Thursday, April 28, 2005

The Very Definition Of Unconvincing Spin

From everyones favorite The Daily Kos:

Salazar, in a KKTV interview Tuesday:

From my point of view, they are the Antichrist of the world.

Salazar backed off slightly on that statement today, saying he meant "un-Christian", which Dobson clearly is.

Yeah, that works. If you're from Neptune.

Religious Politics v. Political Religion

It is instructive to notice that those who clamor most vociferously for the complete seperation of religion from political life display no such qualms about politics involving itself with religion.

I'll point you to a couple more examples of folks attempting to make Catholicism safe for liberal Democrats. (See Mario Cuomo and Andrew Sullivan.) As usual, I find these attempts on the part of the Cuomos and Sullivans of the world to inforce their personal political ideology on every adherent of the faith despicable. I would feel exactly the same way if some Republican was arguing that the Catholic Church should change its beliefs to accomodate some plank of the Republican party platform. However, I have never once seen any Republican advocate that the Catholic church should change its views on, for instance, the death penalty to bring them more in line with "modern thought" as emcompassed by the Republicans. Has anyone else? Has anyone ever heard a Republican demand the Church change to suit the party's needs in any way?

Yet we are told, ad infinitum that it is only Republicans that are upsetting the church/state balance. Somehow that doesn't strike me as being even plausible.

I wish more Catholics would step up and demand that ideologues keep their political philosophy out of the faith, but they won't. It's a crying shame.

Falling Off The Edge Of The Map

When do you know there is no turning back? In political and intellectual circles it comes when long time adherents to a particular point of view embrace the exact opposite position without even noticing themselves doing it.

A perfect example of this process can be seen in this Gene Healy piece in Reason. He entitled it "Nuclear Brinksmanship." It could have been more accurately called "The Death of a Libertarian."

The fight over judicial nominations is moving past the posturing stage. On Friday, Vice President Dick Cheney removed any remaining doubt about whether he'd help G.O.P. senators use the so-called nuclear option in their quest to end judicial filibusters. With the nominations of Janice Rogers Brown and Priscilla Owen ready to come to the floor of the Senate, and Democrats determined to block them yet again, the Senate Republicans, with Cheney's help, have threatened to end judicial filibusters by a mere 51 votes, instead of 60 votes.

There are two possible outcomes to this game of nuclear brinksmanship. One sounds like fun. The other should give limited government advocates pause. The first outcome has Democrats retaliating by refusing cooperation on most of the ordinary business of the Senate. As former Democratic leader Tom Daschle explained to The New Yorker's Jeffrey Toobin recently, "The Senate runs on 'unanimous consent'...It takes unanimous consent to stop the reading of bills, the reading of every amendment. On any given day, there are fifteen or twenty nominations and a half-dozen bills that have been signed off for unanimous consent. The vast work of the Senate is done that way. But any individual senator can insist that every bill be read, every vote be taken, and bring the whole place to a stop."

Bringing the Senate to a crashing halt will hardly scare those of us who believe that no man's property is safe while Congress is in session. In fact, there would be something perversely entertaining about C-SPAN programming dominated by the monotonous recitation of 700-page agriculture bills. If only the senators could be forced to sit and listen. The Intelligence Reform Bill of 2004 is 236 pages long, and it's a safe bet few senators read it in its entirety. McCain-Feingold clocked in at a mere 36 pages, yet in February 2003 The New York Times reported that the Democratic and Republican party organizations had to hire high-priced lawyers and consultants to run seminars teaching senators and congressmen about the requirements of the law they had just passed. "I didn't realize what all was in it," Rep. Robert Matsui (D-Calif.) said. A breakdown in Senate cooperation would lead to a period of blissful inactivity, and could help educate the public about the increasingly incomprehensible statutes Congress calls "laws."

But the second possible endgame to the filibuster battle should worry you, unless you think too little legislation is a major problem in American life. There's a chance that the G.O.P.'s nuclear gambit could eventually lead to the death of the filibuster as a whole.

All straightforward enough. It's the next paragraph that is a doozy.

That would be disastrous. The theory underlying the Constitution is that, in political life as opposed to economic, transaction costs are good. As James Madison explained in Federalist 62, the Senate itself was designed in part to curb "the facility and excess of lawmaking." The filibuster isn't part of the Constitution, but it helps augment some of the Constitution's checks on promiscuous legislating. Since many of the constitutional checks on legislative overreach have eroded over the years, the filibuster is even more important today. [Emphasis added]

There is a technical name for what Healy is advocating here. In Supreme Court-ese its called a penumbra. Now it is one thing to make a practical argument wanting to keep the filibuster as is (as most of Healy's piece in fact attempts.) It is another thing altogether to dress it up as something inherent, in the Constitution. That is exactly the sort of muddled thinking that libertarians have been against from day one, or so I thought. Seeing it pop up, however briefly, in a libertarian publication without so much as the batting of an eye indicates that even the libertarians have fallen off of the map when it comes to interpreting the Constitution. It is hard to make this kind of argument and sound sincere when you attempt to argue against the idea of a "living Constitution." For all of their flaws, at least the Libertarians were always sincere before.

That is not to say that there are not things to like in Healy's article. I certainly approve of the following:

What ought to happen instead is a return to real filibusters. The Jimmy Stewart-style filibuster became a rarity in the 1970s when then-majority leader Mike Mansfield ushered in a two-track system whereby the Senate could move on to other business when a credible threat to filibuster was presented. In the modern era, real filibusters only occur when the majority sees political advantage in the spectacle. In 1988, for example, in the midst of a filibuster fight over campaign-finance legislation, then-majority leader Robert Byrd ordered the arrest of Republican senators boycotting a quorum vote. Three Capitol policemen forced their way into Sen. Bob Packwood's office, grabbed Packwood by his ankles and both arms, and carried him feet first onto the Senate floor. "The knock on the door and the forced entry smack of Nazi Germany, smack of communist Russia," wailed Senator Arlen Specter. "I rather enjoyed it," said Packwood.

Washington needs more of this sort of thing. If the Democrats really think Janice Rogers Brown is a threat to the Republic, they ought to be willing to get hoarse-voiced and incoherent keeping her off the D.C. Circuit. And if Republicans are committed to these judges, they ought to be willing to sleep on cots in cloakrooms. For their salaries, perks, and power, the least they can do is give us a show.

Amen to that.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

A Consensus Of Two?

Remember my take on the whole filibuster thingamajig? Surprisingly I'm not alone in thinking that the whole process could use a little reform. From The Angry Red Eyehole Of Steve, The Nuclear Option:

Modernly, the filibuster is an almost routine part of Senatorial debate. With an overcrowded docket, the Senate's time is at a premium, thus with just one Senator threatening to filibuster a measure is often dropped for a later time. This is especially true at the end of the session when the Senate is in a rush to conclude its business. Furthermore, with the two-track debate system introduced in the 1970's, the cost of filibustering has been lowered. The two-track system allows the Senate to consider multiple pieces of legislation simultaneously. If one bill gets filibustered, they can just move on to another bill. This reduces the political cost of the filibuster because it doesn't cause the entire debate process to be held hostage by a filibuster. This also reduces the human cost for the filibusterer himself because he only has to hold the floor when the offending bill is being considered and not until the other side gives in or votes for cloture (ending the debate). Gone are the days of Huey Long's recipe reading and Strom Thurmond's telephone directory recitations.


There are many possible reforms that could be implemented to curtail the abuse of the filibuster. For example, reforms like what the Republicans are now suggesting (preventing judicial nominations from being filibustered) could be one avenue of effective reform. As mentioned before, there are already many subject matters that have this restriction. Eliminating the two-track system might also be effective because filibusters would have a higher political cost since they would hold up the entire Senate calendar. Reasonable time limits, like those already in affect for postcloture debate, could also be enacted. A time period that has a definite end yet is long enough for the minority position to make its case, argue for moderation, and win points with its political supporters could go a long ways in limiting the abuse of the filibuster.

And in the midst of these reforms what should be remembered is that any rule change that is made can be undone. The Senate has the power to change its procedural rules to however it sees fit. If it is found that any rule change is an unreasonable or harmful restriction on the filibuster, then it can be removed.

The whole article is interesting and worth a perusal.

Taking A Turn We Don't Deserve

From the Des Moines Register: Nazi guard's case, something's amiss

The new pope, some of us were surprised to learn, was once a Nazi in training.

"From Hitler Youth to the Vatican," said one of the headlines last week when Joseph Ratzinger became Pope Benedict XVI. A day later, the story was a footnote swept away in the worldwide celebration.

Now, you'd think the College of Cardinals could find a worthy papal candidate who wasn't a member of the Nazi children's corps - a candidate who didn't serve briefly in a German army anti-aircraft unit that guarded a factory manned, reportedly, by concentration camp prisoners.

But there wasn't a lot of fuss. There were extenuating circumstances.

The pope was just a teenager during his Hitler Youth days. Enrollment was mandatory. There was no avoiding military service later. Resistance meant death.

That's the pope's version, anyway, and not everyone buys it. Some Germans did resist, the skeptics say. Some did live to tell about it, setting a courageous example for others.

