Mensch tracht, un Gott lacht

Thursday, June 30, 2005

Alan Reynolds Attacks Capitol Drunks!

Economic blogger par excellence Alan Reynolds has another superb column up at

Here's a disturbing slice:

Ethanol already gets an indefensible tax break at the pump of 51 to 71 cents a gallon, but Congress now wants to compel everyone to add it to their tanks. But doing so would leave us with less fuel at higher prices. Why? Because there is much less energy in eight gallons of ethanol than in the seven gallons of gasoline it takes to produce it.

In his June 15 speech, President Bush said: "Ethanol comes from corn -- and we're pretty good about growing corn here in America; we've got a lot of good corn-growers. Therefore, it makes sense to promote ethanol as an alternative to foreign sources of oil. Ethanol can be mixed with gasoline to produce a clean, efficient fuel. In low concentrations, ethanol can be used in any vehicle. And with minor modifications, vehicles can run on a fuel blend that includes about 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gasoline. Ethanol helps our farmers find new markets ..."

Efficient fuel? Check the official mileage estimates at A Dodge Stratus gets 20 miles to the gallon in city driving on gasoline, but that drops to 15 mpg on E85 (the 85 percent ethanol fuel) -- and highway mileage drops from 28 mpg to 20 mpg.

Dude, Alan, you're freaking me out man! I don't need no steenking ethanol in my tank!!!!

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Royally Flush

Congratulations to Miss Jennifer Tilly for winning the women's World Series of Poker against six hundred top players.

Miss Tilly is an excellent actress who in recent years has not been getting major roles so, gamely enough, she keeps plugging along doing B movies. But when you have a few hours free, you might want to rent Music From Another Room, in which she plays a blind person as well as any sighted performer ever has.

She is probably the wealthiest actress in Hollywood, since she got about a twenty-percent interest in The Simpsons as part of her divorce settlement with Sam Simon, the show's creator. Sometimes I wonder whether there is some jealousy at work, keeping her away from stronger parts.

In any case, her dumb-brunette pose is only skin deep. She's a very bright, talented woman and she certainly proved that with the poker victory. Unfortunately, like too many of the high-achieving women of our generation, she has no children at age almost-47.

Fifth Amendment Ist Kaput

I strongly believe that the most siginificant and egregious Supreme Court decision in recent years was the Court's June 23 ruling that local governments may seize people's homes and businesses so that they may be destroyed and the land used by private developments that are expected to generate greater tax revenues. In the past, "eminent domain" decisions of this type had to be based on a serious public purpose, even though this limitation was often ignored. The June 23 decision, however, opens the floodgates fully. If your local government decides that it can obtain more tax money from somebody else who covets your land, that will suffice to allow the government to seize it, provided that it pays you the market price for it. Of course, if somebody wants your land and you don't want to sell it, you are out of luck. It's theirs.

The clauses of the Fifth Amendment designed to prevent governments from seizing private property for anything other than the most urgent purposes, have now been entirely cast aside. A local or state government can condemn your property and give it to another individual or group to use in some way the government prefers, typically in a manner expected to generate greater local tax revenues. This is utterly awful and is one of the most outrageous incursions on our liberties that has ever been attempted. It is a pity that very little media attention has been given to this matter, although perhaps not surprising in that U.S. media outlets are largely owned by corporations that hope and expect to benefit from this ability to use government to pave the way for the corporations' desired schemes for your land and mine.

I hope that the project to take Supreme Court Justice David Souter's home away from him will bring some much-needed attention to this issue. Read about it here, and please write your state and federal legislators to give your opinions about this matter.

Why We Need a Dead Constitution

Check out this fabulous little essay by Jonah Goldberg on the virtues of a dead Constitution.

Here's a nice bit:

We’ve all heard about how great living constitutions are. The most extreme, but essentially representative, version of this “philosophy” can be found from the likes of Mary Frances Berry or the Los Angeles Times’s Robert Scheer. They matter-of-factly claim that without a “living” constitution, slavery and other such evils would still be constitutional. This is what leading constitutional legal theorists call “stupid.” The constitutionality of slavery, women’s suffrage and the like were decided by these things called the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments. Also, contra feminists, women got the vote not through a living constitution but by the mere expansion of the dead one — via the 19th Amendment.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

George Will and the Big Ten (Commandments)

Back during the period when the death penalty was regularly in play with the Supremes, Thurgood Marshall and William Brennan published standard dissents in which they very briefly proclaimed the death penalty to be at odds with the constitution.

George Will has a similar idea for what he thinks should be majority opinions in religious display cases. It's a gem:

"Because the display on public grounds does not do what the establishment clause was written to prevent -- does not impose a state-sponsored creed or significantly advantage or disadvantage one sect or sects -- the display is constitutional."

When you're right, you're right.

Homnick and Reagan

Jay Homnick has delivered a superb piece on speechwriting for the American Spectator today. I once had a conversation with him in which I tried to get him to tell me some of the people for whom he had done some ghostwriting. He politely refused. I was disappointed, but I get it now.

Reagan is the hook in Homnick's piece and it hits particularly hard with me because I am one of those speechwriters who has too often been willing to acknowledge that I wrote remarks of public personalities. I take Mr. Homnick's piece as a well-deserved rebuke. The writer may write, but the speaker puts their reputation and position on the line.

My experience has been that the speeches are much more powerful if one can have a discussion with the speaker to get at his/her true heart. Make that investment and the speech will truly belong to the speaker. Homnick is right that we writers for public figures are merely ciphers trying to submerge ourselves in a persona. I suspect that was particularly easy with Mr. Reagan.

Shucking The Awe

The Ten Commandments are the subject of the day, with the omniscient Supreme Court deigning to distinguish between the Moral Ten and the Ethical Ten, the Universal Ten and the Parochial Ten, the Societal Ten and the Religious Ten. If you ask me, God still wins on points, 10-9.

I'll be honest with you. I'm not ready yet to ponder the legal question. I just can't imagine making a decision to have the Ten Commandments taken down from any place at any time. Where is the respect? Where is the awe?

Yes, my friends. AWE.

Monday, June 27, 2005

Ross Douthat Is My Ideological Soul-Mate

I've expressed some small misgivings about the idea of Albert Gonzales as the next Supreme Court appointee because of my fear that he would be wobbly on abortion (which means almost certainly voting pro-Roe). Ross Douthat of The American Scene (which I think is the best policy/culture blog period) has written a post that sums up my feelings entirely.

Here's a bit that really struck home:

It's no good saying that it's okay to replace a squish with another squish. On abortion, and all the "social issues" for that matter, the squishes run the Court. The vote to uphold Roe would be 6-3 right now, unless Anthony Kennedy is starting to get worried about the terms of the pact he signed with the devil - um, I mean, the Georgetown dinner party circuit - in Planned Parenthood v. Casey. And the whole bloody point of having a conservative President in office for eight years is to change the Court's unfavorable balance - not to ratify it! Does anyone think that if John Kerry had been elected President, and Rehnquist was about to retire, Kerry would be even considering a nominee who didn't pass the People for the American Way litmus test on abortion?

Kennedy forthrightly said that he thought Roe was wrongly decided and then voted to save it. Gonzales is custom made for those clothes.

My first scholarly publication argued that we've come too far in our knowledge of fetal life to continue the fetus-as-personal-property style of abortion jurisprudence that has ruled the day so far. I stand by that and believe that we will some day look upon Roe as yet another of the terrible sins of the most prosperous and successful nation on earth. Jefferson said of slavery that he trembled for his country when he considered that God is just. That sentiment is fully applicable in the current debate over people treated as chattel.

Let's save Gonzales for replacing Ruth Ginsburg.

Rule Of Law

The BTK killer of Wichita, Kansas, has pleaded guilty and confessed in open court, recounting his horrific crimes in that curiously detached manner common to the psychopathic serial killer.

This serves to remind us of the ever-present danger of the monsters in our midst. In my view, everyone who has a daughter should see to it that they read at least one of Ann Rule's books. Ann is a former Seattle police officer who is our greatest true-crime writer.

By coincidence - or by God's hand - she had worked alongside Ted Bundy on a Suicide Prevention hotline, and maintained a friendship with him throughout his first trial. It was a natural for her to write the definitive book about Bundy. That launched a great career and each new book she writes is a best-seller.

She and I maintained an e-mail correspondence for awhile, and I told her that I have no doubt that she has saved the lives of many young women by alerting them to the danger signals. This is a link to her rather comprehensive website.

Perhaps U.S. journalism has no class

Samantha Henig at Columbia Journalism Review Daily chided copycat journalism in The New York Times series on "Class In America" and curiously similar Wall Street Journal version. Then she added this cranky comment about my own piece in the latter paper:

"Reynolds' critique is worth reading," she writes, "simply for the fact that it's so cranky. . . But Reynolds' contention begs a point, perhaps because he did not include the Los Angeles Times in his jeremiad: If the issue is so agenda-driven, why is the Los Angeles paper the only one of the three that comes close to putting forward an actual agenda?"

My cranky answer appears on the CJR's blog, which may be a fun place to stir things up a bit.

