Friday, December 31, 2004

Happy New Year

"May she be a damn sight better than the last one......"

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

I'm not Dead, but I'm not at all Well....

First things first: A belated Merry Christmas to one and all.

I've been travelling. I will not have a lot of internet access for a short time. Hopefully, I'll be able to do the occasional update between now and when I get back to Minnesota in January.

Don't worry. The Iconic Midwest is still alive.

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Anything I Might Add Would be Superfluous

From Iowahawk: ACLU Unveils Religion-Free Holiday Program

Washington, DC - In an effort to help American elementary schools adhere to federal guidelines regarding religious content in school activities, the American Civil Liberties Union today unveiled a new holiday musical program for the nation’s 120,000 public elementary schools. The program, entitled “Holly Jolly Solstice,” will be performed in all federally-funded public schools starting in 2005.


Columnist Frank Rich of the New York Times says the new federal holiday program “is long overdue.”

“I’ve attended some of these school shows, and quite frankly, they are embarrassingly amateur,” says Rich, who writes on both theater and politics. “The costumes and sets are worse than anything I’ve seen, including off-off-Broadway. And the actors – my God - half of them can’t even remember their lines. This new program brings sorely needed production values to the schools, without all the disturbing references to mangers and snowmen.”

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

I Can't Tell if This is a Crock or Not

There is never a political psychologist around when you need one.

Invisible bias: A group of psychologists claim a test can measure prejudices we harbor without even knowing it. Their critics say they are politicizing psychology.

INSIDE THE WOOD-PANELED confines of the Harvard Club, about 200 Bostonians gathered recently to tap into their subconscious. Literally. Audience members were told to move as quickly as possible through a series of faces and words projected on a screen, tapping their left knees for a young face or a "good" word (joy, sunshine, love), and their right knees for an old face or a "bad" word (bomb, agony, vomit). It took about 15 seconds for most to finish. But when asked to switch, to pair young faces with "bad" words and old faces with "good" words, the rhythm faltered and the tapping slowed. Audience members shook their heads and giggled. Some threw up their hands.

To the Harvard psychologist Mahzarin Banaji, who presided over the event, the demonstration showed that most of the audience -- like most of the people who have been subjects in this type of experiment -- have a harder time associating old people (or nonwhite people, or homosexuals) with "good" when given no time to think. These are all examples of what Banaji calls implicit prejudice, and their importance extends way beyond an intellectual parlor game. Implicit prejudice, she argues, can affect our decisions and behaviors without our even knowing it, undermining our conscious ideas and best intentions about equality and justice.

You can take the "Implicit Association Test" online. There are actually many different tests you can take examining various differences. I took the test on race, and have been informed that I have a slight preference for black relative to white. But there is much about it that doesn't seem terribly convincing. In the test's online incarnation there is an immediate priming issue in that the test is labeled, "This IAT requires the ability to distinguish faces of European and African origin. It indicates that most Americans have an automatic preference for white over black." Wouldn't telling people that before they take the test have some effect on the results?

The test functions by setting up baseline responses, first to just the words (good & bad), and then to just faces (black & white). These two categories are then combined for a test (good words with white faces, bad words with black faces,) and then switched in a further test (good words with black faces, bad words with white faces.) Presumably, the differences in response time is a measure of bias.

However, I can't help thinking that the result I generated was measuring the difference between choosing black faces with my left hand on the first test and with my right hand on the second. Maybe that physiological difference is taken into account in the test, but I don't see how exactly. Another question I have concerns how we process words and images on a cognitive level. Do we process language in the same manner as any other visual stimuli? I do not believe that we do. The test seems to asks you to evaluate images (in this case people's faces) in the same manner as language, and find that, in general but not in my individual case, white faces are more easily associated with "good." But I wonder what the results would look like if instead of using "good words" and "bad words" you used "names of fruits" and "names of cuts of meat"? I get the feeling that if you did the test this way you very well might come up with a result that indicates 70% of respondents have an easier time associating white faces with veal cutlets.

I'm just not sure this is measuring what they say its measuring.

Merry Christmas Dammit!

Signs of the counter-revolution in Britain: We are committing cultural suicide

Once Christmas has been supplanted by a spiritually vacuous post-Christian orgy of consumption, the next phase of the war is to ban it altogether. Simply turn it, as Birmingham famously did, into a generic “Winterval” to make it equally meaningless to everyone. Tony Blair’s Christmas cards have no reference to, well, Christmas. The Eden Centre in Cornwall has banned Christmas, replacing it with “a time of gifts”.

The war on Christmas is being waged across Christendom. In Italy, a school replaced the Nativity play with Little Red Riding Hood, while another replaced the word “Jesus” in carols with “virtue”. The Mayor of Sydney caused outrage by reducing the city’s Christmas decorations to a single secular illuminated tree with the sign “Season’s greetings”. The US now has a national “holiday tree” and schools take “ winter holidays”. Christianity has gone back to its origins, and become the world’s most widely persecuted religion, finally prompting the Vatican to hit back with a campaign against “Christianophobia”.

So who are the modern-day Scrooges, Grinches, Cromwells and Castros, and what motivates them? In most cases, the Chistophobes use the excuse of multiculturalism, insisting that celebrating Christmas is offensive to non-Christian minorities, often citing Muslims. But the truth is that it is done in the name of Muslims, rather than at the request of Muslims, who accept the existence of Christ. Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Sikhs and Buddhists don’t mind Christmas celebrations any more than Christians object to Diwali, Eid or Chanukkah. As Trevor Phillips, the Chairman of the Commission for Racial Equality, said: “It’s not offensive to minority communities to celebrate the festival of Christmas.”

No, the real Christophobes are the self-loathing, guilt-ridden politically-correct liberal elite, driven by anti-Christian bigotry and a ruthless determination to destroy their own heritage and replace it with “the other”. It is the American Civil Liberties Union that is threatening lawsuits against any schools that allow the singing of carols and the BBC’s editorial policy bans criticism of the Koran, but not the Bible.

Monday, December 20, 2004

Facade Easement Abuse (You Heard Me)

Something to ponder the next time you are driving through an historic district with homes you could never in your lifetime afford. (From the Des Moines Register -those Iowans with the mostest!)

Worried about "facade easement abuse"? Well, maybe not, but that's what Grassley, the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, gets paid to fret about.

The Washington Post recently had a series of articles about this practice, in which wealthy owners of pricey historic structures - many in Washington - get to take advantage of the tax code and get their tax bills reduced. For a $1.5 million house, the tax benefit could total $165,000 or more.

Grassley loves to talk about this kind of stuff, snorting in a statement that it is "ridiculous for people in Georgetown to take tens of thousands of dollars in charitable tax deductions for agreeing not to put aluminum siding on their million-dollar brick houses, when local laws and regulations already prohibit such activity."

I can't believe stuff like this is still in the tax code, yet they won't bring back the tax incentives they used to have for rehabbing homes in troubled neighborhoods.

A Litmus Test Dies in Iowa

There is a grass roots movement to recruit pro-life Democrats in Iowa. David Yepsen of the Des Moines register likes the idea: Welcome pro-life Democrats

For years, the Iowa Democratic party has been solidly pro-choice. It wasn't always that way. The late governor and senator Harold Hughes was strongly anti-abortion. Over the years many anti-abortion Democrats, especially from Iowa's more heavily Roman Catholic or evangelical areas, have felt increasingly alienated from their party over this issue. Some even became Republicans.

The Democratic "tent" hasn't been as big as some Democrats would like to believe. That's been costly, and Republicans have welcomed the votes of these "Reagan Democrats." While some pro-choice Republicans left their party over this issue, the trade-off seems to have netted the GOP more.

(Polls show there are more pro-choice people than pro-lifers, but it's also true there are more single-issue pro-life voters than single-issue pro-choice ones. Advantage: Republicans.)

This may be the only time I've ever read about the Republican's (rather lukewarm) pro-life stance actually being a political plus for them. I think it probably is a small plus. The Republicans haven't really gained as much as the Democrats had lost by kicking pro-lifers out of their tent in the 70's and 80's. Welcoming back these voters, many of whom are much more comfortable with the Democratic agenda as a whole, is a no-brainer for the Dems. Of course, it won't treated as such. There will be much wailing and nashing of teeth. But you cannot argue with results.

