Tuesday, August 31, 2004

Lessons from the Punic Wars

Pastor Dave at JollyBlogger has posted an excellent article on how the culture wars should be fought. The actual article was written by a friend of George Grant, but neither the friend's article nor Grant's is directly linkable. JollyBlogger quotes the article in its entirety and it is certainly worth the read, but here is an excerpt of the main point:

Christ promised us that the gates of Hell would not prevail against His church. We tend to read it as though it says that we shall not be totally defeated by the enemy who is camped at our gates. Jesus issued a victory-oriented image, not a defeatist or underdog or loser image.

Christians need to learn from Fabius (and even from the Fabian Socialists). We need to fight long-term battles, avoiding foolish defeats, destroying enemy resources, and using time and patience to our advantage. Why battle for prayer in public schools? The Fabian approach would be to build a Christian school and concentrate on changing the next generation or the one after that.

Wear down the opposition. Preach, pray, evangelize, build churches, and support Christian education, read Christian books, live Christian lives. Abortionists and homosexual unions and hedonists and atheists cannot produce either families or culture. Don’t despair if unbelieving modern-day Hannibal’s are camped outside the gate. Hannibal never got inside Rome’s city limits and Christ’s church will never succumb to His enemies.

Aim toward producing Godly grandchildren. Have a long-term vision of victory. Be Fabian, be Augustinian, be Medieval, be anything, but impatient. Focus on Cathedral building and be multi-generational in expectations.

Along with this, Christians need to learn from Scipio. Study about and from our enemies. If unbelievers develop better universities, write better novels, create taller skyscrapers, and make more money, learn from them. Anything they do right, they accomplish because they have stolen from God. Take back the technology and artistry.

Find the sources of the enemies ‘metals and money’ and win it back. Again, Christian schools are battlefields for confronting the enemy—both short-term and long-term. Mel Gibson’s movie has done more to draw the enemy out of Italy and back to North Africa than anything else Christians have done in decades.

Whether it’s Hannibal’s elephants or Mordor’s oliphants, the bloated enemy forces are vulnerable. It may take a few more arrows than usual, but big ugly things die when punctured enough times. Fascism and Marxism did not last out the last century. Darwinian Evolution, Freudianism, Nietzsche’s notions, unbelieving Existentialism, Humanism, Feminism, Abortionism, Homosexual fanaticism, and whatever other deviations are lined up for battle, are all easily outflanked or directly defeated by a vigorous Christian confrontation with faithful doctrine, life, and culture.

Victory is often simply a matter of not having a culture of defeat.

I am kind of stealing my own thunder by posting this, because this is essentially the conclusion I am building toward in my series on gay marriage. But this article is so well written that I couldn't pass up the opportunity to link to it. Once again, JollyBlogger has justified his position on my blogroll by relaying this. (Not bad for a non-theonomist, eh?) If you haven't been reading him every day, you should start.

Remedial Blogging for Old Media 101

Instapundit notes:

TOM HUMPHREY has gotten some bad information:
After all, bloggers, I am instructed, do not have to follow those ironclad rules of attribution, fact-checking, logic and such that burden the daily production of stuff to print by traditionally ink-stained wretches. You can just babble like a talk show radio guy.

Here is my response (which I also left on his comments section):

Very good, Tom. I am glad to see that you are seeking "instruction" to remedy your obvious ignorance of the nature and etiquette of the blogosphere. However, a few more remedial lessons may be in order:

1. Don't use the passive voice. Say, "X instructs me" not "I am instructed". The latter formulation violates one of those "ironclad rules of attribution" that you should have learned from your days among the ink-stained wretches. Also, the passive voice sounds weak, stuffy, effete, French ... you get the picture.

2. I applaud you on enabling the comments section on this blog. I actually only browsed to this site to see if you had, since you seem unaware of the way that fact checking works out here. But even those blogs who do not enable comments, such as my own humble effort, can be fact-checked through the use of links. I found your post through Instapundit but evidently James Lileks has also linked to you. By now you probably have several hundred links, as the sampling of comments above should indicate.

3. You have handled the little gaffe about this being a "web-only blog" adequately, but it is traditional to do this kind of error correction in the text of the blog itself rather than in a side-bar. I realize there are aesthetic considerations here, and styles vary on this matter, but it makes it much easier for people to find. And admitting your mistakes forthrightly makes you seem more intelligent (if you caught the error yourself) or more honest (if you didn't).

One final note about self-deprecating humor: lots of bloggers use it and it can be a helpful device in spicing up a post. But, like all humor, you need to be make sure that it is actually funny. Repeating the joke that this is only a blog so the normal standards don't apply isn't all that clever. It sounds too much like you are making excuses. This is more an art than a science, though, so I can't really offer instruction on this point. But a careful review of some of the comments above might give you a clue as to how it is done.

UPDATE: Brian at MementoMoron has preserved the comments on this post, just in case ... you know ... an accident should happen.

Monday, August 30, 2004

Gay Marriage II: First Things and First Principles

The current issue of First Things includes an article by Judge Robert Bork titled "The Necessary amendment". Unfortunately the article itself is not available on-line so I will have to limit my comments to excerpts. This presents a serious problem for me since there is much in the article that I agree with, but due to considerations of space I will have to focus on the specific areas of disagreement. Since I am already cutting against the grain of most conservatives on this issue, I am not eager to continually emphasize the negative. And then there is the fact that of all the conservatives with whom I would expect to disagree over an issue of constitutional law, Bork has got to be at the very bottom of the list. But a bad argument is a bad argument and we are not doing ourselves any service by allowing our political fortunes to be bound to such a policy as the FMA, even if it is advocated by such an authority of Judge Bork.

