Mensch tracht, un Gott lacht

Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Chesterton on Morality in Art

It is all but impossible for people to talk about art and morality in the same sentence these days, a phenomenon that G. K. Chesterton saw coming, several decades ago. Consider the following from his essay "Tom Jones and Morality," published in his book All Things Considered:

"The truth is that [the inability to understand the complex view of morality presented in a book like Tom Jones] mark[s] a certain change in the general view of morals; not, I think, a change for the better. We have grown to associate morality in a book with a kind of optimism and prettiness; according to us, a moral book is a book about moral people. But the old idea was almost exactly the opposite; a moral book was a book about immoral people. A moral book was full of pictures like Hogarth's 'Gin Lane' or 'Stages of Cruelty,' or it recorded, like the popular broadsheet, 'God's dreadful judgment' against some blasphemer or murderer. There is a philosophical reason for this change. The homeless scepticism of our time has reached a sub-conscious feeling that morality is somehow merely a matter of human taste—an accident of psychology. And if goodness only exists in certain human minds, a man wishing to praise goodness will naturally exaggerate the amount of it that there is in human minds or the number of human minds in which it is supreme. Every confession that man is vicious is a confession that virtue is visionary. Every book which admits that evil is real is felt in some vague way to be admitting that good is unreal. The modern instinct is that if the heart of man is evil, there is nothing that remains good. But the older feeling was that if the heart of man was ever so evil, there was something that remained good—goodness remained good. An actual avenging virtue existed outside the human race; to that men rose, or from that men fell away. Therefore, of course, this law itself was as much demonstrated in the breach as in the observance. If Tom Jones violated morality, so much the worse for Tom Jones. Fielding did not feel, as a melancholy modern would have done, that every sin of Tom Jones was in some way breaking the spell, or we may even say destroying the fiction of morality. Men spoke of the sinner breaking the law; but it was rather the law that broke him. And what modern people call the foulness and freedom of Fielding is generally the severity and moral stringency of Fielding. He would not have thought that he was serving morality at all if he had written a book all about nice people. Fielding would have considered Mr. Ian Maclaren extremely immoral; and there is something to be said for that view. Telling the truth about the terrible struggle of the human soul is surely a very elementary part of the ethics of honesty. If the characters are not wicked, the book is. This older and firmer conception of right as existing outside human weakness and without reference to human error can be felt in the very lightest and loosest of the works of old English literature. It is commonly unmeaning enough to call Shakspere a great moralist; but in this particular way Shakspere is a very typical moralist. Whenever he alludes to right and wrong it is always with this old implication. Right is right, even if nobody does it. Wrong is wrong, even if everybody is wrong about it."

I strongly endorse Chesterton's analysis given here, and I believe that only when our critics are once again able to address the moral implications of literature in a sophisticated manner, and our authors openly analyze the moral choices of their characters with reference to some standard outside their own personal tastes, will our society, and indeed our civilization, have any hope of being thought fully healthy.

A Different Angle on Creation

Jay Homnick sets his powers of pun-ology and analysis to the issue of creation and where God and man fit into the mix. It's a worthwhile read.

David Brooks Straightens Things Out . . .

I have frequently complained about the media's regular treatment of Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell as if they were the major spokepersons for evangelical Christians. In an excellent NYT column, David Brooks makes the point that John Stott of England has probably been more influential for evangelicals. I don't totally agree with Mr. Brooks. He's right that Falwell and Robertson don't have nearly the influence many reporters and pundits believe they do, but John Stott is not the right person to peg as the go-to guy. I think the twin pillars of the evangelical community are James Dobson of Focus on the Family and Chuck Colson of Prison Fellowship. The best candidate for a predecessor and inspiration for the two men would probably be Francis Schaeffer, some of whose books are knock your socks off brilliant, particularly The God Who Is There. Both Dobson and Colson founded their respective organizations and are of advanced age. I often wonder who will step into their shoes. Right now, there are no obvious contenders.

Learning from Lewis

Evangelical Christian leader Chuck Colson presents an insightful view of the great author, critic, philosopher, and Christian apologist C. S. Lewis on the 106th anniversary of the latter's birth, in an excellent column on today's TownHall.

Colson offers an unusual but quite correct and astute explanation of what made Lewis such a great thinker: Lewis was not an evangelical—

"Why was Lewis so uncannily prophetic? At first glance he seems an unlikely candidate. He was not a theologian; he was an English professor. What was it that made him such a keen observer of cultural and intellectual trends?

"The answer may be somewhat discomfiting to modern evangelicals: One reason is precisely that Lewis was not an evangelical. He was a professor in the academy, with a specialty in medieval literature, which gave him a mental framework shaped by the whole scope of intellectual history and Christian thought. As a result, he was liberated from the narrow confines of the religious views of the day—which meant he was able to analyze and critique them. . . .

"The problem is not that modern evangelicals are less intelligent than Lewis. As Mark Noll explains in his book The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, the problem is that our sharpest intellects have been channeled into biblical scholarship, exegesis, and hermeneutics. While that is a vital enterprise, we rarely give the same scholarly attention to history, literature, politics, philosophy, economics, or the arts. As a result, we are less aware of the culture than we should be, less equipped to defend a biblical worldview, and less capable of being a redemptive force in our postmodern society—less aware, as well, of the threats headed our way from cultural elites."

American Evangelical Christians have been unsurpassed in their enthusiasm for C. S. Lewis, and they are to be commended for that. However, as Colson points out, they still have a lot to learn from him. For starters, I should like to point the evangelicals to Martin Luther's Two Kingdoms theology for a very reliable way out of the labyrinth.

Unsophisticated, Left-Wing Whispering . . .

One of the major stars of the Bush victory is now the target of a whispering campaign among liberals who claim he is gay. I won't repeat his name so as to avoid spreading the rumor. The fact that there is now an attempt to "out" such a person tells you a lot about lefties and their understanding of the Christian right. They believe that by identifying a key player as a gay person, Christian right-wingers will go crazy and call for that person's resignation and/or marginalization. They are wrong about that. I am plugged into Christian social engagement projects from several different angles and know some significant people in the movement. Their understanding of the issue of homosexual orientation is much more sophisticated and carefully thought out than any caricature in common currency today would suggest.

Monday, November 29, 2004

Reader Alert!

The cultured and good-looking readers of the Reform Club weblog will notice that we now have two top drawer economists providing comment. Ben Zycher and Alan Reynolds are tag-teaming the silliness that often passes for economic reporting and speculation in the media.

More Economic "Analysis" from the 1980s

Alan---courteous man that he is---has neglected to tell the full tale of amusement from the early 1980s in terms of the economic debate of the time. (I was a senior staff economist at the Council of Economic Advisers at the time, and so I know.) The $64 question of the day was why interest rates were high and the dollar strong. Don Regan, the Treasury Secretary and one of Wall Street's finest, argued that interest rates were high because of persistent inflation expectations. But if that were true, the dollar should have been weak, not strong. So Regan argued simultaneously---without missing a beat---that the dollar was strong because of large capital inflows from overseas (the flip side of the current account deficit); but if that were true, interest rates should have been low.

It was obvious to all of us little people (OK, ignore my waistline) that Ronald Reagan---steadfast in the counterinflation fight and firmly in favor of reductions in marginal tax rates---had created economic conditions in which rising investment demand drove up real interest rates and created a current account deficit, both of which outcomes were highly salutary. That the Beltway geniuses and the conventional wisdom soothsayers were blind to such simple realities was amusing.

The Many Magnificent Wonders of the Current Account Deficit

Our favorite economist (and Reform Club coeditor), Alan Reynolds, has promised to write soon about Alan Greenspan's recent comments worrying about the current account deficit, and in the meantime he sends us the following brief note:

"Mr. Greenspan's assumed two-way link between current account deficit and the dollar bothers me most (aside from the stubbornly silly 'twin deficit' and 'hard landing' fables).

"In this story, the trade deficit makes the dollar go down, and the falling dollar then cures the trade deficit which, presumably, must make the dollar go back up -- thus causing a trade deficit which makes the dollar go down again, and so on. I once described this as voodoo economics in the Wall Street Journal.

"In the early '80s, however, Alan Greenspan and Marty Feldstein accused President Reagan of causing the current account deficit because budget deficits made the dollar (and interest rates) go UP! Now the same devilish budget deficit is said to make the dollar go DOWN. Up, down, who cares? The main thing is to fret and gripe about something. The solution, of course, is always the same -- higher taxes. Only the problems change."

We look forward to Alan's full analysis of the varying accounts of the causes and effects of the current account deficit.

A Reason to be Thankful!

We can all be thankful the Presidential election is over and that it wasn't too close. Over the break, I watched my father carefully scanning the internet for NASCAR (or as I affectionately call it, NECKCAR) racing news. Now that the season for Dales and Darrells is over for at least ten weeks, there are rabid race fans yearning for a way to unleash pent-up energies. If Kerry were pulling legal strings and manipulating recounts, the assembled frustrated fans of NASCAR might be rioting in numbers that would make Watts look like a picnic of fancy lads and lasses.

