Friday, December 17, 2004

Talking Turkey

The BBC reports that the EU and Turkey have reached a compromise that moves the process of accepting the latter's application for membership slightly forward:

The EU and Turkey have struck a deal over an EU demand that Turkey recognise Cyprus before membership talks begin.
The compromise agreement clears the way for Turkey to start negotiations in October next year to enter the EU.
For those that think the EU's acceptance of Turkey would be a good thing, this sounds like good news. There is some evidence that the dialogue with the EU is having a positive effect on Turkey's democratic evolution, as indicated by this report by Freedom House. But, as the report also notes (beginning on page 3), there are several defects that should give Western commentators pause:
The Turkish state has a mixed record on attention to women, non-ethnic Turks, and people with disabilities.

[...]

The Turkish establishment traditionally mistrusted civic groups and controlled them tightly. However, as these groups have gained strength since the 1980s and state-societal relations have developed more recently through encouragement by the EU, civic groups have become more engaged in public policy. [...] Still, the government is selective about which groups gain full disclosure of draft laws, and many groups accuse it of listening but not taking responsive action.

[...]

While Turkey's constitution establishes freedom of the media [...] journalists specifically, have been the victims of the penal code's provisions against aiding and abetting an illegal organization and insulting the state and state institutions, among others, despite recent reforms limiting their scope. Fines, arrests, and imprisonment are the punishments regularly allotted to media and journalists who, for example, criticize the military or portray Kurdish activists in too positive a light.

[...]

Torture and ill-treatment by officials continue to be an issue in Turkey. The Erdogan government has declared a zero-tolerance policy toward torture, and it appears to be backing up its position
with new detention laws and, as of April 2004, a policy forbidding police from entering the room when doctors examine alleged torture victims.
All of these concerns, however, are merely background to the question of Turkish occupation of Cyprus, which is the real sticking point for EU membership. Cyprus was admitted into the EU as of May 2004, but the rejection, in April, of the UN proposal to unify Greek and Turkish Cypriots has resulted in continuing tension. Specifically Turkey has refused to recognize the island nation. As noted by the London Times:
But because the UN blueprint was not endorsed by both communities, Cyprus entered the EU divided on May 1, with the Turkish Cypriots effectively excluded from membership pending a settlement.

Their breakaway state is recognised only by Turkey whose 35,000 troops in northern Cyprus are regarded as occupying part of EU territory.

In the run-up to the EU summit, the Greek Cypriots had dangled a veto threat over Turkey, hoping to win concessions from Ankara, including its formal recognition of Cyprus.

Greek Cypriots argued it was absurd that Turkey refused to recognise an EU member, whose agreement it needed to begin accession talks.
So, the compromise sounds like a step in the right direction. However, the BBC report is disturbingly vague on what exactly this compromise consists of. Specifically, what does it mean that the Turkish Prime Minister "insisted signing the protocol was not a formal recognition of Cyprus"? A close inspection of the actual language of the statement suggests that this compromise is merely a bureaucratic expedient to smooth over legitimate questions about Turkey's commitment to freedom:
As a result of meetings between Turkey and the EU, the paragraph in the final declaration of the EU summit about Cyprus was changed.

In the revised paragraph, it was said, "the European Council welcomes Turkey's statement to sign the protocol regarding the adaptation of the Ankara Agreement, taking account of the accession of the ten new Member States."

In the first draft prepared by the Netherlands, which holds rotating EU presidency, it was said, "the European Council welcomes Turkey's decision to sign the protocol regarding the adaptation of the Ankara Agreement, taking account of the accession of the ten new Member States."

As a result of the change, the European Council welcomed Turkey's "statement" to sign the agreement instead of Turkey's "decision" to sign the agreement.
So, Turkey has not actually decided to acknowledge the sovereignty of Cyprus, it has merely verbally stated that it will do so. A subtle point, perhaps, but indicative of continuing intransigence. For further support of the thesis that Turkey may not be fully ready to join European civilization (such as it is) consider this statement by Turkish Cypriot leader Rauf Denktas:
"Turkey guarantees and recognizes Cyprus Republic of 1960. The whole issue is about which Cyprus that Turkey will recognize," said President Rauf Denktas of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) on Friday.

Speaking to reporters prior to his meeting with TRNC Parliament Speaker Fatma Ekenoglu and leaders of political parties having seats at the parliament, Denktas said regarding EU Summit, "Greek Cypriot side firstly asked for a written commitment from Turkey for recognition but now they seem to accept verbal commitment. There has been a struggle in Cyprus for 40 years. EU has crowned this 40 years of mistake."

Denktas said, "Turkey's recognition of Greek Cypriot side means it accepts all murders by Greek Cypriots, their occupation of the island and the cruelty they made on Turkish Cypriots. Naturally this cannot be accepted."

[...]

When recalled of Greek Cypriots' and Greece's pleasure with the developments, Denktas said, "if they are pleased, this means we are not pleased."
To be sure, this statement may not be indicative of Turkey's policy toward Cyprus, but one should bear in mind that it is Turkish troops that established and continue to support the Northern Republic, and only Turkey recognizes this state as noted in the Times article above. As I pointed out here, back in April, the similarities between Turkey's occupation of Cyprus and Israel's occupation of the West Bank are undeniable and, if anything, Israel looks better by the comparison. If the EU continues to proceed with admission of Turkey despite the latter's obvious deficiencies, the prospects for peace and justice do not look promising.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

American Digest

Just noticed that I've been blogrolled by American Digest, a rather eclectic group blog run by Gerard Van der Leun. Curiously, he seems to have linked to my archive page, but I'm sure that will be fixed shortly.

Friday, December 10, 2004

Privatizing Social Security

In general I have been in favor of privatizing Social Security on the same terms as I approve of vouchers: a compromise along the road to ultimately eliminating government involvement altogether. But this report by the Christian Science Monitor gives me pause:

Meanwhile, White House spokesman Scott McClellan this week publicly acknowledged something obvious: The government would have to borrow large amounts of money to finance any switch to private accounts.

Some private estimates have put the potential borrowed amount at $1 trillion or more. Mr. McClellan declined to specify a figure, but said if the program was not restructured to handle the coming wave of baby-boom retirees, additional costs could hit $10 trillion. "There will be some upfront transition financing that will be needed to move towards a better system," said McClellan.

The word "transition" is key here, say proponents. Theoretically, in the long run it should not cost the US any more to shift to a system in which a small percentage of Social Security payroll taxes, 2 to 3 percent, are deposited in private retirement accounts. Since the Social Security checks of today's retirees are financed by current taxes, siphoning off 2 to 3 percent would indeed cause a shortfall. The US would have to borrow more to make the system's ends meet.

But those younger workers busy building their private accounts would be getting smaller benefits from the US when they retire, because they are keeping control of some of their dollars. Uncle Sam's liabilities would thus be lower. In theory, when the shift ends decades from now, the net cost would be zero.
It seems obvious that in order to transition from the current ponzi-scheme (where current taxes pay for current benefits) to one which is an actual savings account will require large short-term expenses. But if the expenses are so high -- or to look at it another way, if the break-even point is so far in the future -- it seems likely that the intense political pressure to scrap the reform will have a much greater chance of succeeding before any benefits are actually realized.

I am still somewhat inclined to give the idea the benefit of the doubt, but somewhat less so than previously. Now that people are talking actual numbers, it does seem that this is a longer shot than I had realized.

My personal preference for Social Security reform would be to announce a gradual phase-out of the benefits, so that people who are currently 40 or less would expect to receive no Social Security when they retire. Many of us don't expect the system to survive that long anyway and have already made other plans and people who haven't will have 25 years to begin saving. (This would be popular with Republicans.) In order to avoid appearing to take money from people who will not receive benefits, eliminate the payroll taxes immediately and pay all benefits out of the general tax. (This would be popular with Democrats.) Within a generation, we will have eliminated the greatest burden on the political system, and returned the country to an attitude of self-reliance and fiscal responsibility. And, as Arnold King points out at Tech Central Station, this will remove a very regressive tax on lower income people, who are the least likely to benefit from it.

4,000 Santas in a Drunken Brawl

OK, maybe they weren't all involved...

Police called to a mass brawl found an army of Santas punching and kicking each other.

Officers had to use batons and CS spray to quell the fight in the centre of Newtown, Powys.

Four were hurt and there were five arrests.

The battle of the Santas followed a 21/2-mile charity run involving more than 4,000 people dressed as Father Christmas. Some of them are believed to have overindulged in alcohol after crossing the finishing line.
(Via Drudge)

You Knew This Was Coming

When I saw Harry Potter III in the theater, my first reaction to the use of the Marauder's Map in the credits was, "That would make a great screen-saver." Sure enough...

(I just wonder how long before it is available for sale rather than as a promo.)