He begins his discussion with a more or less accurate summary of the controversy. His position, as anyone familiar with his work (especially The Tempting of America which you ought to buy several copies of, if you haven't already) will recognize, is that the fundamental issue is one of judicial activism. He ends the first paragraph by noting that

As an example of judicial incontinence, it will rival Roe v. Wade, and will deal a sever and quite possibly fatal blow to two already badly damaged but indispensable institutions -- marriage and the rule of law in constitutional interpretation.

Having made this wholly accurate claim, however, he jumps a few paragraphs later to the conclusion that
The only real hope of heading off the judicial drive to constitutionalize homosexual marriage is in the adoption of an amendment to the Constitution. [...] Given the stakes riding on the outcome of the effort to adopt the [FMA] are so high, it is surprising that so many social conservatives have expressed opposition. [...] Their mistake, it seems to me, derives from a conservative constitutionalism which, though laudable in the past, is now, most unfortunately obsolete. [...] Conservative constitutionalism today requires taking back the original constitutional order and representative government. If that requires amending the Constitution to recall the judges to their proper function, so be it.
But surely this is a non-sequitur. If the root cause of the problem is judicial activism, why not focus on the cause, rather than its effects? Furthermore, if the judiciary is so untrustworthy with the Constitution as it currently stands, how will adding another amendment for them to misinterpret help matters? I don't wish to sound flippant about such a crucial issue, but there are always alternatives in politics and I strongly suggest that the conservative leaders who are advocating this amendment suffer from a failure of imagination. I will have more to say on what I see as some possible alternatives and why they are better than the current course of action in a later post, but for the present, I will point to my earlier comments regarding Rep Ron Lewis' proposed federal legislation. (See also here.)

After detailing some of the reasons that judicial activism will thwart any attempt to provide a legislative solution (with which, again, I am largely in agreement) Bork goes on to criticize Michael Greve's proposed alternate amendment.
This amendment would leave states free to give effect to the acts of other states or not, as they see fit. [...] There seem both legal and sociological problems with this proposal. The language leaves out of account what state courts may do with state constitutions.

This is certainly true, but I do not see that this is a good reason to amend the Federal Constitution. The Fourteenth Amendment already goes too far, in my opinion, in applying Federal jurisdiction over State laws and constitutions. The creeping dominance of the national government is at least as big a threat to liberty as autocratic judges. However good the motives, and I concede that the motives of those who drafted the Fourteenth Amendment were among the highest, there always comes a pharaoh who knoweth not Joseph to misuse the additional power that well meaning people gives him. Better to abandon the field entirely than to fight under this flag.

Bork goes on to examine the idea of jurisdiction stripping per Article III, Section 2. His objection is pretty much identical to this roundup of the issue that I posted on July 22. See especially Eugene Volokh's comments.

He then turns to the social consequences of gay marriage.
Amending the United States Constitution to save it and marriage from freebooting judges would be extremely difficult in the best of circumstances, but it is made immeasurably more difficult because so many people ask: How does homosexual marriage affect me?

Since this is one of my questions as well, I had hoped that Bork might be able to provide an answer that was more robust than what I have seen to date among conservative commentators. Alas, it is not to be:
Studies of the effects of same-sex marriage in Scandinavia and the Netherlands by Stanley Kurtz raise at least the inference that when there is a powerful (and ultimately successful) campaign by secular elites for homosexual marriage, traditional marriage is demeaned and comes to be perceived as just one more sexual arrangement among others. The symbolic link between marriage, procreation, and family is broken and there is a rapid and persistent decline in heterosexual marriages.

The problem with using this study is that it has been called pretty seriously into question by Lee Badgett:
Despite what Kurtz might say, the apocalypse has not yet arrived. In fact, the numbers show that heterosexual marriage looks pretty healthy in Scandinavia, where same-sex couples have had rights the longest. In Denmark, for example, the marriage rate had been declining for a half-century but turned around in the early 1980s. After the 1989 passage of the registered-partner law, the marriage rate continued to climb; Danish heterosexual marriage rates are now the highest they've been since the early 1970's. And the most recent marriage rates in Sweden, Norway, and Iceland are all higher than the rates for the years before the partner laws were passed. Furthermore, in the 1990s, divorce rates in Scandinavia remained basically unchanged.

