Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Shielding Reporters

Maybe its just my contrarian nature but I'm quite ambivalent about the prospects of increasing the protection of reporters against having to reveal confidential sources in criminal investigations or court proceedings. (See the St. Louis Post-Dispatch's editorial on the subject: FREEDOM OF THE PRESS: Getting the facts) A big problem I have is that the debate on the subject is far from fairly presented by the media. In fact I've never seen a debate on the subject at all, as the word "debate" would indicate that someone with an opposing viewpoint would be included. Recently on the Lou Dobb's program on CNN, Lou and a couple of other reporters had a round table discussion and they agreed that a new shield law for themselves and their collegues was vital. Gee, how helpful.

It isn't that in principle I'm even against the use of Shield laws, it's the fact that as a debate of public policy the issue is not fairly presented. What the press is asking for is, in effect, a special privilege or right not enjoyed by any other citizens. Before anything of the sort is granted a more up-front and multi-sided debate is needed. The following points are ones that I feel must be included for a proper discussion of any Shield Law:

1) The "Press" is not simply an actor working for the public good, as they always like to portray themselves, but also a vested interest looking after their own well-being.

2) The "Government" is not simply an alien force in society, but is also an expression of the public at large. Therefore it is possible that in opposing the government the press is also opposing "the people" and the public good.

3) The public good might very well demand that Shield laws should not give reporters the right to engage in criminal activity with impunity.

This third point is the toughest for reporters to accept. As the Post notes:

The last time the court addressed the issue, in 1972, it found that reporters do not have a First Amendment privilege to refuse to appear before a grand jury if they have direct information about a crime. But that opinion was murky.

You can call me cynical but I wonder if the word "murky" as used in that sentence doesn't really mean "something we the Press don't like."

Of Books & Bigotry Redux

David Brooks has an interesting piece today that dovetails nicely with my earlier thoughts on religion, exclusivity, intolerance and bigotry. Who Is John Stott?

Most important, he does not believe truth is plural. He does not believe in relativizing good and evil or that all faiths are independently valid, or that truth is something humans are working toward. Instead, Truth has been revealed. As he writes:

"It is not because we are ultra-conservative, or obscurantist, or reactionary or the other horrid things which we are sometimes said to be. It is rather because we love Jesus Christ, and because we are determined, God helping us, to bear witness to his unique glory and absolute sufficiency. In Christ and in the biblical witness to Christ God's revelation is complete; to add any words of our own to his finished work is derogatory to Christ."

Politicians, especially Democrats, are now trying harder to appeal to people of faith. But people of faith are not just another interest group, like gun owners. You have to begin by understanding the faith. And you can't understand this rising global movement if you don't meet its authentic representatives.

Not Falwell, but Stott.

Monday, November 29, 2004

When Worlds Collide

In this interesting piece William Stuntz believes that the academic and church-going worlds have something to teach one another. Faculty Clubs and Church Pews

Evangelicals would benefit greatly from the love of argument that pervades universities. The "scandal of the evangelical mind" -- the title of a wonderful book by evangelical author and professor Mark Noll -- isn't that evangelicals aren't smart or don't love ideas. They are, and they do. No, the real scandal is the lack of tough, hard questioning to test those ideas. Christians believe in a God-Man who called himself (among other things) "the Truth." Truth-seeking, testing beliefs with tough-minded questions and arguments, is a deeply Christian enterprise. Evangelical churches should be swimming in it. Too few are.

For their part, universities would be better, richer places if they had an infusion of the humility that one finds in those churches. Too often, the world of top universities is defined by its arrogance: the style of argument is more "it's plainly true that" than "I wonder whether." We like to test our ideas, but once they've passed the relevant academic hurdles (the bar is lower than we like to think), we talk and act as though those ideas are not just right but obviously right -- only a fool or a bigot could think otherwise.

When Sophistry Attacks

There is a certain lobby in this country that has to make of every military venture "A New Vietnam." It seems damn near congenital with some of these people. In the Washington Post piece The Costs of Staying the Course a Berkeley academic (gee, what a surprise) makes the case that despite the relatively low casualty rate in Iraq this conflict is just like Vietnam. Maybe worse.

On the other hand, improved body armor, field medical procedures and medevac capabilities are allowing wounded soldiers to survive injuries that would have killed them in earlier wars. In World War II there were 1.7 wounded for every fatality, and 2.6 in Vietnam; in Iraq the ratio of wounded to killed is 7.6. This means that if our wounded today had the same chances of survival as their fathers did in Vietnam, we would probably now have more than 3,500 deaths in the Iraq war.

Moreover, we fought those wars with much larger militaries than we currently field. The United States had 12 million active-duty personnel at the end of World War II and 3.5 million at the height of the Vietnam War, compared with just 1.4 million today. Adjusted for the size of the armed forces, the average daily number of killed and wounded was 4.8 times as many in World War II than in Iraq, but it was only 0.25 times greater in Vietnam -- or one-fourth more.

First things first, his numbers are wrong. For example, in Vietnam the US suffered 47,378 Killed In Action and 304,704 Wounded In Action. This comes to 6.44 wounded for every fatality, not 2.6. Even if you add in all the Missing In Action (2338) and non-combat deaths (10,824) the ratio only comes down to around 5.01 wounded per fatality. (source) And even this number is unfair because it doesn't account for non-combat related injuries which would push the ratio higher again, and makes his "estimate" of 3,500 combat deaths meaningless.

His discussion of comparative size differences between forces in Vietnam and Iraq is similarly wrong. The size of the US Military in the Vietnam era was 3.5 million and the top troop levels in Vietnam reached 543,482, so roughly 1 out of every 6.5 Vietnam era military personnel served in Vietnam at its peak. In Iraq roughly 1 out of every 8.2 military personnel are serving (170,000 out of 1.4 million). This number seems to be roughly equal to the average ratio for the Vietnam era. So any difference in casulty rates are not explained there. At peak deployment levels Vietnam had 3.2 times the amount of personnel in theater (540,000 to 170,000) as opposed to Iraq, but they suffered 7.5 times the rates of casulties (15 per day, as opposed to 2 per day in Iraq). The difference in percentage is not 25% as the article claims , but over 200%.