Thursday, December 09, 2004

Rathergate Revisited

Many are speculating that the investigation into the forged documents which Dan Rather used on 60 Minutes will release its report as early as tomorrow. Little Green Footballs has put its animated .GIF back up and notes the following coincidence:

In another amazing coincidence of timing, right before the Memogate report, CBS News releases a last minute hit piece on bloggers suggesting that they are paid political operatives, and hinting darkly at possible new laws to deal with the upstarts: Blogs: New Medium, Old Politics.

Contrast this with yesterday’s report that CBS is recruiting anti-war bloggers to hype CBS news stories that damage the war effort.
See also this reminder, and this one from Wizbang, about the debunked Hailey analysis, which is also evidently being scheduled for final release.

More on Infanticide

For those of you who might have thought my characterization of Dutch euthanasists as "tyrants" was a bit over the top, here is a Tech Central Station column that makes the same connection:

This then, is the common thread that binds Singerian ethics, Dutch medicine, and tyranny of all stripes. The weak exist only at the discretion of the strong. Should the weak become troublesome, then they're fair game, be they defective babies, Bosnian Muslims, or non-Arab Sudanese. We in the West may try to cloak our true motives in the language of science and reason, but it's all of the same cloth. Neonatal euthanasia isn't so much a step down the slippery slope to tyranny as it is a wholesale embrace of it.
(Via Kathryn Lopez at the Corner)

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Peeve Farm on SouthPark Republicans

Brian Tiemann of Peeve Farm (Breeding peeves for show, not just to keep as pets) has an interesting take on the non-socially conservative Republicans: they are social conservatives!

What do you call a show that isn't afraid to stand up in favor of the word "morality" and restore the fading negativity of the word "whore", as though trying to reverse the lunge into licentiousness led by the madam of Springfield's beloved Burlesque House? That takes a stand against stem-cell research by showing Christopher Reeve sucking out fetuses' spinal fluid in order to regain his feet (as Frank J puts it, "The embryonic stem cell lobby group Others Must Die So We May Walk")? That argues in favor of tightened immigration restrictions to keep us from having to squeal, "They took our jeaarrbs!"? That spends a whole half-hour episode making fun of the Mormon religion, and then—in the last thirty seconds—spins on its heels and makes the viewer feel like an absolute ass for having laughed along with it with a single accusatory barb?

I call it conservative. All the profanity and lewdness and sex and so on notwithstanding. And I think that's because they're simply framing those views in a way that makes them acceptable to modern jaded ears. They know nobody on Comedy Central will take such opinions seriously if they hear them from Billy Graham; but they know they'll watch South Park. And as such, certain things have become acceptable even to social conservatives.
I am not quite sure I agree either with his conclusion or with his endorsement of this brand of conservatism. But it strikes me that the highlighted sentence above is similar to Flannery O'Connor's defense of the grotesque nature of her work.

Now about the Psalms

The piece Sullivan links complains that "NPS has also ordered bronze plaques with verses from Psalms placed at canyon overlooks, truly emphasizing what a Judeo-Christian religious experience the view can be." This is at least misleading if not actually false. The fact is the plaques were placed there 30 years ago by the Evangelical Sisterhood of Mary, a German protestant service organization. The Arizona chapter of the ACLU protested in July, 2003 and the plaques were removed (according to a report from Christianity Today).

After a letter and email campaign, spearheaded by radio talk-show host Dennis Prager among others, the plaques have been restored. So this is not some new putsch of the Evanegelical Right to impose their views on the rest of the country. In the words of Donald W. Murphy, the Park Service's director, in his letter requesting the return of the plaques after they had been returned to the Sisterhood, this was a "return to the historical situation that had been in place".

Now, I have concerns about government involvement in creating intellectual standards especially those that impact science, religion and history. But it seems fairly innocuous to have a privately funded plaque giving glory to God in a fairly generic way, especially since one of our oldest national symbols does exactly that. The Liberty Bell in Philadelphia has the following quotation from Leviticus 25:10, "Proclaim LIBERTY throughout all the Land unto all the Inhabitants thereof."

And, for those who want equal time for other religions, they already have it. As the Christianity Today article remarks:

After all, the Grand Canyon is absolutely full of religious imagery. Buttes are named after Hindu and other religious gods and figures: Isis Temple, Wotans Throne, Zoroaster Temple, Krishna Temple, Holy Grail Peak. The oldest geological layer seen at the bottom of the canyon is called Vishnu Schist.

Canyons, Creationists and Chasms

Andrew Sullivan, usually an articulate spokesman for discourse and mutual understanding, seems to have a blind spot in applying these principles to conservative Christians. The latest example is this brief slur against a perfectly legitimate request for equal time from respectable scientists who hold a Creationist vies:

CREATIONISM WATCH: The Grand Canyon National Park bookstore is the latest victim.
Reading that sentence, anyone who knows a little about the craziness that infests some quarters of the Evangelical Compound may be forgiven for supposing that some Creationist group or other is trying to get evolutionary books banned from the Grand Canyon bookstore. That would be a legitimate complaint and would justify the use of the word "victim".

But, following the link, it seems that the Rabid Oppressors of Truth, Justice and the American Way (ROTJAW?) have much more modest demands:
More from the Faith-Based Front: Look for national parks' geology to be written more in the image of creationists over the next four years in the continuing effort to create "faith-based parks." An ongoing dispute at Grand Canyon National Park bookstores is that Grand Canyon, a Different View was ordered to stay on the bookshelves by top NPS brass. The book says that the Grand Canyon is 4,500 years old and was formed by Noah's flood. Conventional scientific wisdom has the canyon more around 6 million years old, still rather young compared to the age of the Earth. Despite protests from scientists and the Grand Canyon Park superintendent, the book has stayed on the shelves. The Bush administration said it would review the policy, but the review hasn't even been started since the February complaint. NPS has also ordered bronze plaques with verses from Psalms placed at canyon overlooks, truly emphasizing what a Judeo-Christian religious experience the view can be.
It seems that the real offense is that these faith-based fanatics just want their book to stay on the shelves of a publicly funded entity, on the same principle of equal time that is used for political discussion on public airwaves. Hardly an unreasonable request I would think. People who object to the banning of books aren't usually characterized as making victims of the rest of us. (I will have more to say about the Psalm plaques shortly.)

Suppose for the moment that the secular/evolutionary view is correct and this really is junk science. What exactly do they have to lose by allowing these folks to make fools of themselves in public? Isn't that what the marketplace of ideas is all about?

But I would actually like to challenge the assumption that this is junk science. I have not read the book itself, but I am familiar with the work of some of its contributing authors (Steve Austin, Ken Ham, Duane Gish) and most of those with whom I am not familiar have respectable credentials in the physical sciences. There are many approaches to the question of the age of the Grand Canyon (as you would expect from scientists who are drawing conclusions from the data rather than working toward an agenda) but one of the key arguments that it is of recent origin is that we have actually observed very rapid formation of its key geological features: stratification and erosion. The eruption of Mount St. Helens in 1980 has provided direct observational evidence of both of these processes occuring within a matter of weeks (and in some instances, within a matter of minutes).

STRATIFICATION:
Up to 400 feet thickness of strata have formed since 1980 at Mount St. Helens. These deposits accumulated from primary air blast, landslide, waves on the lake, pyroclastic flows, mudflows, air fall, and stream water. Perhaps the most surprising accumulations are the pyroclastic flow deposits amassed from ground-hugging, fluidized, turbulent slurries of fine volcanic debris, which moved at high velocities off the flank of the volcano as the eruption plume of debris over the volcano collapsed. These deposits include fine pumice ash laminae and beds from one millimeter thick to greater than one meter thick, each representing just a few seconds to several minutes of accumulation. A deposit accumulated in less than one day, on June 12, 1980, is 25 feet thick and contains many thin laminae and beds. Conventionally, sedimentary laminae and beds are assumed to represent longer seasonal variations, or annual changes, as the layers accumulated very slowly. Mount St. Helens teaches us that the stratified layers commonly characterizing geological formations can form very rapidly by flow processes. Such features have been formed quickly underwater in laboratory sedimentation tanks, and it should not surprise us to see that they have formed in a natural catastrophe.


EROSION:
Erosion during volcanic eruptions at Mount St. Helens was accomplished by scour from steam blast, landslide, water waves, hot pumice ash flows (pyroclastic flows), and mudflows. Since the eruptions, the erosion process has been dominated by sheet flooding and channelized flow of water, with occasional mudflows. About 23 square miles of the North Fork of the Toutle River Valley was obstructed by two-thirds cubic mile of landslide and pyroclastic debris, which has been rapidly eroded since 1980. Jetting steam from buried water and ice under hot pumice reamed steam explosion pits with associated mass-wasting processes at the margins of pits, producing rills and gullies over 125 feet deep. Photographic documentation assembled by ICR scientists demonstrates that very pronounced rills and gullies had formed at the margins of seam explosion pits before May 23 - less than five days after the pumice was deposited. The rills and gullies resemble badlands topography, which geologists have usually assumed required many hundreds or even thousands of years to form.