The 2004 election changed some Democratic thinking. At the national level, Democrats watched as Republicans captured a majority of votes of people most concerned about moral values. "As a wedge issue, this has helped Republicans tremendously," Kibbie said. "I don't want to see our party get narrowed down to a pro-choice party."

Also, in Iowa, one reason Democrats picked up legislative seats is that some candidates they ran were anti-abortion in districts where many voters hold similar views. While that upset the pro-choicers, it proved a successful political strategy for legislative Democratic leaders, some of whom are also anti-abortion.

The question remains to be seen as to how this will play for the national party as a whole. The fact that this is happening in Iowa, not exactly unfriendly ground for the Democrats, might signal that there is a sea change approaching.

Sunday, December 19, 2004

The Limits of Victimhood

Newsweek has decided to offer its take on Bill Cosby and his call for personal responsibility among poorer blacks: Does Cosby Help?

"It is not all right for your 15-year-old daughter to have a child," he told 2,400 fans in a high school in Milwaukee. He lambasted young men in Baltimore for knocking up "five, six girls." He tongue-lashed single mothers in Atlanta for having sex within their children's hearing "and then four days later, you bring another man into the house." "The audience gasped," reported The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

People have been gasping since May, when Cosby blasted "lower-economic people" for "not holding up their end," for buying kids $500 sneakers instead of "Hooked on Phonics." His words (and tone) set off a raging discussion over whether Cosby's comments make sense and whether they can do any good, over whether the problem resides in the poor people he criticized, or in forces largely beyond their control. No group has a larger stake in that debate than the poor urbanites Cosby presumably is trying to save. Yet they don't exactly seem to be rushing to Cosby's church.

Time to trot out Newsweek's "expert" opinion.

Kenny, 17, a onetime stick-up man, puts it plainly. "Cosby is ... talking about me holding up my end of the bargain. Listen ... I robbed 'cause I was hungry. If he's going to put food on my table, if he's going to give me time to pursue education vigorously, then fine. But if he's not, then I'm going to hold up my end of the bargain and make sure I get something to eat."

Newsweek accepts at face value that this "onetime stick-up man's" choice was between crime and starvation. One wonders what kind of store the teen attempted to rob. My bet is it wasn't a supermarket.

"Times are different" than in Cosby's heyday, said Sonia, 20. "Back then even if [men] worked at a factory they'd get up every day and go to a job in a suit. Nowadays ... most black males don't have good enough jobs."

Once again Newsweek expects readers to view this statement as some sort of refutation of Cosby, and not the example of shocking ignorance it actually is.

The aim seems to be to inoculate poor blacks in America from having any standard of personal responsibility placed upon them.

Telling people born into such circumstances to shape up is not much of a plan. Combating "a history of inequality and disadvantage" requires "systematic solutions," argues Stephanie Bell-Rose, president of the Goldman Sachs Foundation, which funds programs targeting achievers in poor communities. She believes Cosby has an obligation to be "more thoughtful."

I'll agree with the writers in one sense. Cosby's call for personal responsibility is not a "plan" at all. Cosby is not claiming that personal responsibility is "necessary and sufficient" to change lives for the better. He is claiming that it is necessary. It won't matter how many "systematic solutions" you try to implement if you still have an epidemic of poor teen mothers, and it is ridiculous to claim that 18 year old men have "no control" over whether they impregnate the 14 year old girl down the street or not. What Cosby is railing against is the belief that, if you are poor and black, there is no behavior you could engage in for which you could be faulted.

The reason Cosby has been so effective in raising these issues and starting this debate is precisely because he isn't being "more thoughtful," which seems to be synonymous with being politically correct. Here is to hoping that Cosby will remain less thoughtful for a long time to come.

Saturday, December 18, 2004

A Man With A Plan (Sort of)

Dave Barry said it. Here's my plan to end the red-blue rift

And as Americans, we must ask ourselves: Are we really so different? Must we stereotype those who disagree with us? Do we truly believe that ALL red-state residents are ignorant racist fascist knuckle-dragging NASCAR-obsessed cousin-marrying road-kill-eating tobacco-juice-dribbling gun-fondling religious fanatic rednecks; or that ALL blue-state residents are godless unpatriotic pierced-nose Volvo-driving France-loving left-wing Communist latte-sucking tofu-chomping holistic-wacko neurotic vegan weenie perverts?

Yes. This is called "diversity," and it is why we are such a great nation - a nation that has given the world both nuclear weapons AND SpongeBob SquarePants.

Friday, December 17, 2004

TP can also Stand for Terrible Problem

From the Des Moines Register: Folks back home are helping soldiers keep it clean

Just as soldiers and their families are dealing with more news about the lack of armor on some military vehicles in Iraq, we're reminded of another supply problem in the war zones.

"We have to send toilet paper to my nephew who is stationed in Afghanistan," said Nancy Nagla of Des Moines. "And we had to send it over to my sister when the 4th Infantry Division went to Iraq last year. It really galls me families have to send something as basic as toilet paper."

It doesn't involve all military units in Iraq and Afghanistan. Some have adequate supplies of toilet paper, but some rely on shipments from home.


Sometimes the Republicans seem determined to throw away their long standing support from the military and their families.

Overreacting to Russia

In the Washington Post, Eugene Rumer makes a generally persuasive case in his piece Why "Contain" Russia?

Rumer's argument is that there is little need for the U.S. or Europe to back Russia into a corner because of some "neo-imperialistic" impulses on Russia's part. This is particularly so, since Russia has proved so ineffectual when it does attempt to influence its neighbors.

All of which brings this question to the fore: How does one contain a regime that is already dangerously weak at home and abroad and the alternative to which could be an even worse regime? Are we really prepared to pull the plug on cooperative threat reduction, on the NATO-Russia Council, on the Proliferation Security Initiative, on the six-party talks on North Korea, on NATO's Partnership for Peace, etc.?

Are we ready for the alternative: a series of robust military assistance programs to some of NATO's newest members and aspirants, a battle of ideas with Russia, a deliberate policy of isolating it in the international arena and actively discrediting its regime at home?

All more than fair enough. However, Rumer's care is weakened somewhat by his skirting the issue of the moment. Were the U.S. and European condemnations of the "elections" in Ukraine, in his view, wrongheaded? When it comes to our reactions to Russia's actions, where is the line to be drawn between justifiable criticism and unnecessary hectoring? In Rumer's vision that remains an unanswered (and unasked) question.

Strange Places

It is surprising sometimes who can turn out to be an interesting interview. Case in point, film critic and pundit Michael Medved: "Live" with TAE Michael Medved

I'll admit that part of the reason I found this surprising is a prejudice I hold against Medved. I was a teenager when Medved and Geoffrey Lyon's took over hosting duties on PBS's "Sneak Previews" from the vastly more informative and entertaining Robert Ebert and Gene Siskel. Since that time Medved seemed, to me at least, second rate at best. So when he would, from time to time, pop up on television in the role of "pundit" it only seemed natural that he would come across as a little boring and shrill. Just like he was on "Sneak Prerviews!"

But, this interview has lots of interesting bits, and thought provoking moments.

I enjoy visiting Canada, but the idea of living there seems depressing to me for precisely the same reason that living in the United States feels exhilarating. I mean, if Canada ceased to exist tomorrow that would be very sad, and not a good thing for the 35 million Canadians. But for the rest of the world, it would be a shrug of the shoulders. If the U.S. ceased to exist tomorrow, it would be a guarantee of 1,000 years of darkness for all of humanity.

No Canada? Where would NHL teams find their goons?

Thursday, December 16, 2004

He's Chevy Chase, and I'm Not (Thank God)

Interesting post on a Chevy Chase meltdown over at The Moderate Voice: Not A Good Career Move, Chevy

If you read this Washington Post item the bottom line is that Chase bombed....and badly...

At least he's used to that.

Hating Stephen Ambrose

Some people are just cold. In his piece on plagiarism, School for Scandal: Revisiting Ambrose, Bellesiles, Ellis, and Goodwin, David Greenberg cackles:

For all the media hysteria that standards had fallen, it should be noted that Bellesiles was stripped of his job, Ellis suspended for a year, and Goodwin bounced from the PBS NewsHour and the Pulitzer Prize board. These were all perfectly appropriate punishments. Ambrose, as an author who simply didn't care about his scholarly reputation anymore and who could get paid handsomely for cookie-cutter best sellers, seemed distressingly beyond penalty. But, a lifelong smoker who had testified in court on behalf of big tobacco, he died of lung cancer in October 2002.