Public Display of SC Confusion

The U.S. Supreme Court has become truly unmatched in its ability to displease everyone, and the recent dual decisions regarding religious displays in public places are a vivid example of this phenomenon.

AP reports that the U.S. Supreme Court has decided that displays of the Ten Commandments in and around public buildings are sometimes constitutional and sometimes not. The Court declared, in two separate decisions, that such displays are not inherently unconstitutional but can sometimes go over the line into endorsement of religion. The latter, the Court ruled, is not permitted.

Clearly the Court had a very difficult time establishing that the Constitution permitted some displays, such as its own courtroom frieze and various inscriptions on the nation's currency, while forbidding others.

Justice Antonin Scalia, in a barbed dissent against the Court's decision to disallow the hanging of framed copies of the Commandments in two Kentucky courthouses, saw an egregious inconsistency: "What distinguishes the rule of law from the dictatorship of a shifting Supreme Court majority is the absolutely indispensable requirement that judicial opinions be grounded in consistently applied principle."

The central question, the Court concluded, was whether a particular display constituted an endorsement of religion. Interestingly, Justices on both sides of the issue agreed that such displays are inherently religious, not just historical, thereby rejecting the arguments of many defenders of the displays. Chief Justice Rehnquist wrote, in the majority decision in the Texas case allowing a display outside a courthouse, "Of course, the Ten Commandments are religious — they were so viewed at their inception and so remain. The monument therefore has religious significance."

In his dissent in the Texas decision, Justice John Paul Stevens concurred with Rehnquist's assessment of the religious content of the display, noting that the monument proclaims 'I AM the LORD thy God,' in large letters. Stevens interprets the meaning of the display as follows: "The sole function of the monument on the grounds of Texas' State Capitol is to display the full text of one version of the Ten Commandments." However, Stevens parts company with the Rehnquist majority by concluding, "The message transmitted by Texas' chosen display is quite plain: This state endorses the divine code of the Judeo-Christian God."

I agree with Stevens in that assessment: the displays do suggest that the government of the State of Texas accepts the Ten Commandments as a divinely inspired truth. Really, that much should be fairly obvious. Such displays do also include historical and perhaps artistic aspects, but the religious on is surely paramount. In addition, I would suggest that these displays often express a more general public commitment to the God of the Bible.

Hence, I would agree that the Court is correct to hold that some such displays do constitute an endorsement of religion, and specifically of the Judeo-Christian religious tradition.

Where the majority of the Court is wrong, in the view of many constitutional scholars and a large minority on the Court itself (and this author), is in ruling that endorsement of religion in general, or even specifically of Christianity, is unconstitutional. The Establishment Clause of the First Amendment was clearly intended solely to prevent the establishment of an official national church as was the custom in most European nations. The idea behind it was to keep religion strong in the nation by allowing and indeed encouraging free play among religious groups. Consequently, the modern notion that the Establishment Clause requires government to be neutral between religion and irreligion goes against the letter, intent, and spirit of the clause. In fact, it turns the clause on its head and uses it to push religion out of the public square, the very opposite of its intended purpose.

Justice Rehnquist came close to expressing this doctrine in the Texas decision:"Simply having religious content or promoting a message consistent with a religious doctrine does not run afoul of the Establishment clause," Rehnquist wrote. I would go farther and state explicitly that even endorsing Christianity itself is entirely within the bounds of constitutionality, as the history of the nation at the time of the adoption of the Bill of Rights and afterward amply confirms.

The two religious-display decisions handed down today confirm that the current condition of Supreme Court thinking on the Establishment Clause is something of a mess. Justice Clarence Thomas alluded to this in a separate opinion on the Texas case:

"While the court correctly rejects the challenge to the Ten Commandments monument on the Texas Capitol grounds, a more fundamental rethinking of our Establishment Clause jurisprudence remains in order," Thomas wrote.

That is probably the one thing on which both sides can agree.

Saturday, June 25, 2005

Rolling Stone and Kewl Christian Virginity

A friend sent me a link to a Rolling Stone piece that is absolutely the best secular media piece I've seen on young, hip Christian types I've ever seen. The focus is all on the strange Christian appetite for virginity.

I recall telling a friend in grad school I was waiting for marriage. His reply: "I thought you people were like unicorns . . . you don't exist." This article captures the unicorns pretty well and reminds me a lot of what it was like rooming with a bunch of Christian guys struggling with the purity issue.

The Rolling Stone writer comments that these Christians talk about sex all the time and he's right. We were the same way. But that's sort of how the Christian life is. You talk about the major tempations and when you're young, sex is the one. Money and possessions are usually far lower down the scale at that point.

I strongly advise anyone who wants to better understand the freaky Evangelicals and Catholics to read this article. It'll be good for you, like reading National Geographic.

Friday, June 24, 2005

Pressing Ahead in Iraq

As public doubts about the wisdom of the War in Iraq increase, the Bush administration and the American public are left with two options: cut and run, or press ahead. As Clausewitz pointed out and Gen. George S. Patton confirmed, defending territory is a formula for disaster. The forces that win conflicts are those that are mobile and take the battle into the enemy's domain.

For this reason, I think that the War in Iraq is definitely winnable, because the international coalition forces led by the United States have heretofore refrained from taking the war to the enemy since the extremely successful original invasion.

That invasion was a great success precisely because it took the battle drectly into the domain of the enemy: Saddam Hussein's Iraq.

Since then, however, coalition troops have been stranded in that country, defending territory. Most of the American casualties in Iraq have occurred since the original hostilities ended with the expulsion of Saddam Hussein.

The same principle that made for a successful end to the Saddam Hussein regime should have been the premise behind the postwar (or civil war or what have you) period. Toward this end, it is important to bear in mind that the great majority of the damage to coalition troops is being done by foreign jihadists.

As Barbara Lerner notes in National Review Online, "Foreign jihadists are responsible for almost all suicide bombings, and suicide bombings cause a disproportionate share of American and Iraqi casualties. Worse, because foreign jihadists come from all the Arab states as well as Iran, there is an endless supply of them. If we confine ourselves to hunting them down, one by one, only after they infiltrate Iraq, we will be there forever."

That is a highly astute observation. Echoing Clausewitz's principles (though without directly citing him), Lerner correctly identifies the appropriate strategy for this point of the conflict:

"Far better to act forcefully to stop the infiltration, and do it in a way that sends a message to all terror-succoring states: The free ride is over. The price for continuing to aid and abet the war against us and against a free Iraq has gone up."

This is made simpler by the fact that most of the jihadists are coming from a single source:

"[A]lthough foreign jihadists come from all over the Middle East, most of them enter Iraq from only one country: Syria. Syria is a police state, a small, economic basket-case of a country that hosts a multitude of terrorist groups and terror training camps, and which is working to defeat democracy in Lebanon as well as Iraq."

Lerner goes on to note that another country—one far less powerful than the U.S.-led international coalition now in Iraq—successfully closed this spigot in the recent past:

"Syria could stop the foreign terrorist influx into Iraq if it wanted to, and we could make Syria want to. The Turks did it in 1998, when Syria hosted the PKK terror group and sent them across the border to murder Turkish soldiers and civilians. Then as now, Syria claimed it was doing no such thing, but instead of spluttering impotently, Turkey massed her army on the border and made it clear that if Syria didn't end PKK infiltration, Turkey would invade. Surprise, surprise, PKK infiltration from Syria suddenly stopped."

I would add that an effective campaign to do this would achieve the additional benefit of slowing and eventually stopping the flow of foreign jihadists into Iraq from countries other than Syria: first by intimidation (as worked so well in stopping Libya's Khaddafi refime from sponsoring terrorism and moving forward to obtain nuclear weapons), and second by allowing coaltion forces to concentrate their efforts on these other jihadists, a much smaller number.

Lerner points out that this matter of taking the war directly to the most dangerous bases of the enemy could be as successful, in military-strategic terms, as the original invasion of Saddam Hussein's Iraq:

"We can make Syria stop too, and do it without putting additional strain on our hard-working ground troops. . . . We can use our air power to bomb the rat lines that feed terrorists into Iraq, and blow up all the terror training camps and weapons sites in Syria and Lebanon, hitting enemy targets from the Bekaa Valley to the Iraqi border in a new shock-and-awe campaign. That would end the easy re-supply of suicide bombers in Iraq, and reduce our casualties significantly. It would, equally, send a clear message to terror-harborers everywhere: Stop."

Lerner observes that the Bush administration seems to be contemplating this very plan:

"Defense Secretary Rumsfeld has been asking President Bush for a go-ahead to strike back at Syria from the start of the Syrian campaign against us, but has yet to get one. The president's toughening rhetoric toward Syria in recent weeks suggests he may, now, be considering it; and the excellent new tone set by our new ambassador, Zalmay Khalilzad, reinforces that possibility."

From a military-strategic point of view, the approach Lerner outlines is a highly likely winner. The entry of suicide bombers into Iraq is not such a simple thing that it can be done without the support of neighboring states. Stopping the state sponsorship of the jihadists presently invading Iraq would effectively end that threat.