Wherever the truth lies, the young Ratzinger muddled through the best he could, served his time and got out without ever firing a shot.

End of discussion. Except for one thing. It's hard to believe Joseph Ratzinger gets to be pope while John Hansl doesn't even get to keep his American citizenship.

Hansl, you'll recall, is the 80-year-old south-sider who had his citizenship revoked a few days ago and could be deported. He is an ethnic German from Yugoslavia who, at age 18, was conscripted into the Nazi Waffen SS.

There are those who refuse to believe anyone was forced to join such a select unit, but this is what the Nuremberg Tribunal, as quoted in one of the defendant's briefs, says about that:

"Until 1940, the SS was an entirely voluntary organization. After the formation of the Waffen SS in 1940 there was a gradually increasing number of conscripts . . . It appears that about a third of the total number of people joining the Waffen SS were conscripts."

As a Waffen SS guard, Hansl kept prisoners from escaping. Like the pope, he never harmed anyone. He says his request for a transfer to the front was originally declined, though he was sent there later, shot in the face and captured in uniform.

Hansl was cleared of any war crimes by France and the United States. He never hid his SS record from immigration officials, who said he was legal and let him into the country.

For 45 years Hansl assumed he was legal. Now he's hearing different. Though nobody is saying he committed any atrocities, the court decided that the threat was constantly there and that Hansl had "personally assisted in the persecution" of prisoners.

On the face of it this whole episode sounds ridiculous. I mean, who would it seems had the best ability to determine the relative culpability of someone in such circumstances, a court sitting in judgement just after the events at question, with access to all the information and witnesses needed to make a prosecutorial or a defense case? Or a court sixty years after the fact that has access to neither?

It seems clear that what is involved has nothing to do with the cuplability of Mr. Hansl as such. No one is even asserting that he is guilty of war crimes of any kind whatsoever. So why are they persecuting him? The answer is, because he is there. What he is is a whipping boy by proxy. We are running out of real life Nazi war criminals to take a crack at, so we are relying on whatever comes to hand, even if it means previously cleared individuals are now being called upon to take responsibility for all of the crimes of the National Socialists.

The whole thing is sordid in the extreme. It reminds me of the figure of Goldstein, "The great enemy of the state," in Orwell's 1984. In that novel one proves your worth to the state by heaping abuse on this figure Goldstein without having any real knowledge of them. it is enough to be told to do so by the state. And, sadly, so it is with us in the United States today. And why? Mostly because this generation, so far seperated from the days of World War II, hasn't had its turn to visit nasty retribution on the Nazis.

Granted we are not alone in this. The energy being expended in China against Japanese atrocities during the same World War would be much better spent bringing the multitude of criminals from the, much more recent, days of "The Great Leap Forward" to justice. But the state wants none of that, of course. Never look inward when there is an outsider to name enemy. And so you have gangs of youth born in the 1980's chanting slogans and hurling slurs in the name of crimes committed 40 years before they were born. Hell, you have Serbs doing the same thing about events that happened in the 14th century, and arabs still bitching about the crusades before then. (Just for kicks I'd love to see the Austrian government serve the Turkish government with a bill for damages caused by the seige of Vienna in 1683. Hey, it is no more or less specious than any of these other examples.)

All of it is idiocy pure and simple. None of it concerns justice in the slightest degree, unless you call the injustice being done to Mr. Hansl justice.

George Orwell would recognize this right away.

So what's wrong with us?

McCarthyism In Reverse

PowerLine points me to these doings at Southern Illinois University:

From FrontPage Magazine: Academic Witch-Hunt

On April 11, Jonathan Bean, a professor of history at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale (SIUC), received the college's "Outstanding Teacher Award." But just two days later, Bean became the scourge of the campus, abandoned by teaching assistants and vilified as a purveyor of "racist propaganda."

Behind Bean's sudden fall from admired academic to campus Enemy Number One was a cabal of eight radical academics in the SIUC history department. Bean's offense was to have assigned as optional reading for his history class a 2001 Frontpagemag report titled "Remembering the Zebra Killings" by James Lubinskas. The class topic was "Civil Rights and Civil Disorder." Bean's required readings for the class included the writings of Malcolm X, Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King, Ella Baker, and Stokely Carmichael.

The offending Frontpagemag article which Bean made optional recounts what have come to be known as the Zebra Killings, a series of murders that took place in the San Francisco Bay area between 1972 and 1974, which left 71 people dead. The crimes shared a distinctive pattern: all the victims were white. The article, which contains facts first exposed in the 1979 book Zebra by crime writer Clark Howard, and subsequent reviews of the book in Time Magazine, reveals that five members the "Death Angels," a sub-group of the Nation of Islam, carried out the majority of the attacks.

For the offense of making students aware of the existence of this article and these killings, the history department witch-hunters demanded Bean's head. Faced with this vicious, career threatening onslaught, Bean took the same course that Larry Summers had at Harvard, in attempting to defuse similar thought-control attacks by issuing an unwarranted apology to anyone to whom the reference to such an article might give offense.

Here is the link to the original 2001 article on the racially motivated murders. Read it yourself and see if the charges stick.

To me the charges agaisnt Prof. Bean simply don't stick. In fact it seems clear that most of the history faculty at SIU have very little in the way of intellectual ability. What other conclusion could a reasonable person draw after reading this material? I'm not saying you have to like the material, and I'm not saying that such material couldn't be used in a derogatory manner. But, my God, the Constitution of the United States could be used in racially charged way in someone was so inclined. And not a single student has come forward claiming that the material was used in such a racially derogatory manner. (Wouldn't be a better world if you could remove university professors not for saying something someone might not like, but for being mind numbingly dumb? It would only require removing maybe 20% or so of the present group of Profs, although the SIU history department would be decimated. I say we go for it.)

The larger question is should leftist professors be allowed to harass, intimidate and threaten the careers of those who disagree with them? I think the answer that too many leftist university profs would give is "Absolutely." Academic freedom be damned. (Of course this is par for the course for Marxist profs whose entire philosophical underpinings negate any notion of freedom of thought and expression. Thank God, we have so many of them in academia!)

I'm certain wherever the ghost of Joe McCarthy is, he deplores the politics, but loves the tactics.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

When Rednecks Rule

Thomas Sowell is one of those writers that just invites to be ignored. For starters, the man is a publishing machine and, as usual, vast quantity often makes up for material of less than stellar quality. Secondly, he stakes out such a clearly defined position on all matters, with little room for subtlety or ambiguity, that most often you know what Sowell thinks before you ever read a word he writes.

Still, there is something to be said in favor of the straight forward approach. This column from the Wall Street Journal shows Sowell at his best, and even if you don't normally read Sowell I'd make an exception this time: Crippled by Their Culture: Race doesn't hold back America's "black rednecks." Nor does racism.

The culture of the [white] people who were called "rednecks" and "crackers" before they ever got on the boats to cross the Atlantic was a culture that produced far lower levels of intellectual and economic achievement, as well as far higher levels of violence and sexual promiscuity. That culture had its own way of talking, not only in the pronunciation of particular words but also in a loud, dramatic style of oratory with vivid imagery, repetitive phrases and repetitive cadences.

Although that style originated on the other side of the Atlantic in centuries past, it became for generations the style of both religious oratory and political oratory among Southern whites and among Southern blacks--not only in the South but in the Northern ghettos in which Southern blacks settled. It was a style used by Southern white politicians in the era of Jim Crow and later by black civil rights leaders fighting Jim Crow. Martin Luther King's famous speech at the Lincoln Memorial in 1963 was a classic example of that style.

While a third of the white population of the U.S. lived within the redneck culture, more than 90% of the black population did. Although that culture eroded away over the generations, it did so at different rates in different places and among different people. It eroded away much faster in Britain than in the U.S. and somewhat faster among Southern whites than among Southern blacks, who had fewer opportunities for education or for the rewards that came with escape from that counterproductive culture.

Nevertheless the process took a long time. As late as the First World War, white soldiers from Georgia, Arkansas, Kentucky and Mississippi scored lower on mental tests than black soldiers from Ohio, Illinois, New York and Pennsylvania. Again, neither race nor racism can explain that--and neither can slavery.

The redneck culture proved to be a major handicap for both whites and blacks who absorbed it. Today, the last remnants of that culture can still be found in the worst of the black ghettos, whether in the North or the South, for the ghettos of the North were settled by blacks from the South. The counterproductive and self-destructive culture of black rednecks in today's ghettos is regarded by many as the only "authentic" black culture--and, for that reason, something not to be tampered with. Their talk, their attitudes, and their behavior are regarded as sacrosanct.

The people who take this view may think of themselves as friends of blacks. But they are the kinds of friends who can do more harm than enemies.

Saturday, April 23, 2005

How Not To Start Your Career

From the AP: Dutch Law Grad Gains Infamy With E-Mail

AMSTERDAM, Netherlands - Even for his fellow lawyers, a Dutch law school graduate may have a gone a bit too far in expressing a desire to strike it rich.

Reinder Eekhof, a freshly minted lawyer, recently wrote in an e-mail that he had "finally finished this stupid education," and was "now looking for someone crazy enough to dump a suitcase full of money in my lap every month."

