Day By Day© by Chris Muir.

Monday, February 28, 2005

Well, duh....

It doesn't take a rocket scientist -- but clearly eludes a feminista -- to figure this out:

Harvard University president Lawrence Summers has suffered acrimonious condemnation, and may have jeopardized his job, for suggesting that the underrepresentation of women in engineering and some scientific fields may be due in part to inherent differences in the intellectual abilities of the sexes. But Summers could be right. Some scholars who are in the know about the differences between mens' and womens' brains believe his remarks have merit. 'Among people who do the research, it's not so controversial. There are lots and lots of studies that show that mens' and womens' brains are different,' says Richard J. Haier, a professor of psychology in the pediatrics department of the University of California Los Angeles medical school. *** In recent years, scientists have found that male and female brains are wired differently from one another, due to the role of testosterone and other male hormones during gestation. Brains growing under the influence of male hormones are slightly larger and have denser concentrations of neurons in some regions. Male brains also contain a greater proportion of gray matter, the part of the brain responsible for computation, while women have relatively more white matter, which specializes in making connections between brain cells. Brain-imaging studies suggest that both sexes exploit these differences to their benefit. UCLA researchers have done brain scans of men and women who scored in the top 1 percent on the math section of the SAT. As they worked on math problems, the men relied heavily on the grey matter in the brain's parietal and cerebral cortices. Women showed greater activity in areas dominated by the well-connected white matter. "Maybe they're doing the math using the white matter," Haier says. "It's not completely unreasonable." *** Intelligence tests have found that men, on average, perform better on spatial tasks that require mentally rotating or otherwise manipulating objects. Men also do better on tests of mathematical reasoning. Women tend to do better than men on tasks requiring verbal memory and distinguishing whether objects are similar or different. The relative strengths even out, so on average the sexes are of equal intelligence. Some studies also have suggested that the IQ distribution is more spread out among men. If that is true, then there are proportionately more men at the extremely brilliant end of the IQ scale — and the dull end as well. So the reasoning goes like this: Fields such as physics require superb mathematical ability. Not just above average, but really out there. If men do have a slight advantage over women in mathematical ability, as much of the current research suggests, and there are more men at the extreme ends of the intelligence spectrum, that suggests there is a larger pool of men who can do the heavy intellectual lifting physics requires. *** Intelligence tests have found that men, on average, perform better on spatial tasks that require mentally rotating or otherwise manipulating objects. Men also do better on tests of mathematical reasoning. Women tend to do better than men on tasks requiring verbal memory and distinguishing whether objects are similar or different. The relative strengths even out, so on average the sexes are of equal intelligence. Some studies also have suggested that the IQ distribution is more spread out among men. If that is true, then there are proportionately more men at the extremely brilliant end of the IQ scale — and the dull end as well. So the reasoning goes like this: Fields such as physics require superb mathematical ability. Not just above average, but really out there. If men do have a slight advantage over women in mathematical ability, as much of the current research suggests, and there are more men at the extreme ends of the intelligence spectrum, that suggests there is a larger pool of men who can do the heavy intellectual lifting physics requires.
It's just staggering that Summers should be so viciously attacked, not only for stating the obvious, but for seeking further inquiry into a matter that has already been the subject of much research -- and research that tends to support Summers' ruminations. It certainly suggests that those gullible parents who are currently spending up to $40,000 a year to keep their kids at Harvard are not getting their money's worth. (And I don't even want to think about all of us taxpayers who are funding whatever de minimus research the P.C. vultures allow to be performed at Harvard, courtesy of government grants.)

Something else for the soccer moms to worry about

Here's one for the soccer moms to worry about, at least a very, very little bit:

Why soccer would be a risk for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis is a mystery. But a new study has found that Italian professional soccer players get the disease at a rate nearly six times as great as the general population. *** A.L.S., often called Lou Gehrig's disease, is an incurable and invariably fatal degenerative disease of the nervous system. Although there have been many suggestions about the possible risks for the illness, including participation in sports, no clear-cut evidence has been found for any risk factors except age and sex. (A.L.S. tends to strike around age 60, and a vast majority of patients are men.) The new study, however, found not only an increased risk among these Italian athletes, but also that the risk was dose-related: the longer an athlete played, the greater his risk of contracting A.L.S. *** "We are very confident that these results are real and are not due to a statistical effect," Dr. Chiò said. But he cautioned that the meaning of the findings was not clear, that A.L.S. is a very rare disease and that the study's results in no way suggested that anyone should stop playing soccer. *** Eighteen cases of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis were identified. The researchers interviewed all living players who had A.L.S., as well as the doctors and relatives of players who had died from the disease, and compiled detailed medical and personal histories of the patients' activities and health before, during and after their time as active athletes. The researchers also gathered family histories, paying particular attention to neuromuscular disorders. One form of A.L.S. is inherited, but no affected player had the disease in his family. Dr. Chiò and his colleagues suggest several explanations, none of them with certainty. Perhaps, they say, A.L.S. is related to heavy physical exercise, and therefore not related particularly to soccer. Or maybe trauma, particularly the head trauma involved in heading the ball or repeated traumas involving the legs, is a factor. Illegal or legal therapeutic drugs may also be involved, and it is possible that environmental toxins like fertilizers or herbicides used on soccer fields play a role. The authors concede, however, that each of these hypotheses has weaknesses, and the puzzle endures.

Mark Steyn alert

Here it is: the most recent Mark Steyn column, this one celebrating the fact that Bush's inroads in Iraq are seeing the Arab political and cultural walls crumble in much the same way as the Berlin Wall back in 1989. It's worth remembering that, while we now look at the latter as an historic inevitability, it is unlikely that it would have happened if Reagan had not taken such a strong (and expensive) anti-Communist stance. UPDATE: As a depressing antidote to the optimism in Mark Steyn's most recent column -- especially his optimism about the Palestinian Authority's disavowal of the most recent homicide bombing in Tel Aviv -- you need to check out this post at the Counterterrorism Blog. Steven Emerson argues convincingly that the news reports are disinformation the PA is generating through a corrupt AP.

Another bird flu alert

As this story shows, the bird flu is out there and active, although the people described in this article seem to have caught it from eating infected chicken, rather than from each other:

A girl in Vietnam has become the latest person to contract bird flu, health officials said on Monday. Her elder brother was confirmed to have the disease last Friday, and is now in a critical state in a Hanoi hospital. Vietnamese officials also said a 69-year old man who died last week had bird flu, the 14th fatality since the latest outbreak started in December. Officials in Thai Binh province, where the latest cases came from, are concerned how to control the disease. Overall, bird flu has killed 46 people in Vietnam, Thailand and Cambodia since December 2003.
Let's hope our scientists can quickly find a vaccination or treatment.

Did the NYTimes try to kick Bush out of the White House?

You remember Al Qaqaa, don't you? It was all over the NYTimes in the 10 days before the election, with all of the coverage extremely critical of the Bush administration. Since the election, nothing. If you want a great timeline of the Al Qaqaa cycle, along with some honest answers from Daniel Okrent, the NY Times' "public editor," check out this Byron York story. Herewith, some excerpts:

On Monday, October 25, 2004, the New York Times published a 2,600-word front page story headlined "Huge Cache of Explosives Vanished From Site in Iraq." Written by three Times journalists who reported from Baghdad and Yusifaiya in Iraq, as well as Vienna, New York, Washington, and Crawford, Texas, the article reported that about 380 tons of very high explosives — munitions that could be used by Iraqi insurgents to attack American troops — were missing, and had probably been looted, from Iraq's Al Qaqaa weapons-storage facility. *** Despite questions raised by critics about the story's accuracy, completeness and timing, in the days that followed the Times mounted the journalistic equivalent of a full-court press on Al Qaqaa. On October 26, the paper ran a front-page article on Kerry's quick pickup of the issue, "Iraq Explosives Become Issue In Campaign." (At that point, President Bush had not responded to the news.) That same day, Times columnist Paul Krugman charged that the administration's handling of Al Qaqaa was part of a "culture of coverups." The next day, October 27, the Times published two stories on the subject, "Kerry Attacks Bush Over Loss of Explosives," and "No Check of Bunker, Unit Commander Says." One day later, on October 28, the Times published a front-page story on Al Qaqaa, "Bush Hits Back At Kerry Charge Over Explosives," and another story, "Four Iraqis Tell of Looting At Munitions Site in '03." Columnist Maureen Dowd also mentioned Al Qaqaa in an article entitled "White House of Horrors." *** In all, in the eight days from October 25 to November 1, the Times published 16 stories and columns about Al Qaqaa, plus seven letters to the editor (all of which were critical of the Bush administration). And then, abruptly, it stopped. In the four months since the election, the Times appears to have simply dropped the Al Qaqaa story, publishing nothing about the munitions dump and the supposedly critical issues it raised about the Bush administration's handling of the war in Iraq. After November 1, according to a search of the Nexis database, just one story in the Times, a November 29, 2004, piece by John Burns, has contained the words "Al Qaqaa," and that story did not concern the munitions issue. *** The obvious question is whether the Times pushed the Al Qaqaa story hard in the days in which it might have an effect on the presidential election, and then let up the moment the election was over. Okrent conceded that that might appear to be the case. "I would say at the very least that the dates they were running stories certainly can leave an impression," Okrent told NRO. "But I'm not ready to convict, at least not yet." Perhaps the Times is indeed preparing an update to the Al Qaqaa story. But even if it is, the paper has let four months pass without discussing what it apparently felt was an urgent issue in the days before November 2. And that silence, too, remains unexplained.