Greenberg's contention that plagiarism in the academic world can be dealt with by liberal use of good old fashioned "shunning" seems to be undercut by a piece in the Chronicle of Higher Education. Four Academic Plagiarists You've Never Heard Of: How Many More Are Out There?

Be sure to keep track of your dissertation. It may be being ripped off as you read this.

The Only Broadway Show I'll Ever Look Forward To, or My Gawd! I'm a Dork


A tidbit or two:

The stakes surrounding "Spamalot," which will first see the light of day in Chicago's Shubert Theatre (good luck getting tickets; it's sold out) are much higher.

I just want to point out that I have my tickets for the Jan. 4th show, and I can't wait to see it. (Yes, I know. There may be something seriously wrong with me.)

I'd telephoned Kim "Howard" Johnson in Ottawa, Ill. Johnson is the author of numerous excellent books on the Pythons-he has hung out with them all, on and off, for decades. Thus he is the most qualified Boswell in the Anglo-American ocean of Python obsessives, many of whom can be found on the Internet at all hours, reciting lyrics, reliving classic sketches, wishing they still were in college.

I ask Johnson why Idle seems so completely obsessed by the "Spamalot" project, which seems to me to be risky.

"Eric was sort of the loner in many ways," Johnson says, noting that the other Pythons tended to write in pairs. "He is younger than the other Pythons by a year or two. He was a bit overshadowed by them."

Johnson, a smart fellow with a kind voice, pauses. "I think Eric has always felt like he was the younger brother. That probably explains it."

I'm not sure I see much of a risk here, at least in a financial sense. If the experience of The Lord of The Rings films tells us anything, it is never underestimate the power of dorks at the box office. "Spamalot" may get thrashed by the critics, but it will rake it in on Broadway.

As for Idle, I'm glad at least one of the Python's is still actively engaged with the material. It is easy to understand that John Cleese might never want to see another stuffed parrot, or that Terry Jones doesn't want to go nude in public anymore. On second thought, scratch that last one. If Terry Jones hasn't been naked in public recently, I'm sure it's not because because he doesn't want to, it's just that no one has asked him.

So what will "Spamalot" look like? The plot has been a closely guarded secret, but some things are leaking out. Although Idle will not be appearing in the show, Cleese will be playing the voice of God. On tape.

"I think we have some very nice moments," Idle says. "Singing cows. Things like that."

Things like that indeed.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

It's a Good News/Bad News Thing

On the heels of an attempt by the Washington D.C. city coucil to shake-down Major League Baseball (Baseball in Washington in jeopardy) , it looks like the Montral Expos might not be moving to our nation's capital after all. That is of course the bad news.

The good news? We may not have to endure the worst team name in major league sports after all.

You have to love this bit of egotism from the city council:

Council Chair Linda W. Cropp proposed the amendment, which was approved 10-3 after she threatened to withhold support from the overall package, which then passed In a 7-6 vote.

"I am not trying to kill the deal," Cropp said. "I'm putting some teeth in it because I'm really disappointed with what I got from major league baseball."

That's right Ms. Cropp. This is indeed all about you.

Still Yearning

Eclectic Refrigerator has a nice follow-up posting on the discussion we noted earlier on the left's ambivilence to freedom. Check out, Re: Little Americans.

I even added my own two cents, because I just can't keep my mouth shut.

The Senate's Mexican Stand-Off

There are two basic models of political observers. The first and most numerous type of observer follows politics the same way a sports fan follows their favorite team. A passionate rooting interest develops for one side or another and, in the end, everything gets measured by wins and loses, at the ballot box, in congress, in the courts, etc.

The second type of observer enjoys following politics because it provides great theater. They enjoy the shifting cast of characters, and the almost ritual emergence of individuals who step forward to play the roles of hero or villain. For such a person the wins and loses are less important as things in themselves, and more important as plot points for the characters we know in an ongoing saga. And, like any adventure film buff, these types of observers live for huge set pieces, those once-in-a-lifetime moments of high drama that put the political junkies on the edge of their seats.

My own makeup is 90% the second type and 10% the first. This election when many pundits bemoaned a coming "constitutional crisis" if the electoral college count ended in a tie, I was rooting for that to happen. As political high drama little would beat that. I was fascinated by the Clinton impeachment proceedings, something I'd never seen before and may never see again in my lifetime. I even long for one of the political parties to have a "brokered" convention, where the long dead days of "smoke filled back rooms" could be revisited.

So when I read stories such as, Parties gird for epic judicial battle, I react to them a little different then some.

Senator Specter even signaled he was open to the "nuclear option" to block Democratic filibusters of judicial nominees. "If a rule change is necessary to avoid filibusters, there are relevant recent precedents to secure rule changes with 51 votes," he said at a press conference last month.

Democrats say this move could shut down the Senate. "There would be a hellish price to pay by going that route," says a senior Democratic aide. "Ninety-five percent of how the Senate operates is by unanimous consent. Every mid-level assistant in every department of government that now passes by unanimous consent would suddenly require debate and votes."

When I read of Democrats preparing to answer the Republican's "Nuclear Option" gun with their own "Unanimous Consent" gun I immediately think, "Ooo! The Democrats know their Quentin Tarentino!"

Pass the popcorn.

Those Lovely North Koreans

North Korea is making veiled nuclear threats against Japan, again. What is it this time? Well, it seems that Japan has the unmitigated gall to still be upset about North Korea's kidnapping and enslavement of Japanese citizens snatched during the 70's and 80's. What's a few slaves between neighbors? N Korea warns Japan on sanctions

Last week, DNA tests showed that bones provided by North Korea to prove that a missing Japanese woman, Megumi Yokota, was dead, did not belong to her but to several other people.

Pyongyang admitted kidnapping her in 1977 but said she committed suicide in 1984. Many in Japan, including her parents, are suspicious and believe she is still alive.

Some believe she is being detained because she knows too much about the secretive country.

Whenever I hear about these cases it always sounds like a Tom Clancy novel. One of the really bad ones at that.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Why I'd Make A Lousy Libertarian

The image above was taken by one of the Mars rovers, and it shows water vapor clouds in the Martian atmosphere. I know we don't really "gain" much of anything, as such, from our NASA investment, but I can't help myself. I love this stuff. I gladly pay my taxes in hopes of seeing more of this stuff.

The truth is there are all kinds of technologically intensive endeavors I'd spend billions on, if anyone was stupid enough to let me have my way. We wouldn't have any money left, but we would have one kick-ass high speed rail system. It would go nicely with our pretty pictures from Mars.

Read up on recent Mars rover findings here: Images of Earth-like clouds on Mars
Find more Mars rover images here: Mars Rover Images Releases

It Isn't "Flogging a Dead Horse" If it's Still Moving

More global warming debate, this time from James Glassman: Global Warming Extremists on the Run

They've failed -- largely because opponents like MIT climatologist Richard Lindzen, who has called warming theory a "religious belief" rather than sound science, haven't been intimidated. Now, a consensus is building to tackle global warming the right away.

What is even more mind numbing, from a scientific point of view, is that the following sentence needs to be written at all:

Meanwhile, there's important research to be done. We still don't know whether the rise in temperatures is natural and cyclical (it was warmer many centuries ago when the Vikings colonized Greenland) or human-induced.

That's right, we don't know why it has warmed up. Oh there are plenty of theories around. However, these are not theories in the "well established principles" vein, but theories in the "untested hypothesis" vein. Yet, for some reason, we are supposed to wreck our economy for a hypothesis.

Monday, December 13, 2004

The Great Blog Roll - I'm Talking to You!

If you've got a great new blog don't forget to sign up for The Great Blog Rush (aka The Great Blog Roll). I'm planning on sending out updates every Sunday evening, so make sure you email me by then to make this week's update.

Maybe I'm Just Too Cynical

Whenever I see articles like this one in the Kansas City Star, Segregation by sex reverses progress in the classroom, my first reaction is not a charitable one. Such opinion pieces just do not generate a "benefit of the doubt" response from me. What is generated is a sense that someone is trying to hoodwink me.