It is difficult to determine whose experts are more correct in these sorts of controversies, but at best we can say that Kurtz's (and therefore Bork's) case is not made. Andrew Sullivan has some further comments
Then Kurtz tries to argue that there is a causation effect between registered partnerships for gays and the decline of traditional marriage. He proves nothing. There are so many independent variables - from secularism to contraception to cultural gender roles and on and on - that such a conclusion is intellectually preposterous. Kurtz does his best to hide this obvious truth. Check the words: the decline in marriage and gay registered partnerships are "linked"; they are both "an effect and a cause"; in the same paragraph, same-sex marriage has "undermined" marriage - then it has simply "locked in and reinforced" an "existing trend;" the decline of marriage "closely tracks" the emergence of gay registered partnerships. Please. The decline of smoking in America "closely tracks" the success of Republicans in Congress in the 1990s. So what? These kinds of unsubstantiated correlations, slippery links and simple associations would be laughed out of a freshman social science class. Did no one edit this? The truth is that for several decades, revolutions in contraception, feminism, the economy have all severed the linkage between marriage and procreation. If you want to take the institution back, go ahead and try. Or go visit Saudi Arabia (or Muslim enclaves in Scandinavia) where those connections are still tightly bound. But to pin all the change in marriage on gay couples - the only group that has had nothing to do with marriage decline in this century - is grotesque. And given that coupling - not procreation - is what civil marriage now is, we have two options. Accelerate the decline by devising new and more elaborate marriage-lite options for gays and straights (which is now, bizarrely, the position of National Review); or arrest it by bringing gays into the real institution and ask the same standards of them that we ask of everyone else. Then get rid of all the counterfeits. The great sadness of the last two decades is that many of us tried to persuade conservatives that they should put their defense of marriage before their fear and loathing of gays. For most, but not all, conservatives, we failed. What's left is a Republican party devoted primarily to exclusion and fear - and to undermining the very institution they want to defend. And they still don't see it. Maybe it will take their own destruction of civil marriage before they do.

Despite the snide tone this is the argument to beat. So far, I have not seen any conservative up to the task, and Bork adds essentially nothing to the debate. I would like to try my hand at refuting Sullivan at some point, but not in the context of the FMA.

Bork's conclusion is particularly unconvincing. Having detailed all of the obstacles to an amendment, he nevertheless justifies it on the grounds that
Finally, it is worth considering that a vigorous campaign for the FMA could have a salutary effect on the American judiciary. The debates, win or lose, might also lead the public to a more realistic view of the courts.

I am sorry but this is mere madness. If the debates could be thus salutary as a side-effect of the discussion of homosexual marriage, how much stronger could the effect be if we focused on the real issue? But an attempt to amend the Constitution is far too serious an undertaking in the hopes that, even if we lose, we might at least have raised the public consciousness. And I suspect that his "win or lose" is a confession that we probably will lose the debate. In that case there are some political consequences, such as reinforcing the association of conservatives with perceived bigotry and mean-spiritedness, that will overwhelm any supposed salutary effects.

Judge Bork does issue a very meaningful challenge with which I would like to end this post:
Abandoning resistance here might nevertheless be seen by some as an intelligent strategy, but that would be true only if there were a more defensible line to fall back to. It is difficult to see what line that might be.

I would never advocate abandoning resistance, but I do think there are some opportunities for counter-attack that might prove fruitful. I will detail these in my next post on this subject.

Thursday, August 26, 2004

Truth and Trademarks

They are not threatening a lawsuit, as far as I can tell, but the US Olympic Committee is still in the wrong for asking the Bush campaign to pull an ad that mentions the Olympics over trademark concerns:

The ad has angered Olympic officials because they feel it hijacks the Olympic brand -- a registered trademark -- even though it does not display the Games logo.


The IOC said no official request had been made for the use of the reference to the Games.

"We own the rights to the Olympic name and nobody asked us," Gerhard Heiberg, head of the International Olympic Committee's Marketing Commission had said on Wednesday.

I understand the desire to avoid politicizing the Olympics, even though it happens pretty much every election. But the specific complaint here is poorly considered. As the article notes, no actual trademark violation has occured. Simply mentioning the Olympics doesn't constitute unauthorized use.

But my real problem with this request concerns the actual message the Olympic committee found objectionable:
The television advertisement, ahead of the presidential elections in November, does not feature the five Olympic rings -- one of the world's most recognizable images -- but an announcer tells viewers that at "this Olympics there will be two more free nations," referring to the U.S.-led invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq under Bush's presidency.

Afghanistan returned to this year's Games after its Olympic Committee, controlled by the then ruling hard-line Taliban regime, was suspended in 1999 and missed the 2000 Sydney Games.

The IOC reinstated Iraq after the fall of Saddam Hussein.

Surely, that is a reasonble point for the president to be making. It is an uncontestable fact that Afghanistan and Iraq would not be participating in the Olympics this year, if not for US intervention. You might make the argument that those tyrannical regimes would have fallen eventually without our help. I might even be inclined to agree, since I believe that every tyranny, being essentially a human attempt to usurp the authority of God, is doomed to failure both metaphysically and politically. But the fact remains that those inevitble results were achieved this year through the mediation of the US military. Saying so hardly seems a matter for trademark disputes.
(Via Ramblings Journal)

Sudan Rally at the UN

Sunday, September 12, 2004
Hosted by iAbolish
If you can't go, there is a donation form on the linked page. They need $3600 to cover expenses for the rally. Seems like a small enough amount.

Wednesday, August 25, 2004

Axis of Eve

I wish I could say this was shocking, but it isn't even original:

The Axis of Eve -- a women's rights group -- is planning a 10-minute mass panty flash to protest the policies of the Bush administration.

The group consists of more than 100 women, all of whom will flash panties emblazoned with anti-Bush slogans like "give Bush the finger," "cream Bush" and "drill Bush, not oil."

Listen up ladies. No one cares what Miss America thinks, no one reads the articles in Playboy, and no one is going to care what message you print on your panties. We probably won't even notice what color they are.

(Via Hot Sauce who has more comments.)