Mudflows, from Mount St. Helens, were responsible for the most significant erosion. A mudflow on March 19, 1982, eroded a canyon system up to 140 feet deep in the headwaters of the North Fork of the Toutle River Valley, establishing the new dendritic pattern of drainage. As ICR scientists surveyed this new terrain, they began to contemplate the processes which may have formed the Grand Canyon of the Colorado River. The little "Grand Canyon of the Toutle River" is a one-fortieth scale model of the real Grand Canyon. The small creeks which flow through the headwaters of the Toutle River today might seem, by present appearances, to have carved these canyons very slowly over a long time period, except for the fact that the erosion was observed to have occurred rapidly! Geologists should learn that, since the long-time scale they have been trained to assign to landform development would lead to obvious error on Mount St. Helens, it also may be useless or misleading elsewhere.
Now I want to emphasize that nothing in this discussion is based on faith or a literal reading of the Bible. It is true that the scientists involved are Christians and would like to defend the biblical view of the earth's history. But their conclusions are based on direct observation and evaluation of evidence. It may be that their conclusions are inaccurate, but dismissing them a priori as irrelevent is hardly an act of intellectual honesty.

UPDATE: For those who would like a closer look at the book in question, it is available from both ICR and Amazon. The Amazon price is better but by ordering form ICR you would be helping a worthy cause.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Shia Street-Blogging

Here is the kind of thing I like to hear about (from the Financial Times):

A black-turbaned Shia cleric drove through the streets of the southern Baghdad district of al-Amel on Saturday, carrying a loudspeaker and mocking the insurgents who scrawled anti-election slogans on the neighbourhood's walls.

"Let those who wrote this show their faces, if they are men," residents quoted him as saying, as two dozen armed supporters followed his motorcade on foot, painting over graffiti that threatened to "cut off the heads" of voters.

"Come and vote," the cleric said to passersby. "We will protect you."

It was a rare display of militancy by one of the pro-establishment Shia clerics, who have so far strongly discouraged any action by their followers against predominantly Sunni insurgents, lest it trigger a civil war.
Belmont Club has an analysis from a military perspective which is, as usual, worth reading.

I wanted to comment that this is an easily missed example of the extent to which freedom has already arrived in Iraq. Two years ago, a Shiite driving down the street blaring insults at Sunnis would have had his tongue cut out. Now he is doing on the streets of Iraq what bloggers like Salam Pax had to do in secret before the war.

For all the problems that Operation Iraqi freedom may have produced, one undeniable benefit has been the beginnings of freedom of speech which is the foundation of a free society. This freedom is fragile and it may well be lost in the future course of Iraqi politics. Who can tell? But we ought to recognize that this nameless cleric is exemplifying more than mere courage by publicly challenging the totalitarian/terrorist insurgency. He is also displaying for all the world, if they will only see it, that human beings, if given an opportunity, may choose freedom over short-term security.

One final note: Despite the fact that this is an Islamic cleric, Christians ought to be celebrating this example of freedom of speech. In a culture where discourse is not conditioned at gun-point, I fail to see how Christianity can not thrive. (To be sure, it can thrive under oppressive conditions as well, but that takes a bit more courage and commitment.) If we are allowed a public hearing, I am convinced that we will eventually win every argument. I am not sure if that is what my friend over at CUANAS is getting at with this post, but I can agree with his celebration of freedom because I am confident that we will win in such an environment.

Monday, December 06, 2004

Feast of St. Nicholas

I have no idea how St. Nick got associated with Christmas, other than the fact that they both occur in the same month. This holiday is special to me simply because 12 years ago today I asked my wife to marry me. I would like to say that my only regret is that I didn't meet her sooner, but she probably wouldn't have married me if she had known me when I was younger. So, all in all, I am pretty happy with the way things turned out.

OK, back to more impersonal blogging later.

Friday, December 03, 2004

Freeper Escapes from Iran

An Iranian student correspondent to the Free Republic message board has escaped from Iran and the Freepers are trying to get him asylum:

We first met in the summer of 2003 when I was reporting on the protests inside of Iran (Iranian Alert Daily Threads). This young man kept us on FR informed by sending me “on the spot reports” at risk to his life about these protests, which I posted for him.

After the protests died down, he would send messages trying to educate Americans and those in the west about what the average Iranian thinks of America and what kind of support the people of Iran need to see a regime change take place in his country.

Well, this friend of ours was forced to go “underground” a month ago. The Iranian regime discovered that he had passed information to our government. As a result, for the past month the regime has been hunting him. He had to keep on the move every few hours. He was nearly captured several times. He struggled with depression, health and fear. It was a horrifying situation. I tried to encourage him to the best of my ability.

After many weeks he was finally able to get help and sneak out of the country.

But now he could use some help from the Freeper community.

We need to ensure that when he finally gets to a US embassy that they will help him, not merely refer him the UN refugee program.

We are asking any Freepers that have contacts in the administration or the state department to please contact us. We are seeking a way to help him get asylum.

He risked his life for us; the least we can do is help him.
For those of you not familiar with Free Republic, a Freeper is kind of like a blogger on steroids. The messages fly so quickly over there that it can be difficult to keep up with the velocity.

I doubt any of my readers will have connections to the US embassy, but if any of you care to pass this along on your own blogs it might help.
(Via Regnum Crucis)

Bill Cosby for NAACP Pres?

Well, probably not, but Clarence Page is nominating him anyway. I think its a great idea. If this ever turns into a serious proposal, I would be willing to do just about anything (short of actually joining the NAACP) to help bring it about. As I said last month he has been a role-model long before I even knew that "race" meant anything other than a sporting event. (And I was never very good at that kind of race either.)

Lump of Coal Campaign

Michelle Malkin is fed up with cities who want to change their Christmas parades to "Holiday" parades:

The persecution never ends. Denver has launched war against a church group that wanted to march in the city's Christmas parade "Parade of Lights." (I hate, hate, hate that p.c. euphemism.)

From the Denver Post: Parade Organizers Say Christmas Carols May Be Offensive To Others
Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper recently announced that next year the phrase "Merry Christmas" will be removed from the city building and replaced with "Happy Holidays."
And now a church group who wants to march in the Parade of Lights and sing Christmas carols will not be allowed to participate in the parade. Organizers say the parade is about the holidays, not Christmas, but leaders of the Faith Bible Chapel say that's ridiculous.
"We can't pretend that Christ didn't exist and Christmas wasn't about his birthday, so we felt we could sing it and apparently that is not in social vogue anymore," said Pastor Gary Beasley, with the Faith Bible Chapel.
"This event is not one that has ever intended to have a religious message or a political message," said Susan Rogers, with the Downtown Denver Partnership.
She said no overtly religious symbols is allowed in the parade and that means participants can't carry "Merry Christmas" signs and can't sing traditional Christmas hymns.
I am hereby launching the Lump of Coal campaign. Later today, I will box up a lump of charcoal, mark the package "MERRY CHRISTMAS!" and send it to the Denver Mayor in protest of his idiotic policy. Please join me in doing the same (and if you take a photo of your creatively designed package, I will link/post).

Send to:

Mayor John W. Hickenlooper
Denver City and County Building
1437 Bannock Street, Suite 350
Denver, CO 80202
I have actually been thinking about the same issue lately and have come up with the first ever, Fully Pro-Choice Holiday Message:

Have a Merry Christmas or Fuck Off ... Your Choice.

Think it will catch on?

Thursday, December 02, 2004

Big Media Unfair to Churches

This story seems like it should be getting more attention by the religious right than it apparently has:

The CBS and NBC television networks are refusing to run a 30-second television ad from the United Church of Christ because its all-inclusive welcome has been deemed "too controversial."

The ad, part of the denomination's new, broad identity campaign set to begin airing nationwide on Dec. 1, states that -- like Jesus -- the United Church of Christ seeks to welcome all people, regardless of ability, age, race, economic circumstance or sexual orientation.

According to a written explanation from CBS, the United Church of Christ is being denied network access because its ad implies acceptance of gay and lesbian couples -- among other minority constituencies -- and is, therefore, too "controversial."

"Because this commercial touches on the exclusion of gay couples and other minority groups by other individuals and organizations," reads an explanation from CBS, "and the fact the Executive Branch has recently proposed a Constitutional Amendment to define marriage as a union between a man and a woman, this spot is unacceptable for broadcast on the [CBS and UPN] networks."
Josh Marshall has been following the story (here, here, here and here for instance) and Andrew Sullivan has mentioned it but I haven't been able to find this story on any of the conservative blogs that I read regularly.