Some people are just gonna have to face it, whatever it is, Iraq is Iraq, not Vietnam.

Sunday, November 28, 2004

Of Books and Bigotry

Nicholas D. Kristof has a big problem with the Christian fundamentalist inspired fiction series "Left Behind." Best-sellers turn off 'left behind'

Kristof does a very nice job poking fun at the absurdity and hypocrisy of authors collecting million dollar paydays while preaching that the Rapture is nigh.

LaHaye and Jenkins might spend less time puzzling over obscure passages in the Book of Revelation and more time with the straightforward language of Matthew 6:19, "Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth."

Or Matthew 19:21, where Jesus advises a rich man: "Sell your possessions and give the money to the poor. . . . It will be hard for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven."

Good stuff and well deserved. But as I read Kristof's piece I began to wonder if he preserves a place for any devoutly religious person of any faith to stand that doesn't require them to be labelled a "bigot"? According to Kristof no religious person can believe in their faith's claim to exclusivity without being a bigot. As I've always understood the term, being a "bigot" required a person to be actively intolerant of others. I find it hard to see how a religion's claim to exclusivity must de facto require intolerance. Tolerance is a question for the political or social order, not for the internal workings of this or that faith. The mere writing of a piece of fiction that represents fundamentalist Christian claims to exclusivity in no political or social way affects me as a non-fundamentalist. Krisotf himself doesn't seem to argue that they are attempting to even promote some erosion of our political freedoms through their claims of exclusivity. So while I'll agree that Kristof proves his charge of "hypocrite," I'll disagree with that of "bigot."

Besides, I've always thought that being truly committed to "diversity" must mean that people are allowed to believe completely in whatever matters most to them without outside restrictions being placed upon them. Kristof, on the other hand, seems to advocate a position that religious faith is fine as long as you don't really believe it. I suppose there is "diversity" and then there is "diversity."

Friday, November 26, 2004

Talking the Talk vs. Walking the Walk

Here is an interesting take on the upcoming Condoleeza Rice and Alberto Gonzalez confirmations from Ruben Navarrette at the Dallas Morning News (reg. req.): Some white liberals want diversity only if they get credit

Bits of note:

As Democrats sink their teeth into the Gonzales and Rice nominations, note the condescension. Liberals can – in one breath – convey both the high opinion they have of themselves and the low opinion they have of everyone else.

I've had a taste. During a stint as a columnist at a newspaper in Arizona, I criticized a Democratic U.S. attorney for ducking a civil rights case involving Latinos. I got lots of angry phone calls and e-mails. One note that stands out: A reader asked where I'd be "without affirmative action secured for (me) by the Democratic Party."

A sad fact is that many Democrats would see nothing insidious about that reader's comment.

Then there's the liberal radio talk-show host in Wisconsin who claims Dr. Rice isn't qualified to be secretary of state. In fact, says John Sylvester of WTDY-AM in Madison, she's better suited to having her image plastered on a bottle of maple syrup. Mr. Sylvester, who is white, called her an "Aunt Jemima" and also referred to Colin Powell as an "Uncle Tom." Mr. Sylvester said later that he was only trying to make a point about how Dr. Rice, Mr. Powell and other blacks have only a subservient role in the Bush administration.

You mean, as opposed to the respect that they getting from people like Mr. Sylvester, who tried to fend off criticism by insisting that he has a long history of supporting civil rights? It shows.
Then there was the liberal syndicated cartoonist Jeff Danziger, who depicted Dr. Rice Mammy-style, barefoot in a rocking chair and holding a baby's bottle. She is cradling an aluminum tube – a reference to her comments leading up to the war in Iraq that high-strength aluminum tubes seized en route to Iraq were "only really suited for nuclear weapons programs." In the cartoon, Dr. Rice says: "I don't know nuthin' about aluminum tubes."

When that sort of garbage comes from the right, we call it racism. What should we call it when it comes from the left?

It does seem strange to me that liberals reserve the right to call any black woman they disagree with Aunt Jemima. Democrats have done a good job removing southern redneck hillbilly racists from their party, but will they dare go after the New England drawing room elitist racists?

Life Goes On, Bra!

Recently some British poll has proclaimed The Beatles "Ob-la-di, Ob-la-da" the worst song ever recorded. In many ways this hardly seems fair. "Ob-la-di, Ob-la-da" wouldn't even make the Top 5 worst songs the Beatles ever wrote, the Top 10 worst songs McCartney ever wrote, or the Top 10 worst tracks the Beatles ever recorded. Add if you were going to single out "Ob-la-di" you would have to go after its near cousin "Maxwell's Silver Hammer" as well. The two song are very much of a kind, and Lord knows McCartney has tried to rewrite the damn things every couple of years to sometimes disastrous effect (remember "Ballroom Dancing"?)

Bottom 5 worst Beatle Songs Ever Written:

#5. "Don't Bother Me": I almost feel bad picking on little Georgie here, but he was obviously still learning how to construct a song at this point. And failing miserably.

#4. "Do You Want To Know A Secret": Too simple and infantile to be taken seriously, right?

#3. "You Know My Name (Look Up The Number)": Sure, its just a lark, but its a long, boring, repetitive, self-indulgent lark.

#2. "Within You, Without You": Maybe its fabulous when you are stoned. It certainly isn't when you're sober.

#1. "Michelle": C'mon!! Its not even close! Nothing else the Beatles ever did was this cloying. Paul singing in French?!? Makes you want to set fire to him...admit it!

And I was able to do this without bringing "Revolution 9" into the mix.

Turn Me On Dead Man!

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

An Experiment: Can Democrats Learn?

Step One: Read this article from Reuters: Declaration of Independence Banned at Calif School

Step Two: Wait for Democratic reaction to this story.

Possible results:

A) Democrats learn from recent past; wish to seem not out of touch with traditional American values, such as having a high regard for the Declaration of Independence; come out strongly against banning the Declaration, and do so even if the ACLU supports the censorship side.


B) Democrats do not learn from recent past; remain neutral or support suppresion of the Declaration in classrooms; choose to defer to ACLU on the matter; remain mystified as to why large segments of the population view them as hostile to religion.

What will happen?

(story gleaned from Patterico's place.)