Long Overdue: First Tribunal for Guantanamo Detainee

The first military tribunal has formally begun. The accused is Salim Ahmed Hamdan, Osama bin Laden's chauffeur:

Hamdan has said he earned a pittance for his family as bin Laden's driver before the Sept. 11 attacks, but he has denied involvement in terrorism. U.S. officials allege he served as the al-Qaida leader's bodyguard and delivered weapons to his operatives.


Swift [Hamdan's lawyer] says that Hamdan was a pilgrim who took a job at bin Laden's farm on his way to Tajikistan in 1996 or 1997, that he had no knowledge of bin Laden's activities and that he never took up arms against the United States.

The Pentagon alleges Hamdan, who is also known as Saqr al Jaddawi, was bin Laden's driver and bodyguard between February 1996 and Nov. 24, 2001.

The Pentagon also says he transported weapons to al-Qaida operatives, trained at an al-Qaida camp and drove in convoys that carried bin Laden. It does not say he took part in any specific acts of violence.

(Via Drudge)

Tuesday, August 24, 2004

Gay Marriage I: Cheney in the Middle

During the Primary of 2000 I wasn't a Bush supporter. In the early days of the season, I was campainging for Dan Quayle, a much more conservative candidate than either the current president or his father. I only came into Bush's camp because of what I perceived to be the dishonest centrism of John McCain. I knew that Bush was running as basically a Kennedy liberal: tough on foreign policy, especially with regard to restoring the military, but far too willing to spend money on social programs.

But as the campaign wore on, I began to notice the kind of people Bush surrounded himself with and began to allow that he might actually make a decent president. First and foremost, of course, was Condoleeza Rice whom I would still like to see someday at the top of the ticket. But almost as impressive, to my mind, was Dick Cheney who provided what at the time was trendilly referred to as gravitas.

Now that the Bush administration is nearing the end of its first term, I am pleased to note that I was pretty much right on all counts. Bush has exceeded expectations with his foreign policy, has outspent Clinton on domestic social programs (OK, maybe "pleased" wasn't the right word in the previous sentence) and he has generally been well served by his staff, including Mr. Cheney.

I say all of this by way of introduction to my real topic which is Gay Marriage and the deplorable way the Republican party has allowed itself to be maneuvered into an untenable position on the issue. Since this is a rather daunting topic, I have been waiting for an event that would provide an appropriate entre. I think the controversy of which Mr. Cheney currently finds himself at the center will serve that turn as well as any.

For those of you who are not familiar with the issue, there are a few facts that you should know. First, Mary Cheney, the Vice President's daughter and sometime campaign director, is openly lesbian. Second, the president, Cheney's boss, has reluctantly but firmly thrown his support behind the attempt to amend the Constitution to define marriage as exclusively heterosexual. I have not been able to ascertain whether or not Mary supports gay marriage, but even if she does not, this would seem to place Mr. Cheney in a rather awkward position. During the 2000 debate with Joe Lieberman, Cheney expressed the federalism argument that such things should be left up to the states, but since Bush has come out in support of the Federal Marriage amendment (FMA), Cheney has been mostly silent on the actual issue, stating merely that he supports the president.

But all that changed this afternoon at a rally in Iowa:

"Lynne and I have a gay daughter, so it's an issue our family is very familiar with," Cheney told an audience that included his daughter. "With the respect to the question of relationships, my general view is freedom means freedom for everyone. ... People ought to be free to enter into any kind of relationship they want to.

"The question that comes up with the issue of marriage is what kind of official sanction or approval is going to be granted by government? Historically, that's been a relationship that has been handled by the states. The states have made that fundamental decision of what constitutes a marriage," he said.

There are two points to note at this juncture. First, as I stated above, Mr. Cheney is reiterating his basic position in the 2000 campaign. That shows a certain amount of integrity and consistency that is refreshing, even a bit shocking, this close to an election. But second, I think it illustrates a properly conservative attitude toward government. I will have more to say on this later, but for now let us note that revolutionary measures are rarely warranted by a mature political philosophy.

Cheney goes on to explain the President's position and his own attitude toward that position:
"I think his perception was that the courts, in effect, were beginning to change, without allowing the people to be involved," Cheney said. "The courts were making the judgment for the entire country."

Addressing Bush's position on the amendment, Cheney said: "At this point, say, my own preference is as I've stated, but the president makes policy for the administration. He's made it clear that he does, in fact, support a constitutional amendment on this issue."

Notice the concise way Cheney has managed to spell out the relevant issues. Judicial activism, anti-democratic tendencies and his own personal respect for the president's office are all referenced in not many more words than it took me to list them. If you are looking for nuance coupled with conservative principles, look no further. This is the proper way to express disagreement over particulars towards people with whom you fundamentally agree.

So, you would think that conservatives, whether or not they agree with Cheney, would at least respect the careful way he has phrased his responses in order to minimize conflict. If you did think so, you would be wrong, at least as far as some conservative are concerned:
Those comments drew criticism from the conservative Family Research Council, with President Tony Perkins saying: "I find it hard to believe the vice president would stray from the administration's position on defense policy or tax policy. For many pro-family voters, protecting traditional marriage ranks ahead of the economy and job creation as a campaign issue."

This is an unwise gambit on several levels. Bringing up the contrast between the social and fiscal conservatives at this point plays into the Democratic canard that conservatives are all about money. I don't know what Mr. Perkins' views on tax policy are, but I doubt he would be happy if Cheney did stray from Tax policies so I don't see what purpose this innuendo serves. Ditto on the defense issue.