It seems to me that if we are going to criticize the media for being unfair to Christians, that should include liberal Christians as well. I don't agree with the United Church of Christ on the issue of homosexuality, and the equation of moral disapproval with racial bigotry is dishonest, but they ought to be able to advertise on public airwaves just like the condom companies and Frederick's of Hollywood. People who don't want to watch the ads can change the channel. (Or, better yet, sell the fricking TV!) And the ad itself does not seem particularly offensive. Surely this is another example of the media's arrogance and blindness, which we have not been shy at pointing out when it affects us personally. Of course, this isn't a First Amendment issue: Viacom has every right, as a private company, to refuse to run anything it wants. But so do we, as consumers, have a right to protest such decisions.

And, if the argument from principle is not sufficient, consider this: it may well be in our best interest to protest. Is it possible that the ad was refused in order to make the religious right appear the villain? Josh Marshall points out the following rationale:
The CBS memo to the UCC includes three basic points.

1. The alleged policy of not running ads which address issue of public debate or controversy.

2. An alleged rule against ads from religious organizations which can be said in any way to proselytize.

3. And the fact that President Bush has recently called for a constitutional ban on gay marriage.

Reason #2 seems like the best argument (though it's pretty weak in itself). But the CBS memo specifically says that this isn't the reason they're rejecting it. Reason one, they say, was an entirely sufficient reason for rejecting the ad.

But having enunciated this bar against ads which discuss or take a position on any "current controversial issue of public importance" they then gratuitously add this line about President Bush's call for a constitutional ban on gay marriage.

[...]

I would think that the general rule, if evenly enforced, would be sufficient. I cannot think of any good reason why President Bush's (who's now apparently been renamed 'Executive Branch') stated position should have any bearing at all on whether the ad should run.

Can you?
Actually, yes, I can. By including that sentence, CBS is suggesting that it is afraid that it may suffer at the hands of the Bush administration if they air an ad the administration finds offensive. They are invoking, without actually mentioning, the spectre of Right-wing Thought Police. This has the benefit of being perfectly deniable, since no actual charges against Bush have been made, but people will still gain the impression that Things Are Getting Scary.

This is actually a rather common tactic in political rhetoric and is frequently used to sow resentment. Throughout history it has been a cause of anti-semitism when the discontent was aimed at a successful Jewish class, and Evangelicals are becoming as safe a whipping boy as the Jews in certain circles.

I would much rather that we were on record as objecting on principle to the sort of soft censorship that CBS is perpetrating against our fellow Christians. But, for whatever reason, we ought to speak up.

A Little Early for Holy Innocents

Anyone familiar with the Liturgical Calendar knows that the Feast of Holy Innocents occurs three days after Christmas on December 28. On this day the recognizes the children killed by the tyrant, Herod, in his attempt to destroy Jesus. For over a decade my church, St. Luke's, has observed this day with a prayer service for the victims of abortion and other forms of oppression. (I blogged about the prayer I wrote for our service here.)

It looks like the tyrants are starting the reenactment a little early this year:

Four times in recent months, Dutch doctors have pumped lethal doses of drugs into newborns they believe are terminally ill, setting off a new phase in a growing European debate over when, if ever, it's acceptable to hasten death for the critically ill.

Few details of the four newborns' deaths have been made public. Official investigations have found that the doctors made appropriate and professional decisions under an experimental policy allowing child euthanasia that's known as the Groningen University Hospital protocol.

But the children's deaths, and the possibility that the protocol will become standard practice throughout the Netherlands, have sparked heated discussion about whether the idea of assisting adults who seek to die should ever be applied to children and others who are incapable of making, or understanding, such a request.

[...]

Under the Groningen protocol, if doctors at the hospital think a child is suffering unbearably from a terminal condition, they have the authority to end the child's life. The protocol is likely to be used primarily for newborns, but it covers any child up to age 12.
Last week's issue of World Magazine contained an interview with Peter Singer, the Princeton professor who is considered the most influential philosopher of the culture of death in America. But even he draws the line at killing children over the age of two.

Mark Roberts seems to have broken this story on the blogosphere and Hugh Hewitt was wondering yesterday why more bloggers haven't picked it up. It looks like more have gotten on board today. Possibly the reason for the lack of outrage is that we have come to expect this sort of degradation and it no longer shocks us. Frankly, I am constantly amazed that such things haven't happened much sooner -- evidence, no doubt, of God's restraining hand in human affairs.

Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Looking Forward to Tomorrow

The return of Chris Muir's Day By Day.

A Psalm 137 Kind of Day

... over at CUANAS.

By The Rivers Of Babylon

First, an excellent essay by Mark Steyn (aren't they all?) on the morality of the Iraq war. Pastorius Screaming Memes comments:

Why do we never hear apologies from all those who said going into Afghanistan and Iraq that the wars would not work, and that hundreds of thousands, if not millions, would be killed?

Answer: because people who say such things are being treated as if they are children, and therefore are not held to be accountable for their actions.

It is not healthy for our civilization to allow such people to continue on in their irresponsibility. They are sustained by our civilization, they need to start participating in it. They need to recognize that their freedom was established and preserved through war. It's ok to be a pacifist, or to be against the Iraq War while not being entirely a pacifist. However, it is not ok to lie and exaggerate to make one's case, and then not apologize even when that case is shown not only to be groundless, but, through hard evidence, to have been immoral as well.

For There Our Captors Asked Us For Songs

Next an odd story about Israeli soldiers forcing a violinist to play. I am not sure I understand this either but I think there is a strong aversion among civilized people to needless cruelty. There is a sense that violence is an unavoidable aspect of war, even when innocents are the victims, but somehow pointlessly tormenting someone then letting him go seems jarring. I'm not saying this is rational, but I think I can relate even if I don't agree.

On the other hand, there is the obvious explanation that the Guardian may have just wanted to show Israel in as bad a light as possible.

He Who Seizes Your Infants And Dashes Them Against The Rocks

And finally this horrifying story:
Four minutes later, Israeli troops opened fire on the girl with machine guns and rifles, the radio transmissions indicated. The captain walked to the spot where the girl "was lying down" and fired two bullets from his M-16 assault rifle into her head, according to an indictment against the officer. He started to walk away, but pivoted, set his rifle on automatic and emptied his magazine into the girl's prone body, the indictment alleged.
Pastorius Screaming Memes rightly comments that this behavior would not necessarily even be condemned, let alone prosecuted, if it were a Palestinian who had killed a little Jewish girl.
However, Shmuel Shenfeld and his client "Capt. R", are, apparently, both willing to be traitorous to that Israeli conscience. They are both willing to lie, and thus damage the entire citizenry of Israel in the eyes of the world, in order to get Capt. R's ass off the hook.

Unless it shown beyond a doubt that some extenuating circumstance prompted Capt. R to such horrific behavior, I hope he is convicted, and that he spends the rest of his life in jail. Oh, and if only attorneys like Shmuel Shenfeld could be held accountable for the damage they do to society with their disgusting lies.
I agree, of course. But still, what a horror.

Is Pat Sajak One of Us?

I think I have made it pretty clear that I do not follow television so it is no surprise that I know little or nothing about the various TV personalities and celebrities. But this article in Human Events by Pat Sajak (via Andrew Sullivan) got me wondering about Sajak's background:

Somewhere in the world, a filmmaker creates a short documentary that chronicles what he perceives as the excesses of anti-abortion activists. An anti-abortion zealot reacts to the film by killing the filmmaker in broad daylight and stabbing anti-abortion tracts onto his body. How does the Hollywood community react to this atrocity? Would there be angry protests? Candlelight vigils? Outraged letters and columns and articles? Awards named in honor of their fallen comrade? Demands for justice? Calls for protection of artistic freedom? It’s a pretty safe bet that there would be all of the above and much more. And all of the anger would be absolutely justified.

So I’m trying to understand the nearly universal lack of outrage coming from Hollywood over the brutal murder of Dutch director, Theo van Gogh, who was shot on the morning of November 2, while bicycling through the streets of Amsterdam. The killer then stabbed his chest with one knife and slit his throat with another.
Now there is nothing particularly earth-shaking about this analysis, but it is just not the sort of example the typical Entertainment Industry insider would use. When the left criticizes itself, it is usually in terms of having "our" hearts in the right place but not doing enough. You don't usually see this sort of Right or Wrong dichotomy and you certainly don't see even indirect criticism of pro-abortionists.

Then there is this:
Maybe they think it would be intolerant of them to criticize the murder, because it would put them on the side of someone who criticized a segment of the Arab world. And, after all, we are often reminded that we need to be more tolerant of others, especially if they’re not Christians or Jews.
OK, the cat is definitely out of the bag at this point. This is a thoroughly right-of-center sentiment. What is going on here? Have I been missing something all these years? The host of the number one syndicated television show is a conservative?

