the "Scott Thomas" reports, but why TNR went with them in the first place. To help the war effort? Hell no, to undermine it and our troops themselves, and get back in the left's good graces, such as they are.

We see stories from all over the world about UN forces raping children and worse. But they're on page A94 of the papers. After all, we can surely conclude nothing bad about the UN's efforts as a result of these anomolies: they're not inherently meaningful. The front page is reserved for good news about the UN's deployments, and if TNR had been "reporting" rather than agitating, they'd be printing whatever good news is coming from Iraq as well as the even worse stuff the UN forces do.

No, we all know what's going on here. It's only a stroke of luck that Beauchamp couldn't resist embellishing. It could all have been true, let's face it.


With 35% of Democrats believing that Bush had some foreknowledge (or worse) of 9-11, the crank factor on the American left may be approaching an all-time high. Most are unreachable, but to focus on them is to abandon all hope of sanity for our nation. I'll continue to concentrate on engaging the remaining 65%, although it's tempting to drive the nuts even nutser. It doesn't take much, and it's a lot more fun, but duty calls.

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Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Show Me The Monet

This is why you should never rely on first impressionists.

Five masked men took the "Cliffs Near Dieppe". Worse yet, they took the "Lane of Poplars Near Moret". My question is: if the cops know their route so exactly, why can't they follow them back to headquarters?

Which painter is stolen more than any other? You guessed it: Monet. Now the question is, what about country music shoplifters? Do they favor Cash?

Monday, August 06, 2007

For the record . . .

. . . I will not be joining the Blogger's Union.

Interesting Description

So the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), one of the big civil rights groups, plans on honoring Michael Vick (the Atlanta QB who has been indicted on dogfighting charges) during its upcoming conference. Well, that's just dandy, since he's clearly just the sort of role model we would all want our children to emulate: likely involved with a rather unsavory and cruel practice, caught flipping off Atlanta fans when he got a few boos, caught spreading around STDs.

Notice, though, how Sports Illustrated describes the SCLC: as a "Christian Group" that's going to honor Vick. Now, in some ways, that's true. The SCLC has long ties to black churches. But when was the last time you saw it described as a "Christian" organization, as opposed to a "civil rights" one? Interesting choice, wouldn't you say?