The e-mail was meant for a friend at the Houthoff Buruma law firm. But Eekhof mistyped the address and his missive landed in the inbox of someone in the communications department instead.

That person forwarded it, and soon the e-mail was being read at law firms across the Netherlands.

"Good luck with your career," wrote one lawyer who saw the e-mail. Another noted that "the advantage is that now everyone in the legal profession in Holland knows your name."

Still, it appears Eekhof's e-mail hasn't turned off law firms looking for a young lawyer to fill their ranks.

"We're having him in for an interview about an internship," said Marry de Gaay Fortman, managing partner at Houthoff. "But I understand he's also in talks with several other firms about a job."

Eekhof could not immediately be reached for comment.

I'll never feel bad about my own foot-in-mouth indiscretions ever again.

But on the other hand, now we all know that there is at least one honest Dutch lawyer.

Friday, April 22, 2005

Did This Surprise Anyone?

I thought the first time that I heard the story about the woman biting into a human finger in a bowl of Wendy's chili that it sounded fishy. Imagine your own finger sitting on a plastic spoon. Now, imagine not seeing it before you put it into your mouth. It's hard to imagine isn't it. God knows, if one really wanted a big cash settlement, it would sound better to a jury to have had the finger enter your mouth, but it sure doesn't seem likely.

Now authorities have arrested the woman, on various charges some unrealted to the chili incident.

She sounds like a real winner.

I actually heard some guy on Fox News claim that prosecuting this woman for fabricating this would "have a chilling effect" on people with real claims against corporations. What a load of crapola. If you actually have found a human body part in your food you aren't gonna care a flying fig for what happened to this woman in her attempt to commit fraud. If anything they might want to blame this woman for making corporations less willing to settle upfront in the future. Blaming Wendy's for defending themselves from bogus lawsuits or the police for *gasp* enforcing the laws of the land just seems ridiculous.

Just imagine the damage she might have wrought! She may have led to a price increase on the Wendy's Double w/ Cheese.

The horror.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

What He Said (Because I Said It Too)

It's rare that I come across an opinion piece that I agree with unreservedly. But such a one is this from Gerard Baker in the Times of London: Shock! New Pope A Catholic

WHAT HAS been most enjoyable about the stunned reaction of the bulk of the media to the election of Pope Benedict XVI has been the simple incredulousness at the very idea that a man such as Joseph Ratzinger could possibly have become leader of the universal Church.

Journalists and pundits for whom the Catholic Church has long been an object of anthropological curiosity fringed with patronising ridicule have really let themselves go since the new pontiff emerged. Indeed most of the coverage I have seen or read could be neatly summarised as: "Cardinals elect Catholic Pope. World in Shock."

As headlines, I'll grant you, it's hard to beat God's Rottweiler, The Enforcer, or Cardinal No. They all play beautifully into the anti-Catholic sentiment in intellectual European and American circles that is, in this politically correct era, the only form of religious bigotry legitimised and sanctioned in public life. But I ask you, in all honesty, what were they expecting?

Did the likes of The Guardian, the BBC or The New York Times think there was someone in the Church's leadership who was going to pop up out on the balcony of St Peter's and with a cheery wave, tell the faithful that everything they'd heard for the past 26 - no, make that 726 - years was rubbish and that they should all rush out and load up with condoms and abortifacients like teenagers off for a smutty weekend? Or did they think the conclave would go the whole hog and elect Sir Bob Geldof (with Peaches, perhaps, as a co-pope) in an effort to bring back the masses?

It has been fun (and revealing) to watch as the cardinals' deliberations have been portrayed, with so little imagination or understanding, as a classic left-right battle between conservatives (bad, of course) and progressives (good). But it bears little reality to the way the Church's leadership really thinks about its future.

The "conservative" label immediately pinned on Pope Benedict is for a start, hardly helpful. He, like the last one, defies easy characterisation in political terms. He was one of the intellectual driving forces behind the reforming Second Vatican Council. He has, like his predecessor, spoken out strongly against the war in Iraq, and indeed against the use of military force in all but the most exceptional of circumstances. He is in the broad church of prelates who, as William Rees-Mogg pointed out in these pages last week, essentially regard modern capitalism with moral disdain.

Sure, he is doctrinally a traditionalist, but this is misunderstood too. If you, as the papacy does, claim direct authority, through your 264 predecessors from the ministry of St Peter, who, the Gospels tell us was inaugurated into that ministry by the Son of God while he was present on earth, is it really possible to take anything other than a bit of a traditionalist view when it comes to doctrinal matters?

Don't get me wrong; I'm not suggesting, at this sensitive moment, that God is a Tory. But the Church's mission is to bear witness to the truth. The truth is not something that needs redefining each time a pope dies.

And it's not really evident that churches that have made the kind of accommodations with modernity that are urged on the Vatican have fared all that well. The Church of England is a mostly genial institution led, in Rowan Williams, by a good and holy man, but I don't get the sense that the post hoc validation of modern social mores that the C of E has been practising for some time has led to a religious awakening among the British.

A Brand-new Bouncing Baby Blog...

...Not that he would necessarily like being referred to in such a manner...

Check out Thoughts Of An American Centrist (new to the Roll of Honor!) for a good new voice.

A sample:

"MONTPELIER, Vt - U.S. Sen. James Jeffords, whose declaration of independence from the GOP four years ago briefly gave Democrats control of the Senate, will not seek re-election next year.

Jeffords, 70, has been adamant in saying he will seek re-election, but there have been increasing concerns voiced about his health in recent weeks."

So what are we seeing here? Is it truly an aging veteran legislator that has decided that it is time to give up the hallowed halls of Congress for a well earned retirement, or is it the harsh reality that - even in Vermont - a man cannot decide to declare his political independence and hope to retain his post? I sincerely hope that it is the former.

Avoid the rush, get in on the American Centrist now.

If You Need A Laugh...

...head on over to Doug Petch for a LOL moment.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Blog Comments

Over at QandO they have a post concerning the tone of comments left on blogs concerning religion. The long and short of it is there are a lot of hate filled whack jobs out there.

When I started this blog I thought long and hard about what I wanted it to be like, and I visited a lot of blogs to get a feel for what they could become. One thing became clear early on, popular blogs have a problem with their comment sections. They attract scum by the bucketfuls. That is one reason why I've never even considered blogrolling sites like Eschaton or Little Green Footballs. Whatever else they are those blogs act as a platform for the expression of the worst of humanity. (I'll admit that the Daily Kos comment section can be just as bad these days. But they are grandfathered in.)

I'll never allow for this blog to degenerate into that kind of platform. (Not that I will ever get that kind of traffic, but it's nice to have the policy up front.) Blogs like Power Line get slagged all the time for not having a comment section, but I cannot believe that anyone who actually reads Atrios or LGF comments believes that we are missing anything worthwhile.

Many blogs that I link to have quite healthy and interesting discussions in their comment sections, I think of QandO, Daniel Drezner and American Future right off the bat. So I know it's possible. And I cannot think of a single good reason to settle for anything less here.

Why settle for less in what you read?

What The Hell Is A Liberal Catholic?

Specifically, what is the "Catholic" part? I only ask because, as far as I can tell from reading the newspapers, if there is ever a conflict between, say, the Democratic Party Platform and Catholic Doctrine, "liberal Catholics" always pick the Democratic Party Platform as being the superior. So is the "Catholic" part a love for large pretty buildings and stained glass? Maybe they really dig that incense?

It seems to me religion is that to which one turns towards when doubt arises. It is the bedrock which supports beliefs, values and practices. "Liberal Catholics" do not seem to find that bedrock in the actual Catholic faith. When doubt arises they fall back on their poltical ideology and declare that infallible. If such Catholics were to actually worship at the place that best represents the bedrock of their faith they would find themselves at the office of the local Democratic County Commissioner.

But the atmosphere isn't so nice there.

No stained glass don't you know.

Natural Inclinations For Some

Over at the Daily Kos they have felt the need to make a post asking Kossacks to stop calling Pope Benedict a Nazi.

It hasn't worked.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Benedict XVI

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So Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger has become Pope Benedict XVI. It has been an interesting process to follow along with as an adult for the first time. I'm actually a little surprised that Ratzinger got the nod, but, of course, I had no real prior experience to base any prediction on, so maybe I shouldn't be quite so surprised that I'm surprised. (I think that's english.)

I find it amusing that Ratzinger...excuse me...Benedict is constantly referred to as "arch conservative" or a "hardline traditionalist." What he represents is a continuity with Vatican II, the single greatest reform council in the 2000 year history of the Catholic Church. How that makes him an "arch conservative" is beyond me. I have to believe that such labelling, by American media sources, is indicative of a baseline hostility to Catholic teachings in general. It certainly doesn't reflect the truth within the church. There are groups within the church that wish to restore the Latin mass and roll back many other changes instituted by Vatican II. Those folks might have earned an "arch conservative" label. But Ratzinger? Hardly.

To American media however, simply believing in the tenets of the Catholic Church as they exist at this date makes one some sort of dangerous reactionary.

Oh well...ignorance is bliss I guess.

Viva il Papa!

Monday, April 18, 2005

"They Took The BAR!"

