Saturday, December 31, 2005

Is This True?

In a science fiction short story I read the following:

In the fall of 1939 Benito Mussolini condemned the Marx Brothers and ordered his subjects not to laugh at them.

Did that really happen? What a law! IT IS FORBIDDEN TO LAUGH AT THE MARX BROTHERS.

"What are you in for?"

"Duck Soup. Cracked me up. You?"

"A Night at the Opera. I was doing okay until that scene where they all crowd into the ship's cabin. Then I lost it."

I gaze eento my creeestal ball...

Predictions are a fun game, nothing else. No one can tell the future. All fortune tellers are con artists. (Sorry, Dionne Warwick. Go back to San Jose. Take the I-5.)

Instead of making joke predictions like, “Michael Jackson’s nose will fall off” -- oh wait, that already happened -- I will attempt serious guesses as to what will happen in 2006.

1. Bush will make a tough anti-immigration proposal in his State of the Union speech. It will, unfortunately, prove immensely popular among a broad spectrum of the American people from union workers to conservatives nervous about national security to Perot voters to racist yahoos and will become an important issue for a Republican Party that is increasingly contemptuous of free market ideas.

2. Hillary Clinton will hang tough to her moderate course on Iraq and national defense, enraging leftists. Her stature will grow as she lets her unhinged base make her look good by comparison. The media will gladly go along with the story: Hillary is a mature, serious centrist that Americans can trust in the Oval Office. She will be reelected easily to her Senate seat in November. With all of the county-by-county connections of the Clinton machine still in place across America, no one can touch her in the 2008 campaign to become the Democrat nominee for president. (Don’t forget, she is married to a man with a phenomenal memory for detail. I imagine him advising Senator Clinton, “When you go to Peoria, meet Mr. X. Ask him about his daughter majoring in liberal arts and his interest in Japanese gardens.” Quite a resource.)

3. The DNC will try to make scandal an issue in the 2006 election, but the results will be so poor and they will get so many complaints from Democrats struggling for election that they will change the subject.

4. Republicans gain one Senate seat in November 2006, making it 56-44 in their favor (counting one independent as a Dem).

5. Howard Dean will continue to say stupid things that delight his base and make the rest of America wonder if Democrats are sane.

6. Republicans will run commercials with clips of Dean and other Democrats saying outrageous things. The media will denounce the Republicans as mud-throwers.

7. Democrats will pick up four seats in the House of Representatives, making it 227-206, with one independent.

8. The Lakers will make it to the second round of the playoffs and Phil Jackson will be Coach of the Year. The San Antonio Spurs will beat the Detroit Pistons in six games to win the championship.

9. The Dodgers will make the playoffs. (I’m risking my credibility as a fortune teller with this one.)

10. Things will get so much better in Iraq that even the MSM notice.

If my guesses are wrong, people will say, “Nyah, nyah, nyah.” If any guess is right, people will say, “You got lucky.” You can’t win with predictions.

UPDATE: 11. Alito will sail through his hearings. Later in the year, Bush will name his third nomination to replace the retiring 85-year old Justice Stevens.

Friday, December 30, 2005

Europe's Future

Today I read a short story by Vladimir Nabokov, “First Love,” that made me sad. The story is a memory of his childhood trip in 1909 by train from St. Petersburg, Russia to Biarritz on the Atlantic Coast of France, just north of Spain. Vacationing there for two months, he fell in love with a 10-year old French girl. Nabokov’s style is excellent. Not many writers to whom English is a second language can match Nabokov. Joseph Conrad and Ayn Rand come to mind.

What saddened me was the happy, peaceful Europe he described. The peace would soon be destroyed by two world wars and two totalitarian ideologies, fascism and communism. Today some think Europe is threatened by a third totalitarianism, Islamic fundamentalism.

Karl Zinsmeister calls Europe “Old and In the Way.”

Eric S. Raymond sees Europe heading for the dustbin of history.

A symposium on the Death of France.

Eric S. Raymond thinks the French riots were the opening shots of civil wars that will rage across Europe for a long time.

John Hawkins draws lessons for America from the riots.

Mark Steyn thinks the riots are the beginning of a long Eurabian civil war:

I went to one of these suburbs that's currently ablaze three years ago. And what was interesting to me is I had to bribe a taxi driver a considerable amount of money just to take me out there. They're miserable places. But what was interesting to me is that after that, I then flew on to the Middle East, and I was in Yemen, and a couple of other places. And what was interesting to me was that I found more menace in the suburbs of Paris than I did in some pretty scary places in the Middle East. I mean, there is a real...this, I think, is the start of a long Eurabian civil war we're witnessing here.
Robert Kagen writes about power and weakness.

Steven den Beste sees a brain drain and lack of high-tech companies in Europe.

Dilacerator blames shackled economies.

Even Joan Collins is worried about the decline of England. (HT: Tammy Bruce)

Robert Spencer wonders if the riots in France are a jihad in Europe.

Zarqawi has a terrorist network in Europe.

You’ll notice that every writer linked to above who thinks Europe is in trouble is from the right side of the political spectrum. It is not an issue to the left. Either the right is overreacting or the left had better wake up.

The Start of Something Big

If you have time and high-speed internet connection, check out It’s Robert Wright and Mickey Kaus discussing current events on streaming video. (Video weblogging goes by the ghastly neologism, vlogging.) Wright and Kaus strike me as informed moderate liberals. I don’t agree with them a lot, but I can watch them; they’re not foaming Bush haters.

The really interesting thing about this site is that here we have another example of how the Information Revolution is in the process of changing the world. These guys are doing a TV newscast in their homes! They don’t need a huge network, producers, millions of dollars of equipment, advertisers, fancy graphics. They can sit and have an intelligent conversation for a half an hour and explore a topic better than anything you’ll see on cable TV.

Where will this kind of thing be in five years? 10 years? What effect will it have on nightly broadcast news?

The invention of the printing press during the Renaissance changed the world by getting books to people who couldn’t get them when monks were producing them by hand. I think we’re at the start of a comparable change with computers and the internet.

Why Would I Need That?

Today a recorded telemarketing message began, “Congratulations! You have been selected to receive a brand new satellite system.”

Gee, my own personal moon?

Thursday, December 29, 2005

George W. Bush

The end of the year is a good time to assess George W. Bush, the man and the presidency. In January 2006, he will have been President for five years, with three remaining. (How depressing that thought must be to Democrats -- three more years!)

Right up front I will admit that I don’t respond well to him on a personal level. Rush Limbaugh likes to say Americans love Bush. I don’t. I’m more like a liberal in this respect. He is not the drooling moron of leftist smears, but he is a small-minded man with no intellectual curiosity. Worse, he has contempt for intellectuals and ideas. He once said to someone, “If you’re so smart, why aren’t you President?” This is like something a sixth-grader would say -- a stupid sixth grader. To hear it from the POTUS is kind of scary.

He is a country club Republican, a man born into privilege who sought power because it was handed to him on a silver platter. Movement conservatives spend their youth reading books and getting fired up by ideas. They join the movement to change the world. Bush spent his youth getting wasted. He became a politician because his father was George Herbert Walker Bush.

He believes he doesn’t need high-falutin’ ideas to make the right decisions. He goes by his gut. This has led him to the worst aspects of his presidency, the growth in government and spending. It seems he has relied too much on his pragmatist political advisor, Karl Rove, who is not above spending money to buy favor with a voting bloc. So Bush has done stupid things like let Senator Kennedy write an education bill in hopes that parents of school children would vote for him in ’04.

Bush’s gut and his contempt for conservative ideas led him to nominate Miers to SCOTUS. Only a revolt among the Republican base made this notoriously stubborn man back away from the nomination.

This is just a suspicion, but I think Bush relies on his father more than the public knows. They probably don’t advertise this because they want Bush to be perceived as his own man. Bush the elder has one of the most distinguished resumes in America --WWII pilot hero, Congressman, RNC Chairman, CIA Director, Vice President, President, and doubtless I’ve missed an achievement or two. You think the son is not consulting daily with this man?

The influence of the father cannot be good. Bush the elder was a pure pragmatist who as President could say one thing in the morning, then say the opposite in the afternoon. He is incapable of thinking in principles. He’s the man who called supply-side economics, which has fueled 25 years of a mostly growing economy, “voodoo economics.” I will not be surprised if it eventually comes out that Bush’s weakest moments were the result of listening to his father’s advice.

Why did Bush apologize for those famous 16 words in the SOTU speech about British intelligence reporting that Saddam sought uranium in Niger? The statement was true then and it stands true to this day. However, it was a slap in the face of the CIA. Could the former Director of the CIA, the President’s father, have had something to do with Bush's gesture of appeasing the CIA bureaucracy? My fears about the father's influence are speculation; take it for what it’s worth.

Finally, Bush is a Christian -- a serious, committed Christian who called Jesus Christ his favorite political philosopher. I believe his Christian humility led him to attempt a “new tone” of civility with the Democrats in Washington, D.C. All he has gotten in return is greater contempt from them. His respect for religion led him to evade naming the enemy, militant Islam, for years after September 11, 2001.

Worst of all, he has started “faith-based initiatives,” integrating religion with the welfare state. This just makes the religious right more invested in welfare handouts -- a liberal dream! (As a side note, it can’t be good for religion. When you bring the church into the state, you bring the state into the church.)