The opinion piece in question concerns the issue of single sex education, although the level of schooling (college, high school, kindergarten?) is never specified. Early on I read:

The popular wisdom that single-sex education is "better for girls" is not supported by the contemporary, more carefully controlled studies in educational sociology.

Even though I have to admit that I've never read the studies that are being referred to, my initial reaction is to suspect that these studies are less "carefully controlled" and more "rigged." I seem to find confirmation, of a sort, when I read:

When studies control for class sizes, student background differences (such as socioeconomic status, test scores and prior academic achievements), parental involvement, resources and school selectivity, the performance differences between coeducational and single-sex schools and classes disappear. for those students who are A) poor, B) poorly educated, C) do not enjoy parental involvement, D) do not enjoy good access to educational opportunities, E) are stuck in huge classes, and F) might not be so bright, single sex classrooms won't help. Which begs the question, what other single factor would overcome all of that? It is also clear that many of these are overlapping variables. Restricting schools to a single sex would, presumably, promote smaller class sizes. As well, obviously, single sex schools are being offered as a choice for students and not as a mandatory policy, which indicates parental involvement and greater access to educational opportunities, at very least.

My cynicism forces me to see such opinion pieces as an effort to maintain the status quo in American public education, one of our institutions least in need of it.

Well...maybe I should lighten up. Maybe.

Yearning For Freedom

This blog's good friend David over at Eclectic Refrigerator, has a terrific post concerning the left's sudden lack of conviction on the benefits of freedom. The Little American and a Liberating Vision

In my own idealistic view, I am not envisioning an Iraqi/Islamic democracy that mirrors Western secular democracy and includes SUV-driving fans of Desperate Housewives, but that is distinctive to Arabic culture and the Islamic religion, and yet recognizes individual freedom. There was a time when the left would have not been so cynical about such ideas. I don’t recall in my idealist college days of the late 80’s the left claiming that we should be cautious about ending apartheid, that such a project should be abandoned because we are assuming black South Africans are “little Americans.” I thought the left believed the that the restrictions of apartheid needed to be stripped away so that black South Africans could be free to realize their own destiny. Why is it so different for Iraq or Iran? There are of course religious and cultural differences that are factors. And there are political differences. South African blacks had both a charismatic leader, Nelson Mandela, to help unify them and a very visible pro-liberation movement within the country.

However, there was a time when the left and liberals were passionate about the ideas of democracy and liberation of oppressed people. How has that turned so quickly (or at least seemed to turn so quickly) to cynicism, skepticism, and isolationism? Is it a new appreciation for the realpoltic approach and an abandonment of idealism? Is it that the we just can’t bear to agree with W. and the neocons?

There is a lot more to his post then this little snippet can capture. Do yourself a favor and read it all.

An Almost Fair Assessment

William Safire nearly brings himself to honestly portray another side to the ongoing reporter/shield law controversies: Judges as Plumbers

Safire writes about the continuing BALCO case out in California, and the leaking of secret grand jury testimony.

Stipulated, as lawyers say, that grand jury testimony is secret, protecting the privacy of reluctant witnesses. If the source violated an oath, that was wrong. But it is the publication's obligation to the public to publish what it considers newsworthy - and not to assist the government in punishing the provider of that news.

Counters the court cohort of coercion: isn't every citizen obliged to give sworn testimony to help the government enforce the law?

The answer is no. Government may not compel a man to testify against his wife, nor doctor against patient, nor priest against penitent, nor lawyer against client. The law has extended this "privilege" to psychologists and social workers, on the theory that society is ill served by erosion of trust within relationships dependent on such trust. Certainly the public interest in the robust and uninhibited flow of information should continue to protect confidential relations between source and journalist (as more than 30 states now do through "shield" laws).

I will give Safire credit for at least implying that reporters should have to make a case for their being granted special supra-legal standing. In the end, however, he still acts as if the case can be made prima facie that the relationship of reporter/leaker should enjoy the same protections as the husband/wife or doctor/patient relationships. It simply isn't that clear.

Notice the jumps in Safire's logic. In every other relationship he mentions, the importance of trust existed between the two parties originally privy to the information, but for the press, the "trust" involved is presented as being not between the reporter and the leaker but as being between the press and a third party (i.e. the "public.") Why doesn't he stress the reporters relationship to the leaker? Because, if he did his case becomes weaker. It is obvious that the relationship between reporter/leaker shares little in common with the ongoing relationships of trust to which Safire wishes to compare it. Furthermore, the entire basis of the relationship is different. Confidentiality of the information is what is protected in the other cases. For example, we can know the names of the spouses, or the priest and penitent, or the doctor and patient, it is the information generated by those relationships that is protected. This is in no way analogous to the reporter/informant relationship. There the information is meant to be disseminated by one of the parties involved, and it is only the identities that is to be protected. This is not to say that there shouldn't be any protection. This is to say that you will need to come up with a better reason for such protection than merely claiming that the reporter/leaker relationship is the same or analogous to that of husband/wife. It clearly isn't.

The public's "right to know" that reporters go on and on about, also extends to the "right to know" who has been breaking its laws. Reporter's don't seem nearly as keen to inform the public of this. It's at least partly because they have a vested interest. Reporters that can get their hands on secret information have the ability to "make a name" for themselves. It is a route to money, prestige and power. Of course they wouldn't want this tool taken away from them. However, they would be better served by not treating it as a near absolute. Not all leaked information is in jeopardy, because not all leaking constitutes in itself a crime.

Nor is all leaking noble. It is possible to imagine the leaking of grand jury testimony that is meant to intimidate witnesses, thereby helping organized crime avoid justice. It is possible to imagine the leaking of a government secret that results, intentionally or not, in the murder of agents working for the U.S. in hostile places. These are the very reasons that such specific information is made secret in the first place, to protect the interests of "the people."

Besides, what are the limits here anyway? Should the New York Times be able to conduct espionage against the government? Does the press get a free ride to pick and choose which laws they feel like abiding by? All Safire would concede is that the press cannot hold back on information leading to someone's murder. Thank heavens for small favors.

Sunday, December 12, 2004

Not Important, but Kinda Funny

Saturday Night Live and Brett Hull poke fun at NHL lockout

NEW YORK (CP) - Two Canadian stories in the news made Saturday Night Live this week.
Making a guest appearance on Weekend Update, the show's news spoof, veteran Phoenix Coyote Brett Hull was asked about Canada's "new gay marriage law."

"Well that's what happens in Canada when there's no hockey," a smiling Hull replied to laughter. "Guys have more time to hang out, talk about their feelings.

"Next thing you know they're in love with each other. I've got nothing against it, but I'd rather be playing hockey."

Said Weekend Update anchor Amy Poehler: "You heard it here first folks. Brett Hull would rather play hockey than marry a dude."

Asked whether the NHL can survive a year off from the lockout, Hull was optimistic.

"I think so. I mean with the basketball riots, the steroids in baseball, I think hockey is looking classier all the time."

The Dollars and Sense of Global Warming

Bjorn Lomborg ask us to Save The World, Ignore Global Warming.

Global warming has become the obsession of our time. From governments and campaigners meeting for the climate summit in Buenos Aires right now we hear the incessant admonition: making global warming our first priority is the moral test of our age.

Yet they are wrong. Global warming is real and caused by CO2. The trouble is that the climate models show we can do very little about the warming. Even if everyone (including the United States) did Kyoto and stuck to it throughout the century, the change would be almost immeasurable, postponing warming by just six years in 2100.

Likewise, the economic models tell us that the cost is substantial. The cost of Kyoto compliance is at least $150billion a year. For comparison, the UN estimates that half that amount could permanently solve the most pressing humanitarian problems in the world: it could buy clean drinking water, sanitation, basic health care and education to every single person in the world.

The question becomes: Do we A) spend our resources on efforts to ameliorate poverty and suffering in this world, or B) spend our resources in a quixotic attempt to change global climate that can accomplish nothing but the damaging of the world economy? It stuns me that this is even considered a question. There is only one rational answer.