Over at The Torch they have an interesting post on Colgate's attempt to basically dismantle the entire Greek system there.

Last Tuesday morning, I spoke at a rally protesting Colgate University's plans to force all fraternities and sororities to sell their houses and land to the university. While a transaction between two private parties is ordinarily not of great interest to FIRE, the terms of Colgate's "deal" are particularly outrageous. Essentially, the message of the university is: sell your land or we will prohibit any student from living in your houses.

I thought you had to put them on Double Secret Probation first?

Over the last five years, if there is one constant that I have observed in university life, it is the desire to create an all-consuming campus culture that completely remakes a person from the inside out. Schools are no longer content merely teaching political science, economics, mathematics, or sociology. They also want to create the New Tolerant Man (or woman), reminiscent of the mythical "New Communist Man" from the old Soviet Union. (Colgate, for example, wants to push students into so-called theme houses which divide students by race and sexual preference.) Greeks tend to be resistant to social engineering because of their own, independent labyrinth of social relationships and because of their independent culture.

Conservative or orthodox religious groups are also resistant to the totalitarian vision of the modern university, and they often pay a steep price for defying the prevailing campus ideology. When one understands universities' all-consuming vision for student life, then seemingly random and disparate strands of censorship come together to form a coherent whole. So, what does a Friday night worship service at a local chapter of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship have in common with the "White Trash Bash" at the PKA house down the street? Both events represent-in very different ways-a celebration of a life and culture that is wholly incompatible the university's vision of social utopia.

I agree generally with this account, but it ignores the trigger mechanism at work here; as usual another in a long line of stupidities perpetrated in the name of Prohibition. Can you imagine what they will have to do to the dorms when this doesn't stop the drinking? All they can do is crack down even more. This is far from over.


Are all colleges and universities really this inane?

Gavel Banging On The Weekend

I had a new experience the other day. My girlfriend and I bought a painting from a Washington D.C. auction house while bidding online. Oh, I've done the Ebay thing any number of times, but this was the first live auction I've ever participated in...and the item was quite a bit more expensive than my usual $10 Ebay specials.

Anyway, we are quite pleased with our first real foray into the art world. (Yes, I'm going to show it off like a brand new papa. And, yes, you are correct, there is something seriously wrong with me.)

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The painting is of the Duomo at Siena, by an American artist Eda Sterchi. We like architectural subjects in general, and we fell in love with the way all the purples and blues are used in this piece in particular.

It is a modest first step. (A way under $1000 first step, in case you were wondering.) I'll show off any others that come our way in the months ahead. Who says we can't be classy in the blogosphere?

Hey, it isn't all about calling people bastards.

Although that does have its place...

More Of My Favorite Issue

Doug Petch points me towards another abuse of "Eminent Domain" this time in Chicago.

As the Supreme Court considers the Eminent Domain battle in New London, Connecticut, another battle is shaping up in Chicago -

As the U.S. Supreme Court debates the issue of whether the government can evict people from their homes or businesses to create "economic development" in Connecticut, Donald Zordani is wondering where the City of Chicago gets off trying to condemn his Sportif bike shop.

His thriving business has been operating at its site in the heart of Jefferson Park for 35 years.

Now the city is using real estate taxes collected from him and other local businesses to hire lawyers to clear him out of the way so developer Demetrios "Jimmy" Kozonis of Mega Properties can build a seven-story condominium.

In this case, the Chicago City Council declared the neighborhood in question to be "blighted." Let me ask you, though - does this sound like a blighted neighborhood?
That puzzles Zordani and angry neighbors who see customers streaming in to Zordani's store and the Ideal Pastry bakery around the corner, nearby homes selling for $500,000 or more, and thousands of people crowding the streets for the "Taste of Polonia" across the street at the Copernicus Center or the Jefferson Park Street Fest every year.

Sure, the exterior of this 75-year-old former Jewel store that houses his 850 bikes on display and a thousand more in storage could do with a lick of paint. Still, generations of Northwest Siders have bought and continue to buy their bikes here, Zordani said.

It didn't sound blighted to me, either, even though the city used a formula that includes the number of vacant storefronts in making that determination.

I can tell you right now that the "vacant storefront" formula is bogus. Using the number of empty storefront as your criteria would force the city of Washingto, D.C. to declare Georgetown, one of the toniest neighborhoods in the entire nation, blighted. Then again, maybe this formula is just what D.C. needs to move out all the mom and pop businesses in Georgetown and move in a few more GAP stores.


Friday, April 15, 2005

Capraesque It Isn't

I've written in the past that the upcoming battles on the President's judicial nominations mostly intrigue me as a piece of great poltical theater. At least potentially so. The lead-up is proving fascinating. One of the twists and turns I was not really expecting was the Democrats sudden nostalgia for the filibuster. This surprised me because of the inherent conservative nature of the procedure. It is a tool of the reactionary and those inthralled with the status quo.

What has also been interesting is the attraction that Frank Capra's classic film Mr. Smith Goes To Washington still invites after almost 70 years. In part this is because this is the only well known depiction of a filibuster in the entire history of popular mass media. There are no docudramas out there depicting an actual historical example of a filibuster, largely because as actually used they have proved far less heroic. In fact it is a seedy little practice.

But Capra's portrayal still carries a great emotional impact. In many ways the filibuster in Mr. Smith is a classic immigrant fantasia. It is the iconic ideal that in America a single person can stand up to the entire world. Often times the immigrant has left their homeland because all of the pressures of that society threatened to crush them. It isn't that those types of pressures do not exist in America, as Jimmy Stewart's character could tell you, but it is that the political ethos of this country allows just enough space for a single man to hold his ground and, just maybe, win against all odds. Someone with the sensibilities of an immigrant, such as Capra, would naturally gravitate to stories that portray just those moments and wrap them up in a patriotic fervor. The total effect is warm, comforting, uplifting, and, (sadly) totally irrelevant to the political discussion of today.

The truth is the filibuster portrayed in the movie bears no resemblance to its modern incarnation. It actually isn't a filibuster at all anymore. Other business continues as if nothing is happening. Those engaging in the "filibuster" are not kept on the Senate floor. (That would presumably keep the Senators from pricey coktail parties in Georgetown, and nobody would want least nobody sitting in Congress.) A real filibuster, like portrayed in the film, is a dicey propostion. To decide on that course of action one had to weigh how it would be viewed by the public at large. You would be stopping the entire legislative process and could be vilified for that, but maybe the risk would be worth it if you could just get enough attention focused on your issue. Maybe with the benefit of the spotlight you could sway public opinion in your favor. It was risky, but honest.

Today, the "filibuster" is merely a dishonestly labled minority veto.

In the L.A. Times Jonathan Chait makes the following observations:

The liberal judicial lobbying group, Alliance for Justice, has tried to portray the filibuster as a "free speech" issue. It has even created a cartoon character, "Phil A. Buster," a cute, anthropomorphic megaphone. The free speech emphasis may be shrewd, but it's bunk. Filibusters, it's true, classically consist of endless speechifying to postpone a vote. But the "speeches" often consisted of reading from phone books or other arcana unrelated to the issue at hand. Anyway, everybody knows the real power of a filibuster is not to speechify but to force the majority to come up with 60 votes.

Conservatives, for their part, have argued that filibustering judicial nominations is unprecedented. Therefore, they say, their plan to stop judicial filibusters merely stops Democrats from doing something new. In fact, judicial filibusters have happened before, albeit infrequently. Republicans led a filibuster of a nomination for Supreme Court chief justice in 1968.

Conservatives have since resorted to even more exotic justifications. Clint Bolick of the pro-GOP Committee for Justice wrote in a recent memo, "The Constitution grants the executive primary power over judicial appointments while granting the Senate, as a body — not partisan factions within it — a check via majority vote. By altering that standard, the Senate Democrats are, in effect, arrogating power to the Senate from the executive."

But Bolick and his fellow conservatives didn't see any constitutional problem in the 1990s, when the GOP bottled up President Clinton's judicial nominees to keep them from coming to a vote.

So both sides are obviously disingenuous.

Trite but true. On any specific issue either political party will be looking to do what is immediately advantageous. The arguments made by both parties are generally pretty bad on their best day. The arguments put forward in the "filibuster" debate have been damn near laughable.

Chait continues:

The main question is: Are filibusters a good idea? The best argument for the filibuster is that it gives rights to political minorities and forces consensus. The best argument against it is that it thwarts democratic accountability. The majority should be able to enact its program so the voters can see if they like the results.

I find the latter view persuasive.

To this point, Chait has followed the logic of the argument very well. However, he cannot resist the pull of being a partisan hack.

Note, though, that although this rationale works well with normal legislation and appointments, it doesn't really apply to judicial nominations. If the public doesn't like the way a judge rules, we're still stuck with him for the rest of his life. Yet Republicans only want to ditch the filibuster for judicial nominations. They would leave it in place for everything else.

*sigh* So the position of the Democrats is wrong except, magically, in this single case? When people vote for Presidents and for their members of Congress are they unaware of the judicial nominating and confirming powers? Isn't that part of the reason why people are voting for this or that party? Maybe you don't like the way our Constitution devises judicial appointment process? If so, I suggest you get working on that Constitutional amendment right away. Don't rely on a procedural minority veto power. For starters it won't generate consensus, but will in fact lead to a greater polarization. Secondly, it is thoroughly un-democratic and reactionary. Lastly, it is intellectually bankrupt.