The Objectivist philosopher Leonard Peikoff said that FDR was to the welfare state what Bush is to the religious state. He is an innovator, a founder, the start of something radical and new. For this reason Peikoff voted for Kerry in 2004, as liberalism is a spent force and all we will get from Democrats is more of the same. Dr. Peikoff might be right. I would like to see a little more evidence that Bush’s religious programs are changing America. Perhaps Dr. Peikoff is wiser in trying to stop those changes before they come about and our freedom is curtailed.

So much for the negative. What positive things can we say about the man?

Bush is shrewder than people realize, even now, after five years as President. He loves to play dumb and make people “misunderestimate” him. I don’t know how many times the Democrats thought they had Bush on the ropes, then Bush rope-a-doped his way to a political victory.

Bush is lucky in his enemies here. If he is shrewder than he looks, the Democrats are stupider than they look. Since day one of Bush’s first administration they have been obsessed with catching Bush in scandal. The details get lost as time passes, but Democrats thought Enron and Halliburton would lead to scandals they could hang around Bush’s neck. Much of 2005 has been wasted in scandal-mongering among the liberal media -- Plame and now this NSA flap.

The Democrat obsession with scandal results from their inability to think about ideas. When is the last time you heard a big, bright new idea from the Democrats? Part of it is also a reaction to the Clinton presidency. For eight long years the Republicans had Clinton mired in countless scandals. His presidency was so hobbled that he could do little more than agree with the Republicans on budget cuts and suggest modest programs such as uniforms for school children. The Democrats blame the evil Republicans for this, but Clinton gave them the scandals to work with.

Bush is far more honest than Clinton. The Democrats refuse to admit this truth, so they wage one futile scandal campaign after another. The waste of time and energy among liberals in Washington, D.C. is one of the great untold stories of the Bush presidency.

Bush’s response to September 11, 2001 is a mixed bag. He worried too much about world opinion and the UN before attacking Iraq. He started the Department of Homeland Security, which as Dr. John Lewis pointed out, is an admission that we’re going to live with terrorism in the long run instead of aggressively wiping out terrorist states. He is still trying to appease our greatest enemy, the fount of Islamic terrorism, Iran. But he took out the Taliban and Saddam and decimated Al Qaida. This is better than Gore would have done.

As recently as 2004, Kerry was still saying that terrorism should be a matter of law enforcement, not war; this is the mentality that ruled every president from Carter to Clinton -- including Reagan and Bush 41. This thinking got us in the mess we are in today. Bush has rejected this idea. He understands we are in a war. For this alone, we should be glad he is President. Unfortunately, he is not prosecuting the war thoroughly or well. In the long run, this might lead to greater disasters, as the appeasement at Munich led to WWII.

Bush has shown moments of great leadership. He named Iraq, Iran and North Korea “the axis of evil.” This is precisely the kind of clarity we have not gotten from our leaders since, I don’t know, JFK? Before that? Bush said if you’re not with us, you’re against us. Absolutely! These statements of moral purpose are what the liberals hate most about Bush -- further evidence that they cannot be trusted with national security.

Bush has had mixed success in choosing the people around him, but he has chosen wisely in Cheney, Rumsfeld and Rice. Powell is now just a bad memory. Despite all the liberal propaganda, I give Bush high marks in choosing his help.

Bush’s non-intellectual character has a good aspect. He has the soul of the American common man, and that is a very good soul indeed. He has elements of the American sense of life, our heritage of individualism from the 18th and 19th centuries that made this country great. Liberals will shriek in laughter at this, but there have been moments when Bush reminded me of Gary Cooper in High Noon. He is forthright and determined that justice will be done in our war against militant Islam.

Here is the best thing I can say about Bush. He is the most ambitious president since Harry S. Truman. Truman, for all of his faults, had the task of getting Germany and Japan rolling on our side. It worked. Look at them now, pillars of global capitalism. Bush is trying to bring freedom to the middle east. Some people think it is a pipe dream. I think it might work.

The colonialism of the 19th century was bad because the native peoples were not free. But it had good aspects in that it brought western values to primitive cultures and provided security. Their economies grew, despite the west “exploiting their resources.” Perhaps Bush is bringing a kind of benevolent colonialism to Iraq. The people are left free and their resources are not exploited, but their security is guaranteed by the US.

Is this a legitimate use of military lives and taxpayer dollars? Can freedom be brought to a culture that has never known it? It worked in Asia, but is Islam beyond hope? These issues remain open. One thing is for sure: the neoconservative project of bringing freedom to the middle east is more ambitious than uniforms for school children.

To Build Again

What to do when all is leveled?
Nothing can be done but build,
Even if we have forgotten
How the planks of wood are milled.

In a city full of rubble,
That was once a place of spires,
Stack the bricks that are unbroken,
And rekindle dormant fires.

Strive to meet the highest standards,
Keep our metal clean of rust,
Or we crumble in corruption
That has wrought our present dust.

Can we match the epic buildings,
Those of Shakespeare, Milton, Pope?
We must see the world with reason,
Fact and value, depth and scope.

See the world as it was once seen,
In its glory and its gall,
As before the all-destroyer,
He from Königsberg did crawl.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

More Moral Hysteria

John Hawkins of Right Wing News has a post on Democrat hatred of black Republicans that must be read to be believed. Ted Hayes runs a homeless shelter for 35 people in Los Angeles called Dome Village. He writes,

I am the founder and director of a unique, progressive homeless facility in downtown Los Angeles, known as the Dome Village. Yet the 35 men, women and children and their pets who call the Dome Village home are being "evicted" from privately owned property after 12-and-a-half years -- apparently on account of my political beliefs and activities. You see, though I am a leading homeless activist, I am also a conservative Republican and a strong supporter of President Bush.

Here's how the situation played out. Recently, I was invited to address a local Republican Women's Club; my landlord read an article in the local paper reporting on the event. Soon after, I received a notice raising the Dome Village rent from $2,500 a month to $18,330. Shocked, I inquired as to the seriousness of the change and the property owner blurted out that the cause of our "eviction" was "because you are Republican." He said that as a Democrat, he was tired of helping me and the Dome Village. In other words, let the homeless be damned.

And people think the Democrats are the party of compassion and tolerance.

Hayes is careful to write that the landlord has the right to do what he wants with his property. That’s not his point; it is the hatred he suffers from liberals just because he is a Republican. It is astonishing. I cannot imagine a Republican reacting with such emotional intensity to a tenant being a Democrat.

Just Asking...

The Politburo Diktat links to a strange story about a woman and her cell phone.

Police in Blue Springs, Mo. said they received a call Friday from a man who said his girlfriend was having trouble breathing after she swallowed a cell phone. The two had been arguing about the phone, which ended up being lodged in her throat.

Police said the woman, who wasn’t identified, was taken by ambulance to St. Mary’s Medical Center.

Later, police indicated the woman may not have swallowed the phone but may have been the victim of an assault in which the phone ended up lodged in her throat. The Associated Press reported that the police declined to reveal the details of the incident.

Okay, a man grabbed his girlfriend’s cell phone and shoved it down her throat? Were they in a movie theater?

Our Changing World

Mickey Kaus writes,

Iraq the Model is telling me at least as much about what's going on in Iraq as the New York Times these days.
One blogger working for free in Iraq is telling the world as much about his country as the mighty New York Times.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

The Big Story of 2005

Daily Pundit links to commentary by Mona Charen that begins,

Reviewing the falsehoods, myths and misrepresentations spun by the press, politicians and pundits after Hurricane Katrina, one is reminded of Nora Ephron's bon mot: "No matter how cynical I get, I can't seem to keep up."

Most recently, we have word from the National Hurricane Center that Katrina was not a category 4 storm at all, but rather, a category 3 when it slammed into the Gulf Coast Aug. 29. So much for the notion the levees were built to withstand anything less than a category 4.

This is only the latest in a string of stories correcting, amending and often reversing what we were told at the time. The string is so long the fabric of Katrina reporting has unraveled utterly. It's enough to encourage caution, if not outright cynicism, about all reporting, particularly during emergencies.

Did the media get anything right about Katrina? And is it a coincidence that the mistaken reporting made the Bush administration look bad and sank his poll numbers?

I believe the number one story of 2005 is the declining credibility of the mainstream media. They have given up any pretense of objectivity. They look at Fox News, talk radio, conservative pundits and the right side of the internet and conclude their mission is to counter all that by being partisan liberals. Job one should be: get the facts right.

Update: Michelle Malkin looks back at the year the New York Times had.

And These Are the Highlights?

If you go to OVERVIEW OF THE PRESIDENT'S 2006 BUDGET, an official government site, and scroll down, you will find a section called HIGHLIGHTS OF PROGRAM INCREASES AND NEW INITIATIVES. Here are the section headings of the highlights:

Defense, Foreign Assistance, and Homeland Security
Economic Opportunity and Education
Health and Compassion
Science and Environment

Of those nine categories, which spend hundreds of billions of dollars just on new initiatives (not counting the old spending), one is a legitimate function of government: defense. The only other arguably justifiable category, homeland security, would be unnecessary if we would wage the war seriously and exterminate all terrorist states. (All homeland security is likely to do, in my opinion, is obstruct Mexican workers from coming to America. This will raise wage rates, delighting the unions, and raise the price of food, housing and other products dependent on cheap labor.)