Trailing Edge Film Review: THE INCREDIBLES

Thanks to a visit from the boy’s grandparents, the wife and I got our first opportunity in a VERY long time to see a movie together. We chose the much lauded box office megalith, THE INCREDIBLES. The film was directed and written by Brad Bird, who was the primary mover behind THE IRON GIANT, which was a fabulous animated feature. (If you haven’t seen it, go rent it. It’s superb for adults and children grade school and older. I plan to add it to the permanent collection in the near future.)

The Incredibles is a compelling action-driven story with a better portrayal of super powers than I’ve ever seen. Mr. Incredible’s super strength, ElastiGirl’s super-flexibility, Dash’s super-speed, and Violet’s invisibility and force fields are all played to maximum effect. At the same time, the personalities, family roles, and ages of the different characters are also well-utilized to involve the viewer. This film has pace, depth, and delivers a satisfying conclusion. In short, it is a virtual can’t miss for the movie fan looking for a diverting way to spend a couple of hours.

For those who like to examine a film for message, there is also much to be explored here. The first main theme is the importance of accepting excellence and the benefits and drawbacks that arise from it. The superheroes have been put out of business through a combination of envy and lawsuit harassment that put me much in mind of the plight of physicians in America. The second theme is family. Director/writer Bird shows great concern for the enduring value of the intact family with married mother and father.

Given that I’m no great shakes as a film critic, here’s hoping our true expert, Mr. S.T. Karnick will step in with his analysis at some point.

Saturday, November 27, 2004

Welcome, David Gold Listeners

We offer a hearty welcome indeed to our new friends who heard about us on the David Gold show this afternoon on KSFO 560 AM in San Francisco, where yours truly appeared as guest and spoke about John Aschroft and today's political controversies. Have a look around, and feel free to comment on anything you wish. For a quick rundown on what we do here, and why, we invite you to have a look at the following posts in particular:

Why the Reform Club

America the Liberal

Liberals and War

We hope that you will enjoy your time here and return often to join in our ongoing discussion of where America is going, and why. Best w's, STK

Friday, November 26, 2004

An Unscientific Observation . . .

One gets the sense there is blood in the water with regard to the debate over evolution as the be-all, end-all explanatory theory of origins. As many of you know, I wrote a favorable review of Uncommon Dissent, a new ISI book featuring essays by intellectuals who doubt Darwin. One of the critical emails I received came from an MIT-affiliated gent who is part of Project Steve. The purpose of Project Steve is to show that a large number of scientists named Steve support the dominant theory of origins. This is what passes for a response to an invitation to debate for the evolutionary biology community. Instead of facing down guys like Michael Behe, Bill Dembski, David Berlinski, and many others who poke provocative holes in the neo-Darwinian synthesis, we see the evolutionary biologists turn into rhetoricians giving answers like:

1. These guys are fundamentalists!
2. They're sneaking God inside a Trojan Horse!
3. We're right because we have to be right!

I'm just an observer in all of this. Would I be pleased to see a materialist shibboleth like hard-core evolutionary theory cut down a peg? Sure. Is it that big of a deal to me? No. What really interests me is the degree of repression and intimidation that is directed against anyone who disputes the party line. Like I say, I think there's blood in the water.

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Roughness and Toughness

I think that there is in our society today a lamentable confusion between two conceptions of masculinity, which I believe can be encapsulated in two words: roughness and toughness.

signifies the willingness to force others to submit to your will. A rough man, as signified by the term roughneck, won't take anything from anybody. He'll fight for what he thinks is his, and often for what is not his but which he merely wants. He is willing to do to others whatever harm is necessary to achieve his goals.

Toughness signifies the tendency to accept punishment from the world. A tough man is one who seeks to do what is right, and recognizing that not everybody else is into that same pursuit, knows that he will have to receive much trouble for his attempts to do good. A tough man will take a lot of abuse rather than do what he knows to be wrong. A tough man lives by the rules, and doesn't look to force other people to do his bidding, including those times when he knows others are doing wrong. He would rather accept unfair abuse himself than visit well-deserved pain on someone else.

(To me, Jesus Christ is the highest example of a tough man.)

Young men, you might well ask yourself which of these types of man you aspire to be. Young women, you might well inquire of yourself which of these types of man you would like to be with.

Until more of us aspire to the right ideals, our society will continue to deteriorate.

Moral Reasoning and Disrespect

Chicago Sun-Times writer Rick Telander has an excellent column on the endlessly discussed implications of last Friday night's melee at the Palace at Auburn Hills. Telander addresses the social implications of the event, specifically the matter of personal responsibility which I have brough up in my own discussions of it on this site. Telander writes,

"It is the moral reasoning -- the ability to factor in social grace, empathy, future ramifications, justice, and responsibility -- that eludes Artest. As it does so many other athletes. And fans.

"Indeed, what if Stern is trying to change what is seemingly the biggest cultural constraint of all: what it means to be a man? The new concept of 'disrespect'?

"You can push any rational man only so far, and then he must fight back or lose all self-esteem. But is that self-esteem called into play every time someone bumps into you, calls you a bad name, douses you with beer?

"'I think it starts at a very young age,' [sports agent Mark] Bartelstein said. 'I see things that I can't believe at AAU games and the like. Players are not competing, they're trying to embarrass the person they're playing against. No one's held accountable, because if you're a great player, someone will always find a rationale to have you on the team.

"'After a touchdown or a dunk, you're proving your manhood. It's a culture that is all about embarrassing someone or calling attention to yourself instead of just competing. It's incredible.' Changing that, commissioner Stern, will be a lot harder than making someone take a pill."

Welcome American Spectator Readers . . .

Glad to have you back at the Reform Club. Take a look around. Posting may be a bit light over the holiday, but we'll pop our heads in from time to time.

Hope you found the book review of Uncommon Dissent challenging and uplifting. The debate over the neo-Darwinian synthesis is heating up. The itinerant pastors who once debated scientists are being replaced by, well, scientists. If you're really interested in following current developments, I recommend you visit the Discovery Institute online.

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

The Denigration of Self-Control

Excellent article by Geoffrey Norman in today's National Review Online. Norman points out that the melee last Friday night at the Palace of Au burn Hills was inevitable: "The fracas in Detroit was not scripted but it was, nevertheless, inevitable. The NBA sells a product that might as well be called 'gangstaball.' The players are world-class dunkers, exhibitionists, and malcontents. But, as last year's Olympics demonstrated, when they are required to play actual team basketball, they can't handle a squad from Puerto Rico. As the quality of play has declined in the NBA over the last several years, so have fan interest and television ratings."

The NBA has devolved over the years increasingly into a series of mano a mano combats, with the rules being continuously bent to allow the kind of presumably dramatic one-on-one confrontations between the man with the ball and a defender. Rough, physical play has been characterized as a test of every player's manhood. To back down from a confrontation is construed as a sign of weakness, not praised as a laudable instance of self-control. This sort of false toughness has been the sine qua non of the league in the past couple of decades, and team play on the offensive end has indeed thus been deemphasized. It is also why so few players can actually shoot a basketball with any accuracy: that's sissy stuff. Dunking the ball is what really shows them who's your daddy.

The league has actually done a good job of keeping the number of player fights to a minimum, but the atmosphere of the game has increasingly become one of barely controlled mayhem. When the audiences learn from such a culture and react as they have seen these wealthy celebrities do, it should hardly surprise anybody.

Terry Mattingly Gets Religion . . .

And he's pretty much always gotten it. Mattingly is a graduate of my program (Church-State or Religion, Politics, and Society) at Baylor and is the only syndicated religion columnist in America of whom I am aware. You can also read his stream of consciousness at This week's column has an excellent bit from a self-confessed "alienated journalist":

Nevertheless, it's time to face the facts, said Roy Peter Clark, senior scholar at the Poynter Institute in St. Petersburg, Fla.
"I am now taking seriously the theory that we mainstream journalists are different from mainstream America. 'Different' is too pale a word. We are alienated. We may live in the same country, but we treat each other like aliens," he said, in an essay called "Confessions of an Alienated Journalist."
"The churched people who embrace Bush, in spite of a bumbling war and a stumbling economy, are more than alien to me. They are invisible. ... My blind spots blot out half of America. And that makes me less of a citizen, and less of a journalist."
As a Catholic progressive, Clark said he finds it hard to hear "moral values" without thinking of "showy piety and patriotism, with more than a dash of racism and homophobia." He knows all about "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy" and Bubba the Love Sponge. How come so many other Americans know what it means to be "evangelical," "charismatic" and "born again" and feel at home at church suppers?
Right now, there needs to be "more self-doubt in the journalistic system, as opposed to arrogance," said Clark, reached at his office. "We need to be able to say that we don't know it all and that we need to learn. We need to take a step back."

As one of my old co-laborers in the computer board manufacturing plant used to say, "Ain't dat da dayumn truth?"

The Terrible State of Bioethics

You read something like this and you thank God for a source of values like the Bible and the Church:

"The most radical experiment, still not conducted, would be to inject human stem cells into an animal embryo and then transfer that chimeric embryo into an animal's womb. Scientists suspect the proliferating human cells would spread throughout the animal embryo as it matured into a fetus and integrate themselves into every organ.

Such "humanized" animals could have countless uses. They would almost certainly provide better ways to test a new drug's efficacy and toxicity, for example, than the ordinary mice typically used today.