I'm a big fan of Lomborg. Invariably, when I mention any of his work I will recieve a dismissive "Oh he's been refuted" remark from somebody. But, also invariably, when I look at the so-called "refutations" all I find are rebuttal pieces from people directly criticized by Lomborg. For some reason the mere existence on another side to this issue is enough to qualify as a "refutation." Imagine if this standard was used in a criminal court.

Prosecutor: "Mr. Manson, I put it to you that you murderd Sharon Tate"

Charles Manson: "No way man, I was at the movies."

Prosecutor: "That's good enough for me. I stand refuted."

Judge: "Case dismissed!"

Saturday, December 11, 2004

The Great Blog Rush: Daily Reminder

Got a great new cuirrent events blog? Want to spread the word to others? Then the Great Blog Rush is for you!

Dave, our good friend from over at the Eclectic Refrigerator, has already joined up. Get in while the gettin' is good.

Clubbing the Beehive

Michael Scott Doran has an interesting piece in the Wall Street Journal questioning the assumption that the war on terror is stirring up trouble akin to what you would get if you took a baseball bat to a beehive. The Iraq Effect? Muslim anti-Americanism is mostly hot air.

A backlash is developing against unbridled anti-Americanism. Those who argue that the Iraq war has been a great boon to al Qaeda are selectively reading the talk coming out of the Arab world, and paying no attention to its actions. Anti-Americanism is a clever alibi, but hardly a unifying force across the great divides of a society.

Friday, December 10, 2004

What a Drag it is Gettin' Old

Taken from Famous Atheist Now Believes in God:

A British philosophy professor who has been a leading champion of atheism for more than a half-century has changed his mind. He now believes in God - more or less - based on scientific evidence, and says so on a video released Thursday.

At age 81, after decades of insisting belief is a mistake, Antony Flew has concluded that some sort of intelligence or first cause must have created the universe. A super-intelligence is the only good explanation for the origin of life and the complexity of nature, Flew said in a telephone interview from England.

In one sense all this means very little to me. I'd never heard of Dr. Flew, as I've always considered atheism to be an intellectual exercise carried out in bad faith. Give me a good agnostic any day.

What I found depressing, and typical, about the story comes later on in the article,

Last week, Richard Carrier, a writer and Columbia University graduate student, posted new material based on correspondence with Flew on the atheistic Web page. Carrier assured atheists that Flew accepts only a ``minimal God'' and believes in no afterlife.

Flew's ``name and stature are big. Whenever you hear people talk about atheists, Flew always comes up,'' Carrier said. Still, when it comes to Flew's reversal, ``apart from curiosity, I don't think it's like a big deal.''

The unspoken assumption seems to be that Dr. Flew, being 81 years of age, must be feeble minded or at least not what he used to be mentally. And thank God they asked a grad student to asess the potential impact of this development. You might have asked a philosophy professor, but some of them are in their 60's and 70's! (It's too bad they didn't have the time to ask a junior high student or two for their opinions.)

Like most people, I actually hope I get the chance to live a long life, but it depresses me to think that after a certain age you become largely irrelevant. Have all the thoughts worth having before you're 60. They'll be useless after that.

MoveOn's Hostile Takeover

Supposedly non-partisan has decided that they are the rightful "owners" of the Democratic Party. MoveOn to Democratic Party: 'We Own It'

A scathing e-mail from the head of MoveOn's political action committee to the group's supporters on Thursday targets outgoing Democratic National Committee chairman Terry McAuliffe as a tool of corporate donors who alienated both traditional and progressive Democrats.

"For years, the party has been led by elite Washington insiders who are closer to corporate lobbyists than they are to the Democratic base," said the e-mail from MoveOn PAC's Eli Pariser. "But we can't afford four more years of leadership by a consulting class of professional election losers."

You can find as good a take on this as you will ever find over at The Moderate Voice. How To Destroy Your Political Party In One Easy Lesson

I will just add that the lunacy factor is an ever growing influence on the left. You can see it in the ravings of Al Gore or the persistant claims that ABC, CBS and CNN are out to get the Democrats. Why is that? Why, they are all run by corporations!! (*devestation* *shock* *awe* *horror*)

For a growing number of people on the left sounding like Coast-to-Coast AMers, Lyndon LaRoucheies, or mutant left-wing dittoheads is some sort of virtue.

Yeah, some virtue.

Sublimate My Love

There just might be too many different kinds of people: Gunman kills guitarist, three others at concert

The slain guitarist, ''Dimebag'' Darrell Abbott, 38, was a driving force behind the rock band Pantera, and police are looking into reports from witnesses that the gunman was a fan irate that the hugely influential group broke up.

Now, I've heard lots of crazy reasons for people descending to criminal violence but this is a new one. You start shooting someone because your favorite band breaks up? And, possibly more ominous, your favorite band is Pantera? Next thing you know someone is going to take hostages demanding that Dexy's Midnight Runners reforms.

The Great Blog Rush

Being the new kid on the block is never easy. The blogging world isn't any different. Getting the word about your great new blog isn't gonna happen easily. (Unless you are a new blogger who also works for the MSM. I always thought blogging was primarily an avenue for alternative voices, but maybe that's changing.) That is why I've started The Great Blog Rush. If you have a new (6 months old or less) politics or current events blog just email me at: giving me the name of your blog and your email address. Once a week I will send out an email with the new Blogs to be added to a seperate Great Blog Rush blog roll you will set up on your site. The goal will be to get a nice Blog roll of Great Blog Rush participants. And while you are at it make sure to register your blog on the TTLB Ecosystem.

Welcome to the Great Blog Rush of 2004!

Thursday, December 09, 2004

Yeaaah, I'm the Tax Maaaaaaan!

Iowans might be seeing some changes in their taxes. Then again they might not. Vilsack heads in right direction on tax reform

You don't live in Iowa? So, why should you care?

Easy. Gov. Tom Vilsak (D) is widely seen as having some national aspirations. He may be poisitioning himself squarely in the center on fiscal issues with those aspirations in mind. If so, it's a pretty good first step.

Get Your Kyoto Out of My Face

Here is another piece on global warming exposing the nonsense masquerading as science in the debate, this time from the Australian ("We love you! Amen!"): Protocol is just lots of hot air

Global temperatures were higher in the Roman times when grapes were grown on British islands and Hannibal's elephants walked through the Alps into Italy. They were higher in the medieval period when the Vikings found and colonised the island that they have called Greenland and when Norwegians grew grain on the fields that are 300m in altitude higher than it is possible to do today.

Temperature variations in the course of the earth's history have been much greater than the increase of 0.6 degrees Celsius estimated by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change for the last century. In the past, the earth's climate was warmer, the global temperature rose faster, sea level was higher, floods were more severe, droughts lasted longer and hurricanes were more devastating than they were in the 20th century. Moreover, the best available temperature data from satellites show negligible temperature changes over the past several decades.

This is one reason why any anomolous outlying regional measure of temprature, such as those that produced the spate of "The Artic is Melting! The Arctic is Melting" stories, are seized upon with such ferocity. It's all they've got. Aggregate measures don't show the dramatic change that are claimed. Sure, the climate is changing, but the climate isn't a static entity. It always changes. It always has changed. It always will change. There is no single normal climate.

So if Kyoto isn't about science, what is it about? Politics and money.

The Kyoto protocol requires a supranational bureaucratic monster in charge of rationing emissions and, therefore, economic activities. The Kyoto-ist system of quota allocation, mandatory restrictions and harsh penalties will be a sort of international Gosplan, a system to rival the former Soviet Union's. This perhaps explains why it finds such ready support in some quarters. But that's why it should be a warning signal for those who value economic and political freedom.

The Kyoto protocol is nothing less than a disingenuous attempt to dismantle the engine of economic prosperity in the name of science. I find myself agreeing wholeheartedly with the article's most dire warning:

The message for Australians is clear: continued economic growth and rising living standards or make your future and the future of your children a victim of Kyoto-ism, one of the most aggressive, intrusive, destructive ideologies since the collapse of communism and fascism.

Hopefully the Aussies will get the message. And afterwards I hope they pass it on to the United States.