All this regulation and compassion (with your money) is advertised by a Republican administration. They’re mighty proud of their big spending. Somebody remind me -- why is it the Democrats are supposed to be worse than the Republicans?

Monday, December 26, 2005

The Fruits of Pragmatism

Ace of Spades takes Colin Powell to task for his double talk on the NSA eavesdropping. (HT: Michelle Malkin)

I believe that appointing Powell as Secretary of State was one of Bush’s biggest mistakes. (Democrats want Bush to admit his mistakes. Well, there’s one.) Whenever the first Bush administration fumbled with a moment of appeasement, Powell was involved.

It is my guess, and this is just a guess, that Powell was instrumental in the decision to make weapons of mass destruction the primary justification for war. Bush should have attacked Iran, but if he had to attack Iraq, he could have said, “Saddam Hussein’s Iraq is a terrorist state. America will not be safe until all terrorist states are gone. We’re taking this one out now because it is the most practical, given our strategic situation. Once Iraq is free, we can use it as a base to destroy the other terrorist states in the region.”

Had Bush said this, instead of fomenting the weapons of mass destruction justification, he would have avoided years of obstruction and nonsense from the Democrats and their media arm. He would have been poised to move on and rid the world of terrorist states. But he would not have gotten the UN to go along with his war, because the UN is full of terrorist states. The State Department would have worked overtime to undermine such a forthright stand.

With Colin Powell and the State Department we have the pragmatist mentality in full. They don’t think in long range principles, they just jury-rig fixes for the crisis of that afternoon. As a result, the offensive in our war against militant Islam has stalled out. America is not safe. The moral of the story: pragmatism is impractical.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Peace On Earth

I notice the irony that I titled a Christmas Eve post, "Hell On Earth." Aren't we supposed to wish Peace on Earth for Christmas? Well, let me do so -- with provisos.

Peace is a value devoutly to be wished, but peace at any cost is not. Peace through surrender is not good. Peace through appeasement is not good. Peace because a certain political party and its media allies make war so controversial that timid politicians take the easy way out and leave America precariously vulnerable to another terrorist attack is not good.

Peace through kicking the crap out of the enemy is good. All I want for Christmas is what Conan wants: "To crush your enemies, to see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentations of their women."

Yeah, that's what I want. And a nice pair of house slippers.

Merry Christmas. I'm about to go over to my brother's house to eat, exchange gifts and watch the Lakers beat the Miami Heat. I used to get a kick out of my nephews on Christmas, but now they're teenagers -- too cool to get excited.

Peace, baby.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Hell On Earth

Powerline has a piece on Mary Mapes’s Hell. It touches on one of my obsessions, the leftist mind. During the Bush memo story, in the days after the blogosphere proved the memos to be fake, I was stunned when Dan Rather and CBS simply ignored the facts and stood by their story. Never before had we seen such a naked display of evasion in the liberal media. I think it was a watershed moment for the media and the internet.

Rather’s producer on that story, Mary Mapes, refuses to this day to see reality. As a Powerline reader writes,

I was reading your latest Mapes post and was struck by the irony of the situation she has manufactured for herself -- anyone who buys her story (hence her only daily company of friends and followers) is a fool. And she is quite aware of that fact. It seems a special kind of hell on earth.

This argument reminds me of the Objectivist argument for the virtue of honesty. Conventional moralists make the mistake of holding honesty to be moral, but not practical. However, a liar has to go through life hoping that everyone he meets is too stupid to see through his lies. Honest people seek values in others; a dishonest man seeks the worst in others. What kind of life is it when one must depend on the worst in people to escape detection? Hell on earth.

If you want to be happy on this earth, there is nothing more practical than honesty.

Mary Mapes’s self-esteem is so wrapped up in her liberal bias that she cannot let herself see the facts of reality. She has created her own hell.

The Moral Hysteria of the Left

I’m strangely fascinated by the blog of Ellsworth Toohey -- er, I mean James Wolcott. The man can write. For nasty, stinging wit, you have to read Dorothy Parker to find his equal.

The how of his writing is brilliant, but the what that it serves is hard to take. Wolcott is often unpleasant, sometimes creepy. He can write an entire post that has no deeper point than to smear conservatives. This makes him a hero on the left. The triviality of the issue makes no difference; leftists cannot resist anything that makes conservatives look foolish.

Wolcott was unhappy with David Corn for being involved with Pajamas Media.

Does Corn really want to be associated with fun blogs like Little Green Footballs and Gates of Vienna ("At the siege of Vienna in 1683 Islam seemed poised to overrun Christian Europe. We are in a new phase of a very old war")? I guess he does, because he'll be appearing on a panel at Pajamas' gala conference in November in Manhattan, where Roger L. Simon and company will break out the ginger ale and announce their new monicker. Then everybody will adjourn to invade Syria, if they can arrange transportation.


Corn is going to be seated at the Rainbow Room listening to keynote speaker Judy Miller justify her journalistic debauchery and his eyes will begin to wander the room, the faces of his fellow board members and new comrades swimming before him...

John Podhoretz...Roger L. Simon...Charles Johnson...Michael Barone...May...Ledeen...Glenn Reynolds...Mark Steyn...Larry Kudlow...Dr. Josef Mengele...the ghost of Roy Cohn, chewing on a chicken carcass...

And his soul will utter the silent cry, Sweet baby Moses, what have I got myself into?

It is a fascinating portal into the leftist mind. Wolcott thinks it's wrong for Corn to associate with right-wingers. Conservatives are not just mistaken, not just wrong, they are bad people. Wolcott has no problem lumping conservatives such as Michael Ledeen, Charles Johnson and Michael Barone with the famous Nazi, Dr. Josef Mengele.

What if a conservative writer, say James Lileks, joined a group of liberals such as Jeralyn Merritt, James Wolcott, James Carville, George Stephanopoulos, Duncan Black, Chris Bowers, Jerry Springer, Ana Marie Cox, Joshua Michael Marshall, Kevin Drum, Norman Mailer, Ramsey Clark, Katrina Vanden Heuvel and Al Franken? Would conservatives fear for James Lileks’s soul? Would they think it wrong for him to be in the same room with these people? No, not at all.

The left is in the grip of moral hysteria. They see their enemies as immoral and evil, way out of proportion to the facts. What has any conservative done to be smeared as a Nazi? Wolcott is highly intelligent, but he makes the association. Step into a fever swamp like Democratic Underground and you will see routine use of "Nazi" and "fascist."

The left's morality is entirely tied up with their collectivist and statist politics. Leftists can feel sympathy toward a cold-blooded killer such as Tookie Williams, but feel moral revulsion toward a conservative such as Michael Ledeen. In issues of individual ethics, liberals are relativists; in political issues, they are as moralistic as a Baptist preacher. You can blow people to bits with a shotgun, but if you speak out against socialism, watch out!

Ayn Rand always understood the importance of morality in politics. She understood that the side that gains the moral high ground in any argument is the side that wins. (This is why the anti-abortion right is on the offensive: they argue morality, whereas the left mumbles half-hearted practical arguments about how women will die in back alley abortions.)

Aside from personal value issues such as abortion, leftists have an uncanny understanding of the importance of morality in politics. Conservatives, however, are relatively clueless here; they understand private morality, but don’t see the connection between capitalism and morality. For decades they have argued rings around liberals on economics, showing in a thousand different ways why capitalism is more efficient and practical than socialism -- and they have not convinced a single leftist. The left does not care if socialism is impractical as long as it is the right thing to do.

This is why Ayn Rand’s philosophy is so important. She provided the first moral defense of capitalism. She showed that capitalism is the system that protects individual rights, the only system proper to man’s nature as a being whose life depends on the pursuit of rational self-interest.

UPDATE: I rewrote this post for clarity.

Friday, December 23, 2005

DVD Watching

Watched two DVD’s last night.

Serenity was good. Neat, in media res action writing, good acting (especially by the heavy). The writing was everything the recent Star Wars movies were not: crisp, clever and full of conflict.

Their Eyes Were Watching God, from the novel by Nora Zeale Hurston, produced by Oprah Winfrey and starring Halle Barry, was not so good. I wanted to like it. The milieu of Eatonville and poor southern life in the early 20th century is interesting. I could not get through the movie because the story lacked the essential ingredient of a plot: conflict.

Instead, they went for symbolism. The heroine puts a caterpillar on her nose; she is a caterpillar, not a butterfly. When she makes life changes she jumps in water; she is washing the old life away. When she is with her husband, no one plays the piano, but after her husband dies, her new lover teaches her to play a few chords; he is initiating her to fulfilling sex.

Symbolism by itself is bullshit. It is good only when integrated into a story that has a plot with plenty of conflict. Focusing on symbolism instead of conflict makes for a disaster -- a pretentious disaster that only sophomore English lit majors could love.


Well, this is my third post today. Can you tell I’m on vacation? Today I’ve walked around my apartment, gone out to the back porch, looked at the palm trees…

The cats are worried.


Daily Kos has inspired a lot of posts on the right side of the Blogosphere because of this piece in Washington Monthly. Gus Van Horn has a long analysis of lefty bloggers, Kos in particular.