Pulling Punches

It's always a kick coming upon someone writing for a main stream newspaper who pulls no punches. Such a writer is Neil Steinberg of the Chicago Sun-Times. His latest column is a real good example. Arab world too often dwelling in fantasyland

With Arafat's departure for hell, the French leap beyond their usual slimy, passive canoodling with Islamic terror into something far more active, deplorable and evil. By handing Arafat's medical records over to his family, instead of treating them as the public documents they are, they build the pedestal for the tower of lies that will now be erected. Merci beaucoup, you swine.

By comparison I'm the very model of decorum. Don't you forget that!

Europe Finally Notices the Islamofacists

Lots of interesting information in this Tony Blankey op/ed: Europe to the barricades

This Christmastime could be the moment when Western Europe finally joins our war on terrorism. Anti-Islamist fear and anger from the mouths of the European volk is breaking through the surface calm perpetuated by the elite European appeasers. The assassination and mutilation of Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh by an Islamic fanatic — and the retaliatory firebombings of mosques by ethnic Dutchmen — have forced high European leaders and news outlets to begin to publicly face up to the implications of September 11, 2001 and the migration of Muslims in large and hostile numbers into the heart of Europe.

I suppose it's better late than never, but I can't help noticing that the Islamofacists weren't considered such a problem in Europe when their targets remained Jewish.

A Trial Run For Putin?

There is an interesting, if pessimistic, take on what is happening in Ukraine right now on Daniel Drezner's place. High stakes or déjà vu in Ukraine?

The more I look at this situation, and Russia's role in it, the more I begin to feel that Putin himself won't leave power until life leaves his body.

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

What Once Was But Cannot Be Again....

Even after a good night's sleep I'm still annoyed about the Washington "Blue Light Specials." Yes, I know, I'm a Cardinals fan. Why should I care so much? If it was an American League team it wouldn't bother me as badly. But from now on we will all be subjected to the name for several series every season. It was bad enough having to hear about a team called "The Astros."

Now we've got this.

Go Senators!

Monday, November 22, 2004

Screwing Up a Good Thing

It sure didn't take Washington DC long, but they have already screwed up their baseball franchise by naming it "The Nationals." D.C.'s Team Officially Renamed the Nationals

In one fell swoop they went from having the second worst name in the National League, "The Expos," to having the absolute worst name in all of Major League Baseball. Well done.

Nationals was essentially chosen over Senators, which was the name of the MLB team that most recently played in the District in 1971. But Williams (idiot Mayor of Washington-ed.) was opposed to Senators -- the favorite of Commissioner Bud Selig -- because Washington doesn't have representation in Congress.

My brain shall remained boggled for quite sometime.

And get a load of the logo!

It looks like the logo for the whole league, not an individual club. Just horribile.

The only thing to do is to ignore the name and start calling them the Senators, like they should have in the first place.

Pulitzer Era Over?

This bodes ill. Pulitzer may seek buyer for papers

In many ways the Post-Dispatch isn't the paper it used to be. But you can say the same about a lot of other papers, and the Post is a damn sight better then most.

Maybe things will turn out alright, but I fear the day when the only "local" newspaper you'll be able to buy is entitled, "USA Today - (Your hometown here) Edition"


Quality Reads

I've always enjoyed reading St. Louis Post Dispatch columnist Bill McClellan. His most recent column is a good example of why. Anger is all around, except among those who have it tough

He is decidedly liberal, but not a dyed in the wool ideologue or much of a partisan. If he was he wouldn't write things like:

No, the odd thing is the anger seems to be coming from people who are doing just fine. Politics is the source of some of the anger. I know a number of Democrats who aren't just disappointed in the results of the recent election. They're angry. What's to be angry about? More people voted for the other guy.

McClellan seems to be a member of the last cadre of old style "newspapermen" whose roots are more blue collar and less Ivy League. Enjoy them while you can. Their like will probably not be returning.

Logic, or the Lack Thereof?

I know parsing the average opinion piece can be an extravagant waste of time, but I've got plenty of time to waste. From American Prospect Online: Will of the People?
One of the longstanding criticisms of liberalism going back to its heyday involved the extent to which it relied on the courts to gain victories that could not have been achieved legislatively. School desegregation, abortion rights, and less well-remembered anti-miscegenation laws, struck down by the Warren Court in its Loving vs. Virginia decision of 1967, were all judicial triumphs for liberalism, not legislative ones. Advocates of each cause chose to go through the courts specifically because they knew that the odds on achieving these goals through legislation were slim.

The criticism -- to which there is a lot of validity -- is that getting too far ahead of the popular will, as these and other decisions did, created backlash. And of course it was exactly that backlash, exploited by Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan (and still being exploited today), that contributed to liberalism's decline. Time has long since caught up with the Warren Court, if not on the still divisive issue of abortion, at least on racial questions. No one today would argue that Loving or the more historic Brown v. Board of Education were wrong, indeed, I would argue that it took a lot of courage for the Supreme Court to hand down these decisions. Nevertheless, the criticism has validity because undergirding it is the assumption that legislative action more accurately reflects the people's will.

Notice how "liberalism" is set up as standing in opposition to its un-named nemesis, presumably conservatism. They have to use this more nebulous language because if you tried to use the real language of politics in this country (i.e. Democrats and Republicans) it makes Democrats less comfortable. "Liberals" in the 1960's were not standing up to Republicans but to fellow Democrats. Republicans were not standing in the way of removing anti-miscegenation laws, Democratic state legislatures were. Republicans hadn't maintained state sponsered segregation, Democrats had. Republicans hadn't instituted Jim Crow, Democrats had. Now, the Republican party did indeed benefit from the "backlash" generated amongst these former Democrats, but I'd love for someone to point out Republican efforts to re-institute anti-miscegenation laws or the Democratic system of segregation, because it never happened.

Notice, also, how the liberal efforts in the courts were not an expression of their personal preferences undemocratically imposed on people. NO! The liberals were just seeing into the future! They were veritable Nostradamuses of the Federal Courts, seeing decades into the future to know how the will of the people will be. Not only did they have this power, presumably they were also infallible when excercising it. Aren't we lucky?!

The piece goes on from there to display a bit of the Good, the Bad and the Ugly.