However, there is another option. How about restoring the filibuster to the way it used to be? I'd be all for that. You filibuster, you pay the price. Either you win big or you crash in flames. No more of this "veto" on the cheap stuff. Finally, there would be a good reason to watch C-Span instead of looking to see if there is a Capra film over on AMC.


Check out this lengthy round-up over at The Moderate Voice. Some interesting stuff, but you can see the less pretty side of the blogosphere rising up with the all-too-familiar shrill hysterics. On the plus side some of those can be pretty funny, intentionally or not.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Notes On A Blogroll

Long time visitors to The Iconic Midwest have probably noticed that the blogroll here grows very slowly. It has been my policy, since my second month blogging, to only add those sites that I would actually read on a regular basis. On any given week I find myself visiting fifty or sixty blogs (at least), and I will link to anything worthwhile. However, to get on the blogroll you have to prove routinely compelling.

So whenever you see a new blog added, like the recent arrival of Big Cat Chronicles, you know it has The Iconic Midwest's seal of Being Damn Interesting. (History buffs in particular need to make sure to visit BCC often for such gems as this and this.)

The blogroll here may be small, but its potent.

[In Mel Allen's Voice] How 'Bout VAT!

(Via Real Clear Politics)Like It or Not, VAT's in Your Future

Conservatives don't like it, nor do liberals. No one loves the value-added tax, but the VAT is looking better all the time. Expect to hear more nice things said about it in the months to come.

A VAT is basically a national sales tax. America doesn't have a VAT. European countries do, and they're not shy about letting it rip. Britain charges a 17.5-percent VAT on everything people buy. In Denmark and Sweden, the VAT is 25 percent!

Conservatives don't like the VAT because it's a politically easy way to raise taxes. And it greases the skids for big government programs. Europeans will be the first to tell you that their sales taxes are how they pay for universal health care, lush unemployment benefits and the rest of the dolce vita.

On the other hand, a VAT takes pressure off the income tax -- a tax that most conservatives hate like no other. It taxes consumption only and doesn't penalize investments. Some conservative reformers want to completely replace the income tax with a VAT.

Liberals don't like the VAT because the poor spend a bigger percentage of their income than do the rich -- so more of their income gets taxed. (However, the rich do tend to buy more stuff overall.) Furthermore, everyone gets taxed at the same rate: In Italy, the seamstress and the corporate lawyer pay the same $20 sales tax on a $100 baby carriage.

On the other hand, the VAT makes possible the generous government programs that benefit seamstresses more than attorneys. And it helps achieve other societal goals. For example, environmentalists who want high gas taxes to discourage fossil-fuel consumption need only wait for a European-style VAT.

Another thing: The income tax is rigged against ordinary people. Working stiffs have the income tax ripped every week out of their paychecks. Our Byzantine tax code lets rich people play with the numbers. Guided by daring accountants, business owners and investors can do creative things to lower their declared income and thus avoid paying income taxes. But they can't escape the VAT. When they buy their Learjet, Mercedes CL600 or Chanel suit, the VAT will catch 'em.

The trouble is it is possible to come up with good reason not to like just about any kind of taxation someone might propose. I, for example, have an almost pathological hatred of property taxes, which, to my way of thinking, only functions to keep real property from being held by those folks with lower incomes. Similar types of objections can be raised about sales taxes and income taxes as well. It should be clear that in a country with diverse opinions on such matters there will never be a single satisfactory answer. There is always going to be something to dislike about the way we fund the federal government.

That being the case, why can't we take a more balanced approach? I would support a system that lowered (and simplified) federal income tax rates, while at the same time instituting a modest VAT. Such an approach would spread the inequalities more evenly across the board, at least theoretically.

The experiences of states like Washington and Oregon clearly show that you don't want governments too dependant on sales taxes for their revenue streams. Citizens should be able to expect some consistency of governmental services without the prospect of them going broke during the inevitable economic downturns. So I certainly wouldn't want to replace the income tax with the VAT.

The trouble is that there are those in congress that act as if the current tax laws were brought down the mountain on stone tablets. They should be reminded that the tax code is not sacrosanct. It exists to serve our needs, not the other way around.

"In A Former Life" Alert

From the Washington Times:

A faulty rubber grommet was blamed for an aircraft door flying open in-flight Wednesday with New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark aboard.

Turbulence caused the chartered six-seater Piper Aztec to plunge suddenly from an altitude of 7,000 feet en route to Wellington, TV New Zealand reported.

"All of a sudden there seemed to be a lot of noise and the plane started plunging, and even with your belt on you go up," Clark said. She suffered a badly bruised arm after it smashed onto the window sill.

Two police officers struggled to keep the door shut as the pilot issued a mayday and arranged an emergency landing at Paraparaumu Airport.

Alright, this absolutely fails the "Why should you care" test, but... Hey! I once walked the perimeter of the Paraparamu Airport! Not many people can say that, right?

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

World Wide Webb Wilder

Here is a quick round-up of what's being said about the Last Of The Full Grown Men around the blogosphere.

The Beer Drinkers Society has a nice little appreciation of the man, the legend, the card carrying member of the Rock and Roll Justice League.

Bottom line? Webb is unquestionably one of the most underrated performers we've ever seen. We even told him that once while standing next to him in a two-urinal bar bathroom. His response? "Pardon me for not shaking your hand right now." Classic Webb.

And, there is this review of About Time from Instapundit that includes the following information:

If you're not familiar with Webb, well, you've missed something. When I moved to Nashville to clerk for Judge Merritt after law school, I had an idea of the kind of music I hoped to hear -- rock and roll with plenty of twang and tremolo, and a none-too-serious attitude. I was literally walking past the Exit/In one night when I heard Webb's music coming out of the door, and said 'yeah, that's it!"

I became a regular fan (you can hear me screaming in the background on some of the live cuts on It Came From Nashville) and I've followed him since.

My respect for Mr. Reynolds has just increased 500 fold.

Hunting Mr. Snoogums

(Via The Moderate Voice) From ABC News: Cat Hunting Considered in Wisconsin

Cat lovers might be outraged by the idea of allowing hunters to stalk their furry friends, but some naturalists say pet owners ought to take the proposal as a wake-up call to be more responsible.

The issue of whether to make feral cats an unprotected species, meaning they could be hunted and killed, was put before the Wisconsin Conservation Congress, an independent organization created by the state 70 years ago to take public input on conservation issues, last night. Representatives from 72 counties listened to residents' concerns about the issue.

The proposal, which was raised five years ago and voted down by the congress, was revived after a 2004 University of Wisconsin study that found non-native feral cats were a threat to native animals such as lovebirds.

I don't normally have a problem with hunting. It always struck me as an absolutely miserable way to spend one's freetime (you won't catch me camping either) but to each his own. However, I have to question the manhood of any "hunter" that gets his jollies by shooting stray cats. (Isn't that how serial killers usually start?)

"Getting his jollies?" you might ask. Well, look at this grinning moron and tell me what it looks like to you.

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I'm not claiming that cats can't be a problem, but anybody who chooses this as their past-time deserves all the ridicule they can get.

Go to the Moderate Voice for some helpful pro-cat links.

Monday, April 11, 2005

All Those Self-Serving But(t)s

University campuses really are amazing places. You would have thought that 1st amendment protections would be sort of important to them BUT you would be wrong. John Leo: Cupcakes And Cookies On Campus, Oh My!

The enemies of campus bake sales are at it again, inflaming one another over the dire threat of cupcakes and cookies sold at different prices to whites, minorities and women. The sales are political parody, of course, poking fun at affirmative-action policies and trying to get a debate going. Campus orthodoxy holds that such policies are sacred and that any dissent, even in the form of satirical cookie prices, is illegitimate and deserving of suppression.

When members of a Republican club staged a bake sale March 21 at Grand Valley State University in Allendale, Mich., several students said they were offended. This amounted to a powerful argument, since hurt feelings are trump cards in the campus culture. Next came the usual scramble to suppress free speech while expressing great respect for it. The normal campus method in such cases is to define free speech as narrowly as possible, while pointing to broad and vague anti-discrimination rules.

I find it hard to believe that these types of sales are still causing controversey. They have been going on for what, 10 or 15 years now? Campus liberals have really not found a better way to deal with them than supression? Is the state of liberal thought of American universities so feeble that this is the best they can come up with? Sure, Stalin would have approved, but what about anyone who enjoys even vague democratic credentials? Although I guess that is a little unfair because Universities don't have a problem with the bake sales, as long as they promote liberal causes that is.

In Chicago, the College Republicans at Northeastern Illinois University canceled an affirmative-action bake sale after the administration warned that they would be punished if they went ahead. Dean of Students Michael Kelly announced that the cookie sellers would be in violation of university rules and that "any disruption of university activities that would be caused by this event is also actionable." This seemed to promise that if opponents of the sale conducted a riot, the Republicans would be held responsible.