But few scientists are eager to do that experiment. The risk, they say, is that some human cells will find their way to the developing testes or ovaries, where they might grow into human sperm and eggs. If two such chimeras — say, mice — were to mate, a human embryo might form, trapped in a mouse.

Not everyone agrees that this would be a terrible result.

"What would be so dreadful?" asked Ann McLaren, a renowned developmental biologist at the University of Cambridge in England. After all, she said, no human embryo could develop successfully in a mouse womb. It would simply die, she told the academy. No harm done."

You can read the full story about animals infused with human cells at MSNBC.

Atkins and South Beach Are Krispy Kreeming Me!

About a year ago, my sister and I made the decision to purchase 100 shares of stock. I wanted Microsoft, but she was in favor of Krispy Kreme. As a southerner, I liked her choice. Besides, I figured their aggressive expansion would get them into the Starbucks neighborhood in the near future. Why eat vile pastries and cakes from Starbucks when you could have your coffee with the best hot donuts on the planet? Unfortunately, we bought right at the high point. Earnings have been down since then and I suspect the low-carb craze is what’s killing us. The poor folks in the bagel business seem to be taking a bath, too. Our local bagel shop just shut its doors a couple of months ago.

It’s time for a budding Ralph Nader to come out with the definitive expose’ on Atkins and South Beach. I can see it now. This young crusader will report being followed by women munching on slices of sandwich meat and broccoli bits. Eventually, he’ll bring the whole sordid enterprise down around their ears and my poor Krispy Kreme shares will surge forward as waves of good feeling wash over the pasta and donut-starved masses.

Criminals on the Courts

In today's America, the real currency is celebrity.

George Neumayr notes, in today's American Spectator, that a surprisingly large percentage of NBA players have rap sheets; in a recent season, "40% of them had been arrested for crimes ranging from rape to armed robbery to domestic violence." Newmayr quotes an author who observed, "For many players, encounters with law-enforcement officials represent the rare instance of someone telling them no."

That is exactly the case, and it is the source of the rising thuggishness in that league. Moreover, it is true for countless other individuals who never make it to the pro leagues but are cosseted, indulged, babied, given every break, and almost never held accountable for their actions, simply because some school hopes to bask in the reflected glory of their athletic achievements. They are consequently thrust into the world with entirely unrealistic expectations of what consequences their actions should be expected to bring.

Athletic achievements are quite real and perfectly laudable, of course, but the idea that one's positive accomplishments should earn one a "get out of jail free" card is highly damaging both to the individuals thus indulged and to those with whom they come in contact. The same sort of immunity is routinely granted to entertainment figures and other celebrities. Celebrity is in some ways the very best form of currency: it brings money, social status, allure, a certain amount of immunity from the law, and other such magical powers.

On the social level, however, the admiration of celebrity for its own sake brings disaster. To create a class of people to whom the ordinary laws do not apply is to create an aristocracy, and to concoct one that is not taught a strong sense of responsibility toward those less fortunate than themselves—in fact, one that feels something indistinguishable from contempt for the rest of society—invariably breeds public resentment and, eventually, a thirst for revenge, a desire to take those people down a notch. That is certainly at least part of what was going on last Friday night in the aptly named Palace at Auburn Hills.

Monday, November 22, 2004

Stern Lives Up to His Namesake + Freedom and Virtue

NBA Commissioner David Stern struck a blow for civilization by dropping a weapon of mass suspension on Ron Artest and several other offending players. Artest, who had previously asked for a month off during the season to promote a new rap album, will now be getting a full season off. Others who entered the melee’ with fans will be sharply reprimanded and penalized as well.

The correction of players will not help with the fan problem, though. Might we see the day a barrier has to be put in place between fans and the action? Will spectators need to be informed that they will be photographed on the way in and held accountable for any untoward acts during the game? If anyone ever told you freedom and virtue walk hand in hand, this is what they meant. If we are not virtuous, we will not have freedom. Either our virtues or our enforcement abilities will become paramount. Here’s hoping moral reconstruction can prevail.

Saturday, November 20, 2004

Civilization and Savagery

If you haven't read the stories or seen the TV news coverage of last night's brawl in Detroit, in which courtside fans at an NBA game attacked several Indiana Pacers' players, who then charged into the stands and engaged in fistfights with the rioting customers, by all means please do so. It was an ugly scene that says a good deal about what we are becoming as a society. This sort of thing happens elsewhere around the world, of course, and has happened here as well on occasion, but this was a new height of mayhem and madness within a public sports arena at the highest level.

We have become all too accustomed to the sight of people running rampant in our society, as in the massively destructive "celebrations" that commonly pop up in cities whose major team has just won a championship of some sort or other. But this was a regular-season game, and not a very close one, though hard-fought. People seem to find it all too easy to slip out of control today, and we are not going to be able to wish this problem away.

The only real solution is going to be to reconstitute a society that insists that people be at the very least civilized.

But that will not happen, of course, until we openly value civilization.

This is not mainly a law-enforcement problem, it is a philosophical problem.

These people are just acting on what they have been taught. For the past half-century, our schools, laws, and pop and elite culture have all, to an increasing degree, heaped scorn on the very notion of civilization, the belief that some ways of life are better than others—and then we are somehow alarmed when people act like savages.

Simple law-enforcement tactics will help somewhat, but they cannot do it all; they are in fact only a final line of defense. Events like last night's riot should remind us of what a thin line separates civilization from savagery, and that it is not all blue but in fact mostly black and white, and that the ideas we hold, and the ideas we teach, have enormous consequences.

Friday, November 19, 2004

Friday Afternoon DVD Recommendation

I strongly recommend our faithful readers see Gattaca, which stars Ethan Hawke, Jude Law, and Uma Thurman. I've never understood why this movie wasn't a huge hit. The film presents a brilliant dystopian future (perhaps only a decade away) where the genetically engineered constitute a privileged class. Your DNA is your resume' in this world. Hawke plays a young man who dreams of space, but is not the product of laboratory enhancement and will likely only get into a space ship "if he's cleaning it," as his father says. Gattaca explores Hawke's character's plight and the implications for the society at the same time. Check it out.

Getting the Christian Right, Right.

Part of my life as a doctoral student in religion and politics is that I have endure presentations like the one I attended yesterday. A German professor came to one of my seminars and explained the Christian Right's position on Israel and Palestine. In the course of her remarks, she claimed the Christian Coalition is the largest and most effective Christian political organization in America. If you read this blog, you probably follow politics enough to know that the Christian Coalition has not been a significant factor in about 5-7 years. The weight of Christian influence, particularly among evangelicals, is exerted by James Dobson and Chuck Colson, not Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell. Nevertheless, liberals continue to get it wrong. Listening to this professor speak, I couldn't help but wonder if my feelings were similar to those a black student might have while listening to a white person inform him about his culture.

Thursday, November 18, 2004

TV Networks, Boohoo

The media have had a field day with ABC's ignorant teaser for last Monday night's NFL football game, which was only to be expected. The brief promo piece combined policy and prurience, and it doesn't get better for TV controveries than that.

The first thing I thought about this situation was that there would have been little or no trouble if the player involved had been caucasian and not a jackass. Having the odious self-promoter Terrell Owens and the formerly gorgeous but now ghastly Nicolette Sheridan in an embrace while the latter is presumably naked was definitely a damfool thing to do.

Several prominent African-Americans such as Tony Dungy, head coach of the Indianapolis Colts, have pointed out that the use of a black NFL player--rather than, say, a white owner or coach--plays into some decidedly revolting stereotypes about both athletes and black American males. And I could not agree more: immorality is not the exclusive province of any racial or professional group.

Moreover and more importantly, irresponsible behavior--such as a player skipping part of a game (in a sport where he is paid literally millions of dollars per year) so as to indulge in a momentary dalliance with a female fan, is not the slightest bit amusing, nor is it something most young males (a good part of the Monday Night Football audience) will understand as clever satire. Especially because it was neither clever nor satire.

Leftists in the press, for their part, have been boohooing over the fact that several TV stations refused to show Saving Private Ryan, Steven Spielberg's gory and boring WWII epic, supposedly in fear of having the FCC question their licenses. The specter of Censorship has thus descended on the nation.

Pardon me, however, if I do not panic. The TV networks, after all, do use the public airwaves to purvey their product. And if you use public land to graze your cattle, you have to abide by the rules for use of that land. Nobody objects to that. But put a little fake journalism on the airwaves--as the networks do for approximately a half-hour a day--and suddenly everything you do on the public airwaves is seen as sacred and beyond criticism, let alone censorship.

The very same people on the networks, and their phony civil-libertarian flacks (who have no such enthusiasm for, say, protecting the free expression of religion in the public square), who complain so vociferously about this immiment danger of censorship (which never seems to arrive, as it happens), are the same ones who are so intensely critical of what, say, oil companies, lumber firms, and airlines are allowed to do on public lands. Yet the latter at least produce something that is real and cannot be obtained in any other way. What the TV networks do is entirely redundant: other media deliver entertainment and information just as well.

But even that blatant expression of hypocrisy is not the full measure of the networks' chutzpah. No, remember that just a half-dozen years ago the Clinton administration gave the networks a huge amount of the electromagnetic spectrum--the very scarce "land" in which the entire U.S. public sends and receives electronic messages--for free.

And yet these people invariably complain and shout censorship! when other citizens ask, not force, them to act like decent human beings every once in a while. Sorry, but I cannot call up much sympathy for them.