One of Kos’s famous moments:

In June 2003, after television cameras caught a cheering, thousand-strong mob in Fallujah dragging the charred, dismembered bodies of American contractors through the streets, Moulitsas linked to the reports and said of the contractors: “I feel nothing… Screw them.”
As Crank put it:

…the problem with Kos' remarks is that they were vicious and mean, and effectively took sides with a lynch mob. Now, I recognize that many on the Right have been equally rough on Ahmed Yassin, Uday and Qusay, and even on less thoroughly evil figures like Rachel Corrie. But there's a common denominator there: those are all people who chose to take sides with those who want to kill us. They're on the other side.

And that's how Kos treated the men who were lynched in Fallujah: as not on his side. Except that, whatever you think of "mercenaries" and their motives… there's no dispute that these guys' were in ultimately in Iraq because the Coalition Provisional Authority wanted them there to assist in its efforts to rebuild the country into a democracy. The fact that Kos sees the people engaged in that task as being on the other side puts him, at least emotionally, on the side of the lynch mob, the fascists, and the Islamists.

Asked about the “Screw them” remark in the Washington Monthly piece, Kos said he felt “Vindicated.”

Kos is your standard anti-American leftist, exceptional only in his callousness.

“Everybody says I'm an asshole, and they're right, I am,” Moulitsas says.

Anyone who can say “Screw them” about the victims of mob violence, and to this day only feel “vindicated” is a moral monster. He has the capacity of becoming the type Hayek wrote about in his chapter called “Why the Worst Get On Top” in The Road to Serfdom.

The scary thing is that Kos IS getting to the top -- of the Democrat Party, anyway.

Moulitsas used the site to raise $500,000 for Democratic candidates in the last
election cycle—making him one of the party's top fund-raisers…

Moulitsas has become so well incorporated into the party machinery that the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) uses him to recruit candidates.

Given the electoral history of the last 33 years, Republicans must be salivating at the rise of the McGovernite wing of the Democrat Party, as seen in Kos and the DNC Chairman, Howard Dean. McGovern was wiped out by Nixon in 1972. Since then, the only two Democrats to be elected president are southern governors who ran as moderates.

(And poor Hillary! Here she is, married to one of the shrewdest political minds in America, positioning herself to repeat her husband’s moderate path to the White House. And she has Cindy Sheehan calling her out on the war and Kos trying to destroy the DLC.)

I think the Republicans are crazy if they get overconfident at the rise of the left in the Democrat Party. America is a different place than it was 33 years ago. That’s 33 years of the New Leftist ideologies of multiculturalism, feminism and environmentalism -- 33 years of egalitarianism, statism and collectivism -- infiltrating our culture in countless ways from the profound to the trivial. There is no guarantee that the American “sense of life,” in 1972 the last glow of our heritage of individualism, has not been corrupted.

All it takes is one crisis. One crisis -- a crisis the Democrats and their media allies are desperate to gin up, encourage and bring to fruition -- and after the next presidential election the McGovernites could be answering the mail at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Kos or people like him could be walking the corridor of the West Wing.

I Don't Have to Work

I work at home. I sat down at my desk this morning, looked around… something was wrong.

No work. There is no work to do. A flash of panic hit me. Have I done something wrong? There’s no work on my desk! Have I angered the gods at corporate HQ in LA?

I’m on Christmas vacation. I don’t have to work. I feel lost. I feel this stirring of guilt and anxiety in my belly. I should be working.

I don’t have to work. I could lie around reading all day. I could read anything I want to. I could read Aquinas and Aristotle. Who is harder, Aquinas or Aristotle? Or I could read Betty and Veronica. Who is hotter, Betty or Veronica?

I’m sitting at my desk thinking about Betty and Veronica. I’m a sick man.

I don’t have to work. I’ll get used to this. I will really start digging this around December 29th, just when I have to go back to work.

Well, Merry Christmas, all. Can I still write that? It’s not against the law, is it? Has the Echelon program at NSA picked up the words Merry Christmas and put my name in a file marked “Insensitive to Other Cultures”?


Caught a few minutes of a Clippers game the other day. They interviewed Lara Flynn Boyle, actress and basketball fan. She was incoherent. I have no idea what point she was trying to make. Twice she said, “I grew up in Chicago,” like the words were some magic incantation. Apparently, growing up in Chicago makes one a True and Knowledgeable Sports Fan. Perhaps she was incoherent because she lacked the courage to come out and say, “The Lakers are for phony Tinseltown fans, but the Clippers are for real meat and potato Americans.”

Chicagoans seem to think of their city as a place full of real Americans. The City of Broad Shoulders. Los Angeles, in their mythology, is a place full of kooks, phonies, starlets and shallow people.

Excuse me, but Los Angeles is the birthplace of the Crips and the Bloods. What could be more American than that?

I don’t know anything about Chicago except that they have a funny accent there. (Think Elwood Blues, the Dan Ackroyd character.) In my job listening to FM radio around America, I always get a kick out of Chicago stations. Instead of “Rock on!” they say, “Rack Ann!”

Minneapolis has a similar accent. (Think Fargo.) Then there’s Lwon Guyland. They all sound like gangsters.


Betty or Veronica. I’m thinking Veronica is hotter. She’s such a bitch. Betty is the girl next door, boring. A little perversion makes a woman interesting.

Have you noticed that Archie comics are like A Midsummer-Night’s Dream? Archie is Demetrius, Reggie is Lysander, Betty is Helena and Veronica is Hermia. There is no Jughead in the play, perhaps because Shakespeare was unacquainted with hamburgers.

I don’t have to work. I could do this all day.

In the name of all that is good and merciful, will this vacation never end?

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Talk Radio Hosts

Here are some random observations on talk radio hosts I have heard over the years.

Michael Medved. Highly intelligent religious conservative. He likes to get the enemy on his show for long, calm conversations. He is a master at letting leftists hang themselves.

Laura Ingraham. Movement conservative with legal knowledge. Attuned to popular culture; plays hip music and talks about the latest TV. Shmoozes with D.C. insiders. Too much joking around for my taste. She can talk for two minutes about Donald Trump’s hair. Who cares?

Mike Gallagher. Limbaugh Lite. Reflects the thinking of the man on the street.

Sean Hannity. Intellectual lightweight, conservative attack dog. The ultimate polemicist, he tirelessly attacks liberals with what I call “hypocrisy gotchas.” When he explores his values he cannot rise above bromides.

Jon and Ken. Local Los Angeles hosts. FM shock jocks in over their heads doing AM talk. This is what happens when a couple of non-ideological radio guys try to do AM talk. They listen to Rush talk about feminazis and conclude that the key to success is being outrageous. They don’t understand that Rush’s success is based on his articulation of conservative ideas.

Phil Hendrie. Satire of talk radio. It takes a long time to figure out that he is doing ALL the voices on his show -- he’s talking to himself! Oddly fascinating, like watching housecats do circus tricks, but it gets old fast.

George Putnam. Local Los Angeles host. He’s 91 years old and has covered every presidential administration since Hoover. That is phenomenal. Like Reagan, he started as a liberal, then became conservative. Not intellectual.

Putnam used to have Larry Nichols on during those amazing Clinton years. Nichols would hint darkly about secrets of Bill and Hillary that would soon come out -- but that he was not free to divulge at that moment. It was the most dramatic radio since The Shadow. Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of Clintons? Larry Nichols knows! Then he and George would ask listeners to send Larry money because he was poor and being persecuted by the evil Clinton political machine. It was all such nonsense. I have not been able to take Putnam seriously since then.

Hugh Hewitt. The ultimate party man. Puts advancing the Republican cause WAY above anything else.

Dennis Prager. The most intelligent talk radio host in America. He defends his faith with sophisticated philosophical arguments. But as the most intelligent, he is in some ways the worst. When he talks morality, he sounds like Immanuel Kant.

Bill Bennett. Intellectual neoconservative. Low-key, rational tone. Not abusive. Loves old time Rock’n’Roll.

Bennett was pilloried by the left recently because he said that if you aborted all black fetuses, there would be fewer criminals. The statement was taken out of context, yes, but it was still a stupid statement. He committed the rhetorical error of giving a controversial example. When you do that, then people forget the point you’re trying to make. It’s like saying, “If you aborted all Jews, there would be fewer moneylenders.” You can’t just throw out a racial stereotype like that and expect people to ignore it.

Michael Savage. He rants. Five minutes into any rant about “red diaper doper babies,” he turns to the subject that fascinates him most: Michael Savage. He makes some interesting points, but a little Michael Savage goes a long way.

Ray Taliafaro. Local San Francisco host. Ray is a guilty pleasure of mine when I’m up in the middle of the night. He is a far leftist. He is so nutty and so dishonest that I get frissons of delight listening to him. Who can resist someone who rants in high dudgeon about the evil neocon fascists destroying America? Okay, to tell the truth: like Savage, a little Taliafaro goes a long way.

Al Franken. Heard him once or twice. Liberals love him. He’s everything you would expect a liberal to be: urbane, witty, a little unfair, self-depreciating humor, not a sound thinker. Like Boortz, I want Air America to thrive; its existence keeps Democrat politicians from going after conservative talk radio with the Fairness Doctrine.

[Note: Yes, I wrote “self-depreciating.” I’ve followed John Simon in using that instead of “self-deprecating.” I’ll have to write a post sometime on Simon’s book on English usage, Paradigms Lost.]

Neal Boortz. Individualist. Knowledge of free market economics. Probably the soundest thinker I’ve heard among the big radio hosts.