Setting aside questions about whether the United States should be in Iraq at all, I think that for the sake of the international coalition troops now stranded there, especially our U.S. forces, a return to the successful principle of attacking the real and most dangerous enemy is the only honorable course at this point.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Dukakis Campaign Manager Defends Fox News

For the less political history-minded, I'm talking about Susan Estrich. Read her comments about what it's like to work for Fox.

Tantalizing Speculation

William Kristol (a very well-informed fellow) has suggested in his Weekly Standard that O'Connor will resign the Court within a week and Albert Gonzales will be the nominee to succeed her.

Very interesting. I have a hard time seeing the Dems filibuster Gonzales as the midterm elections come up.

As far as the complexion of the Court goes, Gonzales is maybe a little more conservative than O'Connor and is considered wobbly on pro-life, which if the past is any indication, means pro-Roe. It should be a rule: Every wobbly pro-lifer goes pro-Roe.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Fighting in Iraq has yet to peak, McCaffrey says

In an article in today's issue of the Washington Times, retired U.S. Army general Barry McCaffrey is quoted as saying that the violence in Iraq has yet to peak. His remarks were made after his third trip to Iraq, from which he recently returned.

McCaffrey says that the War in Iraq will not peak until this coming January, and that international and Iraqi forces will have to kill approximately 20,000 highly dedicated insurgents among the Sunni minority, "adamant fighters," in his words, along with one or two thousand foreign fighters, before the trouble dies down. McCaffrey predicts that after next January, in "the following six months we will see much of the energy start to drain out of that process," meaning the insurgency.

McCaffrey described the U.S. forces as the best the nation has ever fielded, but is quoted as saying the U.S. is reaching the end of its capacity: "[I]in Iraq the fighting forces are superb. Morale is high and the troops are courageous."

The Times story also noted that "Political negotiations with the Sunni minority have failed to stop a wave of bloody suicide bombings," and quoted new U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad as saying, "Foreign terrorists and hard-line Ba'athists want Iraq to descend into civil war. Foreign terrorists are using the Iraqi people as cannon fodder," after his first meeting with Iraqi President Jalal Talabani.

President Reagan argued that a nation cannot negotiate with terrorists, and that only a willingness to go to war can advance freedom. Regardless of one's opinions of the merits of U.S. involvement in Iraq, the recent events do seem to bear out Reagan's principles.

Laffer Curve and Seven Nobel Prizes

In his June 20 post on “The Laffer Curve” below, Hunter asks me to weigh in on Steve Moore’s piece noting that recent tax receipts have been much larger than expected, in the wake of substantial reductions in marginal tax rates in 2003.

No op-ed can do justice to the distinction between a cyclical revenue rebound and longer-term incentives. Budgeteers at the CBO and OMB always underestimate cyclical revenue rebound in the early years of recovery (1985, 1995 or 2005), just as they overestimate future revenues at cyclical peaks (2000). Unfortunately, it is not self-evident whether decent economic growth over the past two years was mostly the result of lower tax rates or lowering the fed funds rate from 6.5 percent to 1 percent.

On the other hand, some serious statistical estimates showing that sensible reductions in marginal (not average) tax rates typically lose little or no revenue over time come from Greg Mankiw, a self-described neo-Keynesian.

When I borrowed the phrase “supply side fiscalism” from Herb Stein in March 1976, and gave it to Jude Wanniski at The Wall Street Journal, we had in mind a number of incentives that have since become associated with several Nobel laureates in economics -- including the unique “policy mix” solution to stagflation from Jude’s mentor Bob Mundell (who won the 1999 Nobel).

Ed Prescott (2004)now emphasizes the impact of labor taxes on work incentives. Bob Lucas (1995) emphasizes tax incentives to invest in physical capital. James Heckman (2000) and Gary Becker (1992) emphasize the way progressive tax rates weaken incentives to invest in formal education and on-the-job training. James Mirrlees (1996) and Joe Stiglitz (2001) emphasize the welfare and tax-revenue (Laffer Curve) gains from low marginal tax rates on highly-skilled individuals ("optimal tax theory").

One who has not yet received a Nobel Prize, Glenn Hubbard, emphasizes the effect of marginal tax rates on entrepreneurship. Another possible Nobel Laureate, Marty Feldstein, proved that income reported to the IRS by high-income taxpayers is extremely sensitive to changes in marginal tax rates -- which was always a key part of the Laffer Curve argument.

The original supply-siders combined all those effects, not just one or two. Much of what the actual and potential Nobel Laureates later discovered can even be found in Jack Kemp’s popularized 1979 book An American Renaissance, which I helped write. What Mr. Kemp's book said about the Laffer Curve and marginal tax rates has stood the test of time so well that bits and pieces of that message can now result in Nobel prizes being won without anyone remembering who started it all.

Jousting At Tourneys

For those folks who are concerned that I have advocated a new regime of fascism via oppressive prosecutions, I offer this reminder that I am also the author of the essay that I have herewith linked.

As for Jackson's prosecution, the evidence was certainly close enough to conviction that no one could possibly accuse the prosecutor's office of bad faith in the performance of its elected and appointed duty.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

News for the Whole Family

This was written by Melissa St. John who, among many other fabulous qualities, happens to be my daughter:

I have been known to hire a babysitter so that I can watch the evening news.

Don't get me wrong; it's not that I don't want my children to learn everything they can about current events, foreign policy, economic issues that affect our lives. I would like nothing more than to sit down on the sofa for an hour before dinner with my family, turn on CNN and see what's going on around the world. In this little fantasy of mine, my preschooler asks me what trade sanctions are and listens, rapt, to my reply. He learns about world markets and the history of Islam. We go grab the encyclopedia and are off on a journey merging past and present, solidifying his understanding of what we're learning from the TV news.

The reality, however, is that the educational benefits of watching television news together are way offset by frightening and (I believe) unnecessarily graphic images of bloody, dead bodies on stretchers, film clips of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie smiling while shooting at each other with semi-automatic weapons, and commercials for TV reality shows featuring what appear to be bug-eating swimsuit models.

Everyone today is talking about "tweens" and the unprecedented amount of money this social group represents to product marketers. According to various websites I've visited, we're talking about more than twenty million kids between the ages of 8 and 14 who spend more than $40 billion a year. For these kids, like it or not, television is a major medium.

Well, let's get a firm grip on the obvious: It's time for a TV-G news channel.

I want to be clear that I am NOT talking about child reporters dishing on the Backstreet Boys' latest tour. At least not exclusively. We need serious news, with in-depth reports including background and context so that current events are driven home for young learners. I think the channel should be real news and weather reporting, something that adults will want to watch but also feel comfortable leaving on while their kids are in the room. Please somebody, let me get my news fix in the evenings without worrying that my son will inadvertently see or hear something that will have him up with nightmares for the next three days. Let us watch together so that I can talk with my kids about what is going on in the world and encourage them to be politically engaged and generally curious about the world outside their classrooms.

With a target audience from 8-14 years of age, advertisers will surely jump to support such a channel.

And I'll happily contribute the $10 per hour that I currently have to pay a babysitter to keep my kids out of the room while I watch the evening news.

Good News for the Right

Check out this article from a couple of Brits who write for the economist. They think the GOP and conservative future in the U.S. is very bright.

Here's an excerpt:

It is true that, since those glory days, the Republican Party has lost some of its discipline. Once-loyal members of Congress have defied a threat of a presidential veto on both highway spending and stem-cell research. It is also true that the liberal wing of the party is enjoying an Indian Summer. Opinion polls suggest that John McCain and Rudy Giuliani are the two favorites for the Republican nomination in 2008.

But is this loss of steam really all that remarkable? All second-term presidents face restlessness in the ranks. And the noise is arguably a sign of strength. The Democrats would give a lot to have a big-tent party as capacious as the Republicans'. One of the reasons the GOP manages to contain Southern theocrats as well as Western libertarians is that it encourages arguments rather than suppressing them. Go to a meeting of young conservatives in Washington and the atmosphere crackles with ideas, much as it did in London in the heyday of the Thatcher revolution. The Democrats barely know what a debate is.

Punishment for Michael Jackson

Jay Homnick has an interesting angle on the Michael Jackson case, in today's edition of The American Spectator Online. Jay observes that the very act of bringing a person to trial can be an instrument of punishment for a criminal who happens to be highly difficult to convict:

"Naturally we ask ourselves: Was [the Jackson trial] a waste? Did the Prosecutor, Mr. Sneddon, just dump a big load of taxpayer money down the drain?

"The answer strikes me as simple. It was well worth the expense. The situation is somewhat akin to the position of the police officer who knows that a certain fellow is definitely a criminal, although evidence is hard to come by. He can be excused for rousting and harassing and following this man, making it difficult for him to ply his illicit craft. As long as this power is not abused by stalking innocent citizens, we are comfortable with the use of intimidation as an instrument of policing.

"In much the same way, a prosecutor can arrive at a point where the guilt of a particular party is obvious. Sometimes he sits in his office and sees a traumatized rape victim fall to pieces at the merest mention of her attacker. He knows that he cannot subject this person to the ordeal of testifying. Whatever self-possession she clings to will be shattered by facing a sneering defense lawyer and seeing the man who hurt her simpering in his Sunday suit just a few feet away.