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Easterbrook on the Politics of American Christians

Gregg Easterbrook's analysis of the political leanings of American Christians (cited by Hunter Baker below) is indeed a good one, providing a sensible conclusion that the nation's Christians are about as politically diverse as any other major group.

J. Bottum wrote a similar piece on American Catholics before the election, "The Myth of the Catholic Voter," in the Weekly Standard, available here.

Easterbrook, however, is quite deceived when he writes the following: "Surely it has been bad for American political debate that, on September 11, the nation was attacked by an enemy issuing religious threats; this now seems to cause us to see the world in terms of religious threats. God-fearing conservative Christians are no threat, though some of them can, I'll admit, be pretty exasperating."

As I noted in yesterday's American Spectator, available here, the Left made its choice to jettison all but the most tame, Leftist Christians a long time ago, having in fact moved very far down that path by the early 1960s. To pretend that a confusion over the meaning of the September 11 attacks caused the Left to begin to view Christians with suspicion in recent years is just plain silly. As exemplified by the hysterical response to the brief rise of the Moral Majority, the terror instilled by Pat Robertson's presidential campaign, and the like, the American Left has viewed God-fearing conservative Christians as a threat for quite some time. This is not a momentary confusion, and it is a very big problem for the Democratic Party.

Easterbrook Helps Secular Lefties Take a Breath

Gregg Easterbrook is my favorite lefty. Though he usually goes along with the left-wing program for America, he is also a devout Christian who seems to “get it” when it comes to people of faith. Here’s a paragraph from his excellent column on the popular misperceptions of religious activism in America:

“Many John Kerry supporters or George W. Bush opponents are angry about the results of the election and want to pin the blame on some sinister force. Politically conservative Christianity seems a good scapegoat because most of the media doesn't understand it. But politically conservative Christianity is not some unstoppable force--my guess would be that in today's United States, there are two politically moderate or liberal Christians for every one politically conservative Christian. Surely it has been bad for American political debate that, on September 11, the nation was attacked by an enemy issuing religious threats; this now seems to cause us to see the world in terms of religious threats. God-fearing conservative Christians are no threat, though some of them can, I'll admit, be pretty exasperating.”

People Learn What They're Taught

One of the maxims by which I understand and judge the world around me is a simple one:

People learn what they're taught.

It explains rather a lot, actually.

A correspondent named Gus, on the spunky Chapin Nation site managed by our friend Bern Chapin, had the following thought which I think illustrates this maxim admirably:

"Thought For The Day

"I was having a conversation with a friend about breast cancer recently when I said that in the past year I had lost two women I had cared about very deeply, even loved, to that disease. Later it struck me that I haven't heard a woman talk about men they cared deeply about or, My God!, loved in a long, long, long time.

"Fire's post today explains part of the reason: the feminist delusion that the safe-guarding of women is the prime responsibility of society (and of course to make that really stick, you have to portray men as monsters) and that women have no responsibility when it comes to sexual harassment (walking around with your boobs hanging out, girls, is a form of sexual harassment) or domestic violence (verbally assaulting a man when you know he cannot hit you without incurring social punishment comes under domestic violence but of a more subtle kind. And there is that rapidly fading belief that all boys are bombarded with that boys should respect girls. I wonder if girls are taught the same thing about boys.)

"The legacy of the feminists like Betty Frieden and Gloria Steinem not to mention the real fruit-cakes like Germaine Greer and Mary Daly will be the same as Yassar Arafat's.
Hatred and the brutalization of people."

Teach one group of people to feel morally superior to and afraid of another group of people, and this is exactly what happens.

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Wyatt Earp Was a Republican

And the bad guys were Democrats. What else is new?!!! Read about it here. Okay, it's somewhat tangential, but read anyway!

Self-Congratulation in Political Defeat

If I could ban one type of writing or speechmaking, I think my choice would be simple. I would do away with the "why I lost" message. Brad Carson, who lost his Senate race to Republican Tom Coburn has a column on that topic up at New Republic (subscription required). Former Georgia governor Roy Barnes still glories in the reason for his loss back in 2002. The "official" reason for his defeat was that he took the Confederate-style state flag off the capitol dome and replaced it with something less offensive. Better reasons would be that he governed dictatorially, presided over some really bitter redistricting (not covered by the national press because Republicans were getting nailed), pissed off the teacher's unions (which I liked), and was running in the same party as Max Cleland. He won a Profiles in Courage Award for giving up his seat as a consequence of changing the flag.

Then again, maybe those "why I lost" speeches and columns aren't so bad. I'd certainly rather have Roy Barnes and Brad Carson justifying themselves in courageous defeat than standing in the well at the state or federal capitol justifying legislation.

Who Polarized Congress? Reagan the Liberal!

A little blatant self-promotion if you don't greatly mind: my article on the polarization of Congress and indeed America's two major political parties appears in today's American Spectator online.

The article points out that this polarization is a result of the two parties having changed and solidified their fundamental ideas, which has worked greatly to the Republicans' advantage: "Reagan actually never shook off his core ideas of true (a.k.a. classical, Whig) liberalism. He never left the Democratic Party, Reagan always said, but instead the party left him; and just so, he never left liberalism, but instead modern liberalism left him. As a result, when Reagan ran for the presidency, he emphasized how much social disorder, economic stagnation, and social stratification harmed society's underdogs, taking up a traditionally Democratic theme and offering a highly plausible political alternative. As president, he acted on those premises, and was reelected overwhelmingly."

The Democrats reacted by digging in their heels, but they "would have been smarter to try to woo the evangelicals back into the fold by acknowledging them as underdogs, which would have been an easy, logical move to make. But this would have involved jettisoning the antireligious, ACLU wing of the party, along with the rest of the intellectual class, which they were by no means prepared to do.

"That decision, however, meant that the Democrats would openly become increasingly the party of the privileged classes, which would finally confirm the very role reversal the Republican had been trying to establish: the Republicans as the party of the search for ordered liberty, and the Democrats as the party of privilege, atheism, pacifism, and social and economic sclerosis."

That is where we are today, and it is largely a salutary change, as it brings a certain amount of clarity to the political situation. But there is a problem: the current divide "appears, however, to be an unmitigated disaster for the Democratic Party. The Republicans have their side staked out and seem fairly comfortable with it, despite some internal divisions—but the Democrats seem increasingly uncomfortable with theirs. African-Americans, suburban mothers, and union members, for example, do not share most of the values of the farther-Left side of their party. The three former groups adhere to the Democrat Party mainly for its traditional championing of the underdog, and they are by no means in it for a radical transformation of the American mind and society.

"That tension seems likely to remain until these persons either leave the party or take it over."

In addition, the Republican's current strength may tempt them toward policies that are politically unwise. Hence, "The presence of two strongly plausible political parties, each with a serious respect for the pursuit of both liberty and order both within the United States and in the international environment, would surely be much better than the current situation."

It will be up to the Democrats to change, however, given that the Republicans are benefitting greatly from the current situation.

You can read the full article at The American Spectator, here.

Continuing the Specter Meme

For those who don't know, I'm a law school grad who immediately went to work in public policy and then on to academia. Never wanted to sue anybody, don't you know? Perhaps unsurprisingly, I am an avid court watcher.

In the controversy over what to do about Arlen Specter, I have to side with Hugh Hewitt. Specter is not a conservative's conservative, but he has been willing to support conservative appointees to the court. Having him as the judiciary chairman will make it easier to avoid protracted battles over Supreme Court nominees. To some extent, Senators in the middle will feel that nominees okay with Specter are okay with them. Conversely, if Specter is removed, prepare to hear about how the process is now illegitimate. That's the last thing we want to hear, especially when shaping an institution like the court.

The way to go is to leave Specter in and nominate conservative legal giants like Michael McConnell and Alex Kosinzki. They are too prominent to fail the process and have avoided any excessive rhetoric.

Monday, November 15, 2004

Great Line from Walker Percy

Writing in The Thanatos Syndrome, the unmatchable (in my view) Percy delivered this pithy statement that perfectly sums up the problem with the cultural left:

"There's Hawkeye and Trapper John back in Korea. I never did like those guys. They fancied themselves super-decent and super-tolerant, but actually had no use for anyone who was not exactly like them. What they were was super-pleased with themselves. In truth, they were the real bigots, and phony at that."

The Vacuity of the Fundamentalist Label

Click here to read an excellent article that provides much needed perspective on the issue of religious fundamentalism and its adherents. We need to see about fifty articles like this one to correct the sea of misperceptions that exist among our religiously illiterate opinion journalists of the left.

Speaking of film and religion . . .

Those of you interested in the intersection of faith and film should hurry to Barbara Nicolosi's weblog Church of the Masses. Ms. Nicolosi knows an awful lot about Hollywood, screenwriting, and developing professionalism while pursuing a vocation in the arts. Her project has a lot to do with the notion that it's time for Christians to break out of their segregated markets and address the mainstream culture with their work. Check it out.

Sunday, November 14, 2004

Religion in Films

A very interesting article about a very interesting phenomenon—Hollywood's burgeoning interest in religious ideas as expressed in various films—in Friday's Opinion Journal, here. The most important observation in the piece, to my mind, is the author's recognition that motion pictures (like other works of art) often present quite serious ideas under seemingly unrelated or even trivial surfaces. That, of course, is the premise behind this author's own writings about the arts, and it is pleasing to see this understanding gaining some adherents.