The Good: Rightly castigates the provisions in the latest finance bill that would have allowed Congress to snoop into anyone's tax returns. I agree with Charles Schumer on this. Have an investigation into who put that in, and let the people decide what to do with them.

The Bad: Americans don't want their elected officials to be prevented from having an honest debate about extremist judges; a majority of Americans still support the right to an abortion, and if their feelings are complicated on this issue, it seems safe to say that a majority would rather not see law on so important and contentious a question changed by sneaking a provision into a bill about something else.

Yeah, a wonderful sentiment when "extremist judge" is defined as anyone who doesn't agree with liberal orthodoxy. And, is it safe to say that many Americans with "complicated feelings" about abortion might also be uncomfortable with the status quo? That maybe many would want to support abortion rights in principle, but not the carte blanche system set up today?

The Ugly: All this of course comes in the wake of the incredible DeLay rule, which again breaks all precedents and would permit House Majority Leader Tom DeLay to retain his post if he's indicted.

What garbage. The Republicans only had such a rule since the 1980's (maybe that is "all precedents"?), and the Democrats have NEVER had such a rule. For example, the Dems stood by Rep. Rostenkowski who still chaired the powerful House Ways & Means Committee after he was under indictment.

Oh and don't forget the lie: And they'll rub the opposition's face in it to boot, as they did in such tawdry fashion last week when not a single Republican bothered to show up during the floor speeches bidding adieu to Tom Daschle, who gave a quarter-century of his life to the body.

Simply untrue. They might not have been in great abundance, but some Republicans were there.
Daschle urges solidarity in final Senate speech

Addendum: As I reread this maybe the author meant that no Republican gave a farewell speech to Daschele. This could be true. Then again if any Republican did stand up and give a farewell speech for Daschele I'm sure they would have been blasted as being disengenuous.

Friday, November 19, 2004

All Hail The Grand Poobah!

Greatness in our midst? Maybe, maybe not. But let's welcome the Grand Poobah aboard regardless. He will be reporting in from Austin (aka The Berekley of Texas.)

Long live the Poobah!

Believing Any Damn Fool Thing.....

Via the Kansas City Star (Reg. Req.) JUDICIAL SCAPEGOATS: Who's an ‘activist judge'? It depends on which side you're on

I had some (misplaced) hopes for this bit of opinion based upon its title. It would seem to give the indication that complaints about "activist" judges have more to do about political ideology than aything else. The way you view particular judges would "depend on which side you're on," and would necessarily affect Democrats and Republicans in similar fashions. No such luck. Once again, the Democratic position is the position of sweetness and light and the Republicans are just a bunch of hypocrites.

I disagree. There is more than enough hypocracy to go around.

Along with scapegoating, the hue and cry about “activist judges” has the tinge of lousy sportsmanship.

I didn't like the call. Therefore it must be wrong.

Since Republicans are the ones throwing around the label, it's fair to wonder about double standards.

This is an amazing piece of selective memory. The "hue and cry" of Democrats after the 2000 election is the classic example of this type of attitude. You actually had Democrats claiming that the court shouldn't have been able to argue an "equal protection" claim because that's the one the Democrats use!!! Not the Republicans!!! They came close to actually admitting that as used by Democratic judges "equal protection" doesn't exist as a real constitutional law principle, but only as a justification for their personal preferences. Now, I'm not saying that suddenly finding an equal protection argument where you hardly ever find one before isn't hypocritical. What I am saying is that it is no more hypocritical then doing the exact opposite.

But what to make then of Bush's insistence on nominating for a federal appeals judgeship Priscilla Owen? She made a name for herself on the Texas Supreme Court by repeatedly reinterpreting a state statute so that young women could not obtain abortions without notifying potentially abusive parents.

Even former Texas Supreme Court Judge Alberto Gonzales, now Bush's pick for the next attorney general, thought Owen's opinions strayed far from the law. But apparently she isn't activist, because, as a conservative, she meets the criteria of Bush's base.

Once again, I'm not saying that the behavior isn't hypocritical. What I am saying is that it is a little rich to argue that the other side should hold to standards of behavior that your own side adamantly refuses to acknowledge exist. Yes, Owen's behavior deviates from the stated norms of judicial activity espoused by the Republican party. As such a Republican would have ample room to criticize her. The behavior does NOT deviate from Democratic judicial "principles" (I use the word loosely, to the extent that you can actually seperate their "judicial principles" from their "ideological preferences") and as such leave little (or no) room for non-hypocritical criticism from the Left.

The articles then veers into the merely silly.

An interesting aspect of the scorning of activist judges is that a lot of them were appointed by Republicans.

Six of the seven judges who legalized gay marriage in Massachusetts were the choices of Republican governors. Seven of the nine U.S. Supreme Court justices were appointed by Republican presidents. Nine of the 13 federal appeals courts have majorities of Republican appointees; two others are evenly split between Republican and Democratic appointees.

That's right. I suppose all these nominations by Republican chief executives have been done in a vacuum where oversight and/or confirmation by Democratic legislatures did not exist. Uhh...yeah.

The moment you give carte blanche to judges to "interpret" their own preferences into the law ("Hey look guys!! The Constitution corresponds EXACTLY to my personal preferences! It says so right here in the penumbra! Ain't I lucky!"), you make the courts just another arena for political activity, no different from the legislatures. Of course, in the post-New Deal era Democrats never had a problem with that. The Supreme Court, over time, became their backyard. Well, its a new era and the Republican seem intent by playing by the same set of rules as the post-New Deal Democrats. What goes around comes around.

It's not an ideal situation by my standards. But it isn't any different either.

Thursday, November 18, 2004

Can't The Idiocy Stop? Just for me, Please?

There are certain "causes" I just can't abide by, and "Amend For Arnold" qualifies as one of those. (In case its new to you, they want to amend the Constitution to allow foreign born persons, hmm I wonder who?, to be president.) It is a bad joke. If you go to their web site you will not find a single attempt to offer an intellectual justification for changing the Constitution, instead you are offered the Cult of Personality that is Arnold Schwarzenegger. I'll give it a miss, thank you kindly.