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Prepare to Raise a Glass

Attempting to triagulate the opinions of the Supreme Court based on the oral arguments can be a tricky undertaking. However, after reading newspaper accounts I'm comfortable in saying that small wineries and consumers will win their fight with liquor wholesalers on direct wine shipments to customers. The Washington Post's story (Justices Hear Dispute Over Interstate Wine Sales) begins:

Winemakers who want to ship directly to consumers across state lines got a sympathetic hearing at the Supreme Court yesterday, as the justices considered oral arguments in what could be the most significant test of states' constitutional power to regulate the alcohol trade since Prohibition.

The Post further recounts a telling moment in the oral arguments.

Yesterday's argument was not entirely one-sided. Some justices, while sympathetic to the argument in favor of direct shipping, expressed concern that it might lead to a general erosion of state control over sales not only of wine but also beer and spirits.

"Your case is very narrow, but your rationale is very sweeping," Justice Anthony M. Kennedy told former Stanford law school dean Kathleen Sullivan, who was representing the group of wine journalists and connoisseurs challenging Michigan's law.

Sullivan replied that the states and wholesalers were the ones making a sweeping argument, because "they are saying that if you wanted to bar all California wines you could do that."

This bodes well. I was a bit afraid that this case would be argued and decided so narrowly that it couldn't be more broadly applied. Lord know there are many small microbrew beers I'd like to get shipped in as well. Maybe I shouldn't get too far ahead of myself.

I'm also a little surprised that the state's case is as weak as it is. The argument that the 21st Amendment should be considered as taking precedence over the Commerce Clause barely sounds plausible let alone compelling. And it looks like I will not be calling for the immediate impeachment of any of these justices as they made short work of the states argument that this protectionism is acceptable as a means to prevent underage drinking. (From the NY Times story, Justices Pick Apart Ban on Wine Sales From State to State

Justice David H. Souter observed to Mr. Casey, Michigan's lawyer: "Your opponents argue that there are no clear countervailing interests here, so by process of elimination you get down to nothing but protectionism. What's your answer?"

The law really does enable the state to protect minors, Mr. Casey replied.

"You say that, but how?" Justice Souter persisted.

Mr. Casey's response that state regulators could punish a state-licensed business left Justice Souter clearly unsatisfied.

Go Souter Go!

Now, we just have to sit back and wait for June to roll around.

Just keep the champagne chilling.

Europe Ruminates

Here is another piece on Europe's response to the Islamofacists: Stoned to death... why Europe is starting to lose its faith in Islam

Reluctantly, some intellectuals have lately concluded that the model for Europe should be the US. On Tuesday a writer for LibĂ©ration, the French left-wing daily, noted that immigrants in the US threw themselves into “the American dream” and prospered. “There is no French, Dutch or other European dream,” she noted. “You emigrate here to escape poverty and nothing more."

It is strange that everything comes back to the "melting pot" theory of integration, which is largely discounted (rightly? wrongly?) here in the States. What doesn't seem to be understood is that in many ways first generation immigrants are no different in the U.S. then in Europe. It's in the resulting second and third generations of those immigrants where the differences emerge. There seems to be more of a culture of opprotunity for the children of immigrants in the United States. It is unclear to me if the lives of second or third generation Turkish immigrants in Germany, for example, is substantially different from those of the first generation. Without avenues of cultural and economic mobility you wind up with stagnant sub-classes of immigrants who, though they may have escaped third world poverty, will never quite enjoy first world prosperity.

It does seem that Europe recognizes some of these dificulties (See for example, The Political Economy of Anti-Americanism ), but they may not have the will to impose the necessary corrections.

Better Late Than Never?

At the last moment the Washington Post has decided to weigh in on the intelligence reform bill. Reform in Haste

That shake-up, driven by an odd combination of election-year politics and the determination of the Sept. 11 commission to leave a mark, may improve the quality of intelligence information supplied to the president and other key policymakers; we have our doubts. Like the passage of the USA Patriot Act or the creation of the Department of Homeland Security, it has been mandated hastily and with scant consideration of its long-term consequences.

All fair enough maybe, but why are they waiting until now to speak up about it? One would think that a newspaper such as the Washington Post could do better than merely issuing report cards on congressional action. It isn't as if this bill was under the radar screen and sprung on people at the last second. Why not raise concerns all along about the direction the bill was taking in the hopes that public pressure might force congress to do a better job? I always figured that was a large part of a newspaper role as a public advocate.

I wonder if, prior to the election, intelligence reform was viewed by the Post as primarily something to bludgeon the President with, (e.g. "He's done nothing to implement the findings of the 9/11 commission!") and not so much a matter of good public policy. If so, its a shame. During any campaign cycle we get all the electioneering we can handle without the Post's two cents. Good public policy debates are useful at all times, even during the political season.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

A Middling Debate

Just following up on the Left2Right blog. I've been engaged in a running conversation over there concerning liberals dislike for those yellow ribbons you see that proclaim "Support The Troops." See Supporting The Troops?

In general I would say that there is some goodwill there, but its a scarce commodity.

A Great Debate?

I've come across an intersting attempt at a new blog by some academics, Left2Right. It has the somewhat didactic subtitle "How can the Left get through to the Right?", but there is still hope that it might turn into more of a conversation and less an intellectual crusade.

But, of course, lots of people are not comfortable with the "two way street" character of real conversation between people of goodwill. In such a situation one will find that they are influenced just as much as they influence. People who are already convinced of their moral superiority hate that.

It will be fun to see what happens.

(Of course all of this begs the question: Why did they have to start a blog to do this? Why not just engage with their conservative collegues? Oh....I forgot.)

Liberal's Sensitive Side

I thought I'd link to this, admittedly commonplace, conservative complaint about present day liberals ( Blue America: The land of the easily offended), because it does recount this wonderful exchange:

Liberal American Indian spokesmen and other liberals regularly tell us how offensive Indian names of sports teams are. The latest polls show that most Indians have no problem with such names, but liberals are still offended on their behalf. To make the point of how offensive the name "Indians" is for the Cleveland baseball team, one liberal caller once asked me, "How would you feel if a team were named 'Jews'?" I told him that it would be a great day in Jewish history -- for 3,000 years, Jews have been looking for fans.

Those Darn Reporters

Here is another media view of the current reporter/informant confidentiality controversy: The Loud Fight Over Reporters' Silence

This is more of fluff piece than anything else, so it isn't terrible informative. It does have the virtue of at least implying that there may be another (non-media) side to the story. But, once again, those intrepid reporters are our heroes. (They're "puckish!" Isn't that swell?)

Aren't there limits to this journalistic duty? Ramsdell said he could talk only if "released from my promise" by the source — and some reporters have testified in the Plame investigation when sources have given waivers. Absent a waiver, reporters occasionally maintain that they must keep silent though the heavens fall. In 1857, James Simonton of the New York Times said that even if a confidential source disclosed plans to blow up the U.S. Treasury, he would be obliged to keep the person's identity secret. Floyd Abrams, the lawyer representing Miller and Cooper, wouldn't extend the principle that far, but he does maintain that "the law can't distinguish between good leaks and bad."

Why doesn't this fill me with confidence in our nation's journalists? Terror, maybe, confidence, no.

December 7th, 1941

At 7:55 Am Honolulu time, 63 years ago today the first of two waves of Japanese attack bombers began dropping bombs on the Hawaiian islands. Flying off of the aircraft carriers Akagi, Hiryu, Kaga, Shokaku, Soryu and Zuikaku, Japanese aircraft ended their attacks at 8:25 AM. In a mere thirty minutes over 2400 soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines were killed, the battleships Arizona and Oklahoma were sunk along with sixteen other vessels, and over 180 aircraft were destroyed.

The United States was now a World War II combatant.

Remember Pearl Harbor.

Monday, December 06, 2004

"Why Can't I Bash Your Church on TV?"

I hadn't payed too much attention to the decisions of CBS and NBC not to broadcast a new commercial from the United Church of Christ. What little I had heard of the issue made me think that the networks were being a little arbitrary. But then I read this from Leonard Pitts: CHURCH'S CALL FOR UNITY TURNS OFF NETWORKS. Now I'm convinced that the networks did the right thing by their stockholders.

A key moment of the ad shows:

It shows two bouncers working a rope line in front of a church. They turn away a gay couple and what appears to be a Hispanic man and a black girl. A white family is allowed to pass. The text onscreen says, "Jesus didn't turn people away. Neither do we." A narrator closes the ad, speaking over a montage of old people, white people, black people, Hispanic people, lesbian people, human people.