"That prosecutor is not without recourse. He has some weaker witnesses, some carpet fibers, some partial fingerprints, some fuzzy video. This is enough to take this rapist off the street for two years awaiting trial, put him through his paces and, if the man has a few dollars, make sure they end up papering the deck of some lawyer's yacht."

Thus, Homnick concludes, Michael Jackson's punishment for the transgressions Homnick believes the pop music star committed was accomplished by the trial itself, with the public humiliation and associated financial expense for the defendant. It appears to me that Jay is correct if we believe that Michael Jackson is indeed guilty of the crime for which he was indicted and tried, or similar ones of which it would have been impossible to convict him in a fair trial. In addition, to prosecute Michael Jackson in this instance was certainly within the letter and spirit of the law, or the judge would never have let it come to trial. Viewed from that angle, at least some little measure of justice for Jackson's purported victims was indeed achieved, as Jay says.

It is definitely an interesting argument, and one that has a certain elegance to it in a society where, for the wealthy at least, constitutional protections against reckless prosecution are highly effective. For most Americans, however, the notion that government prosecutors could destroy an individual citizen socially, financially, and psychologically without convicting that person of a crime is a chilling thought indeed. And it is most unfortunately true.

World Magazine on Baylor

The leading Christian weekly has done a quick story on Baylor that will hopefully lead to more in depth writing later. Here's the link.

And here's a taste:

So now Baylor is in turmoil again. Evangelical graduate students who came to Baylor because of its growing reputation as a Christian university tell of being harassed by liberal professors now exulting in their victory. Evangelical faculty members supportive of Dr. Jeffrey are up in arms. The Board of Regents is now torn with new controversy, with some members angry at the apparent coup by the opponents of Baylor 2012.

"Why oust people and try to implant some committed to the 'old days,' when a new regime is about to begin?" asks Baylor professor Rodney Stark. "And why all the subtle attacks on faith?" Mr. Stark, a renowned sociologist of religion who came to the university because of Baylor 2012, believes that the vision is still alive, thanks to the nucleus of Christian scholars already assembled.

But, he warns, "It won't do to just continue to refer to Baylor as a Christian school. If, as Underwood seems to want, Baylor ceases to ask candidates for faculty appointments to make a confession of Christian faith, in very short order Baylor will be a formerly Christian school, just like hundreds of others—a place where students will soon encounter faculty who make fun of faith, or worse." But, he said, any new president who is willing to continue to require a confession of faith from new faculty members "will preside over the Baylor envisioned in 2012."

In July, the Board will choose that new president. The choice will determine whether Baylor will continue its quest to become, in Mr. Stark's words, "the only great Christian research university in the world." —•

Monday, June 20, 2005

Jaime Cardinal Sin, RIP

We once before pondered here the irony that Cardinal Law turned out to be a bad guy, papering over the tracks of serial abusers of children in his Boston archdiocese; by contrast, Cardinal Sin was a very good guy, who was instrumental in freeing the Phillippines from the clutches of the Marcos thuggocracy.

Today, Cardinal Sin passed on at age 76. Requiescat in pace.

Un-UN-confirmed Report

Dem damn Dems hammered a bolt in the coffin of the Bolton nomination.

Now it's a test of Republican gumption: will they start boltin' and runnin'?

The Full Scoop on the Hillary Book

NRO's Kathryn Jean Lopez interviewed author Edward Klein on his book about Hillary Rodham Clinton. The interview is surprisingly tough, particularly where Lopez cross-examines the author about the Drudge-hyped claim that Bill raped Hillary.

What makes this book really interesting and not another throwaway anti-Bill and Hill volume is that Klein is a journalist with all the right credentials (Newsweek, New York Times Magazine, etc.). Might be a must read.

More Shameless Self-Promotion

Comments welcome from all friends and foes:

The Laffer Curve

Stephen Moore has a nice column at Opinion Journal today on how Arthur Laffer has again been proven correct as we analyze the after-effects of the Bush tax cuts.

Ben and Alan, you're free market libertarian types with heavy-duty economic training. Was Laffer right? I think so. I once did a constant dollar analysis of the federal revenues post the first big Reagan cut and saw a real increase year by year. Rates were cut and revenues went up. No lefty can believe it.

One more thing. Let's assume the revenues would be the same for a 15% rate and a 70% rate (I believe you'd collect a lot more with 15%, but let's accept it.). Wouldn't it be de facto better to charge 15%? Why are the lefties so hell-bent on high rates?

Will Bank On Attention

The latest media star is Jennifer Wilbanks, the runaway bride. Interviews, books, you name it.

What happened to the time when you had to do something heroic or excellent to garner national esteem?

We have gone from Cool Hand Luke to Cold Feet Jennifer.

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Between Republican Kudlow and Democrat Cramer . . .

Cramer has the more interesting show. If you haven't seen Mad Money with Jim Cramer at least once, you have to tune in. He stomps around the studio sweating and screaming while he takes calls from investors wanting instant feedback on stocks. Cramer flashes 'em the bull or the bear and moves on at high speed. BOOYA!

Would I take investment advice from this man? Not sure!!!

Friday, June 17, 2005

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Batman Begins Again

I saw Batman Begins today, and what it said most powerfully to me was how bad the earlier films in the series were—and how crippled by stylistic cliches today's Hollywood action films are.

The best way to experience Batman is still to read the original DC comic books from years ago and watch the TV cartoon series. This one ain't bad, but they're the real thing.

I remember that the various filmmakers involved in Batman, Batman Returns, Batman Whatever, and Batman Yadaa Yadda Yadda were uninamous in pointing out how much more serious their films were than the 1960s TV series, as if seriousness precisely equalled intelligence, and as if being more serious than the Batman TV series were some sort of accomplishment. I could do that while telling knock-knock jokes in a tutu.

As hard as they may have tried to capture the essence of Bob Kane's comic book series (well, that's what they said they were trying to do), the Batman films were frequently silly and usually not very interesting. The first one, Batman, was endurable, although I think Jack Nicholson was incredibly boring as the Joker. OK, he's angry, we get it. Now can you try to do something interesting? At least the TV show was fun, and the actors playing the villains were first-rate and managed to find the right tone for their performances. Excellent performers such as Cesar Romero, Burgess Meredith, Frank Gorshin, Julie Newmar, Anne Baxter, Reginald Denny, and the like all seemed to be having as much fun as the viewer (and not more!). The movie series, by contrast, was like some kind of career graveyard. Remember Tommy Lee Jones as Two-Face? Alicia Silverman as Batgirl? Is it any wonder their careers went into the dumper after those stinkers? Heck, even Michelle Pfeiffer has pretty much disappeared, and I thought she did an excellent job as Catwoman.

Batman Begins is much better than that. Christian Bale is actually a decent Batman, although the affected, Dirty Harry-style growl he uses when in costume is, well, rather embarrassing for him after a while. But he's good, overall. The supporting cast is largely excellent, with Gary Oldman giving a standout performance as Sgt. Gordon (who will eventually become Commissioner Gordon, we presume.) Katie Holmes misfires in a poorly conceived role as an assistant district attorney, but Cillian Murphy is terrific as Dr. Crane/the Scarecrow, Rutger Hauer is splendid as Bruce Wayne's manipulative business partner, and Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine, Tom Wilkinson, and Liam Neeson lend their formidable presences in other important supporting roles. The acting is one of the real pleasures of this film, and Bale holds his own within this powerhouse cast.

In addition, Batman Begins actually has some consistent themes that are worked out in a surprisingly comprehensible way—such as the ways the theme of fear and human reactions to it comes up in different situations throughout the film. Well done, that. And it really does present the issues of vigilantism, justice, personal responsibility, and the role of government in a rather thoughtful manner.

That, however, is also one of the problems with the film. It is awfully slow, with more expository dialogue than a documentary on how to caulk bathtubs. Do really really need to see another version of how Batman obtains all his Bat-weapons and Bat-whatnot? (Hint, the answer starts with an n and ends with an o. Multiple explanation points are optional.) Do we really need to waste a lot of time watching Bale and Freeman reprise the Q-James Bond relationship? (That has become extremely wearisome in the Bond films, for goodness sake.) It's like showing us long, boring scenes from the early years of Hercule Poirot. OK, he can solve crimes, we get it. Gee, just let us see the dang Bat-things in action and we'll figure out that he must have got them somewhere. Who but an obsessive geek weirdo gives a darn where he got them from, anyway? Save that for the novelization.

And what's up with those early sequences in Asia, stolen from the film version of The Shadow and done a heck of a lot better there? It's all way much more than we need to know. We already understand the situation, people! He's a vigilante but he's conflicted about it. We can puzzle that out without watching him fight multiple Asian prison guards simultaneously or climb an unnamed mountain to get to some ancient hideaway for global vigilantes. We don't need to know about that, so just skip it. Now can we just get on with the Batarang-throwing?