Bob Grant. Used to listen to him when I lived in New York City. Known as the King of Talk Radio, he is one of the founders of the form. Acerbic conservative, not terribly intellectual. Like listening to a crotchety uncle.

Dr. Laura. Can’t listen to her. The yenta from hell.

Rush Limbaugh. El Rushbo. The Babe Ruth of talk radio. He is a radio pro who wanted to be a DJ since childhood and he is also a sound, sometimes brilliant, conservative thinker. The combination makes him unmatched in radio history.

The astonishing thing about Rush is that he learned his conservatism mostly from listening to his father and reading magazines such as National Review. Like Bush, he is not a guy who reads thick books. I’ve heard him mention Atlas Shrugged twice on his show. Both times he said, with trepidation in his voice, “the print is small.” I don’t think he can bring himself to read it. He mentioned once how intellectual Commentary is. I don’t think he reads it either.

I have soured on Maharushie. He is the master of the “hypocrisy gotcha.” He thinks that proving liberals are boobs is the most important task; well, after some 15 years, we get the message. I wait for him to go deeper, but I don’t think he’s capable of it.

He is at his worst when he is at his most philosophical. I heard him once try to prove the existence of God. He asked, “Where is the universe?” He left the question hanging, as if one would have to conclude from it that God exists. (For the record, the question is invalid. The universe is everything. To ask “Where is x” is to ask “At what place is x in relation to other places?” The universe is not in any place; it is all places.)

For all of that, Rush is capable of penetrating insights now and then. The emphasis is on polemics, but as polemics go, they’re pretty good.

Interesting moment in Limbaugh history. I’m writing from a memory that is some eight years old now; I hope I remember well. On the Friday before the Starr Report came out, Rush said that when the American people learned the truth about Clinton, they would be so disgusted that his poll numbers would go down. The implication was that this moment could be the end of Clinton’s presidency. The Starr Report came out over the weekend. The next week Clinton’s poll numbers… went up.

I remember this dramatic period because it was the first time I had ever heard Rush be out of touch with the American people. As I recall, he really seemed to be thrown off his game for a few weeks. He was stunned. He wasn’t the only conservative to be rocked by Clinton’s poll numbers. Paul Weyrich was so shaken that he wrote a piece declaring the culture wars over and the liberals had won.

Old School and New School

In my day job in FM radio, I’ve been listening to an Urban Adult Contemporary station all day. Old school R&B. Fabulous songs.

“Thin Line Between Love and Hate,” Persuaders
“After the Love Is Gone,” Earth, Wind and Fire
“Get Down Tonight,” KC and the Sunshine Band
“If You Don’t Know Me By Now,” Harold Melvin and the Bluenotes
“La-La-Means I Love You,” Delfonics
“What’s Goin’ On,” Marvin Gaye
“Ooo Baby Baby,” Smokey Robinson and the Miracles
“You Make Me Feel Brand New,” Stylistics
“Dazz,” Brick
“Have You Seen Her,” Chi-Lites
“I’ll Be Around,” Spinners
“Brick House,” Commodores
“When A Man Loves A Woman,” Percy Sledge
“Boogie Oogie Oogie,” A Taste of Honey
“Get Down On It,” Kool and the Gang
“That’s the Way Of the World,” Earth, Wind and Fire
“Mercy, Mercy Me (The Ecology),” Marvin Gaye

The new R&B songs don’t have melodies as good as the list above. Why is that?

Contemporary R&B singers use what I call “melismatic excess.” defines melisma as “a passage of several notes sung to one syllable of text, as in Gregorian chant.” The first word of the “Star Spangled Banner,” Oh, is sung over two notes; that’s melisma.

During the first half of the 20th century, melisma was considered in bad taste. You will search long to find a song by Gershwin, Porter, Berlin, Kern, Warren, Arlen, Carmichael, or any songwriter of that period who used melisma. Broadway standard was one syllable, one note.

Today you will search long to find a ballad or R&B singer who does not use melisma. American Idol style is melisma. And we’re not just talking two notes, like the Oh in “Star Spangled Banner.” Singers nowadays think they’re not showing their stuff if they don’t take every last syllable up and down and all around.

I’m not certain who is to blame because I’m not up on the history of R&B, but I suspect it is Whitney Houston. She was the first one I noticed in this style. Gospel singing is probably involved with the development; it certainly has a lot of melisma.

I think the songwriting has become slower and less interesting to accommodate the long notes singers love to flog up and down the musical staff in order to show off their voice. You can have crisp, interesting songwriting or melismatic excess, but not both.

There is a related phenomenon in Classic Rock. Have you noticed that great guitarists tend to be mediocre songwriters? Jimi Hendrix, Jimmy Page, Alvin Lee, Santana, Stevie Ray Vaughan -- all just so-so songwriters (with moments of brilliance, such as “Stairway to Heaven”). Most great rock songwriters were not great lead guitarists: Brian Wilson, Lennon and McCartney, Pete Townsend, Bob Dylan, Ray Davies, Bob Seger, Tom Petty, Roger Waters.

The great guitarists who were also great songwriters -- Chuck Berry, Keith Richards, Eric Clapton, Neil Young -- were able to put songwriting first, guitar solo second. The other great guitar soloists -- Hendrix, Page, Lee, Santana, Vaughan -- tended to think guitar riffs first, songwriting second. There are exceptions.

The point I’m making is: if a songwriter makes showing off a singer’s voice or a guitarist’s chops the primary consideration, then the songwriting suffers. It becomes boring and second rate.

Frankly, I think the contemporary ballad style of melismatic excess is in abysmally bad taste. The harmony and tempo drone on in some soporific pattern while the singer howls to the moon. BORING. In the future they will look back on our age and wonder what we were thinking.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

The Liberal Cocoon

The Politburo Diktat explores a difference between righty bloggers and lefty bloggers. It seems that the big righty blogs are more likely to link to smaller blogs than the big lefty blogs are.

I’m not conviced by his explanation, that the lefties are Stalinist, whereas the righties are libertarian. No, the difference is that those on the right are genuinely interested in learning new information, whereas leftists are more interested in having their feelings reinforced by agreement. To get information, go to them that know. But to stay comfortable within the liberal cocoon, just hang out at Daily Kos or Democratic Underground.

I have observed many liberals and conservatives over the decades. And I am, if I may pat myself on the back, a better than average observer. I’ve always been fascinated by humanity and I spend a lot of time pondering human action. In my observation, liberals dislike dissension more than non-liberals. It sounds odd, since they parade dissent as an ideal, but dissent against liberalism disgusts them.

I have seen liberals react with revulsion at the mere sound of Rush Limbaugh’s voice. One woman’s loathing was so intense that she could not hear the argument he was making. She literally did not know what he was talking about -- but she despised it just the same.

I believe it was Polipundit who came up with the term “the liberal cocoon.” With the rise of cable TV, talk radio and the internet, the liberal cocoon has become a smaller place -- and a more desperate place.

It will be interesting to see what becomes of the liberal cocoon as older Americans raised in liberal media dominance die off and young people used to a wired world grow up. That’s the great thing about observing humanity: the show never ends.

Blues and Greens

I’m getting tired of talk radio and those political fight shows on cable TV such as Hannity and Colmes. Most of it is what I call “hypocrisy gotchas.”

You know how it goes. “Bush did x.” “Yes, but Clinton did x, too. I didn’t hear you complain about x then.” “Well, you hated x when Clinton was president, but now that Bush does x, you don’t think it’s so bad.”

At the end of a segment we know that each side hates x in the other guy and ignores it in his own guy. But have we learned anything about x?

The conversation on these shows raises polemics above all else. defines polemics as “a controversial argument, especially one refuting or attacking a specific opinion or doctrine.” Refuting or attacking, but not explaining or exploring or understanding.

Polemics is necessary in political argument, but it’s not sufficient. In addition to condemning the bad, we need to understand what we’re fighting for. The emphasis of today’s political argument is not on giving us reasons to value a politician or a cause, but reasons to revile the other side. Can you blame people if they tune politics out? Who cares about two sides pointing a finger at each other?

During the Clinton presidency I was disappointed when The American Spectator shifted its focus from more theoretical pieces to investigative journalism into Clinton’s scandals. “This is what the liberals do,” I thought. “Isn’t conservatism supposed to be about ideas?”

Conservatism was once the side with all the ideas. What ideas one hears still come from the right, but there has been a marked decrease in big ideas in the last 10 years. The last big semi-cause the Republicans fought for was the Contract For America. Tax cuts and war against militant Islam are good ideas, but the ideological arguments for them have been weak and drowned out by liberal campaigns to hobble Bush with scandal.

Conservatives have given up any lip service they used to pay to laissez-faire capitalism. They have accepted the welfare state. They might want a little less government, but none of them seriously advocates radical free market solutions.

Some of the writers at the Weekly Standard tout what they call “national greatness conservatism.” This is the belief that big government is good because it unites the country behind big causes. They make me think of the pyramids of ancient Egypt; yes, they were built by slaves, but those slaves were united!

The other day I caught a few minutes of Hugh Hewitt in the car. He argued that when Curtis LeMay became Wallace’s vice-presidential candidate, he gave a speech that was nutty and went too far. He was called an extremist (and rightly so, says Hewitt). Now Congressman Murtha has had a LeMay moment. He is an extremist.