But more problematic still is the notion that there is only one way that reasonable people can view the issue of homosexuality. I don't necessarily agree with Mr. Cheney's "live and let die" defense of his position, having heard way too much of that sort of thing growing up in the 70s. But, as I mentioned, I think he makes some substantive points and they deserve to be addressed directly. The attempt to short-circuit the debate by appealing to the president's authority (or worse still to the infamous "party line") will merely serve to confirm in many a skeptic's mind that the Evangelical wing is not ready for prime-time.

But it gets worse:
Perkins added that if Cheney sees a problem with activist judges, "then how can he not endorse the same solution the president and his pro-family allies have proposed? We urge Vice President Cheney to support President Bush and a constitutional amendment on marriage."

What was implicit in the earlier quote is now quite blatant. Mr. Perkins clearly does not want any intellectual debate on the matter. He wants his agenda pushed and will brook no dissent, informed or otherwise. Persuasion and dialogue are evidently not legitimate tools for achieving those goals.

Before I go too much further, I need to point out that I probably share many of the moral presuppositions of Mr. Perkins as against those of Mr. Cheney. I believe that homosexuality is a grievous sin, and that its practitioners are more in need of repentance than acceptance. I also believe (which possibly Mr. Perkins does not) that the only way to secure a just and free society is for that society to base its laws on the precepts of Scripture, both Old and New Testaments. But I also recognize that such a society will not be achieved through compulsion but through persuasion and prayer. In coming posts I will explore how those themes mesh with the current political milieu and, hopefully, shed some light on what steps conservatives can and should be taking to win the debate.

One final note: Since it has become common to question the timing of any political utterance in this contentious election cycle, I hereby do so. It occurs to me that the Vice President's going off the reservation this close to the election may be paving the way for a realignment of the Bush administration with regard to what can only be called a doomed policy. I do not believe that wishful thinking should play any significant role in political analysis, but since I do fervently wish that we had never wandered into this hornets nest, I will say that I hope Mr. Bush is positioning himself to at least a partial retreat from his support for the FMA. I am only a small voice among the greater clarions of the blogosphere, but if anything I say can help to achieve such a rethinking, I shall not fail to attempt it.

Who Is Paying for All This?

I recently noticed that the ads at the top of the blog have disappeared. In their place is a nifty feature that allows a text search on this blog. Unlike text searches on some commercial sites, this one appears to actually work. But since the ads are gone, how is this going to represent a source of revenue for Blogger/Google? If they keep adding cool new features to the free version, what incentive do people have to convert to the paid service? Not that I want to appear ungrateful or anything, but the arch-capitalist in me finds all this a bit unnerving.

And speaking of free things, I have finally taken advantage of the free image hosting provided by Blogger through an agreement with Hello.com Posted by Hello. I am far too left-brain to do a whole lot of photoblogging, but there are times when an image is a useful addition to the text.

OK, now that I have destroyed any credibility I may have had by staying up all night playing with all this vanity stuff, I'll try to get back to some serious commentary in the next few days. Work is slowing down to a more reasonable level of panic, so I might have a few spare moments to talk about serious things.

Wednesday, August 18, 2004

NY Times Bashes Charter Schools

When I first saw this article, (thanks to You Know Who), my first question was "what is the margin of error?"

The first national comparison of test scores among children in charter schools and regular public schools shows charter school students often doing worse than comparable students in regular public schools.

The findings, buried in mountains of data the Education Department released without public announcement, dealt a blow to supporters of the charter school movement, including the Bush administration.

I read the whole article and it turns out they never do answer that very basic question. The closest the article comes is this tantalizing but basically uninformative piece of trivia:
The math and reading tests were given to a nationally representative sample of about 6,000 fourth graders at 167 charter schools in February 2003. Some 3,200 eighth graders at charter schools also took the exams, an insufficient number to make national comparisons.

This makes it sound like the 4th grade results are statistically significant, since, hey, they are excluding data that isn't, right. Evidently not, according to Mickey Kaus and his various correspondents (scroll down to "Times Crusade I--Anti-NCLB").
The executive summary of the AFT's paper--clearly written with spin in mind--also quite deceptively hides the fact that the differences in reading scores between central city charter and central city public schools were "small and statistically insignificant."

So, OK, that's what I figured and pretty much what I would expect from the NYT. Reporting an insignificant difference as if it were significant is par for the course and nothing to get excited about.

My second question on seeing the article was "is it possible that these students started out below-average and that is exactly why they are seeking alternatives to the government monopoly schools in the first place?" Well, that actually did get an answer. Below the fold, but an answer none the less:
Detractors have historically accused charters of skimming the best students, those whose parents are most committed, from the poorest schools. But supporters of charter schools said the data confirmed earlier research suggesting that charters take on children who were already performing below average. "We're doing so much to help kids that are so much farther behind, and who typically weren't even continuing in school," said Jeanne Allen, president of the Center for Education Reform, in Washington, which represents charter schools. She said the results reflect only "a point in time," and said nothing about the progress of students in charter schools.

That, she said, could be measured only by tracking the performance of charters in future tests. For the moment, however, the National Assessment Governing Board has no plans to survey charters again.