Checking the biography on Sajak's web site doesn't give many clues. No mention of church, Reagan or the NRA, just the typical rags to riches story that should but usually doesn't make famous people respect American freedom and opportunity. But wait! What is this? A whole slew of articles (including the current one) from a conservative point of view. And Wikipedia has the following interesting tidbit at the very end of its Sajak entry:
Sajak is an External Director of the right-wing publishing house, Regnery.
(Regnery, of course, is affiliated with Human Events.)

So, I guess I am the only clueless one around here. Not that this makes me any more inclined to watch more television. But I suppose I do find game shows to be among the its less offensive offerings, when circumstances force me to watch.

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Targeting Procreation

In an attempt to "think outside the box" in combating Gay Marriage, Allan Carlson of the Family Research Council is proposing the possibility of restricting marriage benefits to couples who actually have children:

Are there other political acts that would reconnect procreation and marriage? Perhaps, if we are prepared to think "outside the box." For example, we could turn one of our opponents' key arguments back on them. Perhaps we should restrict some of the legal and welfare benefits of civil marriage solely to those married during their time of natural, procreative potential: for women, below the age of 45 or so (for men, in the Age of Viagra, the line would admittedly be harder to draw). The idea is not without recent political precedence. Back in 1969, Representative Wilbur Mills--the then-chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee--wanted to respond to complaints by unmarried adults that existing tax law unfairly favored the married. It was true that the existing practice of "income splitting" by married couples on their joint tax returns, in the context of high marginal tax rates, did give a strong tax benefit to marriage. Importantly, though, Mills stated that he wanted to preserve this "marriage bonus" for the young and fertile, while still helping those whom he labeled (in now-archaic language) as "spinsters." Accordingly, he proposed maintaining the benefits of income splitting only for married persons under the age of 35. (This approach, I note in passing, went nowhere. The Nixon administration and Congress chose instead to reduce the benefits of income splitting for all married persons; and they so unwittingly created the "marriage penalty" with which we still grapple today.)

Another, and perhaps more realistic way to rebind marriage and procreation would be, counter-intuitively, to take some of the benefits currently attached to marriage and reroute them instead through children. Allow me one practical example here. Whatever the future, it is likely that most households with two or more children will continue to be married-couple, natural-parent homes. These are still, and always will be, the places most open to what we once called "a full quiver." We could encourage them by tying retirement benefits to family size: that is, the more children that a couple brought into the world, the higher their later monthly Social Security benefit. Or, we could create a new tax credit against payroll taxes:rebating, say, 20 percent of the current 15.3 percent tax facing parents for each child born. Again, these ideas would indirectly favor child-rich homes; and most of these, in the American context, would predictably contain a married couple.
Andrew Sullivan, somewhat mystifyingly but perhaps ironically, applauds this as an honest admission that procreation and marriage have been inescapably severed:
Can we still defend the purpose of marriage as procreation? No, not in the current constitutional climate. It is now clear that the "right of privacy," conceived by the Supreme Court nearly four decades ago, is the enemy of both marriage and procreation separately, and is especially hostile when they are united. It is also clear that we lost the key battles in defense of this union decades ago, long before anyone even imagined same-sex marriage. And we lost these battles over questions that--to be honest--relatively few of us are really prepared to reopen. How many are ready to argue for the recriminalization of contraception? How many want to argue for a strict legal and cultural imposition of the word illegitimate on certain little children?

I acknowledge that this admission is somewhat more astute than I had expected of the FRC, but it seems to highlight exactly why conservatives ought to drop the whole issue. As I argued in July 2003 on the Ranter's Guild:
Having said all that, I think conservatives have already lost the argument over homosexual marriage. When we supported no-fault divorce in the 70s, we lost all credibility for political arguments based on protecting the sanctity of marriage. The only ground left would be to argue that the fortunes of a nation depend on obedience to God, which currently will not get a consensus even among religious conservatives.
Carlson's autocratic thinking outside the box has even less chance of actually occurring, but amply demonstrates the tortured lengths some will go to impose their vision on society. If there is to be any progress on this issue, it must come from within society, by means of changed hearts and minds, not be forced upon it in such heavy-handed proposals. Remember that, however we may seem to be in control at the moment, there may yet come a Pharaoh who knows not Joseph. And he who lives by the State can just as easily perish by it.

Virgin Grilled Cheese?

Slate reports that a grilled cheese sandwich with the image of the BVM has recently been auctioned on eBay for $28,000.

Looking at the sandwich, I had no idea the Virgin looked so much like Carole Lombard!
(Via the Volokh Conspiracy)

Recovered Treasures of Afghanistan

More than 22,000 treasures from the Kabul Museum in Afghanistan, long thought to have been lost in the war against the Soviet Union and the subsequent cultural purge by the Taliban, have been located in bank vaults and other safe places where they were hidden by museum officials.

The priceless Bactrian gold collection, precious ivories, bronze statues and other artifacts of 5,000 years of history on the Orient's Silk Road — virtually all of the museum's most precious items — were preserved despite the devastation engulfing the country, archaeologists said last week.

The discovery of the Bactrian gold was announced this summer, but a just-completed inventory revealed that virtually all of the museum's most precious items are intact, said Oxford University archaeologist Fredrik T. Hiebert.

In the midst of the resistance against the Soviets, a team of curators in the early 1980s boxed up the most valuable pieces in the museum's collection, stashing them in various vaults around Kabul, the Afghan capital. The curators — most of whose names are unknown — used small safes, tin boxes, steel containers and anything else they could find at hand.

They then went "dead quiet," said British archaeologist Carla Grissman, keeping their knowledge to themselves even as rumors floated widely about the destruction and looting of the museum's contents.

They kept their secrets for a quarter of a century.

"These are the real heroes of this story," said Hiebert, leader of the team that has been inventorying the newly rediscovered artifacts.
(Via WizBang)

Then We Were Like, Whoa!

Dan Rather is stepping down from CBS Evening News!

Dan Rather announced Tuesday that he will step down as anchor and managing editor of the CBS Evening News in March, 24 years after his first broadcast in that position.

Rather will continue to work full-time at CBS News as a correspondent for both editions of 60 Minutes, as well as on other assignments for the news division.

CBS made no mention of a potential successor.

Rather, 73, has come under fire for his 60 Minutes report on President Bush's service in the National Guard during the Vietnam War. The report relied on documents that cast Mr. Bush's service in a negative light. Critics charged that the documents were forgeries, and CBS News was unable to vouch for their authenticity. An independent commission is now investigating the matter.
At this point, I don't really expect to see CBS or Rather admit the full extent of their culpability. And there were rumors that Rather was planning on stepping down even before Memogate. But the fact that these "criticisms" are cited, however circumspectly, in connection with Rather's retirement must be counted a small victory for the blogosphere.

One further note, in the context of this remark:
Rather's announcement comes eight days before his NBC rival, Tom Brokaw, steps down as Nightly News anchor and is replaced by Brian Williams.
Dare one hope that, with the departure of the old guard, a new generation of media personalities will see which way the wind is blowing and return to the roots of honest journalism?

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Group-Think and Hayekian Criticism

Two cautions occur to me with regard to the post below:

First, the well-known phenomenon of group-think, or the tendency of decisions arising out of consensus to ignore crucial objections, often disastrously. The text book example of this is the Bay of Pigs invasion, in which Kennedy's advisors apparently lacked any dissenting voice that led to the needless slaughter of hundreds of Cuban expatriates. The loss of Colin Powell's alternative perspective is seen by many as a dangerous development in an administration which already has a reputation for disregarding dissent. Gregory Djerejian tends to this view (as well as preferring Powell to Rice on a more absolute level) but is willing to see possible silver linings in the switch:

But hey, she had to deal with Beltway behemoths Don "so-called Occupied Territories" Rumsfeld and Powell sparring endlessly! My point? Never an easy job; it was particularly hard this go around. Give her at least a little bit of a pass given the open trench warfare between State and Defense these past three and a half years--worse than any I've seen in recent memory.

On the positive side of the ledger? She shined against Clarke during her 9/11 Commission congressional testimony. She can be a strong advocate, she's intensely disciplined, she's pretty damn smart (though she's not a visionary foreign policy thinker--but name me a SecState since Kissinger who was...)

[...]

Condi is going to spearhead a major push on the Arab-Israeli peace process. She may, just perhaps, prove more effective in this than Powell as people will know she has Bush's ear and full confidence. The Israelis won't risk back-ending her by running to the Pentagon or NSC (like they reportedly often did with Powell).
Not, to be sure, a ringing endorsement, but significant praise from a semi-adversary. It remains to be seen whether these possible benefits will outweigh the tendency to group-think, but I am betting they will.