The banality of evil

Hannah Arendt coined the phrase "banality of evil" to describe Adolf Eichman, the architect of the Holocaust. I haven't read the book -- I find her writing turgid -- but I've always found the phrase fascinating. It makes the point that those who commit evil acts are not red of tooth and claw, but often -- indeed, extremely often -- are the grey men who blend into crowds. Indeed, as the recent arrest of Dennis Rader demonstrates, they may be pillars of their community:

The faithful gathered at Christ Lutheran Church early Sunday morning, bewildered and overpowered by a sense of betrayal. Just a week ago, Dennis Rader, president of the 400-member congregation, had been a welcome and familiar face in their midst. He had recently dropped off spaghetti sauce and a salad for a church dinner, the pastor said. On Friday, Rader, 59, was arrested and accused of being the long-sought BTK killer who tortured and killed 10 people in the Wichita area from 1974 to 1991.
Another equally banal piece of evil was Andrei Chikatilo, the Beast Rostov, in Russia, who was a complete non-entity, married, with children. Why am I wallowing in this kind of crime wave? Because I was thinking about Downfall, the new movie from Germany, portraying Hitler's last twelve days in the Bunker. I haven't yet seen the movie, but I've been aware that some have been very upset that it shows Hitler being courteous to people and kind to animals (in between rampaging and raging). Those complaining about the movie are afraid that this amounts to hagiography that will detract from just how evil Hitler really was. I happen to think the opposite. I think that, if the movie is well done (and, remember, I haven't seen it) it is an extremely useful reminder that, more often than not, evil people are not raving sadists, such as Vlad the Impaler. Many of them present as ordinary people, living bland, ordinary lives. If we constantly expect evil to make itself manifest, we are doomed to live surrounded by, and unprotected from, the most evil among us.

Why isolationism can't work

If you'd like to see a good refutation of Pat Buchanan's old-fashioned and useless conservative isolationism, check out Rich's post over at Beef Always Wins. Among other things, Rich points out that "[w]hat Buchanan fails to recognize is that our enemies are different, and their tactics have changed. In the time of Washington, Jefferson, and Adams, global travel was not easily accessible to the masses, and no known weapons gave a tiny group of individuals the power to murder millions." It's funny that the Left has consistently castigated Bush for not being global enough in his outlook (how dare he refuse to sign the Kyoto Accord?), but has equally consistently refused to realize that Bush is the most global of all in recognizing that, in our new, small world, a sick country half a world away is a danger here at home.

Heartening thoughts

Ben Johnson points out the following:

From Hosni Mubarak’s opening up Egyptian elections for the first time, to Syria’s strong efforts to accommodate American demands for withdrawal from Lebanon and for cooperation in Iraq, the Middle East is changing in ways unforeseen even last fall. During the campaign, neither candidate discussed pressuring these two putative allies to create a stable and democratic Arab presence, yet today both are taking the first steps toward representative government. Lebanon’s Druze Patriarch Walid Jumblatt pinpointed the genesis of this metamorphosis in the pages of The Washington Post:
It's strange for me to say it, but this process of change has started because of the American invasion of Iraq. I was cynical about Iraq. But when I saw the Iraqi people voting three weeks ago, 8 million of them, it was the start of a new Arab world. The Syrian people, the Egyptian people, all say that something is changing. The Berlin Wall has fallen. We can see it.
In other words, a sea-change is taking place in the Arab world: democracy is becoming reality for the first time in history – and all this progress came about because of the determination of President George W. Bush and over the most vicious objections of the American Left.
You can read the rest of this heartening article -- which all anti-war protestors should be forced to read -- here.

Grade inflation and the bell curve

About 17 years ago, a Stanford professor told me one of Stanford's (then) dirty little secrets (it may still be one of Stanford's dirty little secrets, for all I know): grade inflation. According to him, even in math and sciences, professors were strongly discouraged from giving students any grade below a "B". Additionally, if a student failed a class, he could drop out after the fact and have that grade removed from his transcript. The result, of course, was that all Stanford students were "A" students. Today, in a Suzanne Fields column about Larry Summers over at Harvard, I read that "[i]n 2001, the year before Larry Summers arrived on campus, grade inflation was rampant and 91 percent of the students graduated with honors." I'm sure that this grade inflation arises, in part, from our pathological fear of telling people they're not doing well (which took its most recent, ridiculous turn with teacher's abandoning red pens for corrections). More importantly, I think the real reason behind this grade inflation is the use of the bell curve as a grading device. The bell curve posits that, in any classroom, a few people will do really well, a few people will do really badly, and the rest of the people will be spread out in a big bunch in the middle. If you chart this, it has the rough shape of a bell -- hence, the bell curve. In a class that relies on bell curve grading, a student's work is not graded based upon any absolute standard; it's simply graded in comparison to the work of the other students in the class. If you're an average student in a classroom of geniuses, you'll fail; if you're an average student in a classroom of dingbats, you'll ace the class. In other words, it's relative grading. I, personally, have always loathed bell curve grading. It's seemed to me that an experienced teacher should be able to lok at my essay, at my knowledge base, at my analytical abilities, whatever, and view them in absolute terms, without reference to those around me at any particular time. In other words, I've found bell curve grading meaningless because it doesn't apply to my own knowledge, it simply compares me to those around me. Aside from my own hostility to bell curve grading, it creates a big problem at the major universities, filled as they are with students who have traditionally earned top grades in their high schools. Prior to attending their Ivy League school, or major state university, all these students could boast about being top 2%. So the universities, rather than abandoning the meaningless relativism of the bell curve, still enshrine it, and then proceed to ignore it -- if each student expects an "A", an "A" he shall have. I guess handing out free "A's" is not a surprising extension of a system that has for decades ignored the absolute value of a student's work. What I mean is that, if the teacher has never been responsible for examining the actual quality of the student's work, but has only been responsible for comparing that work to everyone else's, it's just a small step to say that the teacher is not responsible for examining the actual quality of the student's work, but just needs to make sure that every student gets an "A" or a "B". I don't think it's stretching the point to say that this system inevitably flowed from the cultural relativism and Derida-like deconstructionism the universities long ago embraced. Nothing has any meaning; everything has the meaning given to it in context; and no student should ever feel bad about his work (or even feel obligated to work). Fine, if that's the road we're going, fine. But remind me, next time I'm hiring, to be deeply suspicious of the "A" transcript that college student is flashing around. It's doubtful that it has any meaning at all and, in my business, you can't rely on deconstructionism to fund your bottom line.

Sunday, February 27, 2005

The myths of the Left

If you want to see a masterful deconstruction of the Left's myths about America, surf on over to this Victor Davis Hanson column.

Someone else is telling my life story

Here is a great op-ed article about a liberal Jewish woman's journey to the Right following 9/11. Except that I keep my politics quiet in my liberal enclave, the story could be mine. Stillwell identifies the self-hatred that was part of her upbringing as a member of the middle-class American left, and how that self-loathing shattered when 9/11 struck. She points out that hardcore Demos, rather than perceiving America as being under attack, felt that America had gotten what was coming to it. Stillwell then explains how, once she began examining conservatism, she discovered that it meshed with her other belief systems, especially her unwavering support for Israel. It's a stellar article, and I strongly recommend that you read it. Hat tip: Gee Dubya

Jews and Republicans

I've long wondered about what I consider to be American Jews' irrational fear of Evangelical Christians (a subject I tackled here) and their hatred of George Bush. It's as if they feel that political parties are completely stagnant, with today's Republican party being identical to the Republican party in 1950. If anything, today's Republicans, who have a hankering for freedom, are much closer to the Republicans of 1860, while the hate-filled Demos of today can be more closely analogized to the Demos of the Jim Crow South in the 1950s. As this Richard Baehr article demonstrates, while the world is changing, Jews are utterly resistant even to acknowledging the change:

For Democrats, the move away from the center has meant less support for Israel than in the past. Among Republicans, on the other hand, there is now more support for Israel in Congress than existed ten years ago. Christian evangelicals, and many of the members of Congress they help elect, have become increasingly vocal supporters of Israel, though many Jews are wary of their support, because of their social policy agenda. Some Jews seem to fear posting the Ten Commandments in a courthouse or school prayer more than they do Muslims hijacking airplanes and crashing them into tall buildings. Some Jews behaved last year as if George Bush were more of an enemy and someone worth hating, than Osama Bin Laden. Intelligent writers at prestige journals like the New Republic were on the same page, writing long articles on why they hated George Bush. The reality is that one party is on the rise, the other is in decline, at all levels of government: the Presidency, the Senate, the House, governors, state legislatures. Democrats were Governors in 31 states in 1994, now 22. Democratic House members have dropped from 257 to 202. Democratic Senate members have gone from 54 to 44. Look back 30 years, and the Democratic Party's decline is more dramatic. In 1974, Democrats were Governors in 37 states, held 291 House seats, and 61 Senate seats. And of course, Democrats have won but three of the last ten presidential elections, and in each case, only when their candidate was a Southern state governor. Yet Jews voted almost 3 to 1 for the Democratic nominee John Kerry in the 2004 Presidential race, closely associating themselves with a party that appears to be in a long term decline. Much of the county has changed politically in recent decades, but not Jews. As Norman Podhoretz once wrote in Commentary, most Jews now live like Republicans, but most Jews continue to vote like lower-income Puerto Ricans.
Hat tip: Gee Dubya

Check out Gee Dubya

I've only been gone a week, and I don't even know where to begin to highlight all the good posts on Gee Dubya's blog. (I must say, though, that I especially like her most recent post, a stunningly good attack on Jimmy Carter). So, instead of linking to one post at her site after the other, I'm just telling you to bop on over there and check out what she's got to say.