The message is clear: If you belong to another church you are a racist, a homophobe, hate old people, and basically "white bred" trash. No wonder the networks didn't want to touch this drivel with a ten-foot poll. What is more surprising is that Pitts and others cannot see how such an ad could be viewed as deeply divisive.

Or maybe it isn't so surprising. Early on in his piece Pitts relates:

I joined the UCC -- a little-known denomination out of Cleveland -- about five years ago. It was the first church I'd ever seen that seemed to take seriously the idea that inclusion is a Christian value. It was also the first that actively sought to resolve divisions of culture, class, race and sexual orientation.

It seems that Pitts views his choice of Church as an extension of his personal ideological world view. In short he didn't want a church that might challenge his political beliefs but only confirm them. One result of this effort is to view everyone elses choice of church as a de facto political statement. So an ad that plays more like a ad than anything else shouldn't come as a great shock.

I have to wonder how Pitts misses the irony here. The church he praises for seeking to "resolve divisions" has launched an attack ad against other Christian demoninations. How loving.

The Real Trouble with Large Rectangular Prairie States

Steven Malanga has an interesting take on Thomas Frank in his piece What's the Matter With Kansas? Not a thing, it turns out.

Some fun bits:

In purple prose, Mr. Frank paints a grim picture of the state and its towns. Kansas is "pretty much in a free fall," he informs us, and as a result of its economic devastation, it's "a civilization in the early stages of irreversible decay." The cause of all this decline, he says, is modern capitalism, especially as practiced by all those businessmen-Republicans. Kansas is "burning on a free-market pyre," he writes. Things are especially bad in his old hometown of Shawnee, where, during his visits, he no longer sees anyone in the streets. Instead, "heaps of rusting junk and snarling rottweilers" blight the landscape.

Sounds pretty grim. Unfortunately, for Frank, it all seems to be imaginary.

Yet Mr. Frank's characterization of the Jayhawk State is completely--bizarrely--at odds with the facts. Kansas's economy has actually outpaced the nation's for years. Throughout the 1990s and the first part of this new decade, Kansas had a lower unemployment rate than the U.S. as a whole. In fact, when the country's unemployment rate dipped below 5% from 1997 to 2001, Kansas's fell under 4%--a level so low that economists basically consider it full employment. Overall, the state's economy added 256,000 new jobs during the 1990s, a 24% growth rate, compared with a 20% national gain in the same period. Even when the economic slowdown set in and the recession finally hit in 2002 and 2003, Kansas lost jobs at a slower rate than the national economy did.

The article concludes:

Regardless of Kansas' economic performance, Mr. Frank's main thesis--that people who are struggling economically should be voting as liberals, not conservatives--is dubious. As an editorial in the Wichita Eagle observed: "There's nothing wrong with many Kansans wanting to hold onto a little more of their paychecks . . . or preferring that when they need help it comes from their family, their church, their community--not an intrusive federal government." But what's really astounding is that Mr. Frank, who offers little in the way of economic data, would base his argument on such blatant falsehoods. To Mr. Frank's liberal prejudices, something may be the matter with Kansas, but it sure isn't its economy.

What Frank really doesn't like is that the people of Kansas keep voting for Republicans. He seems deeply troubled that they don't think like people in New York, Washington DC, or Boston think. From his perspective the trouble with Kansas is that its full of Kansans.

Sunday, December 05, 2004

Ken Starr is Good for Something?

I am something of a vehement anti-prohibitionist. I have no trouble even going after the M.A.D.D. people when they stray from anti-drunk driving advocacy to outright neo-prohibitionists. I am always pleased when outdated liquor laws go the way of the dodo, as in the recent case of the South Carolina Minibottle law. (Which, to their credit, M.A.D.D. was on the correct side of.) And I am hopeful that the Supreme Court might render an important service by allowing wineries to sell and ship their product throughout the United States. See Wine Case Goes to High Court

I was interested to see that former independant counsel Ken Starr is representing the small wineries in their battle against the large liquor wholesaler lobby. These wholesalers enjoy near monopoly status in the states that have banned direct shipping from wineries, which is almost exclusively those states without a native wine industry. (Why do I keep moving into these backwards states?) In an effort to protect their profits they have recast themselves as the only thing standing in the way of underage drinking.

To drive home that point, the Wine and Spirits Wholesalers of America commissioned an undercover video showing a teenage girl, with parental permission, ordering alcohol on the Internet. Days later, the alcohol arrived at her home in a plain container.

Any Supreme Court justice who claims to be swayed by this argument should be immediately impeached as being too gullible to sit in judgement on any topic, however insignificant. The purchase of the wine with parental permission (and presumably with their credit card) is indistinguishable from the parents buying it themselves. What would have been a little more convincing is showing the child buying the wine without parental permission.

Now, in order for the child, without parental permission, to get away with such a purchase they would need to A) either have their own credit card, with the between $60 to $400+ buying power needed to purchase a case of wine (how wineries sell their product), or B) steal access to their parent's credit cards and somehow keep them from seeing the bill, AND C) have the wine shipped to them while not being noticed by parents.

Or, they could do what we did when I was in high school and pay someone older a couple of bucks to buy us a six pack. Hmm, which one sounds more plausible?

I have personally felt these restrictions on the wine industry acutely. I have always wanted to support homegrown products, but have found as I moved across the country that I couldn't purchase wines for shipment or find them in my local wine shops. I love Missouri wines, and I even have a cousin making wine under the family name in Virginia, but more often then not I cannot support their efforts by buying a case of wine. I hope that changes.

Besides, 26 states allow wine to be shipped to consumers and I haven't heard a single story that those states are going to hell in a handbasket. How about a little economic freedom here?

What's the Point, Exactly?

Here are a couple different takes on military recruitment, which has suddenly become quite the issue with many liberals.

First, John Leo of U.S. News talks about the movement to ban military recruitment on college campuses: The Wisdom of Solomon

Second, Rekha Basu of the Des Moines Register seemingly wants to ban military recuirtment in high schools: Schools wrong to help recruit

I'll state upfront that I have no problem with recruiters in college or in high schools. But I suppose the desire to ban that which you don't like is pretty strong. One might hope that a liberal society would be wary of such impulses. Such a one would be quite disappointed with our own society. As Leo points out:

Law schools that respected students would allow military recruiters to speak. They would encourage those who disagree with armed forces policy to picket, boycott, or argue for an end to "don't ask, don't tell." Instead, the schools are teaching future lawyers that if you disagree with anyone, it's best to ban or censor. Unfortunately, the campuses are fond of imposing their own version of contested cultural norms, instead of encouraging free argument over what those norms should be.

Sometimes you will see it argued that the law schools and colleges are really just fighting for their free speech rights, to not be told by outsiders like the government what they should do. But as Leo further points out, such a claim doesn't comport too well to reality. isn't clear as to who is compelling whom. The law schools say they are being compelled by government, but they are compelled also by the Association of American Law Schools, which directs them not to allow military recruitment. Imposed policy is wrong, except when you agree with it.

The schools offer a free-speech defense, but in reality they are suppressing free speech themselves by silencing others and preventing freedom of association by banning contact between students and recruiters. It is the rough equivalent of a bookstore's refusing to sell books with which it disagrees. The store may have the right to do so, but it's a tacky tactic that shows little respect for allowing people to make their own choices.

In the second piece, Basu's argument seems to be that 17 and 18-year olds are hapless dolts too easily swayed by shiny baubles to be left to the mercy of military recuiters. For example, her evidence that schools actively help military recruiters but not college recruiters is a statement by a teacher that:

"The college recruiters don't set up a big display in the student center," she said. "They're in the guidance office and they wait for walk-ins."

The horror!

No evidence is given that colleges are kept from bringing in their own advertising materials. No evidence is given that colleges have been denied space to set up their own "big display." Why? Its because college recruiters don't bother with such things, and they haven't spent the money to produce a "big display."