The university did not understand it was dealing in viewpoint discrimination (it did not object to a satirical wage-gap bake sale run by feminists). Kelly said the affirmative action sale would be allowed if cookie prices were the same for whites, minorities and women. So the university was willing to tolerate a bit of satire as long as all satirical content was removed.

The Philadelphia-based Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) stepped in, reminding the university that forbidding political expression is clearly unconstitutional. Under pressure from FIRE, the university backed down, issuing no public statement but allowing the bake sale. FIRE is also looking into attempts to suppress a bake sale at Eastern Washington University. In this case, an outside group of the left, the Center for Justice, threatened suit on grounds that the campus sale would violate state anti-discrimination laws.

Opponents of these bake sales will use almost any argument to shut them down. At the University of Washington, the administration said the sponsor had failed to get a food permit. At Grand Valley, the university counsel argued that the sale of a single cupcake would convert political commentary into forbidden campus commerce. At Eastern Washington, the varying prices were denounced as unfair marketing. At Texas A&M, the athletics director argued that a satirical bake sale would damage the sports teams by making it harder to recruit minority players.

Apart from the complaint that opposition to affirmative action is evidence of bias, the most common tactic used against the sales is the "heckler's veto": Disruptions may occur, but instead of protecting the cookie sellers, the colleges decree that sales must be banned.

Campus culture is so heavily pitched against dissent that many students react viscerally to those who disagree and can't even understand when such dissent is reasonable. David French, president of FIRE, blames the uniformity of thought on campus. He says that because the suppression of bake sales meets approval in faculty lounges, opponents are often surprised when the public notices the censorship and reacts against it.

In terms of the hothouse campus culture, suppression seems normal.

It is amazing that university liberals will always find excuses not to protect right-of-center speech. I've never heard a "We believe in free speech BUT..." argument made to restrict speech about a left-wing issue on a college campus. I've seen a couple of cases that restricted all speech, left or right, but never one that only impacted left leaning students. We hear things like, "Oh, we respect freedom of speech, BUT Larry Summers should have taken into account..." or "Freedom of speech is an ideal, BUT having a satirical bake sale is offensive because..." It is remarkable that we have to go all the way back to square one with these folks. You cannot legitmately claim to believe in freedom of speech if you reserve the right to place any limitations that suit your fancy. The Supreme Court has laid down what few BUT's are acceptable in our democratic society. The last time I checked Larry Summers was not yelling fire in a crowded theater, and college Republicans are not asking for someone to be killed.

Did these folks just forget to do their undergraduate reading on John Stuart Mill? Well, maybe they just didn't understand it.

Webb Wilder's About Time: A Review

It came out a couple of week late, March 29th instead of March 15th, but after nine years the new Webb Wilder is in my greedy hands. It actually showed up in my mail box this Friday, so I've had the chance for multiple plays all weekend. It was pre-ordained that I was going to like the thing, but I'll take the time to review it anyway.

About Time, is not exactly a typical Webb album. That isn't to say that any individual song doesn't sound like something he would do. They all fall into the Webb-like genre alright. It is the preponderance of the 1950's rock and roll feel that makes the album a little unusual. On previous albums you would find a couple tracks that hearkened back to that early rock era, but it was never the overarching theme before. Even the covers album Town & Country was more eclectic than deliberately a throwback the way this one is. The overall effect certainly is a good one.

That being said, it is interesting that two of the first three tracks do not fall into the 50's style really. "Down On The Farm" and "You Might Be Lonely For A Reason" are great examples of what made Webb's previous albums so much fun. "Down On The Farm" has the horns that marked such earlier songs as "Big Time" off of Doo Dad, and "..Lonely For A Reason" evokes the days of Webb's first album It Came From Nashville and a track like "Is This All There Is?"

The 50's rock and roll feel comes over most strongly with tracks such as "I Just Had To Laugh" and "Miss Missy From Ol' Hong Kong," the latter of which has a real Jerry Lee Lewis feel about it. "Scattergun" sounds like a cross between "Streets Of Laredo" and "The Ballad Of The Green Berets," if you can imagine that sounding Johnny Cash cool. Webb and the Nashvegans also offer a nice laid back old time bluesy version of the song "Jimmy Reed Is The King Of Rock And Roll." The lyrics of the "Battle Of The Bands" with its invocation of Eddie Cochrane's classic "Summertime Blues" only adds to the nostalgia factor.

When they break into "Old Copper Penny" they have a tendency to make it sound like a Jimmy Buffet song (for better or for worse-that's up to you); think of a mix of "Slow Boat To China" and "Pencil Thin Moustache." The boys then punch things back up by offering a medley of the covers "Mary Lou" and "Move It," which offer high energy even if they aren't the most memorable of songs. More memorable is another rocking cover "Little Boy Sad."

The last of the originals "The Only One" is simply fantastic. It just has a wonderful vibe, and a terrific vocal performance from Webb, a vastly underrated singer. I can't think why they buried the thing as the 13th track. It should prove a staple of the live shows. I know I'll be yelling for it.

If you enjoy the genre of Roots Rock at all you simply have to pick up on Webb Wilder. About Time would even make a good starting point if you haven't heard him before. Enjoy! And here is hoping it isn't nine more years until the next album.

The Intellectual Acumen Of Judges...

...Or the lack thereof. From Reuters: Badges Worn at a Murder Trial May Lead to a Convict's Release

A convicted murderer could be released from prison after 11 years because of a ruling on Friday that found it was wrong for family members of his victim to wear badges with an image of the victim during his trial.

The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit issued the ruling following a review of the case of Mathew Musladin, who was sentenced to life without parole in the 1994 murder of Tom Studer, his estranged wife's fiance.


During Mr. Musladin's trial, three of Mr. Studer's family members wore buttons bearing his image within clear sight of the jury. The appellate court ruled that the images had a prejudicial impact.

"Here, the direct link between the buttons, the spectators wearing the buttons, the defendant, and the crime that the defendant allegedly committed was clear and unmistakable," Judge Stephen Reinhardt wrote for the three-judge appellate court panel. "A reasonable jurist would be compelled to conclude that the buttons worn by Studer's family members conveyed the message that the defendant was guilty."

One of the three judges dissented.

I'm sorry but this is simply nuts. The whole point of a trial is that there is a group of people who think the defendant is guilty, and they are trying to convince another group of people (i.e. the jury) to believe it also. The idea that the jury would be unable to do their job because they learn the family of the victim think the defendant guilty is absurd. The idea that displaying the image of the victim, the entire reason you are having a trial in the first place , would materially alter anything is simple nonsense.

The next thing you know the 9th Circuit is going to outlaw the prosecustion because, after all, they are so prejudicial to the defendant.

Sunday, April 10, 2005

My Proto-Blogger Days

Before I started this blog I had periodic fits of energy just lookng for some sort of outlet. It led to a multitude of abandoned projects including some that held some real interest for me. Here is an example of something I was working on in the summer of 2004 as the presidential campaign was leaving me someting less than satisfied. Maybe it doesn't deserve a second life, but I'm the boss here.

There are dozens of political parties scattered across the landscape of American political life, encompassing a staggeringly large territory of diverse idelogical and issue positions. In view of this the most fundamental questions for any new political party are, Why do we need you? What can you offer that isn't already provided by another? These are fair and emminently important questions that no new party can ignore with impunity. In order to answer these question I will take a look at the relationship between citizens and the existing political parties.

Why does one become a member of a political party? James Madison, in his brilliant Federalist Paper #10, contends that the impulse to adhere to factions, of one sort or another, is a part of human nature. We naturally attach ourselves with likeminded others to espouse a cause, issue or religious viewpoint, to support a particular person for public office, and for many other reasons both profound and trivial. However, to become a true adherent of an organized political party you need more than this natural inclination to faction. Most modern political parties do not represent a simple faction. Most cover such a vast array of issues, causes, motivations and personalities that they offer no defining characteristic that can act as the "essence" of their party. The Republican and Democratic parties offer nothing which can be said to represent the "core" or "bedrock" of their beliefs. Every issue position which these parties trumpet loudly today is liable to be tomorrow's old news, swept under the carpet and largely forgotten. The effect of this lack of centeredness in the established parties can be seen in the slow deterioration of party identification and affiliation among the citizenry. A growing number of people support the Democrats or Republicans less than half-heartedly if at all.

And who can blame them. It is difficult to see in either of the established parties a coherent structure of political belief. For the average citizen this results in a situation where supporting any given political party means supporting issue positions the citizen disagrees with vehemently. In and of itself this state of affairs might not be intolerable, if the citizen could feel that their dissenting voice was able to be heard within the party. Increasingly such dissent is not allowed. In the name of "party unity" and in the mistaken belief that being democratic means being weak, both the Republicans and the Democrats stifle debate and the voicing of dissenting opinion within their parties. If change ever does occur within the issue positions of the parties, it is increasingly of a "top down" variety, such as presidential candidate Bill Clinton's injection of "welfare reform" into the mainstream of Democratic party life. In the name of political expediency both major parties will allow their top officials to alter party beliefs at the drop of a hat, and keep any possible complaints about such actions off the agenda. You can say whatever you like about the effectiveness of this arrangement for gaining desiered election results, but it cannot be called democratic. The average citizen knows that they can have no appreciable affect on the positions adopted by either of the established parties. When they support a given Democratic or Republican candidate at the ballot box, it is less about the ideals or issues involved, and more about voicing approval or disapporval of the specific candidates' personal character (real or percieved.) This is a sorry state of affairs and reduces every election to a paltry choice at best.