It boggles my mind. You emigrate to this country and you can do everything any native born citizen can do. You can be a Senator or a Supreme Court Justice or even, God forbid, Governor of a large but evidently clueless state. But you cannot be President, although your US born children can. I really don't have a problem with that. Yes, I'm just that nativist.

Common Sense In Iowa: Who Knew?

From what is quickly becoming my favorite MidWest online newspaper stop, The Des Moines Register: Liberals should ditch that snooty attitude.

Interesting nuggets begin here:

For openers, the situation for Democrats is not bleak. Another 125,000 votes in Ohio for Kerry and you wouldn't be reading this column. In losing, Kerry got more votes than many past candidates received in winning the presidency. He came within 3.5 million votes out of 115 million cast. (Unfortunately, as the old saying goes, "close" only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades.)

This is probably the best thing for the Democrats to keep in mind. The Republicans will lose seats in the 2006 elections, and may have a difficult time even holding the House. And it is hard to see anyone who might look like a juggernaut in 2008 for the Republicans. McCain might run, but do you think he will really thrill hard core conservative Republicans? Probably not. The Dems will get their opprotunity, it will be up to them to make it their best shot.

• Religion. Democrats need to learn how to talk about their religious faith, or at least convey to voters they have one. Bill Clinton could do that and he won. Kerry never did it much and lost.

A third of the electorate in Iowa calls itself evangelical or a born-again Christian. Bush won 66 percent of their votes. And 43 percent of the voters were people who attend church or religious services at least once a week, and Bush won them 58 percent to 41 percent. There were 12 percent of the voters who attend more than once a week, and they went for Bush 69 percent to 31 percent. Among those who only go once a month, voters split 50-50.

Kerry did win 66 percent of the voters who never go to church. Unfortunately for the left, this heathen bloc is only 12 percent of the electorate, so the seculars here aren't going to win many elections. These splits are known as the "God gap" in American politics, and it will be a factor in future elections. The religious left has work to do if it hopes to defeat the religious right.

• Elitist images. Related to this is an image issue. Elitism. Too many on the left have a snooty, we-know-better attitude. They post Internet images of Bush states as "Jesusland." You can hear it as they grumble over the outcome and complain about how stupid people are. It's a turnoff. Having rock-star celebrities touring the country for their candidate may appeal to the elites, but it also signals to other voters a message about their candidate.

I kind of find it hard to believe that this issue surprised people as much as it seems to have. I thought lots of people had read Stephen Carter's book The Culture of Disbelief back in the 1990's, which gave very clear warning to all those on the left. Being a political party means identifying some other group as "the other," the group you stand in opposition to and compete with. In the early part of the 20th century Democrats stood against the Republicans, big business, the cultural elites and the de facto American aristocracy and they did so in the name of ordinary folks most of whom were religious. Today the Dems still stand against the Republicans and most big business (at least theoretically), but by and large Democrats and other liberals are the cultural elite and the aristocracy. The Republicans have exploited this fact to make it clear to people who are deeply religious that the Democrats view people of faith as part of the "other," while the Republicans are now ordinary folks. "Look at those Ivy League pinheads," says our Republican, "They call you a dumb bumpkin, they think your religious devotion is a sign of stupidity pure and simple, and they support the ACLU's attempt to destroy your faith and your communities." Whatever the validity of the charges, this sentiment exists and is becoming more deeply rooted by the year, and if Democrats want to counteract it they will need to do something about it, or the so-called "God Gap" will help make the Democrats a true minority party.


Powerline has a interesting story about possible anti-regime activity inside North Korea. There's Something Happening Here: It would be nice to think that Kim Jong-Il's regime could just disentegrate under the weight of its own moribund creulty, but I believe any large uprising would more likely suffer a Tianamen Square fate than anything else. I certainly do hope I'm wrong about that.

Wednesday, November 17, 2004


I'm not sure what it says about us when a fast food hamburger makes all the nightly news programs and is even deemed worthy of the odd editorial (The insurgent burger). I myself have what could be called a "hearty appetite" but in general I've shied away from things like Hardee's Monster Thickburger. I did have an unfortunate one-night stand several years ago with a Jack In The Box creation called The Colossus (mmmm...colossus!), but buyers remose was nearly instantaneous. Since then I've avoided burgers like the Wendy's Triple with Cheese, although I've had my fair share of Wendy's Double with Cheese, McDonald's Double Quarter Pounder with Cheese and the Jack In The Box Ultimate Cheeseburger (a toned down Colossus. mmmm... Colossus!) My first inclination is to give the Monster Thickburger a wide berth, say a couple hundred miles or so.

Now, apart from the ecstatic marketing department at Hardee's, why should anyone really care about this burger? College students everyday are devouring entire Pizza Hut pizzas of unimaginable caloric intake, so they just look at this burger and order two of them for lunch. Nutritionists would only be happy if everyone on earth was subsisting on carrot juice and soy protein patties, so they are predictably apoplectic. Europeans already think we are too fat for words, so they will merely mutter "Unhealthy pigs" under their breath while they light up their Marlboros. And me? Well, now I can go into a McDonalds, order a Big Mac with a large fry and know I'm eating relatively healthy, at least by Hardee's standards. Thank you marketing department!

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Hand-wringing On Behalf of the Poor and Other Useful Activities

From the font of wisdom known as Kevin Horrigan of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch: The big red/blue/green thing we can't avoid:

In amongst the usual Republican bashing we are told:

A second great myth (Rank's word, certainly not mine) about poverty is that it's something that happens to other people. By age 75, nearly six in every 10 Americans will have spent at least one year of their adult lives living below the official poverty line. And get this, fellow Republicans: Rank says it's the fault of the system, not the individual. "We are playing a large-scale version of musical chairs in this country," he says, "where there are 10 players but only eight chairs. With the rising number of low-paying jobs, substantial unemployment, and a lack of affordable housing, the game is structured in a way that ensures a significant percentage of the population is going to lose out, no matter what their characteristics might be."