One previous study, however, suggests that tracking students over time might present findings more favorable to the charter movement. Tom Loveless, director of the Brown Center on Education Policy at the Brookings Institution, who conducted a two-year study of 569 charter schools in 10 states found that while charter school students typically score lower on state tests, over time they progress at faster rates than students in traditional public schools.

So it looks like this is nothing much to worry about. I favor vouchers over charter schools anyway, since there is still a lingering taint of government monopoly about charter schools, but I am glad to see that my distrust of Big Ed is in no immediate need of reevaluation.

Orwellian "Clear Skies"

I had an interesting conversation Monday night with a leftist friend of mine. (Yes, I have one or two.) Along with a number of issues that we discussed, such as gun control and school vouchers, she brought up a criticism of the Bush administration that I hadn't heard before. Her claim was that the "Clear Skies Act" was Orwellian in that it actually loosened air quality standards. I tried to argue that this sort of spin occurs in politics all the time but her point was that Bush should have honestly called the bill the "Industrial Relief Act" or some such, rather than try to imply that the law would actually clean up the air. At this point we had to suspend the debate because I am frankly not that informed on environmental issues, but her point has stuck with me and prompted the following research.

First, the Sierra Club's perspective:

In his 2003 State of the Union address, President Bush touted a plan that mandates a 70 percent cut in air pollution from power plants over the next 15 years. But why is the Administration bragging about a plan that will actually result in more pollution than if we simply enforced the existing Clean Air Act? Who stands to benefit from placing communities at risk, particularly children and the elderly who are significantly threatened by air pollution?

Americans don't have to settle for only a 70 percent cut in air pollution when existing laws and existing technology mean that we can do better.

This seems like a reasonable argument, but I note that they are not disputing that the Clear Skies Act will reduce pollution. Their criticism is that current legislation "if enforced" would do better. But in either case, the air would actually become cleaner than it currently is, which seems to me a positive thing. There is a difference between not doing enough and not doing anything, or making matters worse. As in any political issue, there is a tradeoff between the demands of perfection (which I take it is the preference of the Sierra Club and their ilk) and the costs of achieving that perfection. This is the nature of politics. I don't see any evidence here of actual deception, although it is arguable whether the Bush policy is the wisest one. Let's say the charge of Orwellianism is not proven and move on.

Further research turns up these two sites from the EPA: The Clean Air Act (1990) and Clear Skies (2003)
The latter site makes the following point:
There are great uncertainties (regulatory development, litigation, implementation time, etc.) as to how quickly and effectively current regulations would be implemented over the next decade under existing law.
In contrast, the mandatory emissions caps at the heart of Clear Skies are a sure thing and guarantee that reductions will be maintained over time. And, because cap-and-trade programs include economic incentives for early action, Clear Skies would begin improving public health immediately.

This directly contradicts the argument made by the Sierra Club. I do not have the expertise to decide who is correct, but knowing the nature of bureaucracy, I suspect that there is probably some merit to the notion that existing legislation could not be enforced as easily as the Sierra Club claims. In fairness, I doubt the new legislation would be much more effective, mandatory provisions or no. But again, the charge is not proven.

Finally, here is some commentary about the general accuracy of environmental claims from an admittedly conservative source: the National Center for Policy Analysis:
A recent book by a self-described "man of the left" and former member of Greenpeace, Danish professor Bjorn Lomborg, set out to prove what he called "The Litany": our resources are running out, population is growing and leaving us with less to eat, air and water are becoming ever more polluted and the ecosystem is breaking down. But he wound up proving the opposite, and demonstrating economic growth is the friend of the natural world, not its enemy.

Again, this doesn't prove that the Sierra Club is wrong in its criticism. It may very well be correct. But the issue is at least debatable. Even after having read all this material, I do not feel qualified to pronounce on the matter. But I am convinced that the claims of mendacity have not been proven.

Sorry for the Hiatus

It was not due to vacation (quite the opposite in fact!) More substantive posts to follow.

Jane's Getting Serious

Check out the new look of Armies of Liberation and note the new URL: http://www.armiesofliberation.com/

Tuesday, August 10, 2004

Free-Market Environmentalism

I have been an advocate of the principle that private ownership is the best way of preserving the environment for many years. I therefore find the existence of this blog very exciting. Haven't had a chance to look it over yet, but I suspect it is going on the blogroll.
(Via Juan Non-Volokh)

Bush Decision Disenfranchises Blacks, Women

Or at least one black woman. La Shawn Barber writes:

I’m Not Voting In November

That’s it. The camel’s back is broken.

George Bush is allowing the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe to “monitor” the elections of our free and sovereign nation. Simply outrageous.

Okay, I was kidding about the headline. But you wouldn't be laughing if it wasn't plausible.

Education Choice Update

Two interesting stories relating to school choice. First the bad news (via Reuters):

A chain of private California schools that taught immigrants there are 53 U.S. states and four branches of the U.S. government was ordered to stop handing out phony diplomas this week, state Attorney General Bill Lockyer said on Friday.
Authorities seized the assets of California Alternative High School and asked a judge to stop the company's 30 schools statewide from handing out "high school diplomas" to students dreaming of a better life through education, Lockyer said.

The company charged its mainly Latino students $450 to $1,450 for a 10-week course based on a 54-page book that was riddled with errors, according to a lawsuit filed on Monday.