OK, I understand it's Batman Begins and you feel obligated to show his beginnings, which is acceptable as a premise even though we've seen his beginnings some 55 times before, but that doesn't mean it has to Batman Begins with a Whole Bunch of Boring Dialogue and Puzzling Fight Scenes Shot in Close-Ups So That You Can't Tell Who the Heck Is Doing What or Why. That's another pet peeve for me: the fancy-schmancy tendency of Hollywood directors to cut the fight scenes up into close-up shots lasting approximately three tenths of a second apiece, quite obviously to disguise the fact that the actors couldn't fight their way out of a preschool birthday party. Man, make them learn the moves and then step back and let us see them fight it out a little.

Hong Kong directors use brief shots, too, but at least they know how to make the fight comprehensible by pulling the camera away from the protagonist's elbow or bad guy's ribs once in a while. In Hollywood films, the only way you know who's winning a fight is by how far we are into the movie: the good guy typically loses early and wins late. And in the climactic fight, he has to look like he's losing until the bad guy does something really dirty and then the good guy gets all morally outraged and wins really quickly.

Maybe if you'd let us actually see the fight, we wouldn't have time to think about how hokey the whole situation is. Just an idea, which I give you for free.

And by the way, a note to Hollywood's fine stable of directors and cinematographers: dark, muddy cinematography does not equal depth of insight. It equals dark, muddy cinematography, and that is absolutely all. You can see everything perfectly clearly in a David Lean film or an Anthony Mann epic or a John Ford drama, yet there is never any sense that the director is stupid and just doesn't know how to make us have to squint to figure out which character is the protagonist, which is the antagonist, which the leading lady, and which is actually a lamp emanating a dull, brackish nimbus. Actually allowing the viewer to see what's happening could even be thought to be an advantage, or at least common courtesy.

So, could you people buy some lights? I know, I know, that will mean that your actors will actually have to act, as the audience will be able to see their stupid, bovine facial expressions all too easily, but what you'll lose in employability of bad actors you might well gain in the ability to express the occasional insight into the human condition. At least, that's what Lean, Mann, Ford, and the like managed to do. Tom Cruise and John Travolta have enough money and can afford to be tossed aside for people who can actually act a little. Besides, they can always do some reality TV.

Nevertheless, even though Batman Begins was photographed through a jar of Smucker's Plum Preserves, includes the most boring love interest character of all the films in the series, steals ideas and scenes from countless other movies, and is more unreal than the average Wagner opera, it's a fairly thoughtful film with some real conflicts, tough moral choices for the characters, important themes and ideas, and good performances. Those things make it worth seeing. But it certainly would have been much better if it had avoided the silly stylistic cliches that blemish most of today's Hollywood action films.

That Famous/Infamous Human Events Book List

Human Events came up with a ten most harmful books list and then held a bonfire.

Okay, no bonfire, although you might think they had from some of the comments about the list.

What has raised the ire of many critics is the decision of the Human Events contributors to include books like Kinsey's work on sexuality and Betty Friedan's feministic manifesto on the list with more obvious choices like Mein Kampf, Quotations from Chairman Mao, and The Communist Manifesto.

I'm not sure the Human Events crowd was as devastatingly wrong as many believe. What the list really demonstrates is that after you name the worst books, there's a steep drop-off to the next group. Thus, the raised eyebrows at names like Kinsey and Friedan, who didn't contribute to superstates annihilating millions of people.

What interests me is Ralph Reiland at American Spectator being critical of Human Events for including work by Nietzsche and Comte.

According to Reiland, Nietzsche simply told us "the world isn't run by moral rules." I think we could take issue with that. He was somewhat enthusiastic about "the blonde beast" enforcing his will to power on the world and provided important grist for the later National Socialist project in Germany.

Reiland acts similarly puzzled about Comte, who "said man could figure things out better through science than theology." That's not exactly all Comte had to say. He was so enthusiastic about science he envisioned a religion based on science with temples, priests, etc. He also was a leading proponent of the secularization thesis which saw traditional religion crumbling before increasing enlightenment, which was pretty much a shibboleth of those scary superstates we mentioned before.

If Human Events was too harsh in its assessment of some of these books, Ralph Reiland is a bit too charitable.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Mea Culpa? For What?

In the wake of the autopsy findings for Terry Schiavo and a related post from Sam Karnick, my esteemed friend Tlaloc argues that "One can only hope that the people who spewed venom at Michael Schiavo and Judge Greer will say a few mea culpas and not rush to judgement next time."

Really? Mea culpas for precisely what? Ms. Schiavo was not dying; she was severely disabled, and nothing in the autopsy report changes that. Her wishes were, at best, ambiguous, and---I am happy to say it again---Judge Greer was a moron for ascribing finality to Mr. Schiavo's assertions about her wishes given his obvious conflicts of interest and inconsistent position over time. If Tlaloc believes that Mr. Schiavo knew the future findings of the autopsy, let him say that explicitly.

Serious policy issues attend upon this case and similar ones, and the Schiavo autopsy resolves none of them. Do we really want to be in the business of starving/dehydrating the severely (and let us assume, irretrievably) disabled? Precisely how disabled must one be to be judged unworthy of food and water through a feeding tube? Who should pay for such care? The Schiavo case actually was relatively easy along this continuum of agonizing choices: Ms. Schiavo's wishes were highly ambiguous, her parents were willing to bear those costs, her husband was obviously compromised in terms of the credibility of his opinions with respect to what was best for his wife, and the federal courts--- usually the last refuge of those contemptuous of life---simply ignored Congress' clear direction that a de novo review be conducted of Ms. Schiavo's federal rights. And so: There will be no mea culpas issued from this corner.

Schiavo Autopsy Conclusions Released

AP reports that the autopsy overseen by Pinellas-Pasco Medical Examiner Jon Thogmartin found that Terri Schiavo, the Florida woman around whom controvery swirled as her husband worked to obtain permission to have her feeding and hydration tubes removed over the objections of her parents, had suffered from massive brain damage and was blind, and that her brain was less than half the size of a normal human brain at the time of her death.

The story did not say whether Thogmartin had specified when the shrinkage had occurred, although his quoted statements seem to imply that he believed it happened when she suffered her collapse fifteen years ago.

According to AP, the findings confirm the contention of her husband, Michael Schiavo, that Terri Schiavo was in a persistent vegetative state. The autopsy did not uncover any evidence that she had been strangled or otherwise physically abused. The cause of her collapse remains a mystery at this point. Ms. Schiavo's parents, who insisted that their daughter had not been in a persistent vegatative state and could recover if proper therapy were provided, "plan to discuss the autopsy with other medical experts and may take some unspecified legal action" according to a statement attributed to their lawyer.

As medical advances continue and end-of-life issues become increasingly complex, such disagreements will undoubtedly become more common, and clarity in the laws and in individuals' directives will hence become increasingly important.

Lemming Aid

We Reform Club types got a sneak preview, but now the greater financial world is abuzz with Karnick's wisdom about Africa.

Just when you thought that Africa's biggest suffering was caused by AIDS, Karnick makes you wonder whether AID may be almost as big of a problem.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Zycher of Striped-Pants Land

Just back from a week in Geneva schmoozing the international diplomats, who are there to negotiate an "Access and Benefit-Sharing" system for the Convention on Biodiversity. More about this policy issue later, but essentially it is an effort to (choose one): a. Obtain competitive compensation for the use of such indigenous resources as plant and animal materials and the "traditional knowledge" of various third-world shamans; or b. Use international treaties and lawsuits to steal patents. Later on, I'll report, you'll decide.

Anyway, it was a fun crowd at the after-hours cocktail gathering, a great, vibrant, colorful, multicultural conga line following the one waiter carrying an hors d'oeuvres tray. (Can't our tax dollars buy more than that?) There was the very attractive young lady wearing a skirt made of about as much cloth as a handkerchief; I know not---and my wife insists that I not find out---precisely how she was able to sit down at the sessions. There was another attractive lady wearing on her dress a huge carnation; only my finely-honed sense of diplomacy induced me to refrain from reaching over to see if it squirted water. And there was the King of the proceedings, a man known to all as Nanook of the North (not his real name), who wore a full, traditional Lapland outfit, complete with leather belt, hat, and moccasins to which was stuck some seemingly genuine dried bear droppings. Afterward, we tried to get a taxi back to our hotel, but not one was to seen anywhere in the vicinity; apparently all the diplomats have government-issued cars, many with drivers. The life of the deeply caring is not too shabby. And so we walked back, an outcome that proved quite fortuitous, and not merely for the exercise and the stroll along Lake Geneva. On the way we passed a store called the "Tax-Free Shop for Diplomats." And that just about sums it all up, doesn't it?

Hilarious Matt Labash on Democrat Country Boy Consultants

The Weekly Standard's intrepid reporter spent a lot of time with a fella named Mudcat who brings NASCAR GOP types over to the dark side for a living. Labash is confrontational. After Mudcat claimed he could tell whether deer droppings were from males or females by tasting them, Labash challenged him on the first pile they found. Mudcat declined, saying the droppings were not fresh enough. They came upon another batch. Here's the description:

As we come off the mountain, we see a fresh, gleaming pile of deer droppings. "You gonna eat some?" he asks, since I had earlier promised to. "No chance," I tell him, "I thought you were kidding." He picks a few pellets up, and pops them in his mouth. After chewing them thoughtfully, he renders a verdict. "Buck," he declares. "What does it taste like?" I ask, now in medical shock. "Like s--," he says.