It is hard to see what Horrigan's specific complaint with Republicans is. There is no indication given that anything is different when Democrats are in power. The Unemployment statistics certainly don't show huge differences. The Unemployment rates during Clinton's first term were: 1993 6.9%, 1994 6.1%, 1995 5.6%, 1996 5.4%. For the first four years of Bush II the number have been: 2001 4.8%, 2002 5.8%, 2003 6.0% and so far in 2004 5.6%. (Unemployment Statistics 1920-2004) Whatever we can learn from these numbers, it isn't that one party "cares" and the other one "wants you dead."

Maybe it's an attack against the "system." Maybe what we need is the Western European model! Yeah that's it! Let's compare Unemployment rates for 1995/1996 when the US rate averaged 5.5% unemployment. At the same time rates in Western Europe were:

Belgium 9.3%
Canada 9.5% (Not Western Europe, but they always get mentioned)
Denmark 7.0%
Finland 17.4%
France 11.6%
Germany 8.8%
Italy 11.1%
Netherlands 7.1%
Norway 4.9%
Spain 22.9%
Sweden 8.0%
U.K. 8.2%

So in terms of the "system" we seem to have much less unemployment built into it then in Western Europe. This is puzzling, because people like Jeremy Rifkin have said Europe is Nirvana itself!

It is also hard for me to understand ridiculing the notion that education is the best path out of poverty. It's a simple fact, the more education you have the better off you will be financially. (To this point in my life this hasn't worked for me personally, but I cannot argue with the aggregate statistics.) Re-training for a new line of work is certainly difficult, especially for those with families to support, but if your old line of work isn't around anymore what else are you supposed to do? I'd fault the president for stating the obvious without making it clear how he will help people in the process of re-training. I wouldn't fault the notion that education can help poor people. And once again, it is unclear exactly how the Democrats would offer anything substantially different.

Maybe it's because the Dems will "feel the poor's pain" more fully. Oh, that'll be useful.

Monday, November 15, 2004

"It's Hockey Night In North Dakota!"

Looking for fun on a Friday night in Bismarck was something of a daunting task. In the end it led us to a NAHL game between the Billings Bulls and the Bismarck Bobcats (Bobcats win 4-1.) This was my first experience with minor league hockey, and I have to admit it is a pretty good product especially for 10 bucks. The crowd was on the order of 1200 to 1500 and the little arena was mostly filled and occasionally loud.

It got me thinking about what exactly is wrong with the NHL. The easy answer is, of course, just about everything; no one cares, no big TV money because no one cares, expansion into markets where no one cares, the homogeneous of the NHL into an NBA clone so that the people who used to care about the NHL no longer do, and other insanities too numerous to mention. But, for me, the biggest thing the NHL did wrong was to turn its back on the people who care the most about hockey, and for a league that is driven by ticket sales that is suicide. The cradle of the NHL is Canada, the Northeast and the Upper Midwest, period. You can have a league of 24 teams centered on that region and it should thrive.

But the NHL needs more than just that. The desire to expand, in and of itself, was not (and is not) a bad thing. The model of expansion they used, however, was completely wrong. It makes sense for the NFL to charge an arm and a leg for an expansion team. The huge TV money distributed to the teams ensures that any new owner will get immediate returns on his investment in the league. That is not the case in the NHL. In the NHL you have to pay a large expansion fee for the right to lose even larger sums of money later on. Wonderful business model, no?

What the NHL needs is a promotion relegation system similar to the English soccer leagues. In this system there would be a second division of 24 more teams, made up in the beginning from smaller Canadian and US cities with hockey crazed fans who will support the teams at the gate. Teams that succeed on the scoreboard AND on the financial sheet will have an opportunity to get promoted to the NHL, and NHL struggler will have a chance to go down to a level where payroll demands are less and where they can get their house in order to make another goal of it. While there would only be 24 Major league teams at any given time, the pool of potential NHL teams would be increased from the current 32 to 48! Prospective new owners could enter into the league with a smaller team budget, develop a fan base and an organization over time and not lose their shirt in the process.

Philosophically, there is something else wrong with the NHL. Hockey needs to be hockey. It cannot be the NBA on ice, so stop trying to be! Be different! Offer a unique sporting experience, something you cannot get following basketball, baseball or football! Bring back the old names for the divisions! Institute a promotion/relegation system which would be unique in North American sports! And stop worrying so much about your TV deal. Get your house in order, make your fans happy and the rest will take care of itself.

Friday, November 12, 2004

Bismarck: The City, Not The Iron Chancellor

I'm off to North Dakota for a couple of days. Talk quietly amongst yourselves, while I try not to freeze my ass off.

Thursday, November 11, 2004

It's No Fun Being Non-Alarmist

I've always had very little patience with the "sky is falling" crowd of global warming "experts." Here is a terrific piece on the growing non-consensus in the field by Thomas Sieger Derr in First Things (aka The Best Journal You've Never Heard Of): Strange Science

Some of my favorite bits:

The IPCC [International Panel on Climate Change]is a UN body and reflects UN politics, which are consistently favorable to developing countries, the majority of its members. Those politics are very supportive of the Kyoto treaty, which not only exempts the developing countries from emissions standards but also requires compensatory treatment from the wealthier nations for any economic restraints that new climate management policies may impose on these developing countries. Were Kyoto to be implemented as written, the developing countries would gain lots of money and free technology. One need not be a cynic to grasp that a UN body will do obeisance to these political realities wherever possible.

The Kyoto treaty would not make a measurable difference in the climate—by 2050, a temperature reduction of maybe two-hundredths of a degree Celsius, or at most six-hundredths of a degree—but the sacrifices it would impose on the United States would be quite large. It would require us to reduce our projected 2012 energy use by 25 percent, a catastrophic economic hit. Small wonder that the Senate in 1997 passed a bipartisan resolution, the Byrd-Hagel anti-Kyoto resolution, by 95-0 (a fact rarely recalled by those who claim that America’s refusal to sign on to the treaty was the result of the Bush administration’s thralldom to corporate interests).

In my book Bush doesn't do too many things right, but he is dead on about Kyoto.

Bad Rubbish

The AP's rundown of world reaction to the death of Arafat, Arafat death draws mixed world reaction, contains the usual namby-pamby remarks you'd expect from world leaders, old George not excepted. However, just when you think that no one would say anything close to the truth, up steps Australian P.M. Howard:

Australian Prime Minister John Howard said history would judge Arafat harshly.