Saturday, November 13, 2004

GOP Voter Fraud? Uh, No.

Look here for a pretty thorough debunking of the "voting irregularities" disappointed Dems wish were legit. I've been taken aback by the persistent Democrat concern with voter fraud performed by Republicans. The GOP is the party of fair process, as opposed to fair outcomes, remember? If anybody were to rig the results to achieve some sort of "equity," I suspect it would be the Donkeys.

Friday, November 12, 2004

Cut Flower Civilization: An Explanation

One of my astute co-bloggers asked me to define "cut flower civilization." Quaker theologian Elton Trueblood, who published a number of great books with the famed Harper publishing house mid-century, wrote and spoke of the idea frequently. In a nutshell, the metaphor places civilization in the place of a flower. Modernity/the Enlightenment/secularization represents the cutting of the flower at the stem and then placing it in a vase, or perhaps more appropriately, a beaker. For a while, the flower will continue to live and will maintain its beauty. After all, at least some of the citizens of the new order are the same as those of the old order. But over time, its untimely divorce with the soil (tradition, religous belief, etc.) will result in withering and ultimately, death. Advocates of the cut flower civilization hypothesis would point to the dissolution of the nuclear family, sexual promiscuity/sexual disease epidemics, and greater need for prisons/security measures as indicators that the hypothesis is true and the flower is indeed quite wilted.

Novak Gives More Perspective

One of the problems with today's lefties is that they are religiously illiterate. In other words, they have no clue that the civilization they now enjoy is largely built on premises and foundations they claim to despise. Here's a nice bit from Michael Novak (who does know a thing or two about religion):

"For instance, La Repubblica (Nov.7), which I read on the plane, carries a front-page jump column by Eugenio Scalfari, its founder and publisher, under the title "Why We Cannot Call Ourselves Laicists." After confessing his own secular creed — the creed of the Enlightenment and the great principles of liberty, fraternity, and equality — he writes that this does not end the matter. He notes how the Christian idea of a duty to the most needy and vulnerable has undeniably influenced his creed, and how the Christian idea of giving to Caesar what is Caesar's, and to God what is God's, is a necessary barrier to totalitarianism both Left and Right. The history of the European secular mind cannot be described simply as laicist, he insists, for it also includes a crucial source of light absorbed from Christian faith."

If you need help decoding, "Laicist" means uber secular. There are a few who realize that Christianity is deep in the mix of Western civilization and that Elton Trueblood's Cut Flower Civilization thesis may well be in danger of fully manifesting itself.

How the Enlightenment Really Dies . . .

Andrew Stuttaford has a nice corrective to the gas pains one might experience when reading the ridiculous wailing of earnest American liberals who fear fundamentalist theocracy stands ready to crash over them like a wave:

"In a last attempt to save his life, a desperate Van Gogh reportedly pleaded with his attacker: "We can," he said, "still talk about it." Talk. Dialog. Reason. In response, savagery. The murderer sawed through Van Gogh's neck and spinal column with a butcher knife, almost severing his head. And that, Mr. Wills, is how Enlightenment dies."

Hopefully, the Van Gogh incident will help overwrought liberals understand the differences between murderers and those who might wish to employ democratic processes to reduce the number of abortions in the United States or have some say in the way marriage is defined.

From Dreaming to Dreaming, by Farpoint

The new disc by the South Carolina-based band Farpoint, From Dreaming to Dreaming, finally makes real the potential suggested by the band's first two discs. Farpoint combines progressive rock with American folk traditions and a strong melodic sense to create a very passionate kind of intelligent and sophisticated rock-based music. The first full-length song on From Dreaming to Dreaming, "Autumn Sky," sets the tone with a very catchy organ line and driving rhythm reminiscent of Guy Manning's terrific song "Tightrope" (from his The Ragged Curtain CD) plus a very strong and appealing vocal performance by Dana Oxendine, who is becoming a very accomplished vocalist.

Similarly attractive organ work adorns "Here and Now," which also has a fine lead vocal melody line and passionate singing performances by Ms. Oxendine and Clark Boone. "Sojourn" has a very interesting acoustic-guitar introduction and accompaniment to Boone's lead vocal, and Oxendine's overdubbed choral background is quite effective, as is her gorgeous, ethereal lead vocal in the bridge. The song also has a very beautiful instrumental passage featuring flute, synthesizer, and electric guitar. It is really quite moving.

The melodic inventiveness begins to flag a bit from this high point, so that tracks 8 and 9 are not as strong as the rest, but the band rebounds with very good work on the last two songs to send things home nicely. Some very appealing organ work by Kevin Jarvis and another appealing acoustic guitar accompaniment enliven "Ashley's Song (Sail On)," for example.

Boone's husky baritone voice is used more effectively than on the band's first two albums and has become a positive musical asset for the group. Frank Tyson's growling, grumbling bass guitar is highly expressive indeed and a standout aspect of the production. The percussion of Rick Walker matches him step for step, and the lead guitar work by Mike Givins is quite good if not overly original (which is hardly a criticism—who can really find something truly new to do on lead guitar these days?). Kevin Jarvis's keyboard work provides a solid foundation of melody and chord accompaniment, and his solos are reminiscent of those achieved by the great 1970s progressive bands. The lyrics deal with important matters, largely spiritual ones, in a mature and intelligent way, although, like nearly all popular-music lyrics, they are by no means poetry. The CD artwork is quite attractive as well.

Definitely recommended.

Welcome Tech Central Station Readers!

We're glad to have you on board. Wander the halls a bit, won't you?

Secession city by city . . .

At American Spectator today, Lawrence Henry makes an important point about the blue state secession talk, which is that all the red portions of the blue states (which are substantial) would never agree to the deal. Those folks who draw up the United States of Canada and Jesusland graphics are looking at the state electoral map instead of the county one. What they fail to realize is that Jesusland is lapping right up against their own city limits.

My favorite part is the conclusion:

"No, the interesting thing about all the current secession talk is its similarity to the pre-Civil War era. At that time, an area of the country felt itself threatened by the impending loss of a key portion of its agrarian livelihood. Kicking and yelling, it resisted being dragged into the new industrial age.

"So what are the blue confederates kicking and screaming about? What well-nigh irresistible movement toward modernity do they refuse to recognize? Oh, I could name a few things."

Thursday, November 11, 2004

The Righteousness of Action in Iraq

Now that Sam has brought the war up again, it seems like a good time to share my political sense of the thing. Smart people on both sides have their questions about the war in Iraq, but there is one point of discussion that I think has eluded most. Think carefully for a second. If you wanted to manage the aftermath of 9-11 politically instead of strategically, what would you do? My answer is that the President could have looked very good by hitting Afghanistan, knocking out the Taliban, and calling it a day. Americans would have felt the flush of victory and would feel they had a measure of revenge for the loss of life and property endured in New York, Washington, and Pennsylvania. The fact that he didn’t settle for a fairly easy victory over the Taliban tells me something. I think the security team and the President believed more was required to secure America’s safety and that they decided to pursue that course without regard for political consequences. If that is the case, the adventure in Iraq has been thoroughly righteous.

Liberals and War

In response to my piece on the New York Times and John Aschroft, which is currently appearing in The Daily Standard, a writer friend of mine asked, "Dear me, am I of the Far Right? I insist I’m a Jeffersonian of the Real Right; I think he’d be with me, as would Madison. Btw, I am not against a war on terrorists, and I did not object to going after OBL in Afghanistan, but … Iraq…?"

I think this an excellent question, and will offer a couple of points in answer. My Daily Standard piece was actually meant as a critique of the New York Times's approach to news analysis, not as a defense of Ashcroft. Note that I wrote "however much one might disagree with Ashcroft's actions as attorney general"; I am in fact one of those "one"s. My own position--which I published on just a week after the September 11 attacks--is that the essential element in any internal U.S. measures against terrorism must start by recognizing the difference between citizens and noncitizens: the former have civil rights, and the latter absolutely do not. That, in my view, would still be a very good guide in how to approach these matters, and would have the advantage of being constitutional.

As to my friend's possibly being on the far Right, consider that by my own calculus I am a liberal. I am a liberal of the Right, aka a classical liberal. Another person on the Right could be either a conservative of the Right or a radical of the Right. See my first post for this site, "Why the Reform Club...", in the October archive, for a more detailed explanation.

I recognize that most modern-day libertarians classify themselves as classical liberals, but I don't think that most of them are exactly that--they would part from Burke and Smith and the other original Whigs in several important ways. For example, Smith was perfectly happy with lots of government intervention in the economy for national-defense purposes (and might very well have approved of the War in Iraq), and Burke's Catholic activism would horrify the Reason crowd, the Randians, and many others on the more-radical Right.

Consider, if you would, the following handy reference point:

Conservatives are primarily concerned about preserving civilization.
Radicals are primarily concerned about transforming civilization.
Liberals are primarily concerned about extending civilization.