Welcome National Review Readers!

As you now know, The Reform Club is the home of The Greatest Living Film Critic in the English Language (TM), S.T. Karnick. Previous reviews included Luther and The Passion. After writing those superior essays, Karnick retreated into silence on the big screen for a period of months. He has finally chosen to make his return to the form. One can only assume it was for one of the great films of all time. It was, in fact,


Having read the review, however, we all know now that the film contains deeper water than most would suspect.

Welcome back to the film reviewing business, Mr. Karnick. Mr. Roeper is not long for his chair alongside Mr. Ebert.

Reading Abraham Kuyper . . .

As I've mentioned previously, I'm now in the third year of a multi-disciplinary Ph.D. on church and state. We select our own reading list under supervision from four different professors and prepare for comprehensive exams prior to beginning the dissertation.

I'm currently reading Lectures on Calvinism, a reprint of Abraham Kuyper's Stone Lectures at Princeton. Having put away half of the book, I'm wondering how I could have possibly come this far in the study of religion and government and not read this man previously. He's always been out there, a ghostly image of a Christian statesman, newspaperman, pastor, and professor who was once prime minister of the Netherlands, but I had never engaged his writing. It is profound and enlightening.

One of the most interesting ideas I've come across from him is that of "sphere sovereignty," where the state is only supreme in its particular sphere. It is the rod that holds up a weak plant. It is in service to God as a restraining hand upon the evil sin may do. It may not disrupt the sovereignty of other spheres like the arts, the family, the university, the church, business, and the sciences. The key insight is that the state is not omni-competent and it is not the first institution of a society. Others are more organic and occur prior to it. This more limited idea of a state, Kuyper argues, is what lies behind the American constitutional impulse. He certainly seems correct in saying so.

Maybe more later, but in the meantime I urge any interested readers to get hold of Kuyper's Stone lectures in whatever form and pay particular attention to the section on Calvinism and Politics.

Monday, June 13, 2005

Mr. and Mrs. Smith . . .

won't get an Oscar of any kind, other than for competition between male and female leads for which one is more beautiful. I reluctantly concluded that Mr. Pitt is better looking than Ms. Jolie. Her top lip, while full and luscious, may actually be somewhat malformed. Plus, her head seems big for her body. This critique, of course, comes from a man with face, voice, and body all perfect for internet blogging.

Their film isn't worth breaking up a marriage over, but I completely understand how Pitt and Jolie ended up having a tryst. It's like War of the Roses if the Roses were highly trained spies. They generally try to kill each other and end up with spicy opportunities to make up.

The plot is not believeable. The action is fun to watch, but equally unbelievable. Ten years from now, no one will remember the movie. However, it is a diverting way to spend a couple of hours. If you've got a choice, see the Russell Crowe film.

The Cinderella Fella Flick

I saw Cinderella Man last night. Having seen it, I am at a loss to understand why this film is performing relatively poorly at the box office. The only explanation I can even suggest is that much of the film is bathed in the kind of visual gloom that frustrates many filmgoers, including me.

On the other hand, the plot is fantastic. The performances are superb. Paul Giamatti plays James Braddock's (Russell Crowe's) trainer/promoter and should easily be nominated for an Oscar. Crowe himself delivers his lines perfectly. When he is shown film of the champion killing another man in the ring, he simply answers, "What are you trying to tell me? Something like, boxing's dangerous?" The fight scenes succeed in being both more realistic than usual and still gripping.

If I were to try to sum up my feelings about the film, I think I'd say what came to me during one of the fight scenes in the movie: Nobody should ever be interested in watching those cheesy Rocky films again. That comes from a guy who REALLY enjoyed the Rocky films.

The Depression is the backdrop for Cinderella Man and it drives the plot completely. Braddock's desperate circumstances have everything to do with his unlikely comeback as a fighter. He is a boxer who has bottomed out and finds the heart to return to the sport with flair because he has nothing to lose and no one has any expectations for him. When you see the film, you'll understand the opening quote by famed sportswriter Damon Runyon, who explains that no fighter has had as compelling a life narrative as James Braddock.

Sunday, June 12, 2005


Our friend Steve Sailer alerted me to this paper by Dr. Gregory Cochran purporting to explain the IQ adavantage of 12-15 points held by Jews of European origin. He tries to explain that it arose from their being forced by law into careers that require a greater application of the intellect.

This is yet another manifestation of the longstanding disrespect for the Jewish intellectual heritage. Anyone who, like Hunter Baker, has taken courses in Jewish Law, knows the tremendous degree of intellectual vitality that is invested in its study and application. And that same law which, when studied at all in secular venues, is studied at the university level, was traditionally taught to Jewish kids from about the age of 10.

When you train a whole society to consider the realities of life through the prism of legal categories, you are in essence fomenting a culture of the mind. No one should be surprised - even if, like me, you have some criticisms of the priorities applied - that it produces stronger minds. (Cochran mentions this theory, but rejects it because professional Rabbis were less than one percent of the population. What he does not consider is that scholarship among Jews went well beyond careerism and many of the greatest scholars never assumed rabbinic positions.)

I intend to write a series of articles countering Cochran's paper, the first of which will run in Monday's American Spectator on-line. Reform Club visitors get to scoop the rest of the world and read it early by following this link.

Saturday, June 11, 2005

With Karnick on Africa

How much foreign aid has poured into Africa during the last three decades? How many people still lack even a nearby well from which to draw water?

I have a friend in Nigeria. We met in the states while he was a graduate student. For about $100 I can send a child he knows to a Christian school. For about $1000, his church in America was able to purchase a well for a Nigerian village. I've seen the pictures. If we can purchase great help for people in Nigeria for such nominal prices, why are many in Africa still living in such abhorrent conditions.

I think the only answer can be corruption and inept government. No program of foreign aid will succeed until we resolve that basic problem. Either that or we all get friends in Africa who we can help directly. Anybody got any better ideas?

P.J. O'Rourke could help us. Clearly defined property rights, limited government, and democracy. Do those things and Africa can shine.

Aid to Africa—the Next Wave

Reuters reports, "The world's wealthiest countries agreed on Saturday to write off more than $40 billion of African debts."

"The deal struck by finance ministers from the Group of Eight industrialized nations is part of a British-led campaign to rid sub-Saharan Africa of poverty and diseases such as malaria and AIDS that kill millions every year.

"British Finance Minister Gordon Brown said the deal would provide 100 percent write-offs immediately for 18 countries and that more countries would qualify for relief later."

Brtitain, chairing the G8 this year, is seeking to double aid to the world's poorest countries by issuing $100 billion of bonds backed by wealthy nations' development budgets. The United States and Japan oppose the plan.

Reuters reports that former rock music star Bob Geldof and others are "urging a million people to turn up in Gleneagles, Scotland, [at next month's G8 meeting] to demand a deal on aid for Africa."

The debt relief campaigners who are complaining that the deal is a drop in an ocean of need are correct, but there is great room for debate over whether debt relief and more aid directed to the governments of most African nations is the best course.

That debate will certainly arise, and it will undoubtedly be heated.

As we evaluate that argument in the coming weeks, it will be important to bear in mind one central fact:

Nobody in any position of responsibility wants Africa to be mired in poverty, disease, and despair.

Nobody—not the United States and Japan, not Great Britain, not the leaders of other wealthy nations, not the leaders of African nations—nobody wants Africa to be poor.

Everybody, on both sides of the argument over African aid, wants Africa to become healthy and prosperous.

The question is, how to do it. Government-to-government aid and NGO-to-government aid have proven ineffective. There can be no doubt of that. The request for debt forgivness shows that, for if the past half-century of aid directed to African governments had been effective, the present discussion would be moot. Fast growth is possible, but aid to the post-colonial African governments has been a failure. The legacy of colonialism is reall but cannot explain or excuse this failure, for other post-colonial nations have prospered greatly during the same period.

Moreover, it is axiomatic that debt forgiveness rewards profligacy. The relief that is sent seldom trickles down to the people and is instead used to prop up corrupt governments. These are facts, not moral judgments.

The people of Africa, like all people anywhere, deserve better.

The current and proposed rounds of debt forgiveness probably will not do much harm in encouraging corruption among African governments, and should probably move forward. FOr all too many African governments, it would be difficult to be less responsive to the needs of their people.

There are other ways to accomplish aid to Africa, however, and it is time that these move to the fore while we work out the debt relief question.

One excellent proposal is to make the World Bank a true bank, one that allows private organizations in developing nations to draw on accounts that will enable them to implement individualized projects covering a wide variety of constructive activities that give aid where it will do the most good, such as in construction of hospitals, water treatment, malaria prevention, agriciultural technology, building of roads (a critical problem in many African countries), literacy, immunization, AIDS prevention and treatment (including unbiased research into the causes of Africa's high incidence of the disease), and much, much more.