Arafat could have helped secure Middle East peace by accepting a deal in 2000 that would have resulted in the Israelis "agreeing to about 90 percent of what the Palestinians had wanted," said Howard, who added that he found it hard to believe that Arafat could not have done more to restrain terrorists.

My own view might be even harsher. The best thing you can say about the man is that he was unable to stem the tide of violence and murder directed at innocents that he helped begin. What a legacy.

All Quiet on the Western Front

On this day 86 years ago the guns of the First World War finally fell silent. I'm one of those people that prefers Veteran's Day, something tied to an actual historical event, to the "Let's Start our Summer Vacation! Wheeee! Memorial Day." I'd be happier if we got rid of Memorial Day altogether and instead celebrated both VE and VJ day. As someone wiser then me has said, they probably won't change it to suit me.

When I was in New Zealand I had an interesting experiece; their "Veteran's Day" type holiday is ANZAC Day, celebrated in April. Evidently there is a growing number of young people in the country that have taken to attacking the very idea of the holiday as warmongering. They even verbally assault the little old ladies that sell the small flowers that serve as a symbol of rememberance. As an outsider to it all I found that type of response more sad then anything else. It was as if the youth of New Zealand looked at their unburied dead at Gallipoli and in Palestine or those from the Second World War in New Guinea and elsewhere across the Pacific and said "I don't owe you a damn thing."

My own country left 114,000 dead on the battlefields of France or in the depths of the North Atlantic during the course of World War One. Kiwi youth probably won't forgive me my warmongering, but I will still take a moment to remember their sacrifice, say a quick "God bless," and a quicker "Thank you."

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

The Great River Road - Illinois Posted by Hello

Evolving Faith

I missed this op/ed from Garry Wills when it was published last week by the New York Times (reg. req.) The Day the Enlightenment Went Out. Here are a couple chestnuts of wisdom from our good friend Garry:

This election confirms the brilliance of Karl Rove as a political strategist. He calculated that the religious conservatives, if they could be turned out, would be the deciding factor. The success of the plan was registered not only in the presidential results but also in all 11 of the state votes to ban same-sex marriage. Mr. Rove understands what surveys have shown, that many more Americans believe in the Virgin Birth than in Darwin's theory of evolution.

Which raises the question: Can a people that believes more fervently in the Virgin Birth than in evolution still be called an Enlightened nation?

America, the first real democracy in history, was a product of Enlightenment values - critical intelligence, tolerance, respect for evidence, a regard for the secular sciences. Though the founders differed on many things, they shared these values of what was then modernity. They addressed "a candid world," as they wrote in the Declaration of Independence, out of "a decent respect for the opinions of mankind." Respect for evidence seems not to pertain any more, when a poll taken just before the elections showed that 75 percent of Mr. Bush's supporters believe Iraq either worked closely with Al Qaeda or was directly involved in the attacks of 9/11.

Wills is identified at the end of the piece as an adjunct professor of History at Northwestern University. Given the shocking ignorance displayed in the article one might assume that Northwestern is breathing a sigh of relief that Mr. Wills isn't employed full time there. For example, there is no way to parse the phrase "America, the first real democracy in history" and make it true. Many ancient greek city states practised a form of government much closer to democracy than our own. Other nations had representative government before the United States did. Other nations expanded the voting franchise before the US did. The truth of the matter is that the form of government put into effect by the founders was a much more elitest affair than Wills lets on. To participate in it at all you needed to be a propertied male. It seems Wills definition of "democracy" rests somewhere else. Democracy, for Wills, is that regime populated by "Enlightened" individuals. Presumably, in 1800, women and blacks could have been assumed to be "unenlightened" so the "democracy" of the time could safely ignore them. Today Wills sees many more people who are not worthy of "democracy," specifically 75 percent of the electorate. Wills tells us that they don't heed evidence, a pre-requisite from the "Enlightened" individual(and isn't it fortunate that Wills himself is an infallible judge of that evidence!), so an "Enlightened" nation must cast them aside, right?

I'll admit, I have larger problems with Mr. Wills. A couple of days ago I mentioned his screed Papal Sins, a book so lacking in intellectual rigor or honesty I am amazed it was considered publishable. In the book, amongst Wills' myriad of ad hominem attacks, he protests that he himself is a Catholic who is only saying these things to bring about a better church, blah, blah, blah and blah. This leaves me with a single question for Mr. Wills, "Can a person who writes the sentence 'Can a people that believes more fervently in the Virgin Birth than in evolution still be called an Enlightened nation?' still be called a Catholic." I know my own answer to that question, and if I were a Catholic priest I certainly wouldn't be giving Mr. Wills communion.

I also wonder how, if the founding fathers really believed as Mr. Wills says they believed, they could have gone to such trouble to specifically protect religion and not science. The only time anything like science is mentioned by the Constitution, in the Patent clauses, it is mentioned as something that serves the people, not the other way around. I'm not certain what kind of brave new world Mr. Wills has in mind for us, but I am certainly glad that our Constitution offers religiously minded Americans protection from him and his kind.

Amendments? We Don't Need No Stinkin' Amendments!

The Grand Poobah's friend Patterico has some thoughts on the real state of the Bill Of Rights: Outsourcing an Idea: A Modern Bill of Rights

My favorite bit:

Amendment XIV
Section 1. All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside. No state shall deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law. In other words, each person possesses the right to define one's own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life; to abort any fetus before viability; to engage in acts of sodomy; and to do anything else that 5 of 9 lawyers, trained in elite law schools, agree that citizens ought to be able to do.

My own contributions would be minor:

Amendment IX: Wow, were we ever drunk when we came up with this. It's best if you just forgot it ever happened.

Amendment X: See Amendment IX. Boy, are we hung over.

Abortion Angst

From the Chicago Sun-Times: Emboldened GOP ready to rock Roe

From my own anti-abortion perspective, I'm quite ambivalent about a post-Roe world. The debate that this country would have been able to conduct in the 1970's might just be beyond us now. We have had three decades plus of the two sides ostentatiously not engaging with one another, and why should they have? The pro-abortion lobby was enshrined as the living embodiment of the only absolute Constitutional right recognizable in the United States, and the anti-abortion forces were consigned to having a position, they were told, against the foundational document of the nation and as a consequence they were quite un-American. After thirty years the sides are unimaginably entrenched. They have not only been listening to their own choir exclusively, they have decided that their choir is the only possible voice worth listening to. If the onus of abortion law was suddenly thrown back to the individual states how could a coherent and humane abortion law be crafted in such an environment? The last thing either side has had to deal with is coming together to form a public policy.