As to the War in Iraq, we Reform Club Whigs are catholic on the issue: Hunter and I supported it, and Alan opposed it (see Alan's recent posting, "One Antiwar Zealot for Bush," on this). But all three of us approached the issue from the same premises--U.S. national security as the first priority for our federal government, pursued under any rational and appropriate means the Constitution allows. My position is that the Constitution allows a War on Terror but does not require it; hence I have fundamental assumptions in common with those who oppoosed the War in Iraq for national security reasons. Those who opposed it for economic or ideological reasons (especially pacifism) or because of simple fear of casualties, however, cannot really be considered liberals in my view.

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Controversial Ashcroft

The New York Times article on Attorney General John Ashcroft's resignation describes him, rather hyperbolically in my view, as "one of the most powerful and divisive figures ever to serve as the nation's top law enforcement official." That's a particularly weird statement when one considers that compared to his immediate predecessor, Janet Reno, Ashcroft was downright obscure.

The article goes to great lengths to persuade us that Ashcroft held bizarre, "extremist" beliefs that made him naturally controversial, in the paper's rather sad attempt to distract readers from the fact that the controversies to which the New York Times alludes were largely a creation of that newspaper and its political allies, who disagreed strongly with the entire thrust of his policies. In fact, the present NYT "analysis" inadvertently proves the point, as I demonstrate in today's issue of The Daily Standard (the online edition of The Weekly Standard), here.

To the extent that Ashcroft had a "tumultuous tenure," as the caption of the photo accompanying the article puts it, the tumult was very much a creation of the New York Times itself and the rest of the radical Left (aided by a good many on the radical Right). The fact is, the New York Times and the rest of the far Left despised Ashcroft for his openly religious views on politics. It is a pity that these partisans seem unable to admit or even recognize that little bit of extremism on their own part.

A little honesty in this regard and similar situations would go a long way toward restoring the credibility of the New York Times. That, however, seems far too much to hope for.

Ted Rall and the Disease of Dumb

The far, far left's favorite op-ed writer Ted Rall has bravely confessed his cultural elitism. Rall, you see, knows that the folks in the blue states are much smarter, cooler, fashionable, etc. than the folks in the red states. Here's a paragraph:

"Maps showing Kerry's blue states appended to the "United States of Canada" separated from Bush's red "Jesusland" are circulating by email. Though there is a religious component to the election results, the biggest red-blue divide is intellectual. "How can 59,054,087 people be so DUMB?" asked the headline of the Daily Mirror in Great Britain, and the underlying assumption is undeniable. By any objective standard, you had to be spectacularly stupid to support Bush."

Rall continues the bloviating for several hundred words. What I've always wondered is how the left can maintain their intellectual superiority when they don't even understand economics and basic human incentives. Their public policy program has always struck me as a big bouquet of "wishing makes it so" and "it is because I say it is" proposals. By their standard, Fidel Castro is terribly, terribly bright. Ditto Mao. I'll take mine mediocre, thanks.

Get Smart. Watch TV.

Unless they chicken out at the last minute, I will be on C-Span with Brian Lamb on Friday Nov. 12, talking about budget deficits (the government's not yours) and other such boring stuff. This will become a call-in show at some point, probably when one of us runs out of things to say. The only study guide required is a short piece I wrote for Apple Daily, in Hong Kong (

Idiotic Ideas About Theocracy

Lefties everywhere are crying about the coming theocracy. Apparently, if you justify a political position via Jesus Christ as opposed to your gut feeling, or Nietszchean thought, or Maureen Dowd's cutesie regurgitations, or any other source of values, you have stepped over the line into theocracy. Excuse me, but is it your vote or isn't it? When I enter the voting booth, I have the right to decide on candidates and their policy positions any way I wish, don't I?

Theocracy is when the church and the government are one. We don't have that in America. The countries that did have it, like Sweden for example, now have enormous states with eunuch churches. What we have is separation of church and state where the church is vigorous and critical. When it was mostly left-wing churches doing it, they were celebrated as they "spoke truth to power" and provided a "prophetic voice." When the conservative churches do it, we get theocracy. Go figure.

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Blue States Talking Secession!

On the logic that blue states pay more and get less from the feds than the red states, some "progressives" are shopping about talk of secession. My response to that is, "THROW ME INTO THE BRIAR PATCH BABY!" Secede. We'll pass a lot of great constitutional amendments while you're gone. The South, the West, and the Heartland will find a way to get by. In no time at all, the blue states will head on toward European economic performance while the rest of the world will discuss the emergence of the Sunbelt Tiger!

Jonah Goldberg Nails It!

I have rarely agreed with anything as much I agree with Jonah Goldberg's recent remarks on liberal unhappiness with the election results:

"But what offends them so much about religion is that it is a source of authority outside — and prior to — politics. What has offended the Left since Marx, and American liberalism since Dewey, is the notion that moral authority should be derived from anyplace other than the state or "the people" (conveniently defined as citizens who vote liberal). Voting on values not sanctified by secular priests is how they define "ignorance." This was the real goal of Hillary Clinton's "politics of meaning" — to replace traditional religion with a secular one that derived its authority not from ancient texts and "superstitions" but from the good intentions of an activist state and its anointed priests. Shortly before the election, Howell Raines fretted that the worst outcome of a Bush victory would be the resurgence of "theologically based cultural norms" — without even acknowledging the fact that "theologically based cultural norms" gave us everything from the printing press and the newspaper to the First Amendment he claims to be such a defender of."

Priceless Karl Rove . . .

Last night I saw Tim Russert interviewing Karl Rove. They talked about the business of appointing judges. After asking Rove whether the President would appoint judges who would reverse Roe v. Wade and getting the standard answer about interpreting the law instead of legislating from the bench, Russert took a new tack. "Does the President believe there is a right to privacy in the Constitution?" Rove's answer was priceless:

"Griswold v. Connecticut? The President and I have never discussed Griswold v. Connecticut."

Monday, November 08, 2004

Mike Kinsley: Arrogant Elitist

Michael Kinsley took a stab at irony in the Sunday Washington Post, with ironic results ( “If you insist – and you do – I will rethink my fundamental beliefs from scratch, since they are shared by only 47 percent of the population. . . .But could you please stop calling me arrogant and elitist?”

The arrogance of Kinsley’s sermon eludes him because he is so elitist. He presumes, against overwhelming evidence, that everyone who voted for Senator Kerry must be a Kinsley clone – that is, another “softheaded liberal” who shares Kinsley’s beliefs about abortion and gay marriage.

Kinsley asserts “that people on my side of the divide want to live in a society where women are free to choose abortion and where gay relationships have full civil equality with straight ones. And you [meaning those intolerant zealots who voted for Bush] want to live in a society where the opposite is true. . . . We don't want to force you to have an abortion or to marry someone of the same gender, whereas you do want to close out those possibilities for us. Which is more arrogant?”

Kinsley is far more arrogant than he realizes, because he claims to speak for “we” when he really means “me.” He assigns one prepackaged duet of opinions to Kerry supporters and another to Bush supporters. Yet many Kerry and Bush supporters don’t care a bit about these two issues (which have never been under the jurisdiction of federal law). Others hold Kinsley’s view on one of them, but not the other, and that includes Republicans as well as Democrats.

Kinsley is simply dreaming if he thinks most of his views are shared by 47 percent of the population. Exit polls show only 21 percent of voters – not 47 percent -- regard themselves as liberal. Only 25 percent – not 47 percent -- approve of same-sex marriage, and 22 percent of them voted for Bush. Bush also received 23 percent of the gay vote.

When it comes to abortion, however, only 16 percent of the voters think abortion should be illegal, and 22 percent of them voted for Kerry. Nearly half of U.S. Catholics voted for Kerry, and a larger fraction of Muslims and Jews, although many people of those faiths view abortion as equivalent to infanticide (which is also not subject to federal jurisdiction).

Kinsley’s “full civil equality” for gay couples dodges the more sensitive issue of reserving the term marriage for traditional couples. Among those favoring civil unions for gays, in fact, Bush beat Kerry 52 to 47 percent. What “civil equality”means is inherently unclear because it could involve many agencies of federal, state and local governments. The IRS would surely protest if two men or two women tried to file a joint tax return, but that would be a matter of money not morality.

Senators Kerry and Edwards advocated letting the states permit or ban same-sex marriage laws, which state elections just proved is the practical equivalent of favoring a ban. President Bush did not take a fundamentally different position, but worried (from experience) that local judges might contravene state legislatures.
Kinsley goes on to say, “We on my side of the great divide don’t, for the most part, believe that our values are direct orders from God. We don't claim that they are immutable and beyond argument. We are, if anything, crippled by reason and open-mindedness, by a desire to persuade rather than insist. Which philosophy is more elitist?”

Orders from God? Kinsley defines his “great divide” as only a habitual elitist possibly could. He imagines a division between religious Republicans and liberal Democrats. A liberal rabbi or Ayn Randian atheist has no place in “The World According to Mike.” Yet only 8 percent of the voters thought the candidate’s religious faith was a top issue. And 31 percent of those with no religion voted for Bush. Senator Kerry, on the other hand, received 47 percent of the Catholic vote, 74 percent of the Jewish vote and a sizable majority of the Muslim vote.

As for the left’s alleged open-mindedness and mild-mannered “desire to persuade,” that is just an arrogant and elitist description of what arrogant and elitist liars and panderers like Michael Moore and George Soros have been doing to try to trick and buy their way to power.