Students learned that Congress had two houses -- the Senate for Democrats and the House for Republicans; that the U.S. flag had not been updated to reflect the addition of Alaska, Hawaii and Puerto Rico to the "original" 50 states; that the federal "administrative" branch oversees the Treasury Department; and that World War II occurred from 1938 to 1942.

Captain Ed has more comments but I just wanted to point out that this sort of thing has always been a major objection those of us on the pro-voucher campaign have had to put up with through the years. The argument is to the effect that, if voucher programs were allowed to thrive, there would be no effective way to prevent charlatans from setting up schools and cheating the tax-payers. And yet we do not have vouchers in California and somehow this managed to happen anyway. Strange. Now these poor people are out an average of about $1000 and probably will never recover it. If it had been the State of California that was cheated, do you think it's possible that the government might have a slightly better chance of recovering the loss? Something to think about.

But there is good news on the Education Choice front, although it is not really news to some of us:
Most home-school students aren't ducking the state assessment tests required under federal law, and many of those who aren't required to take them do it anyway.

"We studied it in the late 1990s, and home schoolers averaged 20-30 percentage points higher than the rest of the students," said Ian Slatter, spokesman for the National Center for Home Education in Purcellville, Va.

"Not every home schooler, but a lot of home schoolers take the tests. A lot of times it's a requirement," he said Monday. "Many states do not require it but a lot of parents choose to take it."

The home-school students take the tests in a variety of ways. Sometimes it's at the neighborhood school, others in a neutral setting, and the ones just taken for the benefit of parents who want to make sure their children are keeping up are taken at home.

So all those unregulated, anti-social, homeschooled misfits are, uh, actually taking the stanardized tests when they aren't legally required to. Just because their parents (i.e. instructors) want to know how well they are doing. Imagine.

Friday, August 06, 2004

Iraqi Citizens Free Hostages

Speaking of self-defense (see the end of the post below), this story from Arab News is very good news indeed:

One of the Jordanian hostages said he had been released with three other Jordanian truck drivers after a group of Iraqis stormed a house in the city of Fallujah late on Tuesday and freed them without firing a shot.

“When the brave people of Fallujah knew that we were held hostage they raided the house and rescued us last night. We are all safe,” one of the hostages, Ahmad Hassan Abu Jafaar, said by telephone. “We’re expecting to go back to Jordan today.”


The Iraqi rescuers were sent by a council of local elders formed last month to battle crime and kidnapping in Fallujah, where the interim government of Prime Minister Iyad Allawi in Baghdad exercises only minimal authority.

The corollary to Edmund Burke's famous quote is that when enough good people start doing something, the forces of evil begin to fail.
(Via: Armies of Liberation)

Thursday, August 05, 2004

PotP Calls for Protective Force

Passion of the Present rightly notes that the joint statement of Khartoum and the UN on disarming the Janjaweed in Sudan is largely worthless:

The UN and the Sudanese government have jointly issued a statement saying they have agreed as to how the violence in Darfur can be halted.

This announcement seems premature, at best, given the real challenge of halting the far-reaching and genocidal campaign that has been unleashed. Here are two fascinating and very different accounts of the situation in Darfur--one writer pro-government and one convinced that genocide is being intentionally carried out by the government. Both writers agree that the militias cannot be disarmed anytime soon, and that doing so will require very strong and area-wide enforcement.

Here are the two links mentioned:

Pro-government article:
No one will give up their weapons until the government fully establishes a comprehensive security in the region. The government will have to virtually buy off those who bore arms, but to affect this we need at least three years."

Critical article:
The best, and perhaps the only, means of disarmament is that employed by the British seventy-five years ago: establish a working local administration, regulate the ownership of arms, and gradually isolate the outlaws and brigands who refuse to conform. It took a decade then, and it won't be any faster today. Not only are there more weapons now, but the political polarities are much sharper.

PotP concludes:
We must continue to press sharply for an outside protective force from the African Union, as the minimum necessary foundation for an international rescue that stops the genocide and begins the process of reweaving the torn fabric of life in Darfur.

I agree that this is the minimum necessary, but I do not think it will be sufficient. If the African Union is willing and capable of providing such security, it would certainly take some pressure off the US to supply forces as well as demonstrating a much needed commitment on the part of African nations to police themselves.

But I strongly suspect that the African Union does not really have the capacity, and will eventually lose the will, to provide the necessary protection. And the UN, which still thinks, despite all the recent evidence to the contrary, that sanctions are a credible option in resolving human rights abuses, is certainly not going to authorize Western troops on Sudan's sovereign territory.

So if these people are going to be protected at all, it will probably devolve on more "unilateral" action by the US and whatever coalition we can muster. I would not be particularly displeased by such an outcome; in fact, I have advocated it for years, long before the specific Darfur crisis. And since Sudan is on the list of Terror-Sponsoring Nations, it would certainly be in the interest of our national security, and consistent with the War on Terror, to do so. In October, 2001, President Bush said that "for those nations that stand with the terrorists, there will be a heavy price." Sudan's bill is long overdue.

But in addition to providing protection, we should be helping these people to defend themselves. Something like Kurosawa's Seven Samurai in which the peasants are armed and trained to defend their village. Or perhaps Neil Stephenson's HEAP (Holocaust Education and Avoidance Pod) in Cryptonomicon. I don't pretend to understand all of the details that would be involved in such a project, but it would not be the first time the US gave such assistance to a beleaguered people. The Southern Sudanese achieved a truce largely because of the effectiveness of their armed resistance. I wished that we could have provided more direct aid at the time, and there may yet be occasion to do so in the South. But certainly the largely defenseless population in Darfur would be a worthy candidate for this sort of assistance.