A related but more subtle objection is one that might be raised by followers of F. A. Hayek, to the effect that successful policies occur not as the result of all-explaining theories but through trial and error over time. This caution would propose that, since the Bush administration seems to be embarked upon a program of providing a unified front in the form a common theory of foreign policy, there is the danger that facts will be ignored or downplayed in order to fit the theory. This is a powerful objection, and one to which I am very sympathetic, but I would suggest that the Bush Doctrine may in fact be an expression of the very dynamic that Hayek promotes. That is, we have had decades of experience with a multiplicity of approaches to the problem of terrorism and observation teaches that negotiation does not work while forceful confrontation does. This is not a theoretical but a battle-tested principle and thus avoids the Hayekian anti-constructivist objection.

It remains to be seen how the nation building component of Bush's foreign policy (expressed in the sentiment that the best antidote to terrorism is freedom) will measure up to this test, but there is substantial evidence that democracies do, in fact, tend to limit the aggressiveness of states. Whether such states can be created out of the whole cloth of Middle-Eastern autocracies is the question of the hour, but, since it has never been tried, there can't by definition be an empirical answer to such a question.

(I had hoped someone at Taking Hayek Seriously would have touched on this point, but alas I was disappointed. Well, not disappointed exactly, since I always enjoy browsing around the place, but I couldn't find anything relevant to this post.)

Condi! Condi Condi!

I heard the speeches this morning, but of course everyone has been talking about this for a couple of days. Now that it is official, the first point I want to make is that this will be a test of the Bush (i.e. hawkish, unilateralist and pro-western) Doctrine as a viable subset of conservative foreign policy . In moving Dr. Rice to State, while leaving Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz in charge of Defense, Mr. Bush has consolidated America's official interface with the rest of the world into a single worldview. There is now no one to blame if that worldview fails to achieve the success it predicts for itself.

I happen to be glad of the challenge. I have argued with several of my conservative friends, who periodically threaten to leave the Republican party on the grounds that it is barely distinguishable from liberalism, that we have never really had a full test of conservative ideals. During the Reagan and Bush (41) administrations, we did not have control of Congress and when, in 1995, we gained control of Congress it was only after having lost the Presidency. Both branches were united under Republican leadership in 2000, but Bush had run on an essentially moderate post-Cold War platform and had not been perceived to have a mandate due to the closeness of the race against Gore. He accordingly set-up his domestic and foreign policies with an eye toward balance and conciliation that is appropriate to a peacetime presidency. That expectation was exploded on 9/11/01, but it arguably would not have been prudent to undertake any major reshuffling during the begining of the War on Terror. (I say "arbuably" because I am not fully convinced of the wisdom of this decision, but am willing to give President Bush the benefit of the doubt.)

One of the unfortunate results of this prudential decision to stick with the pre-9/11 cabinet was a divided mind on the the most controvesial of the three elements of the Bush Doctrine: unilateralism. My tentative thesis (which Wretchard of Belmont Club argues more forcefully) is that this division of purpose allowed the enemy a crucial window of opportunity to prepare for the "insurgency" we are now seein in Iraq.

All of this is speculative, of course. But with the removal of the last of these hindrances, it is not deniable that now there is no such further cover. We will see if America's conservative thinkers are willing to back their theories with assertive action, or are only capable of providing dissent to the liberal hegemony. Thatcher was up to the challenge, and I suspect Reagan was as well. Will President Bush be able to meet it?

Friday, November 12, 2004

Whom To Believe

Roger L Simon wants to know:

The Syrian Defense Minister called Arafat "the son of sixty thousand whores," but Jimmy Carter called him "a powerful human symbol and forceful advocate" for a Palestinian homeland.
Isn't it obvious that Carter is one of the sixty thousand?

Hobbits and Dinosaurs

James Kuchiner of Touchstone links to this article that notes the anthropologically interesting discovery of a race of small humans in Indonesia:

Once upon a time, a long time ago, there lived a village of warrior hobbits. No more than three feet tall or so, they dwelled in caves and hunted down dragons and pygmy elephants with stone weaponry.

I was forced to rub my eyes, shake my head, and check once again that I was reading the Associated Press, and not a supermarket tabloid. But there it was, originally announced in Nature magazine and soon likewise plastered across the pages of newspapers and magazines around the world.

Archaeologists discovered the remains of these little people on the Indonesian island of Flores. They named them Homo floresiensis, but they were quickly nicknamed “Hobbits.” Scientists found remains of Komodo dragons and large rodents that had been cooked in cave fires. Scientists assure us that these little “hominids” died out about 13,000 years ago, and that they were descendents of Homo erectus, the alleged evolutionary ancestor of modern humans.

The author goes on to note that this discovery is more embarrassing to advocates of evolution than it is to defenders of the biblical account of human origins.

Kuchiner further comments:
This reminds of the NOVA program aired on PBS this week that reported the DNA evidence that the Objiway Indians of the Great Lakes region (sometimes called Chippewa) have genetic markers from European, in addition to Asian, populations. The European DNA is not from French trappers. Based on the rate that DNA/genetic markers develop, the European DNA came to North America about 15,000 years ago. That should set some anthropologists redrawing their maps and rewriting chapters in textbooks.


I object to the label of "Hobbits" because I do not like to mix fantasy with science, but I must admit that I am glad to find that folklore is once again vindicated against unwarranted skepticism. It is easy to dismiss stories of fairies and whatnot as ignorant wives tales. But sometimes those wives have a point.
(Note: Evidently the Mere Comments permalinks are still broken. Scroll down to the post titled TOLKIEN'S NON(SCIENCE)FICTION? on 11/12/04 at 1:27 PM)

A survey of Internet Use for Political Information

By professors at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville:

The purpose of this survey is to examine the Internet's influence on the U.S. political process. Although we recognize that the Internet is a global medium, we asked that only those individuals who are eligible to vote in the U.S. participate in this survey.

Sanity about the FMA

John Tabin writes in the American Standard:

Federalism lights the way out of this conundrum. The recognition of gay unions should be entirely a matter for the states, and state parties should be free to differ as to the proper political approach; if a constitutional amendment is necessary, it is to restrain the courts rather than to define marriage for the nation. (Senator Orrin Hatch was toying earlier this year with introducing an amendment that would be ideal.) Likewise, the overturning of Roe vs. Wade ought to be the end-point of the pro-life movement on the federal level; abortion after Roe should become -- as it was before Roe -- a state matter.

I'd better admit that I'll be on the opposite side of many conservatives in these state-level battles: I favor gay marriage, and though I'd love to see a judiciary that would overturn Roe, a proxy for so much judicial mischief, I'd prefer to see early-term abortion stay legal. But we'll remain bound on foreign policy and economic issues in a strong Republican coalition despite our differences. And that's the point, isn't it?
(Emphasis mine)

Even if you think that abortion should be illegal at the Federal level (as I rather do) making it a state issue seems like a good first step. But my real point in citing this passage is that this is one of the few times I have heard a proposal in support of a constitutional ammendment to restrain the judiciary. To be sure, it is in the subjunctive mood and I suspect that Tabin might not agree that it is necessary. But at least the notion is on the table, hmm?
(Via Randy Barnett at the Conspiracy.)

Also note this interesting study on why the FMA has not produced the groundswell of support that some religious conservative leaders have predicted:
The Pew Research Center for the People & the Press completed a poll of 1,703 American adults concerning the FMA and other topics. Margin of error is about 2.4%.

In question 37, they found that:

32% favored allowing same-sex couples to marry
59% opposed allowing SSM
9% had no opinion or refused to answer.

They then asked only the 59% who opposed same-sex marriage for their opinion on the FMA:

36% favor the FMA to ban SSM
21% oppose the FMA
2% had no opinion or refused to answer.
So, over a third of people who oppose same-sex marriage also oppose the FMA. I would like to see that number climb, of course, to the point where we can safely ignore the matter and focus on conservative approaches to establishing a just society. Time will tell.

Cosby Still Gets It

Bill Cosby has been a role-model of mine for as long as I can remember. His courage in speaking the unpleasant truth about black social problems continues to inspire me:

Bill Cosby says the opinions he's expressed in his controversial prodding of fellow blacks are consistent with what he's done as an entertainer for more than 40 years.

In several forums this year, the 67-year-old Cosby has criticized some black children for not knowing how to read or write, said some had squandered opportunities the civil rights movement gave them and unfairly blame whites for problems such as teen pregnancy and high dropout rates.

[...]

In the 1980s, "The Cosby Show" came out of seeing so many sitcoms with children smarter than their parents. It seemed many comedy writers had bad relationships with their parents and were trying to retaliate, he said. He wanted to depict parents as strong role models.

Even the cartoon characters in "Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids" were designed as misfits who made something of themselves, he said.

Cosby said the poet Maya Angelou told him, "You know, Bill, you're a very nice man, but you have a big mouth." He said he doesn't mind that role as long as he makes people think.