Why is this? It isn't that the natural inclination to faction outlined by James Madison has lessened over time, but that many Americans are dis-spirited by their lack of input in the options that exist. Americans, by and large, understand that in a democratic political system, you win some and you lose some. The pain of losing a fight is lessened in the knowledge that you had your chance and gave it your best shot. But when put into a situation where the end is preordained, we feel cheated. No citizen that cherishes his or her democratic rights will long stay in a situation that denies them. The Democratic and Republican parties lose members because they themselves do not function in a democratic fashion. They are elite driven oligarchies that attempt to derive mass support through the tools of propaganda, and not through democratic means. The informed citizen has become increasingly aware of these facts, and has, as a result, turned its back on active affiliation with the major parties.

Why then hasn't one or more of the older small parties taken off? There is no single reason why a given smaller party has not been able to capitalize on the growing disaffection between the citizenry and the larger parties. In general, however, two trends can be delineated that have hampered the smaller parties. The first is the tendency for smaller parties to fashion themselves in the likeness of the Democratic or Republican parties. In their issue positions they act, in effect, as "sterner" or "friendlier" versions of the established parties, depending on their particular inclinations. They often wind up adopting the "top down" model of party governence, wether by accident of having few adherents or in an effort to remain ideologicaly pure. The second tendency of the smaller parties is to adopt a policy of strict adherence to a specific set of issues or an ideology. This tendency keeps these parties from developing a wide enough platform for pursuing politics nationally. One issue parties (an oxymoronic term if ever there was) cannot translate to the wide scope of real American political life, they are hothouse creations that will wither and die when removed from their artificial environment. The tendency to strict ideological adherence can also lead to various forms of utopianism. Libertarians may have many good and interesting ideas about how the United States might be governed, but the moment you advocate a federal government that can be run from a double wide trailer is the moment you have left the real world for a utopian fantasy. Most citizens want their political parties to remain decidedly THIS-worldly.

Maybe in another life I was an 18th century pamphleteer.

Where Do People Get Off?

I'm getting to the point where I'm real sick and tired of hearing political pundits tell me what the tenets of the Catholic Church should be. Does any other religion or denomination have to put up with this kind of crap? I don't see Op-Ed's in the New York Times telling Baptists what they should believe. I don't see articles in the New Republic telling Jews what is and isn't acceptable Jewish doctrine. But bring up the Catholic Church and all you hear is "Let me tell you something." What special dispensation exists for these non-experts (and largely non-Catholics) to stick their nose into the internal workings of someone else's faith?

Forget the seperation of Church and State. I'd settle for the seperation of Church and journalistic blow hards.

Thursday, April 07, 2005

Modern Times

Everything old is new again in France. Read this fascinating post from American Future: Troubles in France

"The Weekly Standard reports that ethnic and religious tensions reached the boiling point in Paris last month:

On March 8, tens of thousands of high school students marched through central Paris to protest education reforms announced by the government. Repeatedly, peaceful demonstrators were attacked by bands of black and Arab youths--about 1,000 in all, according to police estimates. The eyewitness accounts of victims, teachers, and most interestingly the attackers themselves gathered by the left-wing daily Le Monde confirm the motivation: racism.

[Journalist Jaques] Julliard, writing in the Nouvel Observateur, expressed dismay at the lack of public outcry over this display of racial hatred. He added that the left had already made the mistake of not denouncing violence in schools or soaring crime rates. And he sharply rejected the view endorsed by most left-wing organizations and individuals that the violence was an expression of class struggle, a clash between rich and poor. "Anyone should be ashamed," Julliard wrote, "after all we went through in the 20th century, to offer such a coarse explanation. . . . There is no good and bad racism." [emphasis added]

As usual, the Left blames the victims, who, because they are they are white, are assumed to be "rich." Can you really blame the "poor" for violence against the rich?"

Rising ethnic and religious tensions? Bad behavior being excused in the name of ideological necessity? A blind eye being turned to rising anti-semitism? One could be excused for not being sure if this is the 21st century or the 1930's in Europe.

Globalization, The New El Nino

Do you remember when there couldn't be an untoward weather event that was not blamed on El Nino? Warm water in the Pacific was the cause of everything it seemed; forest fires in California, mud slides in California, flooding in Bangladesh, hurricanes in the Atlantic basin, the lack of hurricanes in the Atlantic basin, etc... In fact El Nino was blamed for everything but nice weather. The good weather must have been some freak of nature.

The beautiful thing about El Nino, from the commentator's point of view, is that it expresses a causal relationship without needing to show any specific causality. That makes it extremely handy. Freed from the need to show causality, El Nino became the perfect ready made answer to any question concerning extreme weather. And if extreme weather took place at a time when El Nino was not around it was no problem. The weather could be explained as being caused by the lack of El Nino, and we can even give that a name too, La Nina. See how neatly it all fits together?

Comentators on world politics now have their own version of El Nino called Globalization. It is perfect. The very word sounds important, maybe even scientific. At its very core is the notion of complexity. "An interconnected world in a complicated place!" we are told. Well, who could argue with that? For that reason alone Globalization can be the "cause of" just about everything.

Take this Jim Hoagland piece, The Backlash Paradox, as an example:

"Religion has long played a major role in politics in most societies, even if unacknowledged. But that role is changing today in many places -- and especially in the Middle East -- where religion has become politics to a great extent. To be more precise, religion is filling a vacuum left by the failure of state politics to explain, moderate or accommodate the forces of change unleashed in the superconnected and superstimulated world of globalization."

Boy, that Globalization sure is tricky stuff! And potent too. It is, evidently, the cause of the entire political situation of the Middle East. Wow, what explanatory power! Any change that occurs in the region can be chalked up to the pressure of Globalization, and, at the same time, any backsliding can be explained as a reaction against Globalization. It can be used to explain a society's climb to democracy, or its descent into barbarism. It's the cause of everything.

Or course, has anyone considered the possibility that the political situation in Lebanon today has been caused by warmish water in the Pacific? I could be on to something here. After all the world is an interconnected place. Who could argue with that?

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

The Boring Truth

I was reading James D. Miller's response to Paul Krugman's take on the dearth of conservative academics (basically all Republicans are anti-science know-nothings in Krugman's view) when I came upon the following paragraph by Miller:

Krugman correctly points out that self-selection is part of the reason there are so few Republicans in academia. But much of this self-selection is because of leftist bias. For example, consider the academic field of Women's Studies. True, few Republicans will self-select to become Women Studies professors, but only because this field is totally defined in left-wing terms. Similarly, the fields of African-American Studies, History, English and Sociology are increasingly devoted to left-wing topics. A smart undergraduate who tells her academic advisor that she wants to get a Ph.D. focusing on military history will likely be told to go to law school instead because few colleges will consider hiring a military historian. In contrast, if this same undergraduate announced her desire to study how capitalism has promoted environmental racism she would be told of the rich academic job market that will await her after she completes her Ph.D.

I'm not sure I can think of anyone I know who has even the slightest connection with academia that would dispute the veracity of any part of the above. In some ways it is so ordinary an obervation at best it might produce a yawn. I've made the argument before that in academia like begets like. Left leaning profs in Ph.D. granting institutions have a tendency to attract left leaning students, who finish their left leaning Ph.D.'s and become the new batch of left leaning Profs. And the cycle of academic life continues. I stopped short of calling it out and out discrimination, at least as a system wide phenomenon. But I may have to reconsider.

Here is the question: Does the systematic removal of areas of study from university curriculum that may be more amenable to people of more conservative viewpoints (such as military history), and their replacement by areas that could only be represented by people with more liberal viewpoints (such as the great swath of gender, ethnicity, and sexual preference studies,) constitute in itself an act of discrimination? Go to the Chronicle of Higher Education add read through the academic job ads in History and Political Science, and see how many could clearly only be filled by a liberal minded individual. Then count the ads that could only be filled by a conservative. Should this discrepancy matter to us? If not, why not?

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Democracy Comes In From The Cold

It is (kind of) heartening to see ideas one long advocates gaining a increased hearing (kind of) after being long ignored. I'm speaking of Joe Klein's latest in Time, A New Idea For Democrats: Democracy

The Schiavo case has provoked a passionate American conversation, which is taking place on a more profound level than the simple yes and no answers of the polls. Yes, the vast majority disdain the politicians who chose to exploit the case. And yes, a solid majority would not want their own lives prolonged in a similar situation. But the questions that cut closest to home are the family issues. What would you do if Terri Schiavo were your daughter? Why couldn't Michael Schiavo just give custody over to the parents? What do we do about custody in a society where the parent-child bond is more durable than many marriages? The President's solution, to "err on the side of life," seems the only humane answer—if there is a dispute between parents and spouse, and the disabled person has left no clear instruction.