Wednesday, August 04, 2004

Defeat the Wizbang Seven

Kevin Aylward at Wizbang has posted a list of Democratic Congressional incumbents of the "tinfoil hat" caucus and their Republican challengers. He is suggesting that donations be made to the latter with $.02 to indicate that the donation came through his blog.

I tend to make my donations to charitable rather than political causes, but I think the project is worthwile for those of you who do plan on donating during this election. Of special note is #5: Loretta Sanchez (D) vs. Dr. Alexandria Coronado (R) who is in my area (though not in my specific district).

Tuesday, August 03, 2004

Pakistan Gets More Terrorists

As I predicted (OK, guessed) last week, the capture of Ahmed Ghailani seems to have contributed to more captures and better intelligence. Captain Ed has the story:

The key capture, the one that made headlines last week, was Pakistan's arrest of Ahmed Ghailani and computer expert Muhammed Naeem Nour Khan. Ghailani made the big headlines as one of the leading suspects in the 1998 embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania. However, I wonder if the real prize was Khan, or more intriguingly, any equipment or data captured with Khan. The Pakistanis seem to be on a roll after a long, quiet period, and American intelligence on AQ activities appears a lot more specific than before. That would indicate that either the Pakistanis have infiltrated AQ to an unprecedented depth or that they're getting some pretty good intel from their captives. Hard drives and computer codes can keep secrets only so long.

In either case, AQ command must be worrying over the same issues and looking desperately for a mole. That would keep them occupied for a while, and we can continue to dismantle their operations while they chase their tails. In case anyone wonders, keeping the enemy on the defensive definitely demonstrates progress, and is a huge improvement over our pre-9/11 efforts against Islamofascist terror.

Monday, August 02, 2004

No Discernable Bounce

Evidently Kerry is not getting the expected bounce in the polls from the Democratic Convention last week. According to USA Today:

Last week's Democratic convention boosted voters' impressions of John Kerry but failed to give him the expected bump in the head-to-head race against President Bush


In the survey, taken Friday and Saturday, Bush led Kerry 50%-46% among likely voters. Independent candidate Ralph Nader was at 2%.

The survey showed Kerry losing 1 percentage point and Bush gaining 4 percentage points from a poll taken the week before the Boston convention.

Yes this is within the margin of error, it is too early to tell, polls don't decide elections, caveat, caveat, yada-yada-yada.

But when you spend thousand of dollars to get your campaign off to a big start, and you don't get any perceptible change, that is still losing ground.
But Matthew Dowd, chief strategist for the Bush campaign, said "history doesn't bode well" for Kerry. Since World War II, the three challengers who have unseated presidents held clear leads after their conventions.

This election is still Bush's to lose. Here's hoping he doesn't.

UPDATE: Here is the actual polling data.

Christians Targeted in Iraq

According to the AP:

Assailants triggered a coordinated series of explosions outside five churches in Baghdad and Mosul during Sunday evening services, killing 11 people and wounding more than 50 in the first major assault on Iraq's Christian minority since the 15-month-old insurgency began.


The unprecedented attacks against Iraq's 750,000-member Christian minority seemed to confirm community members' fears they might be targeted as suspected collaborators with American forces amid a rising tide of Islamic fundamentalism.


This (attack) isn't against Muslims or Christians, this is against Iraq," Deputy Foreign Minister Labid Abawi told The Associated Press.


Muslim clerics condemned the violence and offered condolences to the Christian community.

"This is a cowardly act and targets all Iraqis," Abdul Hadi al-Daraji, spokesman for radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, told Al-Jazeera television.

Mohammed Fadil al-Samara'i, an official with the Sunni Iraqi Islamic Party, blamed terrorist groups and others "who profit from creating civil disturbances in Iraq."

The attacks on the churches signaled a vast change in tactics for insurgents, who have focused many previous attacks on U.S. forces, Iraqi officials and police in a drive to push coalition forces from the country, weaken the interim government and hamper reconstruction efforts.

To escape the chaos here, many of Iraq's Christians have gone to neighboring Jordan and Syria to wait for the security situation to improve.

Many who remained watched with fear as Islamic fundamentalism, long repressed under Saddam Hussein's fallen regime, thrived. Islamic radicals have warned Christians running liquor stores to shut down their businesses and have turned their sights on fashion stores and beauty salons.

I'm sure Belmont Club will have a more detailed analysis eventually, but the broad strategy seems obvious enough at first blush. Picking on Iraqi Christians is a fairly safe tactic because it allows the terrorists to demonstrate their valor to their friends without actually putting themselves in much danger. It also has the advantage of not antagonizing the majority population, which is a major error the terrorists have been making in the last few months. And, of course, as with any minority population, there will be a certain number of people who, though not otherwise sympathetic to the terrorists, will applaud such attacks from normal human bigotry.

There aren't a substantial number of Jews in Iraq, but if there are any Jewish communities left intact, look for them to be targeted as well.

UPDATE: Jane at Armies of Liberation makes a point that I had noticed as well but forgot to mention: "The more Zarqawi tries to turn the Iraqis against each other, the more they turn against him."

Yes, the response from the Iraqis (including a representative of al-Sadr) is rather encouraging.