Other, similar, new financing approaches could fund a great flowering of help for Africa, directed where it will do the most good. People in the wealthy nations want to help, but their aid has not been effective.

Governments all over the world have perpetually proven that their first priority is that of retaining their own power. That is a given, and we cannot change it. We can, however, use it to force those governments to allow help from other nations to reach their people. The next wave of aid to Africa, therefore, must include requirements that governments receiving aid allow the kind of targeted, widespread aid outlined here to reach the people of Africa.

Only then will the wealthy nations truly be able to help the people of Africa.

Friday, June 10, 2005

The Forgotten McQueen Film

Wlady P. remembers. The editor of American Spectator is reminding McQueen fans of a film that never gets mentioned in the actor's retrospectives. That film is Love with a Proper Stranger. The reason? The film is powerfully and romantically pro-life.

Read about it here.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Priceless James Lileks

Mr. Lileks is known for producing books satirizing 60's and 70's food and interiors, but he has a second life as a webmaster constantly creating content.

One of his special gifts is writing screeds in which he severely punishes left-wing orthodoxy as it manifests itself in various "news" stories. Check it out here.

I particularly liked this bit:

The ongoing freak-out of Deaniacs over religion is becoming a source of great amusement, really; it’s as if they just discovered that those big old buildings with purty glasss windows and pointy spires on top are actually used by people for something other than voting and annual pancake breakfasts.

Friedman's Wisdom on School Choice

The great Milton Friedman assesses once again the role of government in education and the current state of efforts to provide ch0ice to parents as to where to send their children to schools with the dollars they and their neighbors pay in taxes to the government, in today's edition of The Wall Street Journal's Opionion Journal.

Identifying the central obstacle that school choice has encountered throughout the half-century since Friedman set the ball rolling, he writes, "we have been repeatedly frustrated by the gulf between the clear and present need, the burning desire of parents to have more control over the schooling of their children, on the one hand, and the adamant and effective opposition of trade union leaders and educational administrators to any change that would in any way reduce their control of the educational system."

Friedman correctly sees grounds for optimism, however:

"The good news is that, despite these setbacks, public interest in and support for vouchers and tax credits continues to grow. Legislative proposals to channel government funds directly to students rather than to schools are under consideration in something like 20 states. Sooner or later there will be a breakthrough; we shall get a universal voucher plan in one or more states. When we do, a competitive private educational market serving parents who are free to choose the school they believe best for each child will demonstrate how it can revolutionize schooling."

I think that Dr. Friedman is right (as usual!) in predicting that the movement may finally be reaching a point of real influence. A crucial element of this was the Supreme Court's 2002 decision ruling the Cleveland voucher plan constitutional. Prior to that ruling, it was very difficult for school choice to get traction. Since then, however, activity has increased rapidly.

I don't consider school choice a panacea by any means. There are numerous reasons why the American education system is declining. (Friedman aptly quotes Paul Copperman as published in the National Commission of Excellence in Education's 1983 final report, "A Nation at Risk": "Each generation of Americans has outstripped its parents in education, in literacy, and in economic attainment. For the first time in the history of our country, the educational skills of one generation will not surpass, will not equal, will not even approach, those of their parents.") Alas, that statement is more true today than it was in 1983. And it is a scandal.

Although school choice is not all that needs to be done to fix the American education system, I do see it as a necessary condition for any real reform of America's schools. The current system is too powerful and sclerotic to allow change. The diversity and parental choice that vouchers would bring are a critical element of real educational reform in the United States.

Read the article, and then go out and get a copy of Friedman's brilliant book Capitalism and Freedom and read it right away, if you somehow haven't done so yet.

Stupendous Hillary and Howard Thought Experiment

Peggy Noonan gives us a sense of just how badly the last Democrat zingers are probably playing in public right now with this word picture:

Close your eyes and imagine this.

President Bush is introduced at a great gathering in Topeka, Kan. It is the evening of June 9, 2005. Ruffles and flourishes, "Hail to the Chief," hearty applause from a packed ballroom. Mr. Bush walks to the podium and delivers the following address.

Thank you, ladies and gentlemen. I want to speak this evening about how I see the political landscape. Let me jump right in. The struggle between the Republican Party and the Democratic Party is a struggle between good and evil--and we're the good. I hate Democrats. Let's face it, they have never made an honest living in their lives. Who are they, really, but people who are intent on abusing power, destroying the United States Senate and undermining our Constitution? They have no shame.

But why would they? They have never been acquainted with the truth. You ever been to a Democratic fundraiser? They all look the same. They all behave the same. They have a dictatorship, and suffer from zeal so extreme they think they have a direct line to heaven. But what would you expect when you have a far left extremist base? We cannot afford more of their leadership. I call on you to help me defeat them!"

Noonan created this imaginary speech by using statements from Howard Dean and Hillary Clinton about the Republican party. It helps us understand why Howard will never be president and Hillary probably won't either.

NYT and Evangelicals

Very interesting piece on evangelicals in the NYT series on class. The angle is that evangelicals are infiltrating the ranks of America's elite. A little too much of the story focuses on particular people, but the part that deals with trends and larger movements is fascinating.

Here's a bit:

What has changed is the class status of evangelicals. In 1929, the theologian H. Richard Niebuhr described born-again Christianity as the "religion of the disinherited." But over the last 40 years, evangelicals have pulled steadily closer in income and education to mainline Protestants in the historically affluent establishment denominations. In the process they have overturned the old social pecking order in which "Episcopalian," for example, was a code word for upper class, and "fundamentalist" or "evangelical" shorthand for lower.

Evangelical Christians are now increasingly likely to be college graduates and in the top income brackets. Evangelical C.E.O.'s pray together on monthly conference calls, evangelical investment bankers study the Bible over lunch on Wall Street and deep-pocketed evangelical donors gather at golf courses for conferences restricted to those who give more than $200,000 annually to Christian causes.

Their growing wealth and education help explain the new influence of evangelicals in American culture and politics. Their buying power fuels the booming market for Christian books, music and films. Their rising income has paid for construction of vast mega-churches in suburbs across the country. Their charitable contributions finance dozens of mission agencies, religious broadcasters and international service groups.

On The Chronicle of Philanthropy's latest list of the 400 top charities, Campus Crusade for Christ, an evangelical student group, raised more from private donors than the Boy Scouts of America, the Public Broadcasting Service and Easter Seals.

Now a few affluent evangelicals are directing their attention and money at some of the tallest citadels of the secular elite: Ivy League universities. Three years ago a group of evangelical Ivy League alumni formed the Christian Union, an organization intended to "reclaim the Ivy League for Christ," according to its fund-raising materials, and to "shape the hearts and minds of many thousands who graduate from these schools and who become the elites in other American cultural institutions."

Peter Appalled

We have all heard of the Peter Principle that employees continue to be promoted until they reach their level of incompetence, at which point they stagnate and adversely affect the entire corporate or institutional infrastructure.

How about the post-modern version of it, where the supervisor who gets stuck with the incompetent that he cannot demote, decides to falsely promote him just to clean up that department? Is this my discovery?

Read all about it in my article today about the case of the Doctor who kept messing up and kept getting better jobs....

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

The Howard Dean Supergroup: What Happens When You Break Up the Band

The left thinks we're engaging in sport when we ask for more Howard Dean, but they're wrong. He really is an election losing machine and we really do hope he'll be around for the long term.

Patrick Ruffini is the GOP's top webmaster and he's got a dead-on opinion about the continued implosion that is Howard Dean. In Ruffini's opinion, the early Dean success had a lot to do with Joe Trippi's team and their web savvy. The problem was that they couldn't carry off the conventional political stuff and Dean was a time bomb waiting to go off.

According to Ruffini, what we've seen since then is Dean without his excellent producer and back up singers. Which leaves Howard with lots of fans who keep wondering why he can't come up with another hit after having three big singles on the first album.


Dean at the DNC is Dean without Trippi, Dean without the 15,000 person crowds (who can normally be counted upon to drown out the errant shriek), Dean minus the Movement. As it turned out, Dean was perfectly programmed to succeed in that in-between period (2003) where the activists are paying attention, but when the general public has yet to tune in. Once they did tune in, and the focus turned to personality over process, Dean flopped. The Dean chairmanship now is effectively the bookend to the Dean Scream. Now, virtually no one is tuned in – a development aided by keeping Dean in hiding for most of his chairmanship – which means that not even the activists feel vested in his leadership or committed to supporting him when he screws up.

Dean is also a victim of his own success. When he first arrived on the scene, leading Democrats were falling over each other to support the Iraq war, which made Dean's appeal unique. (His "What I want to know" DNC remarks in February '03 left me swearing he'd be the frontrunner before this was all over.) Today, every Democrat is anti-Iraq, and even Joe Biden is sounding like Dean. And when everyone is Howard Dean, the original doesn't seem all that necessary or appealing anymore.

Pretty much right, don't you think? (Hat tip to NRO's Jim Geraghty)

What Next for Frank Schaeffer?