Maybe there is hope for the next generation

If you surf over to PalmTree Pundit, you'll find a great post about University of Alabama students emphatically rejecting the faculty's unanimous effort to destroy free speech at the university.

Mark Steyn (again) takes on Europe's decline

Does it get boring hearing me sing Mark Steyn's praises? But how can you not get excited about a writer who pens (types?) this type of prose about French President Valery Giscard d'Estaing and the "constitution" he has authored for the EU's benefit:

When I met him [Giscard d'Estaing], he had an amiable riff on how he'd been in Washington and bought one of those compact copies of the U.S. Constitution on sale for a buck or two. Many Americans wander round with the constitution in their pocket so they can whip it out and chastise over-reaching congressmen and senators at a moment's notice. Try going round with the European Constitution in your pocket and you'll be walking with a limp after two hours: It's 511 pages, which is 500 longer than the U.S. version. It's full of stuff about European space policy, Slovakian nuclear plants, water resources, free expression for children, the right to housing assistance, preventive action on the environment, etc. Most of the so-called constitution isn't in the least bit constitutional. That's to say, it's not content, as the U.S. Constitution is, to define the distribution and limitation of powers. Instead, it reads like a U.S. defense spending bill that's got porked up with a ton of miscellaneous expenditures for the ''mohair subsidy'' and other notorious Congressional boondoggles. President Ronald Reagan liked to say, ''We are a nation that has a government -- not the other way around.'' If you want to know what it looks like the other way round, read Monsieur Giscard's constitution.

Our judges are bashing American law

In a short, but excellent, Wall Street Journal opinion article, the WSJ takes on the disturbing fact that judges, who have less respect for the law than most people realize, are now trying to abandon American law altogether:

One of the more dangerous fads in Supreme Court jurisprudence of late is something called 'international law,' in which American laws are measured not just against the Constitution but against the laws of foreign countries. The purpose is to put the U.S. law in what supporters delicately call a 'global context.' What they really mean is that they can't persuade enough Americans of their views to change U.S. law so they want to persuade judges to do it for them. Among the most ardent supporters of this view are opponents (here and abroad) of the death penalty, who argue that capital punishment violates international norms. In the juvenile death-penalty case it heard last fall, the Supreme Court took the unusual step of permitting friend-of-the-court briefs from 48 foreign governments and such renowned jurists as Mikhail Gorbachev and the Dalai Lama. (Naturally, they all opposed it.) Which brings us to Medellin v. Dretke, a death penalty-related case that the Supreme Court will hear next month and which has the potential to catapult the concept of international law to a new level of acceptability in American courts. At issue is whether an order issued by the International Court of Justice at The Hague must be enforced by a court in Texas. That is, the "supreme" court of the United States would reside in the Netherlands, not the District of Columbia.
If you've got the time, read the whole article, which I found disgusting, although not surprising (I've had too many years of contact with judges to be surprised).

Remembering George Washington -- or not

I'm a huge fan of George Washington. If you've ever read about him, you'll discover that he was an extraordinary person: intelligent, self-disciplined, a brilliant strategist, humble (he did, after all, refuse a kingship), and the only president ever to free his slaves. Kathleen Parker's column about how ignorant American's are about this man is therefore quite depressing:

Tests, surveys and studies further confirm America's increasing ignorance. A test of high school seniors, for example, found that only one in ten was proficient in American history. A survey of fourth graders found that seven of ten thought the original 13 colonies included Illinois, Texas and California. Six of ten couldn't say why the Pilgrims came to America. Only seven percent of fourth graders could name 'an important event' that took place in Philadelphia in 1776. When seniors at the nation's top 55 universities were asked to name America's victorious general at the Battle of Yorktown, only 34 percent named George Washington. These depressing statistics, which Mount Vernon executive director James Rees rattles off with thinly disguised ennui, shouldn't be surprising considering that Washington today receives one-tenth the coverage in textbooks that he received 30 years ago. Rees tells of one textbook that offers fewer than 50 lines of text about Washington, but 213 about Marilyn Monroe. Meanwhile, the famous Gilbert Stuart portrait of Washington, a reproduction of which used to hang in nearly every American classroom, is long gone. As is the historical background and context critical to future generations' conduct of the nation's business.
It is becoming increasingly unclear to me what we are teaching our students. It's not history, it's not math, it's not science. What the heck are they doing 6.5 hours per day in school? Anyone?

A whole book about the evil UN

Owing to technical difficulties, the guest blogging I'd planned for my vacation didn't work. However, my guest blogger did want to share with you an article reviewing a book about the UN's pathological dysfunction. The book is called Tower of Babble: How the United Nations Has Fueled Global Chaos, and it's written by Dore Gold . You can find the book review here. The review is interesting on its face, and it makes the book sound like a must-read. Here's just a small part of the review, but even this small part spells out how the UN immediately began contributing to today's world problems:

In this illuminating book, Dore Gold, formerly Israel's ambassador to the U.N. and now head of a Jerusalem think tank, traces the U.N.'s pathology to its very beginnings: a fundamentally flawed organization that has spread chaos rather than order and "just doesn't work" when it comes to resolving international disputes. The U.N.'s weaknesses were already evident at the time of the first Arab-Israeli war in 1948. Although the U.N. Partition Plan had declared Jerusalem an international city, the U.N. reacted to the Arab attack on Jerusalem by proposing, in a "peace plan," to place it under complete Arab sovereignty. The U.N. did no better when Pakistani forces invaded Kashmir and, also in 1948, India turned to the Security Council for help: the U.N. ignored the Pakistani aggression, treated the two sides as morally equivalent, and eventually rewarded Pakistan by recognizing its status in Kashmir and calling for a reduction of Indian forces there. In both these cases, however, the U.N. did more than treat aggressors and defenders as equals, while, indeed, showing a tilt toward the former; it spread chaos by taking measures that would help perpetuate both conflicts. In the Israeli case, the U.N. innovated totally unique definitions of "refugee" that ensured the continuation of the "Palestinian refugee problem," and also the conflict, to the present day. In the Indian case, by signaling to Pakistan that aggression pays, the U.N. helped set the stage for further India-Pakistan wars and ongoing strife.

I'm baaaack!

It was a nice vacation and it's awfully nice to be back home. When we returned, I found the latest edition of The New Yorker waiting. It has an excellent Michael Specter article about the avian flu, a subject I've touched upon repeatedly (see here and here, for example). You can read a little bit about the article here, but you can only read the article itself in The New Yorker.

Saturday, February 19, 2005

Temporary vacation hiatus

Vacation begins in a few hours, and blogging stops for a few days. I'm working on a getting a guest blogger for the time I'm gone, but it's not clear right now whether I'll be able to arrange that. Keep checking in, though, and definitely make sure to come back next weekend (February 26), when my usual frenzied blogging begins again.

Where do y'all come from?

Courtesy of this great PalmTree Pundit post (which itself came courtesy of a Paragraph Farmer post), I found myself taking a quick test to determine whether my speech patterns are Yankee or Dixie. Whether because my foreign-born parents had their first contact with American English in the South, or because I lived briefly in the South, or because my neck of the West was populated by Southerners, I don't know -- but I came out high Dixie! It's a fun test, and y'all should try it.

Watch the Moonbats Turn on Their Own

Courtesy of the IWF Inkwell, I've been learning about the insane feminist Susan Estrich, and her battle with Michael Kinsley, now working at the LA Times. Check out a long series of posts in the Inkwell to get up to speed on this Estrich's lunacy. Then, once you know what's going on, click over here for a Washington Examiner article that simply prints, verbatim, the emails that ran between Kinsley and Estrich. I'm not calling Kinsley a moonbat, by the way. He's a very intelligent man, with whom I often don't agree. However, he is on the same side of the political spectrum as Estrich, and that's why I titled this post as I did.

Friday, February 18, 2005

Never trust the MSM

Bop on over to Gee Dubya to see a good analysis about a very subtle way in which the mainstream media distorts reality.

Hey! Which side is Google on?

The George W. Bush government is a team of shadows whose highest ranking officials rank among the darkest of US reactionary political fauna, Granma newspaper's international page denounces Friday. According to the paper, each time Bush nominates an official for a post, he picks the worst of all, and together, they make up the worst, gloomiest, cruelest and most messianic administration of all. His recent nomination of John Negroponte as first national intelligence chief, a position above the country's spying network, with huge powers and a large budget, proves the above-mentioned assessment. From now on, Negroponte will direct US spies and the agents who torture and scheme assassinations and coups in the world. As ambassador to Iraq for less than a year, he became the US proconsul, the figure on which the 'Government' of Iyad Allawi counts for all decisions, the mastermind of atrocities such as the rocking of Fallujah, torture camps, assassination of journalists and shut down the numerous irregularities, frauds and bribes. His dossier is as sordid as his role in Iraq.
No, I haven't taken leave of my senses. I offer the above coverage from Prensa Latina just to give you an idea of the kind of material Google finds newsworthy for its News engine. Yup, I found the above article on Google. This, of course, contrasts with Google's continued refusal to include more conservative news purveyors on its site, and the fact that Google employees are overwhelmingly Democratic.