This was Hewitt’s idea of how to attack Murtha: call him an extremist. In 1964 Ayn Rand wrote an essay called “Extremism, or the Art of Smearing.” The word was used by Republican moderates at the convention that year to attack the John Birch Society (which Rand called “a futile, befuddled organization”). As Rand went on to show, the moderates were really opposed to laissez-faire capitalism. Not much has changed since then, except that now even fewer Republicans advocate radical free market ideas. Would Hewitt be for getting rid of social security or Medicare? I doubt it.

So we have two big government parties fighting over who gets to control the loot they steal from taxpayers. There are no fundamental ideas to argue over.

In ancient Byzantium there were two political factions called the Blues and the Greens.

Blues and Greens, political factions in the Byzantine Empire in the 6th cent. They took their names from two of the four colors worn by the circus charioteers. Their clashes were intensified by religious differences. The Greens represented Monophysitism and the lower classes; the Blues, orthodoxy and the upper classes. In 532 the two factions joined in the Nika revolt against Emperor Justinian I and Empress Theodora. However, Theodora's resolute stand and the aid of Belisarius and Narses ended the revolt. The factions continued to oppose each other into the 7th cent., but by the 9th cent. they had become mostly ceremonial.
The two parties had religious and class differences, but neither had a bright idea as to what Byzantium should do. Neither was interested in the advance of freedom. They were just two gangs fighting for power. The Republicans and Democrats are looking more and more like Blues and Greens.

UPDATE: Thanks to Gus Van Horn for linking to this post.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Kobe Bryant

Tonight I saw the greatest offensive performance in a basketball game I have ever seen. Kobe Bryant scored 62 points. But that’s not all. He didn’t play the fourth quarter. After three quarters he had 62 points; the entire Mavericks team had 61.

It was one of the 10 highest individual scoring games in Lakers history. The most by one Laker player in a game is 71 by Elgin Baylor. Kobe could have beat that, but there was no point. The fourth quarter was garbage time.

I’m not entirely sure, but I think you’d have to go back to one of those early ‘60s games in which Wilt Chamberlain scored at will to find something comparable to tonight’s performance.

Like Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant plays with a fierce will to win. It is a joy to watch.

There was a little side story to the performance. In the third quarter Kobe came down after a shot and accidentally hit Dirk Nowitzki in the face with his forearm. This angered Nowitzki, who threw his mouthpiece and got a technical foul. A few minutes later a Mavericks player paid Kobe back with a flagrant foul to the face. Kobe got mad, just like Dirk, but he didn’t throw his mouthpiece. He didn’t get a technical foul. He just went on to score 30 points that quarter.

Tonight Kobe gave us an inspiring display of excellence. It was like a lesson in achievement: this is what a man can do.

UPDATE: Thanks to Deadspin for linking to this post.


Barbara Walters has a special on ABC tonight, “Heaven: Where Is It? How Do We Get There?" My vision of hell is having to listen to Barbara Walters ask questions about heaven.

(I’ll be watching the Lakers. That’s as close to heaven as I’ll ever get.)

Monday, December 19, 2005

High School Reunion

This year my high school class, 1975, held its 30th reunion. My friends wanted me to go, but I refused for two reasons.

First, vanity. I look like shit right now. I’m overweight and I’m going through periodontal surgery. I’ve had several teeth extracted. I’m missing a front upper tooth and two front lower teeth. With these gaps in my mouth, I look like a character from Deliverance. You know, the one who asks, “Can you squeal like a pig?” When I go to the store, I try not to smile so no one will see the gaps.

Second, seeing friends from my youth has limited appeal to me. It’s not that high school was the living hell it is supposed to be for anyone with any intelligence. Actually, I had a blast. I remember well the day I was sober. (That last sentence was a slight exaggeration in the interest of humor.)

The thing is, I’m not proud of my youth. I was stupid and I drank too much. I knew things had to change and I struggled to escape the partying scene. Since then I’ve been running away from all that. Today I’m happier and a lot smarter.

For some people, high school is their “glory days” and subsequent life is all downhill. I pity those people. I look at that period as at best a cocoon; today I’m a butterfly. (Oh, that sounds really gay. I’m not a butterfly, I’m a… a… I’m a moth! No, that’s lame. Okay, forget the cocoon metaphor.)


Just received from The Best Poems of the English Language: From Chaucer Through Frost, selected and with Commentary by Harold Bloom. It’s quite a tome at 972 pp. It’s not the kind of book I would read through from cover to cover, but dip in here and there. Maybe someday, after enough dips, I’ll have the whole thing read -- just in time for my 60th high school reunion.


The Politburo Diktat has an amusing map of the blogosphere.


Diana Hsieh has a has a long post about spending the day at a Foundation for Economic Education event. In the 1950’s, FEE was the cutting edge of free market thinking in America. Leonard Read, Ludwig von Mises, Ayn Rand, George Reisman, Henry Hazlitt, Friedrich Hayek and many others contributed to their publication, The Freeman. Many of FEE’s books, some 40-50 years old, sit on my shelves.

FEE’s early promise never came to fruition. With a great start, enriched by some of the finest minds in America, it did not go on to greater glory. Instead, it kind of… kept plugging along, losing its first generation of stars as they died (or in Rand’s case, left a long time ago). FEE drifted into mediocrity and irrelevance. Do they make a difference at all now?

As usual, Ayn Rand saw the problem with FEE and modern conservatism before anyone else. Capitalism and religion are incompatible. Conservatives try to make the two work by claiming that capitalism does religion’s altruistic work. In the end, however their moral premises undermine the package deal. Look at the Bush presidency, which has sponsored the biggest welfare state program since LBJ’s Great Society, with that prescription drug program that no one seems to want. If one seriously believes the morality of sacrifice espoused by Christianity, then sooner or later one will support the expansion of the state to help the poor and needy.

I’ve never read the Bible, but the excerpts from the Sermon on the Mount that I’ve read sound like communism to me. There’s no way religious conservatives can square that ideology with the selfishness of pursuing profit. Leftists love to note this with great mocking glee. Being the charmers that they are, leftists make this point with crude, foam-flecked abuse -- but the point is essentially true.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Boeing vs. Airbus

Boeing is outcompeting Airbus with its new 787.

The NSA Flap

It looks like the Democrats are trying to rewrite history in order to cash in on the latest “scandal” ginned up by the MSM in hopes of keeping the Bush administration on the defensive. The NSA eavesdropped on phone calls and emails of US citizens without a court ordered search warrant. Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi claims she “expressed strong concerns at the time.” As the tireless Tom Maguire writes,

Oh, she had expressed strong concerns at the time! That's why she was asking for Congressional hearings, and sending cryptic letters to the White House and the Justice Department, letters she will no doubt produce in due course. (No, I can't think of a reason in the world she has not produced them already - maybe her staff has been busy with their holiday shopping).

Sorry, Congresswoman Pelosi, but if you can’t produce evidence of expressing your concerns, then we have to conclude that they weren’t that strong, if they existed at all. It looks to me like the Democrats don’t think seriously about anything except destroying Republicans. That’s the only war they understand.

If we’re in a war, and the enemy has attacked us on American soil, it is entirely proper for the NSA to monitor their communications without search warrants. This issue and many others would be clarified if Congress would do as it is tasked in the Constitution and declare war. Then we would have an objective condition for the expansion of state power. The powers would end with the end of the war.

We have not had a declaration of war since 1941, but we’ve had a lot of wars. Congress had become accustomed to leaving matters of war to the executive branch. The Spider-Man movie said, “With great power comes great responsibility.” (A dubious statement of altruism implying the strong have an obligation to sacrifice for the weak.) In Congress’s case, the obverse is true: if you evade responsibility, you lose power. (At least, I think that’s the obverse. Maybe I should relisten to Peikoff’s Introduction to Logic.)

(Powerline has a good piece on this.)

Breaking Up

Just as there is a certain dance two people go through when they fall in love, there is a certain dismal pattern to the way two people fall out of love.

First, one of the two loses the love. Let’s say the person falling out of love is the man (in a heterosexual relationship), although it could just as easily be the woman.

At the first weakening of love, the man lies to himself, because people resist change. The man has fallen out of love and is coasting in the relationship. The path of least resistance: the relationship drifts along. But the will to live and pursue values eventually brings change -- usually in the form of someone else to love -- even though the man has not consciously admitted to himself that something has changed. The new object of desire makes it clear to the man that the old love is over.

What the man does then depends on his honesty. He might pursue an affair with the new love behind the old love’s back or he might tell the old love the truth. Usually, there is a period of uncertainty in which the man distances himself emotionally from the old love, but doesn’t admit explicitly that he’s interested in someone else.

At this point the old love lies to herself, because people resist change. When the man finally communicates honestly to the old love, the latter is devastated -- because of the loss of love, yes, but also because she can no longer lie to herself and she is not yet ready for change.

Fear of change. It’s one of the great obstacles to psychological health. People should give their subconscious a standing order to fear something else -- ruts. Fear of ruts! Fear of drift! Fear of passivity! These are good fears. Carpe diem.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

On Fantasy

Jennifer Snow comments on the difference between science fiction and fantasy. I define science fiction as fantasy that uses scientific concepts. If a character waves a wand and instantly transports to another place, that’s fantasy. If a character waves a boson plasma disruptor and instantly transports to another place, that’s science fiction.