I was a research assistant for Barry Hankins at Baylor University while he worked on his forthcoming biography of Francis Schaeffer. Schaeffer had an astonishing career in which he emerged from a standard fundamentalist pastor's existence to being discovered by Time Magazine while running a Christian retreat center in the mountains of Switzerland.

Schaeffer took in all kinds of hippies and teenagers and entertained ALL their questions. He was a master of synthesizing information and introducing Christians to the world of intellectual engagement. He ran from nothing. Listened to the disharmonic music of John Cage. Saw the films of Ingemar Bergman. Contemplated nihilistic art and philosophy. Schaeffer wasn't right about everything, but he shattered limitations many fundamentalists and evangelicals placed on the activity of the mind.

His son, formerly called Franky Schaeffer and now called Frank, had a very active role in his ministry and once was a well-known Christian author/filmmaker. After many years, he wrote novels about his childhood viewed as unflattering to his family and converted to Eastern Orthodoxy. Last year he showed up on Oprah and wrote articles for USA Today about being the father of a military man. One imagines they had no clue about his near-radical pro-life activities of younger days and his status as son of an evangelical celebrity.

David Mills of Touchstone now reports that the younger Schaeffer recently disparaged the new pope as a fundamentalist. Sometimes, it's hard for the son of a great man to find his own way in the world. Unfortunately for those of us who would have liked to see an alternate life for Frank Schaeffer, he's chosen one of the less attractive options. Perhaps he'll soon come out and clarify himself.

The Blogger Reading Circle

Samford prof. and Southern Appeal blogger Michael Debow recently sent me his post encouraging various bloggers (including me as the TRC representative) to answer the questions below.

1) How many books do I own?

Probably about 500-700 well-culled volumes. I've shed at least that many in moves over the years.

2) What’s the last book I bought?

The Crisis of Church and State, 1050-1300 by Brian Tierney. Haven't read it, yet, but it's a new classic.

3) What’s the last book I read?

Jonathan Edwards, A Life by George Marsden. Extraordinarily informative about life in 18th century New England. Very thick, but very edifying.

4) What are the 5 books that mean the most to me? (I'm assuming we mean other than the Bible --HB)

I could just list Walker Percy titles here, but I'll try to be more open.

1. Lancelot by Walker Percy. Magnificent book. I went out and bought everything else by Percy right away and read all of it. A southern liberal discovers the existence of evil and draws some radical conclusions.

2. Witness by Whittaker Chambers. I can not think of a book that sums up the Cold War better.

3. In God's Underground by Richard Wurmbrand. Want to know what it was like to be an unsilent Christian behind the Iron Curtain? This is it.

4. The Power and the Glory by Graham Greene. Yes, I know Graham Greene was a bad Catholic. It's still true art.

5. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley. This is the full flower of the materialist worldview.

Honorable Mention: Roland Bainton's Here I Stand, a life of Martin Luther. No anti-Catholic sentiment intended, by the way. Just a great story about an amazing individual.

Next Honorable Mention: Born Again by Charles Colson.

Dean Eying The Truth

Howard Dean's latest rhetorical excess is a statement to the effect that the Republicans are a 'White Christian Party'.

This, while his opposite number at the RNC is Jewish and on the same day that a black Christian woman was voted on as a Bush nominee to the Federal Appeals Court.

The Democrats used to claim to be colorblind; now we see that they weren't kidding.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Laura Bush's Transgressions

Here's a fine opportunity for our friends to denounce me as a shill for the Bush administration, but bear with me, if you would be so kind. A reputable friend of mine approvingly sent me the text of a June 7 speech by a talk show host named Chuck Baldwin, called "Could Teresa Heinz Kerry Get Away with This?"

Baldwin takes the Bushes to task for Mrs. Bush's speech before the White House Correspondents' Association dinner in Washington, D.C.

Baldwin accurately recounts what happened:

"In a scripted 'interruption' of the President's remarks, Laura began by comparing herself to the sleazy characters of the television sitcom, Desperate Housewives. She said, 'Ladies and gentlemen, I am a desperate housewife. I mean, if those women on that show think they are desperate, they ought to be with George.' Her remarks only went downhill from there.

"Mrs. Bush continued by saying, 'One night, after George went to bed, [Vice President Dick Cheney's wife] Lynne Cheney, [Secretary of State] Condi Rice, [Bush adviser] Karen Hughes and I went to Chippendales [a strip club where women tuck cash into male dancer's skimpy thongs]. I wouldn't even mention it except [Supreme Court Justices] Ruth Ginsberg and Sandra Day O'Connor saw us there. I won't tell you what happened, but Lynne's Secretary Service code name is now "Dollar Bill."'"

. . . "Mrs. Bush then referenced President Bush's lack of ranching skills by saying, 'He's learned a lot about ranching since that first year when he tried to milk the horse. What's worse, it was a male horse.'"

Baldwin is horrified by this, writing as follows:

"[A]s our President and First Lady, Mr. and Mrs. Bush have a duty to hold high the moral standard of our nation. That they are willing to publicly use vulgar and profane innuendos, even in jest, reveals a serious lack of character and discernment."

Here I think it important to note that Baldwin's accusation of the President having used "vulgar and profane innuendos" in public is entirely unfounded. Mrs. Bush is the only one of the two to whom the accusation may apply.

But let us proceed to Baldwin's main contention:

"The real point of this story, again, is not the misjudgments and misconduct of the Bush family, but the unwillingness of the Religious Right to hold this President to the same standards that they would hold Al Gore, John Kerry, or any other Democratic president to.

"This is simply another glaring lesson on the dangers of Christians putting partisan politics above commitment to bedrock principle. Unfortunately, it's been going on since President Bush was first elected in 2000 and there is no sign that it will stop anytime soon."

Baldwin notes that Mrs. Bush has said that she supports Roe v. Wade, and once stood up to applaud a play about a transvestite (which I have not seen and hence cannot judge its merits, if any). Those are things of which the Christian Right strongly disapproves.

I am not aware, however, that Mrs. Bush made any statements supporting Roe v. Wade at the correspondents' dinner or at any other time since her husband was elected president. And even if she did, I would not care about it from a policy point of view: her husband is the president, and she isn't.

Of course Mrs. Bush's attempt at humor was vulgar and stupid—because it was so horribly inept and unfunny. Her writers should be shot. But that is not Mr. Baldwin's complaint.

It is that good Christian people, especially right-wing preachers, have not jumped up to denounce President Bush: "Their willingness to overlook, and even condone, the improper conduct of President Bush, or in this case, First Lady Laura Bush is appalling."

That may well be true, but it is important to recognize that there are serious religious reasons for much of the Christian Right to refrain from making a big deal out of this.

The big reason is to avoid being hypocrites and vipers.

Yes, Mrs. Bush's monologue was putrid and inane, and the Bushes don't remind us of the Cromwells.

But what, exactly, would Mr. Baldwin suggest President Bush do about his wife? Divorce her? Muzzle her? Beat her? Forbid her to go to the theater? This seems a rather strange attitude, to me.

The point Mr. Baldwin is aiming to make is that the Christian Right should condemn President Bush as a bad man, or at least a bad Christian, because he does not prevent his wife from acting a little weird at times. If that is correct, then my wife is a very bad woman for not preventing me from being as foolish as I frequently am.

I think we can all agree that the Bushes are far from perfect, or even as moral as Chuck Baldwin claims to be. But I cannot get worked up about it, and I guess it is because I do not come from a pietistic religious tradition, as Mr. Baldwin evidently does, and am highly aware of my own imperfections. To me what counts is what you stand for, and if you are morally weak and unimaginably far from perfect, then we definitely have something in common.

Baldwin says that the preachers of the Right refuse to criticize President Bush because . . . well, he never does say precisely why the Christian Right supports President Bush so unquestioningly in this case and others. But it is a question he has to answer if his claim is to have any credibility at all. Exactly what is it that the Christian Right gets from President Bush that they would not have got from a President Kerry?

I would submit that what the Christian Right gets from President Bush is rhetoric, and that they are very grateful for it. Rhetoric is powerful and can change the world.

Many people stand for antinomianism and live like it, and they have a great effect on the course of society. The Bushes stand for morality and live it about as well as the rest of us do, on average. I certainly cannot claim superiority, and I suspect that some of the preachers Mr. Baldwin condemns feel the same way about themselves, that their own lives have not been devoid of transgressions, and they are acutely aware of their own weaknesses. As long as a person stands for morality, even though he or she falls short of Baldwin-like perfection, the Christian Right ought to be expected to stand behind them.

Hence, I shall respectfully refrain from casting stones in this particular case.

Dean End Seen

Michael Jackson's jury is still out, but it's time to call in a different jury and render a verdict.

Earlier this year, at the time of the DNC hiring Howard Dean as its head, I maintained that Dean would calm down and act responsibly in that position, as he did in his years as Governor of Vermont, and there would be a net gain to the Democratic Party. Dr. Benjamin Zycher predicted that Dean would continue his bomb-throwing hijinks and provide much entertainment for us at the expense of the Dems.

Well, the results are pretty clear. Dean is consistently acting like a pit bull and is a disaster for the Democrats.

Verdict is in: Dr. Zycher was right, I was wrong.