And of his critics, Cosby said: "Let them stay mad."

Thursday, November 11, 2004

Sullivan Finally Gets It

In a post early Wednesday morning, Andrew Sullivan had this to say about the relation between judicial activism and gay marriage:

I don't believe that we should give up or change the fight for marriage equality. But I do think it behooves people like me to listen to what the other side is saying. I'm struck by how many of you have told me that your real objection is not with the issue of marriage equality itself, but by the means of achieving it. Court-imposed mandates rub people the wrong way, even those who support including gay couples within the family structure. Extra-legal tactics like Gavin Newsom's particularly rankle. I wasn't sanguine about this at the time but minimized it because I was so swept up in the emotion of seeing gay couples finally getting the respect they deserve. I should have been stricter in opposing Newsom's grandstanding. I'll have more to say in a forthcoming TNR piece. But it's important to hear what others who disagree with me are saying. I'm trying harder.
Exactly. The rule of law should not be abrogated no matter how worthy the cause. Some of us tried to explain this to Sullivan at the time, but he brushed it aside. I am glad to see that he now admits the error. Time will tell if he sticks with this committment, but we all get overcome by our passions from time to time, so I am willing to cut him a little slack.

Of course, there are some people who do not think that judicial activism is the main problem here and would be perfectly willing to use it to further their conservative agenda if they could get away with it. But I don't consider such people to be truly conservative, just radical in a different direction.

And finally, the question of whether public acknowledgment of homosexuality is actually good for society (or for homosexuals themselves) is completely different. Sullivan's position is based on the assumption that homosexuals are in some sense born that way, so his comparison to black civil rights movements follows naturally. However, if you reject that premise (as I do) then the notion that gay marriage is a civil right collapses. But I think that is a case that should be made by persuasion, not force.

Pastorius Featured on Medienkritik

My friend Pastorius of Christians United Against the New Anti-Semitism has had his comment featured on Medienkritik's "Why I Voted for Bush" post:

Pastorius writes:

I am a lifelong Democrat who never voted for a Republican in my life, until 2004, when I voted for George Bush.

Like many of the readers here, I was prompted to rethink my position by European hatred of George Bush. I have family in Europe. On 9/11 they made it a point to call me and inform me of why America deserved what it had gotten.

For the first time in my life I realized that, what I thought of as the "casual anti-Americanism" of the Left, was actually entrenched and visceral hatred of the United States and it's core values.

Having thought about this for over three years now, I believe that the Left is rotten to it's core and does not truly believe in it's own professed values.

For instance, I have watched in abject despair, as people whom I once respected have done everything but celebrate the new Democratic government of Afghanistan. I have listened, as members of the Left explain to us that it isn't true that all people would want Liberty and Democracy. I see that the anti-War Left will will march in the streets alongside Islamofascists who stand against Feminism, Homosexuals, and Freedom of Speech/Religion.

I am horrified by the irrationality and fear of these empty Leftists. I fear what it bodes for our world.

The Left seems willing to lie down, in a Pacifist pose, as all their professed values are taken away from them.

I am not willing to go along with them.

I pray that George Bush will be able lead us through this confrontation with the Islamofascists, who I believe are a force of terrible evil.
Congratulations!

Think Tink

I was in on the Disney boycott long before the Evangelicals took it over. Disney's overly cute, bowdlerizing and dumbing-down of children's literature has had a disastrous effect on such classics as Winnie the Pooh, Bambi and Peter Pan. I stand with C.S. Lewis and Tolkein in deploring this insult to a perfectly valid literary genre.

According to the Wall Street Journal, Disney is now looking to expand its franchise on Tinkerbell and fairies in general:

She's spunky, sassy and dishes out attitude. But can Tinker Bell and her fairy dust captivate girls the same way Walt Disney Co.'s princesses do?

Disney repackaged Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Belle and the Little Mermaid into a multibillion-dollar brand called "Disney Princess" in just three years. Now it's trying to repeat that success with a new franchise starring Peter Pan's mischievous sidekick and a new gang of fairy pals.

Disney says its research shows that Tinker Bell has remained a popular character, despite little exposure in recent years. Last year's live-action movie version of "Peter Pan," which wasn't produced by Disney, did little to promote the waif. But Disney says girls and young women still warm to her "sassy" attitude, style and looks.
Look, I don't want to be guilty of snobbery here. I recognize that many people look at Disney as a truly American success story and at least part of that success is due to its unpretentious appeal to middle class tastes. I am not necessarily saying that those tastes are inherently vulgar -- often a good comic book is far more satisfying than an overly sophisticated novel. But I do believe there is the possibility in literature (or the other arts, of course) to go beyond merely satisfying an apetite to actually elevating the soul. We are simultaneously a nation of kings and a nation of grocers. My only concern is that, in promoting the latter truth, we do not completely forget the former.

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

Evidently the SEC has decided not to press the issue of possible insider trading in the Senate:

...[T]he authors of the study conclude that these results "suggest that senators are trading stock based on information that is unavailable to the public, thereby using their unique position to increase their personal wealth...." The study adds that it is as if "senators knew appropriate times to both buy and sell their common stock." The article quotes Ziobrowski as stating in a recent interview that "there is cheating going on, at a 99 percent level of confidence."

[...]

The article also points out that "the SEC may have little incentive to tangle with the Senate, given their relationship. Senators approve members of the SEC's governing body, as well as the agency's budget."

Food Chain: Instapundit -> Prof Bainbridge -> Securities Litigation Watch -> Philadelphia Inquirer (Subscription Required)

Just When You Thought TV Couldn't Get Worse

As many of you may know, I haven't watched TV regularly in more than 12 years. I sometimes catch a few minutes of a game or some sit-com when visiting someone else's house or as many as a few hours when visiting family (usually on holidays). Every time I tune in, I am appalled to discover that the standards which I previously thought were rock bottom have actually degraded in the intervening months.

But this is the first time I have cause to complain for what TV is not showing. Whiskey at Captain's Quarters points out that several ABC affiliates have decided not to air Saving Private Ryan due to trumped up fears of FCC Sanctions:

Many ABC affiliates around the country have announced that they won't take part in the network's Veterans Day airing of Saving Private Ryan, saying the acclaimed film's violence and language could draw sanctions from the Federal Communications Commission.
[...]
"We're just coming off an election where moral issues were cited as a reason by people voting one way or another and, in my opinion, the commissioners are fearful of the new Congress," Cole [president of an ABC affiliate] said.
I am actually having a hard time deciding what offends me more: the disingenuousness of the explanation which is similar in nature to but far greater in magnitude than the usual tripe you hear from media spokespeople; the insanity of suggesting that red-state Americans would be offended by a film honoring war heroes (I mean real war heroes that didn't throw their medals over the wall); the gall of pulling this stunt on Veterans Day of all times; the insult to our intelligence to think we would fall for this kind of crap.

After I got over my initial reaction of incredulous anger, I am left with nothing but a sickening sense of pity for these pathetic bozos that live in such a hateful, ugly, little world. If you haven't yet decided to turn off the tube for good, here's hoping this story will push you over the edge.
(The original story is from USA Today.)

US Plane Downed by Jihadists

Sort of...

(OK, I realize that the humor here is that the "plane" they downed looks like something your kid brother put together in Junior High School. But I can't help but wish these things came with some sort of self-destruct feature.)

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Halo2: Non-Partisan Blood Bath After All

It looks like the issue that James Lileks raised regarding the political implications of Halo2 have been cleared up:

Clearly, there are political and religious dimensions to Halo 2 that were absent from the first game. ''You could look at [the story] as a damning condemnation of the Bush administration's adventure in the Middle East,'' admits Staten.

And with that statement, all desire I had to play the game – which, believe me, was substantial – just drained away. So the Covenant is the US Military, then?
I don't really know what he is talking about here (being a Baldur's Gate and Neverwinter Nights fan, I never got into Halo) but it does sound rather depressing for a video game to get all PC (as it were).

However, it looks like the true culprit here is (surprise!) biased reporting. Michelle Malkin has the scoop:
Staten cleared things up by posting a note on Free Republic. An excerpt:

Let me be really clear about this: there is no intentional political message in Halo2, anti-Bush or otherwise.
While I tried to be mindful of folks' sensitivities as I wrote its story, I knew that the game was going to scrutinized by a large, diverse audience, and would, therefore, be interpreted (or mis-interpreted, as the case may be) any number of different ways.

The EW journalist chose to include one of my examples of possible misinterpretation in the article, but not all of them. Most importantly, the journalist left out my closing statement: "Look, you can read anything into the story that you like - call a damning condemnation of the Bush Admnistration's adventure in the Middle-East, for example. But you'd be wrong."

In retrospect, It would have been best to give no example at all, but hindsight is 20-20...