Just because fantasy is the broader concept does not mean it is better or more important. Up until the 1980’s science fiction dominated fantasy so much that the genre was just called science fiction.

The credit (or blame) for the change goes to Terry Brooks. He showed the field that there is money to be made imitating Tolkien. Since then, bookshelves have groaned beneath fat trilogies filled with concepts stolen from Tolkien. Fantasy readers don’t seem to care that writing about dwarves, elves and halflings is derivative.

I could be wrong because I don’t read a lot of fantasy, but I think the two great innovators in epic fantasy are J.R.R. Tolkien and George R.R. Martin. (Must be those double R’s.) Tolkien showed us epic fantasy in the quest story template -- and no one has written a better quest than Lord of the Rings. Martin is in the process of showing us epic fantasy in the family saga story template.

A Game of Thrones was one of the better books I’ve read in a long time. He kept me turning the pages -- a lot of pages. I got about 120 pp. into A Clash of Kings, then grew so bored I put it down. I’ve been told I should forge on because it gets better. I’ll try. I’m getting suspicious about this series, though. It’s so massive, with so many story lines going on that it breaks down the “crow epistemology” (the fact that the human mind’s focus is limited). Will the series have a climax worthy of all the complications and various story lines? Lord of the Rings had a brilliant climax. If Martin’s climax fizzles after thousands of pages, he might have to hire a bodyguard to protect him from angry fans. He can afford it.

Cloud Cuckooland

Tom Cruise likes to spend time at a Church of Scientology resort in Southern California.

For years, the property has been home to Golden Era Productions, where Scientologists work around the clock producing videos, audio recordings and e-meters, to be sold to church members. Rinder said nearly all of the members at Golden Era have signed billion-year contracts to serve the church.

But what if, after four or five hundred million years, you get bored and want to do something else?

In his own spiritual life, Cruise has continued to climb the "Bridge to Total Freedom," Scientology's path to enlightenment. International Scientology News, a church magazine, reported last year that the actor had embarked on one of the highest levels of training, "OT VII" — for Operating Thetan VII.
Operating Thetan VII? Is this a religion or a role-playing game?

At these higher levels — and at a potential cost of hundreds of thousands of dollars — Scientologists learn Hubbard's secret theory of human suffering, which he traces to a galactic battle waged 75 million years ago by an evil tyrant named Xenu.

According to court documents made public by The Times in the 1980s, Hubbard espoused the belief that Xenu captured the souls, or thetans, of enemies and electronically implanted false concepts in them to keep them confused about his dirty work.

Scientology isn’t just a cult -- it’s bad science fiction.

(HT: Patterico)

Yao Ming

Interesting interview with Brook Larmer about Yao Ming. Among other things I learned that the Chinese call Michael Jordan “kongzhong feiren” or “space flier.”

Entry Level Science Fiction

John Scalzi says we need more entry level science fiction. (HT: Instapundit)

Fantasy literature has numerous open doors for the casual reader. How many does SF literature have? More importantly, how many is SF perceived to have? Any honest follower of the genre has to admit the answers are "few" and "even fewer than that," respectively. The most accessible SF we have today is stuff that was written decades ago by people who are now dead. You all know I love me that Robert Heinlein as much as anyone, but why does my local bookstore still have more of his books than anyone else's in the genre? The most effective modern "open doors" to SF are media tie-ins, which have their own set of problems: They're fenced in grazing areas that don't encourage hopping into the larger SF universe, and also, no one but unreconstituted geeks want to be seen on the subway with a Star Wars or Star Trek book in tow.
In the 1920’s and 1930’s, all science fiction was entry level. The stories were, with notable exceptions, crudely written and simple; children could read them with ease. John W. Campbell, Jr. revolutionized the field when he became editor of Astounding Science Fiction in 1937. He wanted stories that were well written, had more realistic science and had some ideas in them instead of just action. Other magazines such as Thrilling Wonder Stories, Startling Stories and Captain Future still had the action-adventure stuff teenagers love. Typically, kids would start with the cruder magazines and graduate to Astounding and in the 1950’s, to the more literate Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction and Galaxy.

In the 1950’s, magazines such as Thrilling Wonder Stories became more sophisticated and the magazines for kids died off. By 1956, only “modern” science fiction was being published. Campbell was unhappy with this development, because he relied on the cruder magazines to feed him readers. He needn’t have worried, because the Silver Age of comic books was about to start. It was a natural progression to go from Fantastic Four and Superman to Dune and Stranger In A Strange Land. I and many of my friends did just that.

The New Wave of the ‘60s and early ‘70s brought the values of contemporary mainstream literature to science fiction. As Sam Moskowitz wrote in 1965, “It has been said, with some justice, that what science fiction called “good writing” merely followed the mainstream vogue of the thirties and that even today, 26 years later, “modern” science fiction reads more like the Saturday Evening Post and Cosmopolitan of the depression era than avant garde fiction.” For better or worse, the New Wave would bring science fiction up to date. Science fiction writers became more conscious of style. Stories became more naturalistic. Plot was less important.

Today the science fiction short story is as sophisticated (and almost as unpopular) as mainstream short fiction. Comic books no longer serve as “feeders” because they are targeted toward adults today.

My sister, a high school librarian, reports that the kids are no longer checking out books by Asimov and Heinlein, although other authors such as Orson Scott Card do quite well. Fantasy is huge with the kids these days; they start with Harry Potter and go on to the fat fantasy books of authors such as Terry Brooks and Robert Jordan.

I have read suggestions from booksellers that bookstores should separate science fiction and fantasy into their own sections. Science fiction publishers tremble at the thought, because right now they hope fantasy readers will pick up an occasional science fiction book.

I also read that readers of western novels are almost exclusively men aged 55 or older. When they die, the genre will be dead, if it isn’t already. Will science fiction go the way of the western? I don’t think so. Science fiction, unlike the western, is about the future. It’s about the impact of change on civilization. As long as the west retains elements of a capitalist economy, there will be dynamic change in culture and society. Science fiction speaks to that change. But I do think the field should give more thought to getting children interested in science fiction. The literature of the future needs to consider its own future.

Friday, December 16, 2005

King Kong

Scott Holleran says, “The latest Kong remake is a debacle from every angle.”

Ho boy. I thought this big ape might be what Hollywood needed to cure its box office blues. Maybe not.

Morgan Freeman Speaks Out

Morgan Freeman is one of America’s best actors. He has a tremendous screen presence. He and Redford were great in An Unfinished Life (although when J-Lo came on screen, you could feel the energy being sucked out of the movie).

Freeman has spoken out against Black History Month.

Morgan Freeman says the concept of a month dedicated to black history is "ridiculous." "You're going to relegate my history to a month?" the 68-year-old actor says in an interview on CBS' "60 Minutes" to air Sunday (7 p.m. EST). "I don't want a black history month. Black history is American history."

Freeman notes there is no "white history month," and says the only way to get rid of racism is to "stop talking about it."

The actor says he believes the labels "black" and "white" are an obstacle to beating racism.

"I am going to stop calling you a white man and I'm going to ask you to stop calling me a black man," Freeman says.

I admire his stand. Black History Month is meant to honor black history -- but isn't it also a form of segregation?

I would say he’s talking about the paradox of multiculturalism: when you put a spotlight on race, you’re saying it is important to man’s nature. There’s a word for the idea that race determines character. It’s called racism.

Martin Luther King, Jr. was right when he said, “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” Character is formed by the choices one makes.

It would be nice if we could get to the point that we don’t think of Morgan Freeman or Denzel Washington as black actors, but just as actors. That would be a sign of progress. To get there, we have to adjust our values in America and make race less important. The left will resist this with all they have; they need minorities as an interest group in order to expand the state.

(HT: Polipundit)

UPDATE: Bill Quick has a typically acidic observation:

Freeman is about to find himself lumbered with the Cosby charge of speaking while being insufficiently... black. He'll just have to content himself with being, like Cosby, more than sufficiently right.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Democrats Might Filibuster Patriot Act

This might turn into something big. Frankly, I’m not sure at this point if the Patriot Act is good or bad. John Hinderaker say,

Senate Democrats say they will launch a filibuster to prevent the extension of the Patriot Act, which expires at the end of the year. If they are successful, a wall between intelligence and law enforcement agencies will once again prevent them from sharing information about terrorist activities within the U.S.

That sounds bad. But then I read this,

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, California Democrat and member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, held a press conference yesterday to tout part of the bill she's worked on for years aimed at cracking down on the manufacture and sale of methamphetamine.
Part of the Patriot Act is about methamphetamine? Politicians can add riders and amendments that are sometimes worse than what the bill was originally about. By now the Patriot Act is probably a pork-laden monstrosity.

I hope some clear-thinking masochist takes the time to read the entire Patriot Act and explain to me if it is on balance good or bad.

Lunatics and Idiots

In her book on Yugoslavia, Black Lamb and Grey Falcon, Rebecca West writes,

Idiocy is the female defect: intent on their private lives, women follow their fate through a darkness deep as that cast by malformed cells in the brain. It is no worse than the male defect, which is lunacy: they are so obsessed by public affairs that they see the world as by moonlight, which shows the outlines of every object but not the details indicative of their nature.
I think West is onto something here. Women don’t do the lunatic things men do. Women don’t climb a clock tower with a rifle and shoot people. Women don’t kill people and eat them like Jeffrey Dahmer. The male defect is lunacy -- not a controversial statement in contemporary culture because feminists have been saying this for decades.