Basu next introduces a student that, A) invalidates her opinion that students can't evaluate military recruitment efforts, and B) attempts to reinforce the "shiny bauble" argument:

Some students know they're not interested in enlisting. Sean Shatto, a junior at the University of Iowa, graduated with Davis. He got called at home by a recruiter when he was 17. "They asked, 'Are you interested in machine guns? Would you like to try a tank?' I was like, 'No, I wouldn't like to do any of those things.' "

But others are lured by the glossy images. "Their advertising technique is so much bright lights and happiness," says Shatto. "They don't tell you you get spat at and yelled at by drill instructors, or you might have to go into combat."

Shatto, presumably an expert on exactly what its like in the military because he hasn't been there, is the only student voice given in the piece. So its impossible to guage just how many 17-year-olds don't know that going into the Army might lead to combat. It's like going to law school to learn how to be a civil litigator and then being shocked to learn that you might have to go to court. I'm thinking there aren't too many 17-year-olds that clueless. Basu hasn't shown me one.

In the end the piece is more indicative of Basu's hostility to the military than to any real concern for young men and women. Basu, instead of having any real regard for young people, seems to think that they are, well, imbeciles. Basu's argument could really support a call for stripping young people's right to vote! 18-year-olds are supposed to be able to wade through all the campaign advertising out there to cast legitimate ballots in presidential elections, when they cannot overcome the sheer advertising power of a "big display" in a student center? I think not!

Actually it's hard to decide who Basu has less regard for, the military or young people.

Asterisk This

The emergence of the "steroid scandal" in baseball is in many ways a joke. Any part-time follower of the sport could see this building over the last ten years. Its not a new problem, its a rather old problem that can no longer be ignored by sticking one's head in the sand. But since, as an issue, it will be all the rage for awhile I figured I'd make a few iconoclastic observations:

1) Sportswriters, who will be taking the lead and castigating baseball with a holier-than-thou attitude, in reality don't have much of a leg to stand on. Too many times, too many of these "journalists" have ignored the story. Time after time we were told by some sportswriter that Barry Bond's puffing up after he turned 35 to the extent that he looked like a Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade balloon, was nothing all that exceptional. They have engaged in too much willful ignorance for too long to be believable as critics at this point.

2) People should just forget about taking away Barry Bond's Home Run record. You just cannot do it. Bond's has already tarnished his record so badly that no one will take it seriously, ever. That is more than damage enough. And what if you did take it away from him? Are we really sure that Mark McGwire's "record" is a clean one?

3) If you really wanted to take something away from Bonds, take away his MVP's. Those were something he took away from other honest players that they can never get back.

4) If MLB doesn't actually make sweeping changes, and I mean sweeping changes, I hope Sen. McCain doesn't back down and slaps baseball around something good.

5) Someone should throw the Boston Red Sox out of Major League Baseball. Maybe make them a Class A minor league farm club of the Yankees. (Sorry, that doesn't have anything to do with the steroid scandal. Its more of a general principle.)

Saturday, December 04, 2004


I'll admit that in many ways I am not a strong person. There are certain things that I cannot argue about or see the other side to. The Groningen Protocol's are one of those things. I find that I cannot even read much about it because it depresses me so completely. However, I could handle this amount from Dave Kopel in the Rocky Mountain News:

On Wednesday, the Rocky Mountain News and The Denver Post both ran an Associated Press story about doctors killing children at Groningen University Hospital in the Netherlands. Accurately summarizing the AP article by Toby Sterling, the News headline called the killings "infant euthanasia," while the Post headline read "baby mercy death." According to the AP, one condition for killing the child is "when parents think it's best."

But as Knight-Ridder reporter Matthew Schofield explained in an article last October, the "Groningen Protocol" (which may be adopted as law in the Netherlands) gives doctors the power to kill a child even when the parents object, and allows the killing of children up to age 12. By U.S. legal standards, premeditated nonconsensual killings of innocents are known as "murder." The Denver papers erred by soft-pedaling the Dutch barbarism.

How do you argue with Dr. Mengele?

Friday, December 03, 2004

Was She Pushed or Did She Jump?

There has been a lot of talk of late about the relative paucity of Conservatives in academia and the reasons for their scarcity. Law prof. Steven Lubet adds his two cents in Why Republicans shun ivy towers

Perhaps fewer conservatives than liberals are willing to endure the years of poverty- stricken graduate study necessary for a faculty position. Perhaps conservatives are smarter than liberals, recognizing that graduate school is a poor investment, given the scant job opportunities that await newly minted Ph. D.s. Or perhaps studious conservatives are more attracted to the greater financial rewards of industry and commerce.

Beyond the ivy walls, there are many professions that are dominated by Republicans. You will find very few Democrats (and still fewer outright liberals) among the ranks of high-level corporate executives, military officers or football coaches. Yet no one complains about these imbalances, and conservatives will no doubt explain that the seeming disparities are merely the result of market forces.

They are probably right. It is entirely rational for conservatives to flock to jobs that reward competition, aggression and victory at the expense of others. So it should not be surprising that liberals gravitate to professions -- such as academics, journalism, social work and the arts -- that emphasize inquiry, objectivity and the free exchange of ideas. After all, teachers at all levels -- from nursery school to graduate school -- tend to be Democrats. Surely there cannot be a conspiracy to deny conservatives employment on kindergarten playgrounds.

If you remove the childishly simplistic stereotypes from the above (e.g. all Republicans are proto-fascists whose number one goal is to harm people for their personal gain, or all Democrats are starry eyed selfless dreamers who only want to help children!) there is some common sense in Lubet's views. But it, just like most conservative takes on the subject, suffers from what I call "Was She Pushed or Did She Jump?" syndrome. The issue really isn't covered by setting up a dichotomy of either A) Republicans are discriminated against academia -i.e. She Was Pushed, or B) Republicans remove themselves from employment consideration in academia -i.e. She Jumped. The trurth is more interesting than that.

Just like any other organization, academia is very status quo oriented. Anyone who has been in grad school recognizes this. In spite of all the talk of "inquiry, objectivity and the free exchange of ideas" profs involved in the production of new PhD's can often be more interested in making little versions of themselves rather than independantly minded scholars. And, lets face it, it is easier to work with students that share your world view. It certainly is easier for the student to work with like minded profs! So it isn't that students with different perspectives are necessarily being actively discriminated against, as much as such students cannot count on support or sympathy with their work. In most cases such students are neither pushed nor do they jump. They are ignored.

Then again you can't blame conservatives for viewing academia as an inherently hostile place for them when you read things like the following: Meet the Newest Member of the Faculty: Clinton pardons a terrorist, and now she's teaching in Clinton, N.Y.

Glory Days Revisited?

Maybe it was my understated sarcasm. Maybe it was my gently mocking tone. Pehaps, it was my quick and penetrating wit. Maybe it was my calling Paul McCartney a bastard. In any event, today I recieved the following note from the good people at Google:

Hello Richard,

Thank you for your email.

I understand you are concerned about the reason for your application disapproval.I'm pleased to let you know that I have re-reviewed your site and have confirmed that your website meets all of our policies. Your application has been approved.

You can't ask for fairer than that!

In one sense I'm disappointed, because now I have one fewer thing to complain about. And I do so love to argue.

Thursday, December 02, 2004

Morons of the Right Unite! You have Nothing to Lose but any Semblance of Credibility!

Here is someone's conception of a bright idea in Alabama: Gay book ban goal of state lawmaker

MONTGOMERY - An Alabama lawmaker who sought to ban gay marriages now wants to ban novels with gay characters from public libraries, including university libraries.

(Rep. Gerald Allen, R-Cottondale) said that if his bill passes, novels with gay protagonists and college textbooks that suggest homosexuality is natural would have to be removed from library shelves and destroyed.

"I guess we dig a big hole and dump them in and bury them," he said.

I would have thought burning them would have been more his speed.

When asked about Tennessee Williams' southern classic "Cat On A Hot Tin Roof," Allen said the play probably couldn't be performed by university theater groups.

Allen said no state funds should be used to pay for materials that foster homosexuality. He said that would include nonfiction books that suggest homosexuality is acceptable and fiction novels with gay characters. While that would ban books like "Heather has Two Mommies," it could also include classic and popular novels with gay characters such as "The Color Purple," "The Picture of Dorian Gray" and "Brideshead Revisted."

Can "Will & Grace" be far behind? National Republicans should step forward and put this David Duke wannabe in a cold dark place.

You can tell its what they should do because its what they wont do.

(Gleaned from Captain's Quarters)