Halo2's story is non-partisan. Any meaning you ascribe to it is yours alone.

And remember, at the end of the day, whatever some journalist says I said really doesn't matter. The proof is in the pudding. Play the game, and I think you'll see it's just that: a fun game with a good story.


Crafty bit of biased media editing of Staten's remarks, don't you think? At any rate, his response was very cool. Unfortunately, I probably won't get to play Halo2, or any other video game, until sometime after both kids have graduated from high school. Sigh. Can't wait for 2022!
I'm still not sure if I'm interested in the game, but this is surprisingly comforting.

Calvinism at the Las Vegas Airport

Yes, the title of the book is taken from the memorable seen in Hardcore where George C. Scott tries to explain TULIP to the prostitute that is helping him find his daughter.

A friendly, conversational look at what Calvinism has to say to the 21st century world, this book clears up some misconceptions about Calvinism and shows Calvinists how to live gently and respectfully with Christians who disagree as well as with non-Christians who have no clue what TULIP means.

I thought that's what I was doing...
(Via Relapsed Catholic)

Dirt Doesn't Vote: Lava Lamp Edition

Eugene Volokh points out some even cooler versions of the electoral map. These are cartograms which means that they represent population density by area deformation rather than vertical extrusion. Makes the map look kind of funky, (sort of like a badly beaten Jabberwock), but again emphasizes the point that the geographical dispersion of the red voters is not what won the election.

Repeat after me, "286:252".

The Anti-Gay Vote?

There has been a fair amount of buzz to the effect that Bush won because he (or his evil mastermind/architect Karl Rove) managed to get several state constitutional initiative baning gay marriage on the ballot. The theory seems to be that Republicans would have stayed home if not for the fact that they were up in arms over this issue. Case in point this talking point from Josh Marshall:

As many other have already noted, Rove and Co. cleverly managed to get anti-gay marriage initiatives and referenda on the ballot in a number of key swing states. And that seems to have played an key role in mobilizing 'peripheral' evangelical and culturally conservative voters.
In the article that Marshall links to the exit-poll survey number 22 crops up -- as in "22 percent of voters named "moral values" as the most important issue to them", a clear indicator to many people that gay bashing was the number one reason that Bush won.

OK, forget for a moment that these are exit polls and that they predicted a win for Kerry that was wildly off the mark. Forget also the obvious fact that in addition to sexual behavior, "moral values" include such matters as integrity and trustworthiness which have been key distinctives in the campaign against Kerry. Is it possible that these ballot initiatives really did push Bush over the top?

Early on, Andrew Sullivan seemed to think so, and has been struggling with the issue ever since. But a recent article in Slate seems to definitively debunk the notion that the Gay Marriage issue helped Bush at all. As with most statistical arguments, the reasoning may be a little hard to follow, but here is the crucial text:
The evidence that having a gay-marriage ban on the ballot increased voter turnout is spotty. Marriage-ban states did see higher turnout than states without such measures. They also saw higher increases in turnout compared with four years ago. But these differences are relatively small. Based on preliminary turnout estimates, 59.5 percent of the eligible voting population turned out in marriage-ban states, whereas 59.1 percent turned out elsewhere. This is a microscopic gap when compared to other factors. For example, turnout in battleground states was more than 7.5 points higher than it was in less-competitive states, and it increased much more over 2000 as well.

It's true that states with bans on the ballot voted for Bush at higher rates than other states. His vote share averaged 7 points higher in gay-marriage-banning states than in other states (57.9 vs. 50.9). But four years ago, when same-sex marriage was but a twinkle in the eye of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, Bush's vote share was 7.3 points higher in these same states than in other states. In other words, by a statistically insignificant margin, putting gay marriage on the ballot actually reduced the degree to which Bush's vote share in the affected states exceeded his vote share elsewhere.

[...]

Much has been made of the fact that "moral values" topped the list of voters' concerns, mentioned by more than a fifth (22 percent) of all exit-poll respondents as the "most important issue" of the election. It's true that by four percentage points, people in states where gay marriage was on the ballot were more likely than people elsewhere to mention moral issues as a top priority (25.0 vs. 20.9 percent). But again, the causality is unclear. Did people in these states mention moral issues because gay marriage was on the ballot? Or was it on the ballot in places where people were already more likely to be concerned about morality?
The article goes on to point out that a far bigger reason for the Bush victory was his trustworthiness regarding the war on terror. So, once again, the evil Republican jihad seems to be a conjuration of fevered left-wing paranoia. What a relief.

Ouch

Andrew Matthews out-snarks Maureen Dowd:

In order for your concepts to have any meaning, you must assume the reality of good and evil. And these, my dear, are spiritual realities. Your pseudo-values are parasitic on the good, depending for their being on Good itself.

Have I lost you, Ms. Dowd? Neglected your St. Augustine, have you? Maybe you should read Plato on the death of Socrates before you move on to heavier things like Trinitarian monotheism. Apparently, sensitivity and familiarity with the Christian foundations of civilization are not required for Op-Ed journalism at the Times.

(Unfortunately, I can't link to the actual post, but scroll down to 11/06 and you can't miss it.)

Monday, November 08, 2004

The Black Vote

I guess I should have posted something about this closer to the election but there were other issues that I thought were more important. But it is a constant frustration to me that the Republican party does not seem to be able to make any headway among black voters. During the 2000 campaign the pundits were predicting that Bush would do well among blacks and hispanics and that proved to be woefully over-optimistic. This year, the same predictions surfaced and I took them with a grain of heard-that-before-not-holding-my-breath salt. And it looks like I was right. About 10% each time.

La Shawn Barber is also frustrated and claims that she just doesn't care any more:

So President Bush managed to garner 11 percent of the "black vote", up from 8 percent from four years ago. My opinion? I think it's a good sign. While Bush didn't need black voters to win this election, I'm sure he appreciates it nonetheless.

I'm not really excited about it or interested in trying to convince blacks to vote for Republicans. I wrote on the blog a few months ago that doing so just doesn't appeal to me anymore. Perhaps running this blog and dealing with irate black liberals has jaded me on the process. All that nonsensical tripe about voter disenfranchisement! Downright embarrassing.

[...]

Why won't they vote for the politician advocating self-improvement? Look, don't ask me. I don't know and at this point, I almost don't care.

I will do my part on this blog and through other writing to articulate why conservative policies are better for America, but at this point I'm more focused on people's spiritual condition.
I am not sure if I believe her. Her attitude is correct, of course. The spiritual dimension matters far more than the political one. And I know all about burn-out. But politics is inevitably an expression of spiritual matters and eventually something happens in the political world that makes you want to scream and you find that you really did care all along. It just comes with the territory. Salt and light and all that stuff about being sent as sheep among wolves.

Selective Memory

See if you can identify the source of this passage:

The Races of Man. — At the present time there exist upon the earth five races or varieties of man, each very different from the other in instincts, social customs, and, to an extent, in structure. These are the Ethiopian or negro type, originating in Africa; the Malay or brown race, from the islands of the Pacific; The American Indian; the Mongolian or yellow race, including the natives of China, Japan, and the Eskimos; and finally, the highest type of all, the caucasians, represented by the civilized white inhabitants of Europe and America.
Ku Klux Klan recruitment brochure? Hitler Youth propaganda?

Nope. George Hunter's Civic Biology which was at the heart of the Scopes Monkey Trial. This is the book that the Fundamentalists didn't want taught in public schools and the Liberals did. Makes you think doesn't it?

Jim Lindgren at the Volokh Conspiracy comments:
For me, this irony cuts many different ways. The ACLU and Darrow were right in principle that the legislature shouldn't be determining what is or is not good science, but the version of evolution (white genetic superiority) that was being taught in Scopes would be viewed as very bad science today. This also illustrates that the spirit of free inquiry works, not because it is always right, but because people are free to put ideas out and have them refined and corrected. [UPDATE: Here 1920s science was right about the basics of evolution, but was wrong about social Darwinism and white genetic supremacy and was immoral to advocate eugenics.] It also reminds us that eugenics was a "progressive" idea in the 1920s. Last, of course, it suggests that the enlightened are often much less enlightened than they think they are. Sometimes neither the enlightened nor the supposed unenlightened are right.
I happen to think he is wrong about the scientific worth of the evolutionary hypothesis, but his point about enlightenment is well worth noting.

Dirt Doesn't Vote: Part II

Here is a cool graphic that illustrates the vote in terms of percentages by county. Note that some "red" counties have a lot of blue in them and vice versa. Here is the same map with a vertical dimesion for population density. And here is a state-level version (without the vertical dimension).

This is a fascinating picture of the country but, as I said in my previous post, the only numbers that matter are the electoral votes. And we won those.

Update: Thanks to Daimien for the link to the state-level map and to the commentors on Michael Totten's page for the county-level ones.