But let’s look at the more controversial half of West’s idea. The female defect is idiocy. My day job involves listening to FM radio stations across America. I listen to different morning shows every week. Few are interesting, but the worst ones are the shows aimed at female listeners. The banality is mind-numbing. The shows talk about relationships, diets, TV shows, Brad and Angelina and Jennifer and Vince and Tom and Katie. Some shows run daily horoscopes. It’s embarrassing.

Alternative rock shock jocks explore more abstract topics, if just to make fart jokes about them. Even Howard Stern, when he is not talking about his penis, goes deeper.

Women gave us the presidency of Bill Clinton. I was dumbfounded once by a Democrat woman who told me she was emotionally moved when Clinton said, “I feel your pain.” My mouth fell open. How could anyone take such a sappy, phony statement seriously? If Clinton really “felt my pain,” then he would do as John Galt advised, and get out of the way. Getting out of the way was not the Clinton philosophy of government.

But Bill Clinton was a shrewder politician than I could ever be. He knew his audience. He was talking to women.

My point is not that women are metaphysically inferior to men. I subscribe to a philosophy conceived by a woman -- a woman whom I consider to be an epochal genius. The paragraph above that inspired this post was written by a woman. However, there is something in the female nature -- perhaps child-bearing -- that makes women a bit more prone than men to narrowing their field of interest to domestic concerns. William Blake saw the world in a grain of sand; some women look at the world, but can only see the grain of sand that is their domestic life.

Lunacy and idiocy. (In philosophic terms, that probably means men are more given to rationalism, whereas women are more given to empiricism.) Fortunately for mankind, there is a third alternative to which both sexes can aspire: maintaining an active mind.

Laker Quips

Before the Lakers six-game road trip I predicted they would go 5-1, losing only to Dallas. They lost to Minnesota. Am I good? No, I’m lucky -- but the Lakers are good. I think this team is heading for the playoffs.

With the return of Kwame Brown, the 18-year old Andrew Bynum has been riding the pine. He’s taking it well. (When you’re 18 years old in the NBA, you’d better take it well.) Bynum said, "For me to get 20 minutes in a game, somebody's going to have to die."

Phil Jackson stirred up controversy when he called Sacramento “cowtown.”

Add Memphis to the list of cities Jackson has slammed in his time with the Lakers. He took one look at the desolate downtown on Tuesday and declared, "It's like Dresden after the war."
I get the impression Jackson is a big city kind of guy.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Future Invasions?

Armchair Intellectual is probably right that America will not attack Syria or Iran without provocation. I blame two major causes: 1) Republican pragmatism, which makes it difficult for them to think in principles; and 2) Democrat obstructionism. The Democrats and their allies in the MSM have made such a stink about the way we went into Iraq that timid politicians will not risk bringing that torrent of bad publicity down on them with another invasion.

Both parties bear some of the blame if we leave terrorist states standing to attack us in the future. Blinkered vision led the Republicans astray. But the Democrats have conducted a massive campaign of outright lies about pre-war intelligence, Halliburton, Bush starting a war to help his oil buddies, etc. They are guilty of something worse than blinkered vision.

I guess the Democrats should be proud. Their campaign worked. They have effectively stopped the expansion of American military action in the Middle East. At least until America suffers the next big attack.

Hollywood Blues

Why are Hollywood’s box office receipts down this year? Two bloggers have thoughts: Tammy Bruce and Vodkapundit.

The best new movie I’ve seen this year is Batman Begins. Yes, it is a comic book movie, but one with unusually good writing instead of just mindless special effects. The story is really good. At one point when Bruce Wayne pretends to be a worthless playboy, I was reminded of Francisco in Atlas Shrugged.

Interesting note -- one of the commenters on Tammy Bruce’s site mentions romantic realism. You see more mentions of ideas from Ayn Rand’s books than you did 20 years ago. The influence of her ideas is spreading. No question about that.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

For Political Junkies Only

Robert Novak makes some remarks at a John Locke Foundation luncheon on the 2008 presidential race.

I know, it’s only 2005. At this rate, we’ll be sick of the 2008 race before it starts. The old line goes, “A week is a long time in politics.” (I think Homer wrote that first.) So, yes, it’s a little silly to be thinking about an election three years away. The link is there for those of you who can’t help peeking anyway.

I’m not certain that “Giuliani can't win the Republican nomination in 2008 because he's pro-choice, pro-gay and pro-gun control.” Giuliani is far from perfect -- I don’t like that he made his name persecuting capitalists on Wall Street -- but if the primaries came down to Guiliani vs. McCain or some horror from the religious right, I’d vote for Rudy.

And if you’re still interested in an inside-the-beltway non-story that the liberal media blew WAY out of proportion in hopes of damaging President Bush, Novak also throws out a tidbit on the Plame investigation. I hit my limit on that story months ago.

(HT: Polipundit)

The Seen and the Unseen

This is a liberal email that I found here. It was recently posted in a comments section at Polipundit.



Joe gets up at 6 a.m. and fills his coffeepot with water to prepare his morning coffee. The water is clean and good because some tree-hugging liberal fought for minimum water-quality standards. With his first swallow of water, he takes his daily medication. His medications are safe to take because some stupid commie liberal fought to ensure their safety and that they work as advertised.

All but $10 of his medications are paid for by his employer's medical plan because some liberal union workers fought their employers for paid medical insurance - now Joe gets it too.

He prepares his morning breakfast, bacon and eggs. Joe's bacon is safe to eat because some girly-man liberal fought for laws to regulate the meat packing industry.

In the morning shower, Joe reaches for his shampoo. His bottle is properly labeled with each ingredient and its amount in the total contents because some crybaby liberal fought for his right to know what he was putting on his body and how much it contained.

Joe dresses, walks outside and takes a deep breath. The air he breathes is clean because some environmentalist wacko liberal fought for the laws to stop industries from polluting our air.

He walks on the government-provided sidewalk to subway station for his government-subsidized ride to work. It saves him considerable money in parking and transportation fees because some fancy-pants liberal fought for affordable public transportation, which gives everyone the opportunity to be a contributor.

Joe begins his work day. He has a good job with excellent pay, medical benefits, retirement, paid holidays and vacation because some lazy liberal union members fought and died for these working standards. Joe's employer pays these standards because Joe's employer doesn't want his employees to call the union.

If Joe is hurt on the job or becomes unemployed, he'll get a worker compensation or unemployment check because some stupid liberal didn't think he should lose his home because of his temporary misfortune.

It is noontime and Joe needs to make a bank deposit so he can pay some bills. Joe's deposit is federally insured by the FSLIC because some godless liberal wanted to protect Joe's money from unscrupulous bankers who ruined the banking system before the Great Depression.

Joe has to pay his Fannie Mae-underwritten mortgage and his below-market federal student loan because some elitist liberal decided that Joe and the government would be better off if he was educated and earned more money over his lifetime. Joe also forgets that his in addition to his federally subsidized student loans, he attended a state funded university.

Joe is home from work. He plans to visit his father this evening at his farm home in the country. He gets in his car for the drive. His car is among the safest in the world because some America-hating liberal fought for car safety standards to go along with the tax-payer funded roads.

He arrives at his boyhood home. His was the third generation to live in the house financed by Farmers' Home Administration because bankers didn't want to make rural loans.

The house didn't have electricity until some big-government liberal stuck his nose where it didn't belong and demanded rural electrification.

He is happy to see his father, who is now retired. His father lives on Social Security and a union pension because some wine-drinking, cheese-eating liberal made sure he could take care of himself so Joe wouldn't have to.

Joe gets back in his car for the ride home, and turns on a radio talk show. The radio host keeps saying that liberals are bad and conservatives are good. He doesn't mention that the beloved Republicans have fought against every protection and benefit Joe enjoys throughout his day. Joe agrees: "We don't need those big-government liberals ruining our lives! After all, I'm a self-made man who believes everyone should take care of themselves, just like I have."


So there you have the world according to liberals. If it were not for liberals telling everyone what to do at the point of a gun, life would be hell for Joe Republican.

You could write an essay refuting every paragraph above. Geniuses such as Ayn Rand and Ludwig von Mises have written books explaining the moral, political and economic fallacies on display here. To make just one point, the liberal emailer makes the fallacy of the “broken window” that Henry Hazlitt writes about in Economics In One Lesson.

Here’s how it goes. A hoodlum throws a rock through the baker’s window. A crowd gathers around, appalled at the destruction of property. They see the baker spend $250 on a new window, giving the glazier business, so the crowd thinks the broken window wasn’t that bad. It gave the glazier business and brought the baker a new window -- it’s all there, right before their eyes.

However, the unthinking crowd does not see the whole story. The baker had planned to spend that $250 on a new suit that afternoon. What money the glazier made would have gone to the tailor, so there is no net gain to the economy. The baker is less well off because he wanted a new suit more than a new window.

Hazlitt is writing about what Fredric Bastiat called “the seen and the unseen.” All the things the liberal emailer praises above are merely the seen -- how the government spends money it takes from the producers of wealth. Since the liberal emailer is ignorant of economics, he does not consider the unseen: how that money would have been spent had it not forcibly been taken by the government. (How would that money have been spent? Who do you think would spend the money you make more efficiently, you or the government?)