Of course such difficulties come with the territory once you remove issues like abortion from the processes of a democratic society.

A "See Through" Pollster

Pollster J. Ann Selzer tries to figure out what went wrong with the Iowa poll: Iowa Poll was a miss, and I don't like it

If every pollster was this forthcoming and transparent you would hear far fewer complaints about polling every election cycle.

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Bush and Fiscal Conservatism? Could Anyone Handle That?

You know you have things bad when Butler University Economics Profs start taking you behind the woodshed. Bush should renew belief in smaller government

The most relevant part tells us:

Bush could of course surprise and cut spending significantly, but that seems as unlikely as tax increases. As the libertarian Cato Institute has shown, the Bush administration has raised discretionary spending by more than any administration in recent memory. Of course, some of the new spending is due to homeland security and the war in Iraq. But in fact, every area of discretionary spending has risen. The number of pork projects that Congress has funded, and Bush has approved, has grown annually.

Bush seems well on his way towards becoming a new Nixon. The Democrats never had it so good as when they had good ol' Dick doing their work for them. For four years we've seen Bush engage in Keynesian economics up the yin-yang. Hell, he's even dabbled in some old fashioned Smoot-Hawley style protectionism from time to time. Fiscal conservatives must find themselves yearning for the days of Bill Clinton, the last free trade, free market president this country might ever have.

Diversity Of Opinion Is Fine, As Long As You Agree With Me!

An interesting example of liberal illiberality from the Kansas City Star: Voter stereotypes are not just off base — they are resented

Ingrates to Emigrate?

Here is a nice little dose of sanity from fly-over country: If you don’t like AmeriGeorge, you’re pretty much hosed

Monday, November 08, 2004

Semi-Confessions of a Partial Catholic

In the past couple of weeks I have read the two novel series Conclave & Council by Greg Tobin (Forge Books). The novels follow the exploits of an American Roman Catholic bishop as he first gets elected pope, and second, calls for another church coucil (i.e. Vatican III.) The books are kind of like a Tom Clancy novel interbred with a church hymnal. Instead of Clancy's longwinded digressions into the technology of spycraft we are given equally longwinded digressions on various aspects of Catholicism. Otherwise they are very similar. We are even given flashback sequences where the bishop-to-be kicks some ass in Vietnam, although he is always thoughtful about the people he kills. The books themselves are not bad reads. All the flashbacks seem to indicate that Tobin didn't have confidence in the strength of his main story line, but this is a minor criticism.

As pop culture documents of American Catholicism this former seminary student finds them a little more troubling. For starters there are the villians of the piece, the leaders of the Conservative (i.e. reactionary) Evangelium Christi movement, obvious stand-ins for the real life Opus Dei. This gay bashing, woman hating group stoops at nothing in these books. They stage a "terrorist" attack to murder a pope, and engage in all other forms of intimidation and character assasination when they are not busy mudering people. As if Tobin hasn't made his feelings about the Evangelium Christi clear enough by their actions, he also feels the need to link them to honest to God Nazis. Ok, we get it!! They are the bad guys!!

The payoff for all the bloodshed is of course that the liberal American pope is the very vessel of the Holy Spirit who will lead the church to institute holy orders for women, and to allow priests to marry as well. That the two are basically equated in the book is not uncommon in American Catholic thinking. There seems to be a general ignorance of Catholic teachings on these matters by those American writers who tackle the subject. Gary Wills' piece of drivel (screed?) Papal Sins was much the same way. The truth is that the ecclesiastical rule that keeps priests from marrying is just that, a rule. It can be changed by the church without altering the faith in any way. This explains why there are already married Catholic priests, such as converts from other denominations and members of churches in union with Rome that traditionaly have allowed clergy to marry. Only the idea of allowing women to become priests involves changing the dogma of the church.

The object of this kind of writing, from Tobin, Wills and other liberal Catholics like them, seems to be a Catholic church that will be safe for the party platform of the Democratic party. Indeed, it is hard to distinguish where the one ends and the other begins. This need to "update" the Catholic church so that it is nearly identical with this or that contemporary political ideology troubles me. I feel the church plays a much more important role as a counter-cultural force. The church is supposed to represent eternal truths, not this decades fashions. Historically the church has gotten itself into trouble by being too of its time, not too little. The sad history of popes as petty tyrants playing out their games of political power is not a pretty one. But it is a history that will be repeated if the church gets involved in remaking itself in the image of our contemporary political institutions. However, the drive that impels the Tobin's and Wills' of this world is strong. Anyone who opposes their vision is for them, well, a Nazi.

And, in the short run, I think Tobin and company will win. That is why I consider myself a "partial Catholic." The wind has been blowing cold for some time. The church will be fundamentally altered in my lifetime, and the post Vatican II church in all its successes and failings, will cease to exist. So I keep my distance. It would be too painful for me to be a full blown Catholic.

"It's the [insert pet crusade here] Stupid!"

One thing that I hope gets retired from political writing in the US after this election is the use of the phrase "It's the [blank] stupid!" This election we heard about:

It's the War in Iraq Stupid!
It's the Abu Gharib Prison Scadal Stupid!
It's the Flu Shot Shortage Stupid!
It's the Price of Gasoline Stupid!
It's the Stem Cell Research "Ban" Stupid!
etc. etc. etc.............

The original "It's the Economy, Stupid!" was actually about something that could be an overiding factor in a presidential race, as it was in both 1992, working against Bush the Elder's terrible economy, and in 1996, working for Clinton's internet boom economy, so I wouldn't mind seeing the phrase come up again in that context. However, when the economy is somewhere in between the two extremes of '92 and '96, elections will not simply boil down to the economy, and no other single issue is, by itself, powerful enough to determine elections. So in those years, and 2004 is a prime example, I wish pundits would just give "It's the [blank] Stupid" a rest.