Hitler won -- 60 years later

Hitler always wanted England. He long-ago offered the British the chance to come into the Nazi fold. As this article about the rise of the worst kind of anti-Semitism throughout Britain demonstrates, Hitler finally won.

England's disgrace

In a scathing discussion about London mayor Ken Livingstone's disgraceful anti-Semitism, and his scandalous embrace of the most extreme Islamists, Melanie Phillips also addresses the fact that Britain's Labour party, like Livingstone, has put itself in bed with this type of Islamic extremism. I urge you to read her whole article, but I'll leave you with her final words:

For Blair’s government, Britain’s 280,000 Jews are now utterly disposable, to be traduced and abused to buy 1.8 million Muslim votes. That is the real embarrassment of the Livingstone affair — to have hung out the dirty washing of the Left, which grovels before prejudice and terror to stay in power.

Academic freedom takes another hit, and another

The IWF is doing its job to expose liberal hypocrisy on America's college and university campuses. You can start with this pithy analysis of Larry Summer's real sin (questioning affirmative action), with its links to a post at CPAC. Then, pop on over here for Charlotte Allen's pithy take on the student kicked out of Le Moyne College in New York for writing a paper that advocated corporal punishment for students in certain circumstances. And of course, if you want the blow-by-blow account of the constant liberal hits on academic freedom, you should go to FrontPage Magazine -- its only problem being that it lacks the delicate ironic touch brought to bear by the IWF Inkwell contributors. UPDATE: Kathleen Parker also has a great article about the feminista reaction to Summer's heresy.

Welcome to the Middle Ages

It's 1348 all over again:

An outbreak of plague in northeastern Democratic Republic of Congo has killed 61 diamond miners and infected hundreds more, the World Health Organization (WHO) said Friday. Many of the 7,000 miners working in Zobia, north of the city of Kisangani, have fled since the outbreak began two months ago, and could have spread the highly contagious disease, the United Nations agency said. *** Plague, which is spread between rodents by fleas, can also be transmitted to people through infected rodent flea bites. It has a case-fatality rate of 50 percent to 60 percent among humans if not treated with antibiotics, WHO says.
Those of you who read this blog regularly know that I am not a fan of the UN. However, I have the greatest admiration for those WHO employees who routinely put their own health at risk to try and contain the world's worst infectious diseases.

Fighting for Democracy

On Feb. 19, 1945, more than 110,000 Americans and 880 ships began their assault on a small volcanic island in the Pacific, in the climactic battle of the last year of World War II. For the next 36 days Iwo Jima would become the most populous seven-and-a-half square miles on the planet, as United States Marines and Japanese soldiers fought a battle that would test American resolve even more than D-Day or the Battle of the Bulge had, and that still symbolizes a free society's willingness to make the sacrifice necessary to prevail over evil -- a sacrifice as relevant today as it was 60 years ago.
So begins an agonizing to read op-ed piece in the Wall Street Journal (subscription only) about the appalling sacrifices American Marines made to take Iwo Jima, which turned out to be more of a symbolic victory -- and an incredibly important one -- than a strategic victory. The point of the article is that in a war, especially a war against a totalitarian-ruled enemy, Democracies have to take the bloody hits, have to be as tough as that enemy, to prevail. I found it a very moving article and an interesting one so, if you have a WSJ subscription, I urge you to link over and read it.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Alanis Morissette makes the pledge

Anne, at PalmTree Pundit has a gem-like take on Alanis Morissette's announcement that she is now an American citizen. Check it out here. My two comments: (1) I feel cheated. I thought the loosey-goosey libs were moving north, up to Canada, not heading south. (2) My friend says Morissette's citizenship isn't ironic, it's economic. He bets that she took the step to escape punishing Canadian taxes.

Mathematical/economic help requested, please

Driving to work today, I caught a moment of Terry Gross's show, Fresh Air. When I tuned in, someone was telling her that Bush's social security plan just won't work, no way. I'm very slow at math, and quite phobic about percentages/investments, etc., but what he said sounded like funny money to me. That is, I kept saying to myself, "Something is wrong here. That's just not right." I wasn't surprised, therefore, when Terry, pausing for station identification, identified her guest as Paul Krugman. I'm willing to accept that there are entirely valid arguments against the President's social security plan, but I'm unwilling to believe that any of those arguments could come from Krugman. I was curious, though, about the benefits of a young worker keeping her money, as opposed to turning it over to the government. In essence, I imagined a scheme where the worker is forced to save a percentage of her income, rather than being allowed to spend it all. Using very simple numbers, because that's all I'm good at, and using a compound interest calculator, I did the following: First, I envisioned my worker beginning at 20 years old with a $20,000 annual salary. I further envisioned a situation in which she never got a raise -- she just flatlined at that number, getting $20,000 every year of he working life. To continue with the easy numbers, I pretended she was self-employed, so she was required to fund the entire 15% of her forced savings, for an annual total of $3,000 (money that would normally go into Social Security's ever-hungry maw). Lastly, I had her retire at 65, so I had her gainfully employed at an annual salary of $20,000, with annual $3,000 contributions, for 45 years. Here's what I came up with: If she had an average annual compound interest rate of only 2% for the 45 year period, she would end up with $227,305.26. If she had an average annual compound interest rate at the slightly greater 3% for the 45 year period, she would end up with $297,849.16. The numbers really start taking off after that. At an average compound interest rate of 4% per annum, she would have $395,135.23 to her name. And if she was able to achieve a 5% annual compound interest rate over the 45 year period, she'd end up with $530,010.51. My sense is that, at the 2% rate, she'd be at parity with Social Security (and please correct me if I'm wrong). Any greater interest rate, she'd be ahead of Social Security. Further, if one assumes that she actually increases her salary over her lifetime (whether because she ascends the employment ladder into a higher wage class or because of adjustments for inflation), she's got to end up with even higher numbers. But that's a complicated mathematical calculation I'm utterly incapable of doing. Having set all this out, I'd appreciate it if any of my readers could explain to me where (and if) I'm right with this analysis and where (and if) I'm wrong. Please do it in words of one syllable, though, and with simple numbers, since otherwise I'll be like that female professor at Harvard who tried to faint or throw up when confronted with Larry Summer's intellectual challenges.

Now they tell us!

Okay, it's been several years, but I still remember begging, yes begging, for this shot:

Women in labor may suffer needlessly because doctors mistakenly advise them to delay a common pain treatment for fear that it will impede contractions and lead to a Caesarean section, researchers are reporting. A new study of the treatment - a type of anesthesia that injects painkiller into the spinal fluid and the epidural area around the spinal cord to numb the pelvic region - finds that giving it early or late in labor makes no difference in Caesarean rates among women having first babies. There is no reason for women to deny themselves the medicine or for doctors to withhold it, the study says.
I'm not blaming my doctors -- who did a wonderful job -- but couldn't they have figured this one out a bit sooner?

Yet another explanation of how free speech is actually supposed to operate

Ann Coulter decimates the "free speech" defense bandied about by Ward Churchill's myriad supporters:

Ironically, it is precisely because Churchill is paid by the taxpayers that 'free speech' is implicated at all. The Constitution has nothing to say about the private sector firing employees for their speech. That's why you don't see Bill Maher on ABC anymore. Other well-known people who have been punished by their employers for their 'free speech' include Al Campanis, Jimmy Breslin, Rush Limbaugh, Jimmy the Greek and Andy Rooney. In fact, the Constitution says nothing about state governments firing employees for their speech: The First Amendment clearly says, 'Congress shall make no law ... abridging the freedom of speech.' Firing Ward Churchill is a pseudo-problem caused by modern constitutional law, which willy-nilly applies the Bill of Rights to the states -- including the one amendment that clearly refers only to 'Congress.' (Liberals love to go around blustering ''no law' means 'no law'!' But apparently 'Congress' doesn't mean 'Congress.') Even accepting the modern notion that the First Amendment applies to state governments, the Supreme Court has distinguished between the government as sovereign and the government as employer. The government is extremely limited in its ability to regulate the speech of private citizens, but not so limited in regulating the speech of its own employees. So the First Amendment and 'free speech' are really red herrings when it comes to whether Ward Churchill can be fired. Even state universities will not run afoul of the Constitution for firing a professor who is incapable of doing his job because he is a lunatic, an incompetent or an idiot -- and those determinations would obviously turn on the professor's 'speech.'
There's more, which, given that it comes from Coulter's pen (or, should I say, keyboard), is definitely worth reading.