The Enemy in Fallujah

Michael Fumento sends us the following, from the Kansas City Star:

"'This is as pure a fight of good against evil as we're likely to see in our lifetime,' Marine Col. Craig Tucker told troops. 'This enemy is a terrorist. He is a hardened criminal. This is not an insurgency -- there is no alternative better future for Iraq that is represented by these bastards.'"

Exactly. The enemy in this case is not a band of idealists who are basically hopeful and well-meaning even if possibly mistaken in their desired policies. On the contrary, the enemy that remains in Iraq is a relentlessly vicious bunch of thugs very like the Communists, Nazis, African dictators, and other assorted gigantic criminal conspiracies that have looted and destroyed a multitude of previously livable places in the past century and a half. It is an outpouring of a common, primitive will to group power that is aided by modern technology. And like all its predecessors, it responds only to force.

Garrison Keillor and I Finally Divorce

During my long drives home from college back in the late eighties and early nineties, I passed the time wearing out an old cassette full of material from Garrison Keillor's Prairie Home Companion. My enjoyment from the show has diminished as the once genial entertainer has become less of a delightful monologuist and tale spinner and more like any ordinary angry liberal. The famed Powerlineblog brought this little bit of transcript loveliness to my attention:

"We're over it. We've moved on. We're just fine. The election was days ago. Days ago. Much has happened since then. We've practically forgotten about it here [laughter] in our rush to enter into new activities, new frontiers, new projects. I am now the chairman of a national campaign to pass a constitutional amendment to take the right to vote away from born-again Christians. [enthusiastic audience applause] Just a little project of mine. My feeling is that born-again people are citizens of heaven, that is where there citizenship is, [laughter] is in heaven, it's not here among us in America. If you feel that war in the Middle East is simply prophecy fulfilled, if you believe that tribulation and suffering are just the natural conditions of life, if you believe that higher education is vanity, unnecessary, there is only one book that one need to read, if you feel that unemployment is -[glitch]- dependent on him and drawn you closer to him. [laughter] If you feel -[glitch]- lousy healthcare is a portal to paradise, [applause] then you don't really share our same interests, do you? No, you do not."

Count on Andy Rooney to Tell It Straight

This line from his column posted on the CBS News website pretty much says everything you need to know about the establishment media:

"Television did a good job Tuesday night, I thought. I know a lot of you believe that most people in the news business are liberal. Let me tell you I know a lot of them, and they were almost evenly divided this time. Half of them liked Sen. Kerry; the other half hated President Bush."

Sunday, November 07, 2004

Just so you know how Michael Moore feels about it . . .

Michael Moore now has a map of North America posted on his website that consolidates the blue states with our neighbor to the north and calls that region "The United States of Canada." The red states are re-christened "Jesusland." One gathers this juxtaposition is supposed to elicit either a laugh or a feeling of great pathos.

After a brief scan, I can tell you I was quite relieved to find I live in Jesusland. Neither Nietszcheland, Marxland, Stalinland, or Castroland have ever held much appeal.

Friday, November 05, 2004

Arlen's Spectre!

Pro-lifers from National Review to the Family Research Council are freaking out about Arlen Specter's remarks on what judges the President should nominate. My counsel (as a most avid pro-lifer, myself) is that everybody take a breath. Specter's lib/moderate status is not such a terrible thing. Nominees who do come out the relatively friendly confines of the Judiciary Committee will be more or less pre-approved. The normal rules still apply. Nominate people without a big paper trail and let them through.

Which seat is being filled is also something that should be considered. Bush should be given deference in appointing a serious conservative to Rehnquist's chair because that won't change the balance of the court at all. On the other hand, when he replaces Stevens, there will more scrutiny because that will be a major change in the court's ideology and Bush will have to be careful to select someone basically undeniable.

Welcome back, DLC

Your intrepid prestidigitator told you the Bill Clinton era Democratic Leadership Council would return and they have. Andrei Cherny, author of "The Next Deal" (a book effusively praised by Newt Gingrich), writes in the NYT about why the Dems lost the last two big elections. He's not settling for the easy stuff like a sighing Al Gore, either. Check this out:

"Democrats have a collection of policy positions that are sensible and right. John Kerry made this very clear. What we don't have, and what we sorely need, is what President George H. W. Bush so famously derided as "the vision thing" - a worldview that makes a thematic argument about where America is headed and where we want to take it.

"For most of the 20th century, Democrats had a bold vision: we would use government programs to make Americans' lives more stable and secure. In 1996, President Clinton told us this age had passed, that "the era of big government is over." He was right - the world had changed. But the party has not answered the basic question: What comes next?"

Cherny is right about the question of vision and thematic argument. The Democratic party has been in need of a good soul search ever since McGovern won the nomination in 1972. The social issues cost them a large part of their natural constituency. If they turn right, even halfway, on abortion, gay marriage, religion in the public square, and national defense, they'll prove extraordinarily difficult to defeat.

Americans Not So Crazy After All

Gerard Jones’s excellent analysis of the meaning of the recent U.S. elections, in today’s Times of London, suggests that the American public is perhaps not so crazy after all:

Jones notes, “There is a broad consensus against gay marriage that goes well beyond the religious Right just as there is a broad agreement in favour of making abortions scarcer (for a country run by religious nuts, America has surprisingly liberal laws on abortion), or for lifting some of the world’s tightest restrictions on the role of religion in public life (the British particularly should remember that, especially, as they drop their children off at state-funded church schools.) Mr Bush’s re-election was no narrow victory for religious zealots. It confirms that America is a decidedly conservative country, but not an alien one.”

“And its implications for the rest of the world are not baleful. All the world has to fear now is four more years of an America doing its damnedest to export the value that is at the heart of all of its people’s beliefs: that people should be as free to choose their own direction as the American people so joyously were this week.”

What Jones is describing, of course, is true liberalism. The United States has always been the world’s most classically liberal nation, and this election not only does not contradict that truth, it in fact confirms it.

Thursday, November 04, 2004

Team America Are Thunderbirds a Go-Go

As Hunter Baker notes, Team America: World Police is uneven but funny. The film certainly refers to many contemporary issues and personalities, and its comical violence, brazen vulgarity, and scatalogical and sexual humor certainly identify it as a product of our time.

However, I think an underappreciated aspect of the film is the 1960s side of it. The main concept, after all, is based on those cheesy mid-1960s TV marionette shows such as Supercar and especially Thunderbirds. Several of the Team America members look suspiciously like various Thunderbirds characters, as is evident in these pictures at the Thunderbirds site.

There are many other 1960s motifs in the film, such as the use of Kim Jong-Il—one of the few remaining Communist leaders in the world—as villain.

Why is this interesting? Because the viewer will take away from the film a very serious view of the War on Terror, a realization that the current war is as important, difficult, and serious as was the Cold War. Yes, Team America knocks down a few tourist attractions and some innocent bystanders in the zealous pursuit of their duty, but the enemy they are fighting really does want to harm all of us, and not by accident but by intention.

The film makes this very clear, through both action and dialogue, and the 1960s aspects of it keep bringing the Cold War back to mind, continually reminding us of the vastness of the forces now arrayed against America and the rest of the developed world, and expressing—in a very comical context, of course—exactly what is at stake. Team America are definitely on the side of good. There can be no question that although the filmmakers recognize all of America's many faults, they know that what we have is far better than what the other side has in mind for its own people, let alone what it would have in store for us.

More Trailing Edge Political Film Review . . .

When you see TEAM AMERICA: WORLD POLICE you'll immediately understand the reason for its lukewarm box office. The film is terribly uneven. South Park's Stone and Parker clearly rushed the film to get it out before the election and it shows. Satire really scores when it speaks the truth. There are too many points in this film when the satire is just not fair to either side and thus comes up a bit short.

On the other hand, the creative team has an amazing gift for physical comedy. If you've never seen a puppet throw up, this is the way it should be done. No question about it.

Another success for TEAM AMERICA comes in the final monologue, when the newest member of the team delivers his political philosophy to a once gullible international audience. It's crude. Actually, it's extremely crude, but it makes its point very effectively. I think Dick Nixon might have put things the same way himself behind closed doors.

Mandate Talk

The inevitable discussion of mandate has begun. Many seem to expect a mandate to look like 55-60% of the popular vote, but I think Bush can make a strong case for having the mandate he lacked during his first four years. He improved his popular vote substantially, improved his electoral count, and won both measures outright. Although the party improved its standing in Congress in 2002, the Dems could argue patriotism in the wake of 9-11 created greater support for the incumbent party. Now, after Michael Moore's antics and a unified chorus of criticism from Democrats for the past two years, Bush has again been affirmed and to an even greater degree than before. Whatever the President is doing, he appears to have a mandate for it and from the first true majority of American voters in 16 years. I wonder if the out party would prefer to give Bush a shot at a third term and see what percentage he can deliver then.

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

Slow Learners . . .

Now that the election's over, I felt secure enough to visit some of the left-wing blogs. I found one comment particularly arresting. The lefty in question viewed the results with disbelief and reported that he felt as though he were trapped in a room full of slow learners. After reflecting for a moment, I thought about the Cubans, something liberals never do unless they're trying to return one to the homeland. They've been trapped in a nation ruled by one of the slowest learners of all time. Somebody send Castro a copy of The Road to Serfdom, wouldya?