The Democrats' relative silence on all this has been prudent, but telling. Their implicit position has been to err toward law. "The notion that Florida failed to do its job in the Schiavo case is wrong," said Congressman Barney Frank, one of the few Democrats willing to speak about the case. "Procedurally, there was a great deal of due process." Frank was right, but it was a curiously sterile pronouncement, bereft of the Congressman's usual raucous humanity. It exemplified the Democratic Party's recent overdependence on legal process, a culture of law that has supplanted legislative consideration of vexing social issues. This is democracy once removed.

The Democrats come to their dilemma honorably. It dates back to the civil rights movement, when federal courts had to enforce federal law in states that refused racial integration. But the courts soon wandered into unlegislated gray areas. They imposed forced busing to achieve school integration, allowed racial preferences in hiring and school admissions, extrapolated a constitutional right to privacy and declared abortion legal in the 1973 Roe v. Wade case (and more recently, on the state court level, allowed gay marriage). Many of these were worthy decisions, but they were never voted on. Over time, as the Democrats became the minority party, their efforts to hold on to this last area of solace became more desperate.

I've always found it difficult to comprehend something about my staunch Democratic friends. They could launch into impassioned defenses of this or that matter of public policy, but when it came time for a decision to be made by a part of the government on the issue they never wanted a democratic vote. Instead they would say, "Let's let this hand-picked group of oligarchs make the decision for us! Hooray!! My side wins!" It made the idea of "democratic discourse" farcical. Why engage in these sorts of discussions if you are never going to be allowed to have an input on pulic policy, either directly or indirectly? For too long the Democrats have been in the position of arguing to justify what the courts have done in their name, instead of arguing to change people's hearts and minds. There is a very large difference between the two.

I think of capital punishment as the prime example of this situation in action. The liberal position against capital punishment (which I agree with whole-heartedly) has been decimated by the reliance on the courts to impose our will. Every time the issue of capital punishment comes into the news these days it is because this or that court has attempted to throw a road-block in its way, but there is no attempt to engage with and change the majority opinion. Indeed the ideas you hear on television against the death penalty are usually awful. Of course they are awful. They are never being made to appeal to people with doubts on the subject, they are made to justify an oligarchical decision making process against a democratic decision making process. No wonder 70% (or more) of Americans support the death penalty.

Back to Klein:

Oddly, a solution to the Dems' dilemma may be on offer from liberal academia. "The hot new idea in liberal law journals is called popular constitutionalism," says Paul Gewirtz of Yale Law School. "It argues that legislatures and voters should have more control over government, and the judiciary should take a more subsidiary position." [Is there anything in this world that makes you doubt the intellectual utility of an idea more than hearing it is "the hot new idea in liberal law journals"? I didn't think so.] In other words, issues like abortion should be put to a vote. This is an idea unthinkable to most Democratic politicians, who believe the right to an abortion is tucked somewhere in the Constitution—and also to the more extreme religious conservatives, who believe abortion is murder. That leaves the rest of us. And I imagine most of us would prefer some good, messy legislative compromises, hammered out at the state level, with the unimpeachable imprimatur of public approval. Perhaps it is time, finally, for Democrats to embrace democracy.

It is strange to see such ideas getting such prominent exposure. Ten (plus) years ago when I was making the same sorts of arguments they never would have shown up in a publication like Time. I'm not really sure they will resonate with the majority of mainline Democrats (or Republicans for that matter.) Politics seems to be becoming an "all or nothing" sort of game these days. Hell, you have Democrats that want to expel Joe Lieberman from their party for even talking about compromise with the other side. And Lord knows if the Republicans attempt to moderate from the positions that the evangelical right has staked out, the right wing will go all screwy (screwier.) It remains to be seen who will be left to move to the center to engage in the debates and form a public policy that doesn't involve imposing it with judicial edicts.

Maybe if we can get folks on the left and the right to agree that the democratic process is worthwhile in and of itself, whether in the short run you win or lose, then maybe we will have something.

Power Pop

If you have ever wondered, "What on God's green earth is Power Pop?" there is finally an answer for you. From the St. Louis Post-Dispatch: Power Pop Lives Anew In Yellow Pills

Has anyone outside of Kennett, Mo., ever heard of the Trend, a quartet of white-shirt-and-skinny-tie-wearing dweebs from the Missouri Bootheel who, a quarter-century ago, released one lone album of obscure power-pop classics like "She's Hi-Fi" and "(I Feel Like A) Dictionary" before getting on with the rest of their lives?

Who besides the band members' parents bought "Pop 'n' Roll," a 10-inch vinyl EP that was the sole release by Texas group the Kids?

And who has in their collection records made by Jack Stack a Track, the Treble Boys or the Speedies?

Jordan Oakes is the answer to all those questions, and even at this late date, he wants to share his power-pop obscurities with you.


So, what exactly is power pop and why is Oakes so drawn to it?

"That's a good question," he says. "To a certain extent, I don't think it really exists anymore, at least not in its pure form. There was a certain climate for it back in the '70s. It was kind of a safer version of new wave at one point. But even before that, you had bands that were influenced by the Beatles, like Badfinger, the Raspberries and Big Star.

"It's hard to define, but some of the common elements are that it's high energy, with a good melody and good vocals, a lot of harmonies. There's an element of danger to it, too. It's really kick-ass: It shouldn't be wimpy."

Cheap Trick is perhaps the best-known power-pop practitioner, but Oakes' all-time favorite is the less well-known (but equally Illinois-centric) Shoes.

"The main thing," he says, "is I think power pop is a valid art form. I don't think it's just disposable stuff. The best power pop is great art."

What might strike some as strange, though, is that despite the notion that "pop" is short for "popular," power pop tends to exist more in the margins.

"That's because people don't buy into it more than one song at a time," Oakes says. " 'My Sharona' is not a good example because the Knack is not my favorite band, but that was a huge song, and it wasn't because people said, 'Hey, it's power pop, let's buy it.' They just liked the song. The people who are more into it than that are the ones that seek it out."

In case you couldn't tell I am one of those power pop freaks. I was heartbroken when Cotton Mather broke up. ("Cotton who?" you say.) I know what Rick Rock and Parthenon Huxley have in common. I really wish Brad Jones would stop producing Shazam records and write and record his own stuff. I have a favorite Spongetones record. I got really excited when the Off Broadway album "On!" got released on CD. I'd rather listen to "Jessie's Girl" than "Smells Like Teen Spirit." In other words, there is really something wrong with me.

But I get happy when I read:

Oakes has compiled and annotated "Yellow Pills: Prefill," a two-CD set of little-heard power pop that was recently released on the Chicago-based (but St. Louis-connected) Numero label.

Anybody who has heard, and enjoyed, the Yellow Pills CD's that came out on the Big Deal label in the 1990's should immediately jump on the new collection. There is no way it isn't fantastic. I'll let you know exactly how fantastic it is after I get the thing. (I know, I can hardly wait.)

Monday, April 04, 2005

Duelling Polls

We all remember the polls that we saw on television concerning the Terri Schiavo case that basically showed that the only people in the country that wanted Schiavo to live were congressional Republicans, right?

Well, now we have this poll (conducted by Zogby) that found the following:

"If a disabled person is not terminally ill, not in a coma, and not being kept alive on life support, and they have no written directive, should or should they not be denied food and water," the poll asked.

A whopping 79 percent said the patient should not have food and water taken away while just 9 percent said yes.

I'm not saying it's right or wrong. It does make me wonder how those other polls were worded.

Sunday, April 03, 2005

Where Not To Get Your Theology

Let it never be said that Christopher Hitchens will not speak ill of the dead. In fact it seems clear that he takes a perverse pride in doing so. To each his own I suppose. But in his zeal to attack the late Pope Hitchens is guilty of a gross stupidity, as opposed to being merely gross. (Although he is that too.)

Since I have more than once criticized Maureen Dowd in this space, I should say now that I think she put it best of all. A church that has allowed no latitude in its teachings on masturbation, premarital sex, birth control, and divorce suddenly asks for understanding and "wiggle room" for the most revolting crime on the books.

Hitchens should have kept to his original impluse and dismissed the Dowd statement out of hand. That he didn't says more about Hitchens blind prejudices than it does about his intellect. (Either that or he is that dumb.)

Maybe Hitchens (or Dowd) can point me to the provision of Catholic dogma that makes child rape a less grave sin than the others mentioned. I'll be waiting until hell freezes over because it doesn't exist. To claim otherwise is simply an exercise in ignorance or biogtry.

Maybe Hitchens (or Dowd) can show me an example of the Church not offering the sacrament of Reconciliation for those that have committed any of the other sins mentioned. Yes, the sticky situation that can develop when someone divorces and then gets remarried does provides an ongoing difficulty, but considering the numbers of annulments given out in this day and age it is hard to argue that there is no "wiggle" room on the issue.

Yes, I do wish that the Pope had recognized that American bishops were too concerned with avoiding scandals and protecting gay priests (including those that would never harm anyone in a million years), to do what they were supposed to do. And yes, the American bishops showed an apalling lack of understanding of the predatory nature of these crimes. But to suggest that the Church was running a "child-rape racket" with the Pope's blessing is simple hatred on Hitchens part. Nothing more, nothing less.