America's willful ignorance

Robert Spencer, of Jihad Watch, was more than up to the task of taking on Jamal Badawi's joking challenge that he'd give $1,000,000 to anyone who could prove that the Koran actually condones warfare (rather than promoting a "religion of peace"). After citing to one blood-thirsty chapter and verse after another, and after pointing out that Arab-speaking fundamentalists certainly understand the Koran to incite religious war, Spencer concluded as follows:

This is one of the fundamental defects of the post-9/11 discourse in America: Muslim spokesmen again and again have insisted that Americans accept that Islam is a religion of peace, without offering a shred of evidence to this effect. Meanwhile, Muslims worldwide continue to commit violence in the name of Islam, and bland denials like Badawi’s not only do nothing to stop them, but perpetuate political myths that continue to mislead Americans about the sources of terror. As long as this goes on, nothing effective can or will be done to stop the ideology of jihad terrorism from proliferating in mosques and Islamic schools in the United States and around the world.
Read it all here.

Jimmy Carter -- the root of all evil?

Over at PowerLine, they take Jimmy Carter apart for his consistently leftist, anti-American behavior since he left office:

We've been pretty tough on Jimmy Carter, but with hindsight, probably not tough enough. If you search our site for 'Jimmy Carter,' you'll find all of his disgraceful acts that we've commented upon. His history is a sorry one: he started out as a Midshipman and served honorably in the Navy. But at some point, his leftist politics took hold and he started aligning himself with America's enemies.
I totally agree with their analysis, but I have a different bone to pick with our erstwhile President. As far as I'm concerned, it was he who set us on the path to our current conflict with the Islamic Fundamentalists. For those of you too young to recall, in 1979, when Iranian fanatics seized American hostages, Jimmy Carter apologized to these thugs, again and again and again. (Here's a good summary of Carter's despicable -- or maybe just stupid -- behavior.) There has never been any doubt in my mind that Carter first set America up as a paper tiger in the Arab mind, an image we were able to shake only with our successful military action in Afghanistan. To read in PowerLine about Jimmy Carter's post-1979 antics only confirms that, in 1980, when the American people booted him out of office, their instincts were absolutely correct.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

An acknowledgment that Bush can do not right -- even when he's right

Here's a good op-ed from Gregg Easterbrook, of the New Republic, with the first paragraph telling you everything you need to know (but read the column anyway):

SUPPOSE Al Gore had become president and proposed a law to cut pollution from power plants by about 70 percent at a low cost, to discourage the lawsuits that often stall clean-air rules from being enforced, and to serve as a model for a future system to regulate greenhouse gases. Chances are Mr. Gore would have been widely praised. Instead George W. Bush got the White House and announced a plan to do those very things, yet it has been relentlessly denounced by Democrats, environmentalists, editorial pages and even characters in a Doonesbury cartoon.

Welcome to the world of managed care

As Britain repeatedly demonstrates, socialized medicine is a great idea that doesn't work:

Hundreds of patients are having to wait longer for treatment at a hospital where non-urgent operations have been cancelled or deferred since the end of January. The freeze was imposed by the Queen Elizabeth Hospital NHS Trust in Woolwich, south-east London, because of 'severe pressure' on the accident department and the need to meet the Government's four-hour accident and emergency waiting target. At a second hospital, Bromley Hospital NHS Trust, in Kent, some operations have also been put back because of the increased demands of urgent cases over the winter. At Woolwich, pressure on the accident department meant that patients faced lengthening delays for treatment that threatened the A&E target. The Government insists that patients should not wait for more than four hours between arriving and being treated, sent home or admitted. Delays were arising because of the hospital's inability to admit emergency cases to the wards. *** The surgery ban at Woolwich, which began on Jan 27, is expected to last until the end of March. The only exceptions are "clinically urgent" cases and those patients for whom a delay would mean that they had been waiting for more than six months at the end of March - another Government waiting list target.

You've got to keep an eye on your friends, I guess

And I'm sure the French thought that, with all their pandering to the radical Islamic factions in the world, their "good" friends would pass them over when it came to planning things like this:

Islamic militants under investigation for allegedly planning an attack on the Russian Embassy in Paris had other targets on their list, including the Eiffel Tower, police and judicial officials said Wednesday.

Is this any way to treat a dog?

If PETA really cared about animals, it would be going after this type of animal abuse: You know, poodles are really charming, intelligent, normal dogs when they're not being forced into this kind of demeaning behavior!

Why Jews voted for Kerry

GW (you can check out her blog here), after reading my post about my fearlessness when faced with American Fundamentalist Christians (see here), asked why I think Jews voted in droves for Kerry. I thought that was an interesting enough question that it deserved its own post. As you can see, this is a very personal post, based on words from people I know, and having nothing to do with any deep research. I think Jews they voted for Kerry because Jews have become nonreflective Democrats. An American-born Jewish friend, who is the only member of his family who did not make the switch after 9/11 states (a) that Republicans are evil and (b) that his father would roll over in his grave if he knew his son was voting Republican. An elderly European Jewish woman I know cannot get over her reflexive fear of Christians. A 40-something Jewish friend reads only the New York Times and the S.F. Chronicle, and is convinced that Paul Krugman is God. As you can see, all these people are unwilling to accept new information, and are deeply rooted in old habits. A friend of mine, who is (unusually) a long-time conservative Jew, believes that this is just a lost generation of American Jews. As far as he is concerned, they have to die out, just as the Exodus Jews had to die out during the 40 years in the Wilderness, before a new, pure Jewish generation can appear. I hope he's not right, but he may well be. It is consistently amazing to me that Jews can ally themselves with a political ethos (the Left) that has become more and more aggressively anti-Semitic, either in the guise of anti-Israel policies, pro-Palestinian policies or, as in the recent British Labour advertisements, just plain old-fashioned anti-Semitism. The older European woman I mentioned likes to point to the fact that some conservative Christians support Jews/Israel only because they believe that the Jews being in Israel is a necessary prerequisite to the Second Coming. Amusingly, she implies that, once that happens (that is, once Christ returns), then the Christians will turn against the Jews. I've told her I'm willing to deal with that new problem for the Jews once it happens.

The Courts are at it again

I don't even know what the underlying issue is, but I do know that, whatever it is, some judge somewhere in New York is taking over the role of a school board or other legislative body.

Faced with a new court order requiring that $5.6 billion more a year be spent on New York City's public schools, Gov. George E. Pataki did this week what he has done at every other stage of this long, drawn-out legal saga: he pledged to continue fighting the case, holding off the state's day of reckoning yet again. Governor Pataki said that he was moved to appeal the order because he thought the state's elected leaders should decide how much it spends on education, not its judiciary. But education advocates noted that the court handed down its order, on Monday night, only after the state's leaders failed to comply with an earlier court ruling to fix New York City's schools. (The ruling did not specify how much of the extra money should come from the state or from the city.)"
You can read the whole article here. Please note the NY Times' sneaky writing near the end of this quoted material. Pataki says, rightly, that he's appealing this order because the elected legislature, not some judge, should be deciding how to spend the state's money. The next sentence begins, "But education advocates noted that the court handed down its order, on Monday night, only after the state's leaders...." (Emphasis mine.) Because this is juxtaposed with Pataki's objection to court involvement, one assumes that it will end by saying that the court acted only after the state's leaders ignored their own legislative process. But, noooo. What it actually says is that the state leaders failed to comply with an earlier effort at judicial activism. All I can think of is the miserable, judically created boondoggle in Kansas City. You can read this Cato Institute analysis of the debacle that results when judges start ordering how vast sums of money should be spent, irrespective of what the people in the state or community actually want or are willing to do. I have had the dubious pleasure of being on the receiving end of orders generated by innumerable judges. With few exceptions, judges believe that, once sworn in, they suddenly become a conduit to some higher truth, unrelated to law. I have news for these judges: the higher truth in this land is our Constitution, and our Constitution is the most legal of all legal documents. Once our judges become one man (or woman) law machines, the rule of law that has made this country peaceful of prosperous is over, and anarchy (very expensive anarchy) begins.

The ADA -- good thing or bad?

I've always had a troubled relationship with the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act). On the bad side, it creates disproportionate expenses on businesses and communities to accommodate a very small fraction of the population. I've known thriving business that simply closed their doors because, although no one with a wheelchair had ever even attempted to use their services, they were told that they had to install a $250,000 elevator, or some other such thing. In addition, because "Disabilities" is defined so broadly, the whole thing is just an invitation to fraud. Thus, the statute states in relevant part that a disability is

(A) a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of the major life activities of such individual; (B) a record of such an impairment; or (C) being regarded as having such an impairment.
I mean, think of that first one: something that "substantially limits a major life activity." I've heard of employees claiming that they get depressed if they don't have windows, forcing their (small) employers to spend thousands of dollars to rejigger offices or install windows to ensure that a part time file clerk can see outside. It's a boondoggle. On the plus side, I learned after I had children that the wheelchair access ramps, which cities and businesses installed all over America at enormous expense, ostensibly for the small population of wheelchair users, are in fact a great boon to mothers with strollers. That was a nice law of unintended consequences. Overall, while I'm enormously sympathetic to the handicapped (something that I hope would go without saying for all people), I've always had my doubts about passing on this huge cost to benefit a small number of people. It's not fair that they shouldn't have access to everything but, hey, life's not fair. (Nobody needs to tell me, of course, that I'll dramatically change my tune should something happen to me or my family. But, thank God, nothing has happened, and I can only look at it from a fairly emotion-free costs/benefits analysis.) And it was with this in mind that I read this article:
A federal agency plans to order the town of Ross to make a popular foot path accessible to people with disabilities or face 'appropriate action' by the U.S. Justice Department. The four-foot-wide dirt path along scenic Shady Lane fails to meet provisions of the Americans with Disabilities Act, according to a letter from the Federal Highway Administration to Richard Skaff, a Mill Valley resident who filed a complaint with the Justice Department. 'The Town of Ross is found to be in violation of ADA requirements relative to the issues raised in your complaint,' said the Feb. 8 letter to Skaff from Frederick D. Isler, associate administrator for civil rights for the highway administration, which oversees ADA compliance. The agency 'will request that the Town take immediate steps to come into compliance with the ADA,' Isler wrote. 'It will also be advised that pursuant to regulation failure to achieve compliance will result in this matter being forwarded' to the Justice Department.
Ross is a wealthy community, and can probably afford the change, although I imagine it will drastically decrease the charm of this Shady Lane. The Town, however, could also say that it's hasn't budgeted for changes demanded, and doesn't intend to do so. In that case, it will simply have to close the Lane down. And that will illustrate one of the problems I've always had with ADA. It gives the handicapped, or the government, or people asserting rights that the actual handicapped in the community don't even care about, the right to say, if you don't let me play, than nobody gets to play. And that bothers me.