The Hewitt Factor

I like Hugh Hewitt. I enjoy his writing and check in on his weblog almost daily. However, I have to admit I thought he was relentlessly over-optimistic about the 2004 election. Even when Bush's debate performances threw me into depression, there was Hugh Hewitt blowing the horn of triumph. It almost seems that he WILLED Bush and the GOP Senators into victory. Props to you, Hugh.

There's Something About George W.

I have a love-hate relationship with W. I love his heart, his determination, his moral clarity, and his faith. I hate watching him attempt to articulate anything verbally. I couldn't even make it through his acceptance speech. The guy is absolutely terrible as a public speaker. Four years haven't helped much.

BUT, I think he has God's hand on his shoulder or some special favor that can't be articulated. How many promising liberal politicians' scalps lie at this man's feet? Ann Richards, Al Gore, Dick Gephardt, and Tom Daschle have all been finished by this President with a heart of steel and a tongue of cheap aluminum.

First Domestic Policy Agenda Item

I'd love to hear from our resident economist about this, but I think the answer has to be TORT REFORM. You can read some of my reasons why at American Spectator Online.

Prediction for the next four years

The Democratic Leadership Council will return as a major force in the party. Michael Moore and the Deaniacs will be marginalized. Hillary will run in 2004 as a "New Democrat" offering a less ambitious version of the health care entitlement. The Lieberman wing will return in full force. Hide and watch, as my mother used to say.

Two Americas, All Right

James Bone of the Times of London notes that the "gay poll was the key" in Bush's win in Ohio:

"The crucial factor, it emerged, was the referendum on gay marriage which was going on at the same time as the Presidential election, the Senate race, and votes on numerous other issues," Bone writes here.

Mr. Bone states, "Christian conservatives turned out in their tens of thousands to back a ban on gay marriage in the state of Ohio, and it was this, coupled with Mr Bush's strong showing in rural areas, that gave him an apparently invincible lead in the crucial Midwestern state."

It is clear, in fact, that such referenda were an important factor in the Bush victory nationwide. Many polls (for whatever they may be worth) show that a plurality of voters yesterday stated that the most important issue for them was gay marriage, and President Bush won among these voters by about four to one. There were votes on the issue in several of the swing states, and turnout among evangelical Christians was much higher than in the past few elections.

That was the deciding factor in the presidential election, right there, and rather unexpectedly for most of the press, judging by the relative paucity of media attention to the gay-marriage issue in the days before the balloting, with Iraq and the economy of course as the main areas of discussion.

Look at the map of red and blue states indicating support for the Republican or Democrat candidate, respectively. There are indeed two Americas. One believes strongly in one set of values, the other just as firmly adheres to a quite contrary view of the world.

The Republicans have their side staked out and seem fairly comfortable with it, despite some internal divisions—but the Democrats seem increasingly uncomfortable with theirs. African-Americans, suburban mothers, and union members, for example, do not share most of the values of the farther-Left side of their party. The three former groups adhere to the Democrat Party mainly for its traditional championing of the underdog, and they are by no means in it for a radical transformation of the American mind and society.

That tension seems likely to remain until these persons either leave the party or take it over.

More Mainstream Media Bashing . . .

I read thoughts by and spoke to conservatives decrying the media's unwillingness to call certain states for Bush while rushing to call others for Kerry, but I saw something else that indicated real bias. Which Senator elected last night got more press than any other? Barack Obama (rhymes with Osama . . .oh, forget I said that, I'm a better person than that, really, no I'm not, SHUT UP!).

DIGRESSION: I may be a little too sensitive. After all, I strongly supported Alan Keyes in two columns for the American Spectator Online before my favorite speaker came out for slave reparations and then needlessly took a whack at Mary Cheney. The only thing holding Alan Keyes back is Alan Keyes, but that was more than enough. Wlady P. tolerantly posted my righteous musings while shrewdly publishing counter-opinions.

ANYWAY, Obama was everywhere highlighted as the great hope of the Democratic Party and received about as much press as our President! Anything wrong with this picture, or was it just that he was available as a big winner from about 7 p.m. on? For a little perspective, imagine if a conservative female had won a blowout in a non-swing state. Do you think the press would have been panting after her like a sheepdog about to score some Alpo?

Shooting You Straight

Alan is telling the absoloute truth when he says what he had predicted for the presidential and senatorial races, and when.

And no, I don't know how he does it.

I think that Alan, as a true English Whig, should indulge in an extra glass of first-rate claret.

As an English Whig and unrepentant anglophile, I shall have me a black and tan. Or two. And a double Glenfiddich.

I share Alan's bipartisan disdain for politicians of every stripe--excepting, of course, those who happen to be my personal friends. Those, I see as good lambs who have lost their way.

Finally, contra Alan's contention, I am not really embarrassed by the name Samantha. I'm just not cool with it yet.

S. T. K.

Unsurprised therefore Unexcited

The day before the election I sent the following e-mail to Sam (who apparently writes under the alias of S.T. so strangers won't know that his real name is Samantha):

"Bush gets 300 electoral votes and a comfy margin in the popular count too.
That's all the obvious red states (213) plus Ohio, Florida, Wisconsin, Iowa, Nevada, Colorado, New Mexico and Hawaii. I am not, however, dumb enough to either publish that or bet on it. On the other hand . . . if Kerry wins, the good news is that he won't be able to get anything past Congress. And Congress won't be able to get anything past the White House. There must be some bad news there, but I can't recall what it might be."

For a poll at the Cato Institute, I predicted 53 Republican Senators. I do this the way I used to kill a few minutes doing economic forecasting for the Journal and the Blue Chip bunch -- heroic assumptions plus informed guesswork.

Celebrating? At my age (fifty twelve) that means I might be allowed a third glass of wine. Under normal circumstances that might be a Souverain or Sebastiani chardonnay (cheap but good), but that sounds too girlie-manish for the moment. So does Pinot Noir. Maybe Kendall-Jackson Syrah? This is a much tougher decision than the vote.

I am bipartisan in the sense that I don't trust pols of any stripe. The Democrats simply failed to offer a serious presidential or vice presidential candidate this time, in my insufficiently humble view.

Hurrah! Hurrah! And Darn It!

HURRAH, HURRAH: Bush appears to be the man, despite the efforts of the porcine prince of propaganda to defeat him. I don’t make that characterization lightly because I’m a man of some heft, myself. However, I have pledged to use my mass only for good. I don’t know about Alan’s tastes, but Sam and I are going to virtually go on a bender. Break out a few quarts of Old GrandDad and wind up the VCR for the full run of Banacek. If my mood holds up, we can hit the brief, but brilliant Keen Eddie, as well.

DARN IT: Yesterday, I told my colleagues the vote would be 51% for Bush, 48% for Kerry, and 1% for Nader. Wish I’d preserved that here at the timestamped blog. My record isn’t that good, though. I said Bush would win the popular vote in 2000 and that Lazio would beat Hillary!

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

Early Exit Polling News and What Me, Worry?

All my conservative colleagues are dejected at Drudge's report of Kerry leading in exit polls from various states. I think the fears are unfounded. In a race like this one, I don't think exit polling this early in the day is going to be worth much. We also have to face the fact that internet rumor-mongering is a particular problem. I think Bush will win in light of the fact that he has not really trailed at any point in the race. That's usually a pretty good indicator of success.

Dutch Filmmaker Assassinated

I hope that this news item speaks for itself, so I shall simply note it without comment:,,3-1340883,00.html

America the Liberal

The highly estimable Michael Novak has an excellent article in today's edition of National Review Online, available here, which was originally published in La Monde. Novak, who is a self-described conservative, notes that the United States is increasingly becoming liberal in the classical sense, the sense in which Europeans still tend to use the word:

"Year by year," he writes, "the American electorate becomes (in the European meaning of the term) more 'liberal' — that is, more committed to liberty, less willing to heed elite opinion, and a little more religious and 'traditional' in their moral ideals. Put another way, they become less like France. Less social democratic, less bewitched by the Left."

Novak mentions the "the optimism and energy of the 'conservative' movement for change," a phrase which astutely points out the confused nature of the terms liberal and conservative in the United States at this time. He makes a point with which we strenuously agree: that many people now called by one or the other of these terms actually would be better described by the other.

That is, many if not most people whom today's conservatives condemn as liberal are in fact either radicals (strongly dismissive of present institutions and realities) or real conservatives (people who want to preserve and perhaps extend the current welfare state, sexual revolution, national secularization, and the like; are elitist in nature; and approve of heritable social status and advantages, usually taking the form of race or sexual categorization). These latter individuals are quite conservative by termperament. Likewise, many if not most self-described contemporary American conservatives are actually liberal by both temperament and politics, hungry for reform of the very things the Left wants to preserve. (The most notable exception are the Buchanan American Conservative group, many of whom I would suggest are in fact radicals of the Right.)

Novak's article strongly shows what we believe to be the real value of the term liberal, which we see as a label not to be shunned but one to be embraced. (See my initial post for this site, from October 18 of this year, "Why the Reform Club . . . ," available here.) In the United States today, Liberal most aptly describes a rather large group of people on the Right, and very few indeed on the Left.

Novak's article is a very thoughtful and comprehensive analysis in the brief span of a couple thousand words, well worth reading.