The Larry Summers can of worms rocks on

Only a few days late, I caught up with this Catherine Seipp op-ed piece from last Sunday's LA Times. In it, she takes on the prevailing feminist (and false) theory, exposed because of the Larry Summers hooha, that women are being grossly discriminated against behind the hallowed Ivy covered walls of our colleges and universities. The whole column is amusing and instructive, so I'll just tempt you with this one paragraph:

The National Science Foundation has funded a three-year grant called Gender Equity in Math and Science; projects include tracking 'gender discrimination' against female professors or trying to persuade high school girls to major in computer science instead of, say, law. Never mind that college women now outnumber college men, or that high school girls in general get better grades and test scores than high school boys. Feminists have a knack for snatching defeat out of the jaws of victory, so until women reach a utopian 50/50 parity with men in math and science careers (whether they want to or not), the party line says we've got a problem.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Something to celebrate

O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay! The 1957 originally televised version of Roger & Hammerstein's Cinderella is finally out on DVD (see my sidebar for an Amazon link with more information). The 1960s version with Leslie Ann Warren is vile, and the recent Whitney Houston/Brandy production, while lavish, is charmless. The original, though! Well, you'll have to see it for yourself to appreciate the charm of a fresh-faced 21-year old Julie Andrews, at the peak of her singing powers. The supporting cast is wonderful, the music delightful, and the whole show so good that you'll forgive the grainy, black-and-white kinoscope footage.

The Emperor really didn't have any clothes

One of my deep, dark secrets has always been that I loathe Death of a Salesman, a play I found turgid, depressing and utterly pointless. I never felt that Willie Lohman was anything but a nebish -- not because of some evil system grinding him down -- but simply because he was a nasty, stupid man. Of course, one doesn't voice these thoughts, especially in the academic, liberal circles in which I moved. It was therefore so refreshing to see this over at the Independent Women's Forum Inkwell:

Let’s face it: Miller wrote exactly one good play: "Death of a Salesman." And even "Death," with all its melodrama and pathos, has its problems, in that you need an actor of nearly superhuman talents--say, Lee J. Cobb, George C. Scott, or Dustin Hoffman--to make its central character, Willy Loman, come alive. On the printed page, Willy is no more than a cardboard Everyman pastiche of Miller’s Marxist notion of the toll that capitalism is supposed to take on those who aren’t rich. Willy Loman doesn’t fall because he’s Willy Loman but because he’s an ordinary guy who bought into the stupid "American dream" (to quote Miller’s eulogizers), and so, "attention must be paid," as his wife, Linda, says in the play. It’s up to the actors to turn Willy from a cutout into a rounded, emotionally moving individual. Every other piece of theater crafted by Miller was bad, bad, bad. "The Crucible"? Another melodrama with a message, this message--the McCarthy hearings were, um, witchhunts--even less thinly coated with storyline and genuine characterization than "Death." Schoolchildren everywhere in America are still obliged by their earnest and politically correct teachers to read, see, or stage "The Crucible" at least once before they’re allowed to graduate from high school, but scholars of early American and witchcraft history--not to mention literary critics who demand more from the stage than propagandistic cartoons--consider the play a joke. Then there’s "A View From the Bridge," where Miller decided to write a Greek tragedy but confused Oedipus with the Oedipus complex and make the plot about a guy who falls in love with his niece. Or "After the Fall," in which Miller trashed his wife of five years, Marilyn Monroe, or "Finishing the Picture," written just before his death, in which he trashed her some more. Poor Marilyn was emotionally frail enough without having to endure a didactic, humorless Marxist catechist of an ex-husband reaching even into her grave to give her a hard time.
There's more, and IWF links to a Wall Street Opinion Journal article by Terry Teachout, which is also a good thing to read.

Coming soon to a courtroom near you -- government sponsored civil litigation

It's almost enjoyable watching the "European Court" take down Europe. This coverage comes courtesy of the WaPo:

The longest-running case in English legal history neared the end of the road Tuesday when the European Court of Human Rights ruled that two environmental activists whom McDonald's successfully sued for libel 15 years ago did not receive a fair trial and had been denied freedom of expression. *** The McLibel Case, as it came to be known, consumed 314 days in court and cost McDonald's more than $16 million in legal fees as well as a super-sized helping of bad publicity. Although a British judge upheld the activists' right to make some of their allegations, McDonald's won the original verdict in 1997 and a $98,000 libel award. That sum was reduced by one-third on appeal. On Tuesday, the rest of it went down the drain. A seven-judge panel in Strasbourg, France, threw out the original judgment, ruling unanimously that Morris and Steel should have received legal aid from the British government to defend themselves. The ruling was a blow not only to McDonald's but also to Britain's libel laws, which compared with U.S. laws tend to favor plaintiffs. *** In 2000, Steel and Morris went to the European court, which hears claims of violations of the European Convention on Human Rights, a 1950 document laying out fundamentals of human rights in post-World War II Europe. Their action against the British government contended that its refusal to give legal aid denied them a free hearing in violation of the convention and deprived them of freedom of expression. In its ruling, the Strasbourg court emphasized that the activists had not brought the original case but were simply seeking to protect their right of free expression against legal action by a multinational corporation. "As a result of the law as it stood in England and Wales, the applicants had the choice either to withdraw the leaflet and apologize to McDonald's, or bear the burden of proving, without legal aid, the truth of the allegations contained in it," wrote the judges. "Given the enormity and complexity of that undertaking, the court does not consider that the correct balance was struck between the need to protect the applicants' rights to freedom of expression and the need to protect McDonald's rights and reputation." The court ordered the British government to pay Morris and Steel the equivalent of about $105,000 in damages and costs. The government has three months to appeal the decision.
Keep in mind that the Court is saying that, in a civil trial, the State was required to provide free legal services for defendants accused of libel. At least in America, we still have civil defendants seek pro bono lawyers or private legal funds. Can you imagine our legal system if it were entirely government funded for individuals in cases involving corporations. Truly, it doesn't bear thinking about.

The new judicial nominees

The Demos are up in arms about President Bush's renomination of several candidates who were stalled the last time around. I can appreciate why they are so upset. These are candidates who have made it clear that they will not be activist judges who use the bench as if it were some non-elected legislative office. PalmTree Pundit has gone back to the source, and nicely pointed out why the Democrats, who have the bad luck to be in the minority right now, should just grin and bear it, instead of preventing proper majority rule:

We're learning about the writing of the US Constitution in our history study right now, and yesterday we talked about the 3 branches of government and why our founding fathers set it up that way. I fail to see how refusing to allow a vote on a president's judicial nominees fulfills the job of the legislative branch. It seems to me that Sen. Cornyn has it right:
Sen. John Cornyn, Texas Republican and member of the Judiciary Committee, said that for 200 years, judges have passed on a straight majority vote, by which all of the filibustered nominees would be confirmed. 'It would make no sense to require Republicans to be elected by a 60 percent vote, while only requiring 51 percent of Democrats,' he said. 'The Senate should reject the double standard that Democrats have created for confirming President Bush's nominees and restore our constitutional and traditional standards.'

Monday, February 14, 2005

Who's afraid of Fundamentalist Christians?

As Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ was being released, many Jews predicted a new wave of pogroms. It never happened. When I speak of my respect for American Fundamentalist Christians, I'm constantly asked, "Aren't you, as a Jew, afraid of them?" I'm not. Initially, when pressed about my "fearlessness" about American Christians -- even, gasp!, conservative, Southern Christians -- I always attributed my lack of fear to my personal experiences. When I was living among Europeans, I was on the receiving end of genuine anti-Semitism. Europe was the first place I heard the expression, "To Jew someone down." It was the first time someone, upon learning I was Jewish, asked "Are you rich?" It was the first time someone conversationally referred to Jews in my presence as "Christ-killers." It was also the first (and last time) anyone told me an Auschwitz "joke." A short time after that unpleasant experience, I lived in the Bible Belt, a relatively secular Jew in a sea of Christians. Some people did approach me intending to proselytize, but they always backed off politely when I made it clear I wasn't interested. I never felt offended by these efforts. I always had the sense that these people, rather than being hostile to my Jewish-ness, simply wanted me to join them in what they perceived as the best possible way of living and dying. Their efforts were actually rather kind. I'm open to the possibility that my experiences were aberrant. I've had Jewish friends who were raised in the South who felt isolated, but feeling isolated is not the same as being on the receiving end of active anti-Semitism. Also, these friends were also a bit high strung, which may have resulted from the hostile treatment they received, or may have caused the hostility. Who knows? My own personal experiences aren't going to convince any terrified Jewish Americans, though, that modern American Christians are not the enemy. I think one has to look more closely at historical anti-Semitism, and at the current anti-Semitism. I'm going to draw on my own knowledge base here, so excuse the absence of hyperlinks, please. Anti-Semitism originally was a deeply Christian attitude. You can point to whatever source you want for this ideology: Paul's need to separate dramatically from the source faith; the fundamental insularity of Christianinity in the Middle Ages, which did not allow for dissenting views; the graphic representations of Jews killing Christ (although I think that was more a result of anti-Semitism, than a source). I'm sure anyone with a couple of minutes can come up with more ideas. Whatever the sources, any anti-Semitic attacks were formulated in the name of religion. Thus, whether Jews were accused of poisoning wells at plague time, or ritually sacrificing Christian children, or committing heinous usurious practices, their being targeted resulted from their being the un-Christian. And this anti-Semitism was widespread and violent. Most of the Crusades really didn't get kicked off until all local Jews, and then all Jews in the Crusaders' paths, had first been murdered. In England, the British simply expelled all the Jews, who were not readmitted until Cromwell's time (more about that later). The Spaniards are famous for their Inquisition, although in fairness one must note that infinitely more heretic Christians died at the hands of the Inquisitioners than did Jews. While this virulent religion-based anti-Semitism is most firmly rooted in the Middle Ages, it didn't end there. The horrible pogroms in Russia and Poland were tied to the traditional Christian hostility to Jews, and they lasted until the early 20th Century. Indeed, they were the single largest factor behind the huge immigration of Russian and Polish Jews to America at the end of the 19th Century. The Reformation saw a change in anti-Semitism. Martin Luther was virulently anti-Semitic but, with him, it was personal. When he broke with the Roman Church, he approached the Jews, believing that his Bible-based approach to God, stripped of the trappings associated with Catholicism, would bring Jews into the Christian fold. When the Jews rejected his advances, he turned against them. Despite Martin Luther's hostility, though, the Protestants were less hostile to the Jews. I think this is because Protestants, who read the Bible themselves, instead of having it processed through priests, and who associated themselves with the people of the Old Testament, simply felt closer to the Jews. How can you repeatedly read the Jewish history in the Old Testament, envision a new Jerusalem, and nonetheless view as evil the original Jews? Many of the Protestant sects that developed following the Reformation also believed that the in-gathering of Jews in Jerusalem was a prerequisite to the Second Coming, and this too inclined them, not to want to destroy the Jews, but, at some level, to accomodate them. Certainly, it was no coincidence that, as I've noted above, it was Oliver Cromwell, during his Protectorship in England, who finally invited the Jews back. There was always another strand to anti-Semitism, and it had to do with money. Usury (which was then defined as charging interest on money, no matter how low the rate) was banned under Catholic rule in the Middle Ages. However, even in those feudal times, people needed access to money, especially the already rich and powerful. The perfect loophole was to allow Jews, who were not bound by these Christian strictures, to be the money lenders. And Jews, who were barred from most activities in the Christian world, stepped up to the plate and took on the job. Some of them did well, at least for a time (before the monarch or noble refused to pay interest and took the lender's other assets as well), although most lived in abysmal poverty. The result of this money-based relationship between Jews and Christian states was that Jews became associated with money, not in the ordinary way of being merchants, but in the reprehensible way of being usurers. The connection between Jews and money in the ordinary person's mind was negative: it conjured up greed, avarice and sin. The Enlightenment came along and, in many parts of Europe, the connection between the Church and anti-Semitism began breaking down. However, certain associations remained, the most interesting (for my purposes), being the negative association with capital. Socialism, as articulated by Marx and Engel, equated capitalism with evil. It was a short step, therefore, to equate Jews (widely perceived as the first capitalists) to be the most evil in the capitalist system. Not surprisingly, then, socialists, and their offspring (communism and, believe it or not, facism), proved to be just as anti-Semitic as the Church had been. This time, however, the anti-Semitism was framed by the Jews' connection to capital, not their rejection of Christ and their association with his death. Indeed, socialists and their ilk took anti-Semitism to heights the Medieval Church had never imagined, culminating in the 6 million dead at the end of WWII. In recent years, the Jews' historic association with capitalism has meant that, as far as the Left is concerned, Jews are allies of, proxies for, spokespeople for the ultimate capitalist enemy: America. If you hate America (as so much of the Left, even the American Left does), you must also hate the Jews. And since the Jews' country is Israel, you must hate Israel and love her enemies -- even if her enemies, like the radical Islamists, hold views antithetical to the views you, as a good Leftist, espouse. I haven't forgotten my original premise, although you may be wondering right now what this dash through history has to do with American Fundamentalist Christians. Well, a lot. First, although I know there are exceptions, American Christians seem to have abandoned entirely historical Christian-based antipathy to Jews. Whether it's because Protestantism is the dominant Christian religion in America (and Protestants have historically felt more connected and less hostile Jews); or whether it's American Protestantism developed in large part after the Enlightenment; or whether modern American Protestants have grown up in a post-Civil Rights era; or whether American Protestants are simply a forward-looking people, who don't carry around the old hatreds, I don't know. All I know is that "anti-Semitism to the death" does not characterize American Fundamentalist Christians, and it explains the lack of anti-Semitic attacks following Mel Gibson's movie. Conservative American Christians also tend to be highly patriotic people. As I pointed out, the Left has determined that America's friend -- Israel -- is the enemy, making Israel and Jews fair game (and allowing traditional anti-Semitism as an acceptable weapon). Conversely, American Christians view with approval Israel's friendship with America and extend that approval to Jews. I think, also, that American Christians recognize that there has been a rejiggering of alliances. The enemy is no longer people of the wrong faith, it's people of (a) no faith (i.e., the aggressive secularists) or (b) people of a faith hostile to America and American Christianity (i.e., radical Islamists). Religious Jews do not fall into either of these catagories. Indeed, they are most likely to be the Christians' allies against these common foes. So, to sum up, I think that the two historical forces driving anti-Semitism (rooted in religion and socialism) do not apply to American Christians. They have pretty much purged themselves of the religious aspect of anti-Semitism, and they have never allied themselves with socialism. And that's why I'm not afraid of Christians. UPDATE: Wow! Talk about synergy. I've been contemplating this post for a long time, but only yesterday got around to drafting and posting it. Today, Dennis Prager writes about the similarities between Christianity and Judaism, and Daniel Pipes looks into the difference between traditional and modern anti-Semitism. UPDATE II: It occurred to me that I should explain why I opted for the phrase "Fundamentalist Christian" in this post. I don't use the phrase to liken Fundamentalist Christians to Islamic Fundamentalists, with whom they have virtually nothing in common, except a powerful belief in the word of God as expressed in their founding books (the Bible and the Koran, respectively). I use the phrase, instead, to distinguish the group of American Christians that Jews find so worrying from the great masses of Americans who identify themselves by saying, "Oh, I was raised Christian," or "I guess I'm Christian." To my mind, Fundamentalist Christians are people whose religion is an integral part of their lives, rather than a loose, Christmas-time affiliation. Lastly, I opted not to use the phrase "conservative Christian" (a phrase David Limbaugh uses in a biting column about the Demos' inept efforts to jump on the values bandwagon), because that has more of a political ring to it, when I wanted to use this post to discuss matters less secular and more religious.

Mark Steyn takes on the UN, and the UN loses (big time)

It's impossible to convey the quality of Mark Steyn's latest attack on the UN by just quoting a sentence or paragraph. All I can do is urge you to read his latest op-ed in the Telegraph. If, for some reason, you've been on the fence about whether the UN should be destroyed, or whether more lives and more billions of dollars should be wasted while we try to rehabilitate that utterly corrupt organization, you won't be struggling with that issue after reading this article.

Donald Luskin's Krugman Truth Squad

If you had the misfortune to read Paul Krugman's savage attack on Bush's proposed budget, be sure to read here to learn where, as usual, Krugman lied. I'm thinking of making a bumpersticker: "Krugman -- again -- lied, and people's wealth died."

The shlock coming out of Hollywood

I've attacked Hollywood before (here, here, here and here), so I really appreciated Greg Crosby's take on what's wrong with today's movies. Some sample Crosby gripes:

* I recently saw "Jerry McGuire" on TV for the first time and hated that they had two young kids (one looked to be about 8 or 9 years old, the other couldn't have been more than 5 or 6) saying the f-word. Bad enough for anyone to use that kind of vulgarity on screen, but five-year olds? Why isn't that considered a form of child abuse? And what's with their parents? I guess anything is fine as long as their kid is in a big movie. * Today's style of movie kiss really repulses me. I know you think I'm probably just an old prude, but if you knew me you'd know that I'm not. It's just that the way the kisses are handled isn't very romantic — it isn't even sexy — it's simply vulgar. Part of it is the way the kisses are staged, part of it is the over the top Foley sound effects which replicate the slurping of an overripe peach. It's a total turn off. *** * Studios catering to the 12 year old movie-goer have kept me away from about 80% of the films being produced today. I can't identify with teen angst let alone teen humor. Bodily function jokes stopped being a rip-roaring knee-slapper for me at about the age of eight. And when will the studios stop with the ever-popular ‘kick-in-the-crotch’ joke? Enough already!
I couldn't agree with him more. My husband likes movies, so we usually have four or five a week streaming through our home -- and I usually walk out on each of them after suffering for 5 or 10 minutes. For example, we recently tried to watch "Garden State," the young Zach Braff's much heralded new movie. Even my husband, who is much more tolerant of movies than I couldn't stick it out for more than 15 minutes. By that time, we'd watched a boring lead character be an ineffectual waiter, attend his mother's funeral, and go to a drug fueled party that ended in a semi-orgy. Aside from the total ickiness, there was, after 15 minutes, still no plot nor any sign that there would be a plot. I guess I can understand why critics, who have become jaded and desensitized from spending hours watching unutterable garbage, might think that this miserable excuse for a movie is something meaningful, but why are ordinary people bothering with this kind of garbage?

A pretty pithy summary of what's wrong with Social Security today

Jeff Jacoby pretty much nails the problem with Social Security in his most recent column:

You don't have to be a financial wizard to know that Social Security is a lousy investment. Unlike the money you deposit in a bank or salt away in an IRA, you don't own the money you pay into Social Security. You have no legal right to get those dollars back, and when you die you can't pass them on to your heirs. Nor can you use your Social Security account before you retire — you can't borrow against it and you can't cash it in. You aren't allowed to put the money into a balanced portfolio. You can't even watch as the interest accumulates, since your Social Security nest egg doesn't earn any interest.
What's fascinating is how he exposes the true nature of this government sponsored Ponzi scheme:
Social Security wasn't always a sucker's game. As with all Ponzi schemes, players who got in early made out like bandits. For many years, Social Security deductions were minuscule. Until 1949, the combined employer/employee tax rate was only 2 percent, and it was imposed on just the first $3,000 of income, for a maximum payroll tax of just $60 a year. The first Social Security recipient was Ida May Fuller of Ludlow, Vt., who retired in 1940 after having paid a grand total of $44 in payroll taxes. By the time she died in 1975, she had collected $20,933.52 in benefits — a return on her "investment" of more than 47,000 percent. It wasn't really an investment, of course. It was a forced transfer of wealth from younger persons to an older one. And as the number of Ida May Fullers grew, and the value of their benefits increased, the amount of wealth that had to be transferred kept climbing. By the time I entered the workforce in 1975, the Social Security withholding rate was 9.9 percent, applied to wages of up to $14,100. Maximum tax bite: $1,395 a year — more than 23 times the $60 of a generation earlier. And a generation later? Today Social Security skims off 12.4 percent of the first $90,000 earned — one-eighth of every paycheck. There are no exemptions, no deductions. It kicks in from the very first dollar of income. It is the biggest tax the average American household faces — 80 percent of us pay more in Social Security taxes than we do in income tax.
I'm not sure whether Pres. Bush's privatizing idea is the perfect answer, but it's certainly better than the situation we have now.

Sunday, February 13, 2005

Does our popular culture lacks a vision for war and peace?

Just heard Vera Lynn's famous WWII song, "There'll be bluebirds over the white cliffs of Dover." It always makes me teary-eyed. The lyrics are so simple, but when you imagine them being sung in the midst of the worst, most all-encompassing war in human history, I find them very powerful:

There’ll be bluebirds over The white cliffs of Dover Tomorrow, just you wait and see There’ll be love and laughter And peace ever after Tomorrow, when the world is free The shepherd will tend his sheep The valley will bloom again And Jimmy will go to sleep In his own little room again There’ll be bluebirds over The white cliffs of Dover Tomorrow, just you wait and see...!
Interestingly enough, there's a famous Israeli song that has exactly the same concept woven into it. It's called, in Hebrew, "Bashana Haba ah." The English lyrics roughly translate as follows:
In a year from today, We'll sit on our verandahs, And we'll count every bird in the sky. Boys and girls, playing catch, In the meadows over yonder, While the long summer days drift on by. Wait and see, wait and see, Just how good it will be, In a year, just one year from today. Wait and see, wait and see, Just how good it will be, In a year, just one year from today
These are songs that envision a common cause and a common goal: peace for children. They're not anti-war peace songs. They're wartime peace songs. They support the war effort as the best and only way to defeat a hostile force and reestablish a peacetime millieu for the next generation. I never listen to modern pop/rock music, but I do keep aware of trends -- and I'm totally unaware of any song that expresses the same thoughts. Can anyone enlighten me on this subject. UPDATE: Here we go. Once again, someone makes the point so much better than I did. Of course, since the someone was Mark Steyn, I stand in awe, as always, of his incredible acumen and wonderful writing. Here's the first part of his Sun Times column today about winning the war on the field, but losing it in the pop culture at home and abroad:
Here are three small news items from around the world you might have missed: 1) An unemployed waitress in Berlin faces the loss of her welfare benefits after refusing a job as a prostitute in a legalized brothel. 2) A British court has ruled that a suspected terrorist from Algeria cannot be detained in custody because jail causes him to suffer a ''depressive illness.'' 3) Seventeen-year-old Jeffrey Eden of Charlestown, R.I., has been awarded an A by his teacher and the ''Silver Key'' in the Rhode Island Scholastic Art Awards for a diorama titled ''Bush/Hitler and How History Repeats Itself.'' A trio of itsy-bitsy little stories from the foot of page 27 of your daily paper, if they made it at all. But they're as revealing about the course of the war as anything going on in Iraq. The Germans, in the bad old days when their preferred field of combat was France rather than Fraulein Helga's government-regulated bondage dungeon, used to talk about ''wehrwille'' -- war will. America, Britain, Australia and a select few other countries have demonstrated they can just about muster the ''war will'' on the battlefield. On the broader cultural front, where this war in the end will be won, there's little evidence of any kind of will.

Saturday, February 12, 2005


This AP story left me with a lump in my throat. It also left me wondering what effect, if any, it will have on the debate about taking brain damaged people off life support.

HUTCHINSON, Kan. - For 20 years, Sarah Scantlin has been mostly oblivious to the world around her — the victim of a drunken driver who struck her down as she walked to her car. Today, after a remarkable recovery, she can talk again. Scantlin's father knows she will never fully recover, but her newfound ability to speak and her returning memories have given him his daughter back. For years, she could only blink her eyes — one blink for "no," two blinks for "yes" — to respond to questions that no one knew for sure she understood. *** Sarah Scantlin was an 18-year-old college freshman on Sept. 22, 1984, when she was hit by a drunk driver as she walked to her car after celebrating with friends at a teen club. That week, she had been hired at an upscale clothing store and won a spot on the drill team at Hutchinson Community College. After two decades of silence, she began talking last month. Doctors are not sure why. On Saturday, Scantlin's parents hosted an open house at her nursing home to introduce her to friends, family members and reporters. *** Scantlin still suffers constantly from the effects of the accident. She habitually crosses her arms across her chest, her fists clenched under her chin. Her legs constantly spasm and thrash. Her right foot is so twisted it is almost reversed. Her neck muscles are so constricted she cannot swallow to eat. The driver who struck Scantlin served six months in jail for driving under the influence and leaving the scene of an accident. *** Family members say Scantlin's understanding of the outside world comes mostly from news and soap operas that played on the television in her room. On Saturday, her brother asked whether she knew what a CD was. Sarah said she did, and she knew it had music on it. But when he asked her how old she was, Sarah guessed she was 22. When her brother gently told her she was 38 years old now, she just stared silently back at him. The nurses say she thinks it is still the 1980s.

I've got another book to recommend

I just completed Andrew Breitbart's and Mark Ebner's Hollywood, Interrupted : Insanity Chic in Babylon -- The Case Against Celebrity (see the side bar for an Amazon link). The book tackles Hollywood's insane family values; drug abuse; touchy-feely, cult-like religions; sexual perversity; McCarthy-like PC politics; etc. It's well and amusingly written, but I never felt the urge to laugh, since the content was so disgusting. Reading a book like this has its pleasures, of course: You get to feel smugly superior as you read about the antics of narcissistic people who lack any value system. It is also a window into a life that (I am thankful to say) most of us don't live. I'm recommending the book, though, because I think it's important. These horrible, morally-adrift, undereducated, mean-spirited people control much of the public agenda in this country. It's their agenda that ends up in the TV shows and movies that we (and our kids) watch, and in the music our kids listen to. Because of their fame, they have access to politicians, leaving many of those star-struck government servants with the sense that they've just had an audience with a divine "voice of the people." Knowing who these people are, and what they believe in, is important, if only to understand what agenda is behind the movies, the TV shows, the celebrity benefits, etc.

Happy Birthday, President Lincoln

The Gettysburg Address:

Nov. 19, 1863 Fourscore and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation or any nation so conceived and so dedicated can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of it as a final resting place for those who died here that the nation might live. This we may, in all propriety do. But in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate, we cannot hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead who struggled here have hallowed it far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is rather for us the living, we here be dedicated to the great task remaining before us -- that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they here gave the last full measure of devotion -- that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain, that this nation shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth.'
It's as apposite now, as it was 142 years ago. Hat Tip to Powerline, for reminding me what day this is (and they have a great tribute to Pres. Lincoln).